The arts on Budget Night? It’s a little off-Broadway

At yesterday’s Budget Night fundraiser in Canberra, Coalition ministers took it in turns to take to the mic and offer their quips and insights on the state of the nation from their point of view.

It’s a great way for industry leaders from across our key sectors to get to know who’s who – and how many portfolios are juggled by our increasingly busy ministers.

When it was Mitch Fifield’s turn, he took the opportunity to introduce his own portfolios to the room. Communications, which he described as its complex set of ministerial responsibilities, and then the Arts – which, he said, “In the context of the budget night, the Communications and the Arts portfolio is a little off Broadway because it’s essentially business as usual.”

Apparently groans were heard from the tables of screen and media professionals, disappointed that our multi-billion-dollar industry would be represented in that way by its chief advocate.

There are some new funds for SBS for the creation of local content but the Government has slashed the ABC’s budget by $83.7 million over three years.

Let’s unpack that a little. What might Minister Fifield have meant by “off-Broadway”?

Did the Minister mean that his arts portfolio is the place where he can take risks, test new ideas, and enjoy generous critical responses?

Possibly not: there’s no additional Australia Council funding in this year’s Budget. Nothing to help remedy the massive damage that’s been done after years of crippling cuts that substantially diminish artists’ own capacity to take risks, test new ideas, and enjoy generous critical responses.

Did Minister Fifield perhaps mean the greater diversity of the off-Broadway scene: the independent scene, the small-to-medium scene?

But no: there’s nothing in the Budget for the small-to-medium sector, though there’s welcome news on capital investment for the National Gallery of Australia.

Maybe he was talking about supporting local productions?

Possibly: while there are some new funds for SBS to support the creation of local content, as well as location incentives for film and TV, there’s quite the brazen backhand against the ABC. While the ABC “will continue to be exempt from the government wide efficiency dividend,” the Government will expect them to “find back-office efficiencies” regardless – by pausing “indexation of the ABC’s operational funding” to the tune of “$83.7 million over three years from 2019-20 to 2021-22.” Ouch.

Australia’s arts are not a little off-Broadway. They’re fifteen thousand km from Broadway.

They’re complex. They’re adventurous. And they need champions.

Especially when the best we can offer as a cultural vision for the nation’s future is to commemorate Captain Cook’s landing without the leadership of the Gweagal people.(Budget 2018-19 includes funding for the re-enactment of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia and a monument at Kurnell (Botany Bay) in 2020).

After all, our First Nations predate Broadway – on or off – by 60,000 years.

Esther Anatolitis is Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts.

HELP SUPPORT DAILY REVIEW WHEN ARTS COVERAGE IS BEING REDUCED IN MAINSTREAM MEDIA – AND THE ABC! 

Image: Senator Mitch Fifield (far right) with Megan Purcell, Karen Quinlan and Craig Niemann at the Marilyn Monroe exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery in June 2016. Source: Twitter

7 responses to “The arts on Budget Night? It’s a little off-Broadway

  1. The enforced ‘nice to have’ attitude of Govts in Australia since Creative Nation (1994) consistently confirms our backwater status to ourselves, and to the world. In Australia, why do we consistently ‘leave ourselves out’ of the urgent, basic requirement of providing cultural conditions (not even financial) for our aspiring Arts & Culture makers? This career is hard enough, without the disrespect of a prevailing narrative of dis-ownership of our own, by our own. Where is the heathy regard for our fellow citizens aspiring to tell the story of the place where we all live? As a so-called wealthy, prosperous nation, our shallow regard towards our fellow Arts & Culture people, and the realities of practice in this connected age, reveals a tragic shadow on our health as a nation. Arts & Culture is not Sport, with winners, losers and the next game to redeem performance. It’s a patient process that demands failure, learning, creativity through critique, and relentless determination. All potential hallmarks of the Australians we aspire to be. This reality is the test of a truly prosperous Arts & Culture sector in Australia, and is where we consistently fall short. For any future prosperity, this must change. Arts & Culture is ‘intrinsic, not opposed’ to any future well-being of this country (Hartley).

  2. Labor did no better since Keating. Actuallt Howard was the last to splash some cash but he had lots of mining money to give away. We are paying for that waste of revenue now.

    1. Actually you’re not quite right there Scott. Howard never increased an arts budget in his entire Prime Ministership. He moved money around so it looked like he was increasing funding when in actual fact government subsidy was decreasing. Numbers. You can make em sing.

    2. Labor under Rudd encountered the GFC. It would not have been a good look and silly politics to increase funding after what was thought at the time to be a major global financial crisis. Gillard was in there also. After a lot of discussion they came up with significant reforms under ‘Creative Nation’. Seven months later they were out of office.

  3. The lack of fair and responsible mention of The Arts in the Budget is shameful. The current Federal Government’s view of the creative sector (not accountancy) seems restricted to a smattering of capital works and limited assistance to film & television production. The funding of a statue by Botany Bay says it all. Why not move the current bronze Cook from Hyde Park south to the proposed location by the Bay? Save time and money. Spend the balance on a struggling theatre company (a small one). After all Capt Cook never saw the ‘Loo. The statue is in the wrong place!

  4. Regrettable, the current government — like so many other of their kind — do not regard the arts as central to a worthwhile life and society; rather they seem to think (when, that is, they think of the arts AT ALL) that they’re appropriate for “good times” but can all too readily be dispensed with in the “bad times”. If choices are to be made, then they should be exactly the reverse.

    And these are mad times: not necessarily in the economic sense (though they are ALWAYS bad for those who are allowed to fall to “the bottom of the heap”) but bad in a moral sense. Selfish individualism seems to be rampant; financial values are the only ones which seem to concern our materialist government. Does it truly “represent” our nation and its values in this respect?

    If what has happened at the ABC over recent years — the decline in the representation of “serious” Australian music on ABC-FM, the lack of interest in our various drama companies or and serious concern for Australian visual and plastic arts on ABC-TV (which has become, again, essentially an outlet for material from the UK, notably the BBC) — is any indication, this budget will only make things far worse.

    1. The reduction in funding for serious Australian music, drama and the arts generally is a function of how the ABC spends the taxpayer funds it receives. Over the past twenty years, and particularly over the past ten, more and more of those funds have been stolen from the arts to pay for the obsessive expansion of the news department. Mark Scott claimed that the Sydney-based 24 Hour News was funded “internally” and did not require more from the government. But just where did that money come from? Not only from internal “efficiencies”, but serious cutbacks in every other ABC department and region. If there is to be sustained pressure to persuade the ABC to obey its Charter and both “inform and ENTERTAIN” then there is no point in trying to pressure “government” – of any political hue – because any additional funding will simply be absorbed into that obese mass called the news department. The answer is to ask questions about the need for a “Public Service Broadcaster” to continue to pay “star” reporters and presenters at a level to suit their egos rather than an appropriate rate within the ABC Enterprise Agreement (which itself stretches to $140,000 including the generous 15.4% super). After all, why should an autocue-reader be handed over a quarter of a million dollars by the taxpayers each year? And why is a morning presenter in Melbourne worth more that $300,000 a year when one in Mt Gambier gets $70,000? Apply Public Service rules to the ABC like it used to be in the past and we will get a better spread of spend between news and the arts.

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