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We have the money

In this article published on ArtsHub columnist Ben Eltham explains how in the May Budget, the Federal Government followed through on the promises in its long-awaited national cultural policy.

AMPAG's Bethwyn Serow is quoted, saying the funding is welcomed but pointed out how arts funding is being eroded.

We have the money! 

By Ben Eltham | Wednesday May 15 2013

No news is good news as the Federal Budget locks in funding for Creative Australia.

The arts may be the only sector happy after the Federal Budget, which slashed most sectors but followed through on the promises in the Government's long-awaited national cultural policy. Funding for Creative Australia – has finally materialised delivering the healthy increases in base funding announced earlier this year by former Arts Minister Simon Crean.

It was a quiet budget for the arts with no new announcements. Arts Minister Tony Burke was chiefly concerned with funding announcements in his Environment portfolio, and no budget media release for the arts was sent out.

The Australia Council receives ongoing extra funding of approximately $25 million a year from this year on, and the various components of the Creative Australia policy are all budgeted for, such as the extra funding for performing arts companies via the 'excellence pool', top-ups for six capital city performing arts companies, the “Creative Young Stars” grants for local MPs in their communities, and the funding of ArtStart for a further four years.

National arts training organisations, such as the Australian Ballet School, the Australian Youth Orchestra and the National Institute of Circus Arts, have had the extra funding previously announced through Creative Australia budgeted here. This equates to $20.9 million over the forward estimates.

The indigenous visual arts have also received extra funding. The budget provides an additional $11.3 million over four years from 2013-14 'to continue the 2009-10 Closing the Gap component of the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support (IVAIS) program.'

Australia Council Chairman Rupert Myer told artsHub while he had been confident Creative Australia had been funded in the forward estimates it was 'very nice to see it in black and white'.

He said artists would be the beneficiaries of the extra funding. 'The actual documentation refers to the $75 million for arts organisations but it is in fact artists and arts organisations as the National Cultural Policy said. It's what we were expecting, which is good.'

Myer said there were 'a lot of moveable parts' with the new Australia Council Act now before Parliament and Senate recommendations for changes to the draft. 'It's the role and responsibility of the new Council to determine the allocations of the new funding that becomes available so of course we are working furiously to prepare for that event and to inform, advise and work with the sector as soon as we are in a position to know whether all of that is to happen. There is a bit of uncertainty but that would be quelled by the passage of the Act.'

The National Association for the Visual Arts' Tamara Winnikoff said that 'the arts community was very pleased to learn that the financial commitments made by the government in its 'Creative Australia' cultural policy were confirmed in the Budget.'

'In particular, new funding promised for the Australia Council will ensure that Australian artistic exploration can continue to nourish the public imagination both here and overseas,' she added.

Australian Major Performing Arts Group Executive Director Bethwyn Serow said the funding was 'needed and welcomed'. But, Serow raised concerns that the real value of arts funding has been dwindling. 'The national cultural policy has been five years in the making and over that time we have seen government indexation rates falling behind real indexation.'

Serow also outlined the negative impact on funding in the arts sector that has resulted from efficiency dividends imposed on many Australia Council grants. She says, ‘We call on the government to remove these efficiency dividends to ensure that the new vision that Creative Australia has generated is not eroded by the economic realities of the day.’

Also enjoying a windfall are the producers of Hollywood movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, who receive a $21.6 million production subsidy in return for filming the motion picture in Australia. The budget also includes $20 million in unspecified funding for a location offset for a major screen production. This figure, also announced by Simon Crean in March, will go towards 'attracting large budget international film and television productions to Australia.'

However, the community radio sector is disappointed, after missing out on an extra $1.4 million in funding the sector had requested to fully fund the roll-out of digital transmission. The Community Broadcasting Association of Australia's Adrian Basso said the government has 'jeopardised the future of community digital radio'.

'This is a disappointing outcome for all the communities who rely on community radio to provide the information, opinion and music that commercial stations and the national broadcasters can’t or don’t,' Mr Basso wrote in a statement.

'We’ll now be consulting with all digital community radio services on their future. A 40 per cent annual operational shortfall in funding is obviously very significant and tough decisions will have to be made that could leave some communities without their community digital radio services.'

It wasn't all bad news for the broadcasting sector. The Australian Music Radio Airplay Project (AMRAP) receives further funding of $5 million to continue its service helping Australian contemporary music get airplay on community radio stations. There was also extra money in Stephen Conroy's Communications portfolio for the ABC and SBS. The ABC will receive $89.4 million over three years to expand its news and current affairs coverage, while SBS receives an extra $20 million.

For the national cultural institutions, it's a case of further screw-tightening, with organisations such as the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Institute for Dramatic Arts, the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, the National Museum and the National Gallery all asked to make further 'targeted savings'.

While these institutions did receive a top-up last year, the general freeze on costs imposed by Wayne Swan and Penny Wong means a return of the dreaded 'efficiency dividend' for these organisations. As a result, these institutions receive small cuts in their nominal funding compared with last year's figures, translating to a larger cut in funding in real terms (once inflation is taken into account). These efficiencies are in the hundreds of thousands rather than the millions, however, and the budget papers say that staffing will be kept at current levels.

Ben Eltham |
Ben Eltham is artsHub's industry columnist.