Arts Funding

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. K.L. Vincent:

That this council—

1. Notes the widespread concern in the Australian arts community about the new National Programme for Excellence in the Arts recently announced by the federal government, expressed through the “#FreeTheArts” social media campaign;

2. Recognises the importance of supporting creativity and expressing a diversity of views and experiences in the arts;

3. Recognises the vital role played by new and emerging artists and small to medium-sized arts enterprises in ensuring the future of the arts industry in South Australia; and

4. Recognises the economic and social contribution of the arts industry and festivals to the South Australian economy.

(Continued from 29 July 2015.)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (19:53:46): I rise on behalf of the Greens to support the motion of the Hon. Kelly Vincent, and indeed to amend it to reflect the current state. I move:

Leave out paragraph 1 and insert new paragraph—

1. Recognises that the federal government has moved from the National Program for Excellence in the Arts to its Catalyst program and notes that there is still significant concern among people in the arts industry about this program, and recognises that the widespread preference among arts workers is that the federal government restore all lost funding to the Australia Council for the Arts;

The motion that the Hon. Kelly Vincent put before us was indeed to raise awareness of this council and this parliament of the vicious federal government attacks on the arts. Minister Brandis may have moved on, but minister Fifield has not remedied the errors left for him to sort out. He has attempted to make amends, and there has been general alarm in the arts community. A Senate inquiry into the arts budget as a result of these changes attracted 2,260-plus submissions.

There were so many that even a week before the inquiry was due to table its report, they were still not all uploaded to the Senate inquiry's site. Overwhelmingly, these submissions argued against the NPEA. Submission after submission called for evidence-based policy. The previous attorney-general was intransigent on this issue, so I will commend minister Fifield for at least attempting to make amends, but as arts ABC reporter and blogger Alison Croggon wrote:

The announcement followed months of unprecedented lobbying and protest from a galvanised arts community, and in some quarters was hailed as a victory. But reports of the death of the NPEA are greatly exaggerated.

We may have something slightly better, but it is still not what the people of Australia deserve and certainly the arts community of our state deserve. This motion is most important because it focuses on the small to medium sector and, in fact, South Australia has the most to lose from attacks on that part of the arts industry. The media release from #FreeTheArts on 20 November this year notes that '$8m/year goes back for individual artists,' under the Fifield changes, 'but small to medium companies are at major risk.' This is hardly a victory for the small to medium sector of this industry. It continues:

Arts Minister Mitch Fifield has missed the perfect opportunity to repair the damage done by his infamous predecessor. The government has decided to ignore the overwhelming advice in thousands of submissions to the Senate Inquiry to return the NPEA funding to the Australia Council in full. The return of $8m per year over four years for individual artists is welcomed, and will hopefully alleviate some of the extraordinary pressure on project funding rounds, where success rates have reportedly fallen below 10 per cent . It is a significant win for the sector and the Free the Arts campaign. However, despite being named a priority for Catalyst project funding, the big losers look to be small to medium arts companies.

Free the Arts spokesperson Norm Horton said:

'On balance we have to say this looks to be a bad deal for the arts sector, and small to mediums in particular…'

Free the Arts spokesperson Sara Moynihan said:

Although the new Minister has taken time to meet and consult with the sector unfortunately it seems he hasn’t listened to some key messages. The fact that this major decision has again been taken without an evidence-based national arts policy in place means that this is another example of policy on the run. The Minister should really have gone back to drawing board and worked with the sector to fix the problems together.

My party's spokesperson on this issue, Senator Scott Ludlam, supported a Labor motion condemning this move on 23 November in the Senate. Senator Ludlam was an active member of that Senate inquiry, which was chaired by Senator Lazarus, and also actively attended by Senator Bilyk. Senator Scott Ludlam says his statement in the parliament:

Senator George Brandi s broke something that did not need fixing. The alternative plan is to have not established this $100 million vanity project which has been condemned from one end of the country to another.

He continues:

I have been to a lot of Senate inquiries in my brief time in this place, and I have never seen this degree of unanimity of representation from one end of this country to another. Senator Bilyk and I have been chasing the inquiry that Senator Lazarus has been chairing for a couple of months now. I have never seen such a diversity of witnesses with such a unanimity of point of view. The NPEA, which has now been renamed, rebranded, as Catalyst, is uniformly despised. I should say that it is almost universally despised. We did find one witness, who gave evidence on a rainy afternoon in Parramatta a couple of weeks back, who had been knocked back for Australia Council funding a couple of years ago, who had a gripe and who thought this new thing could be good.

I note that that witness was a former Family First candidate, and certainly finding one voice among the many thousands to support former minister Brandis' vanity project, as my colleague quite rightly called it. Senator Ludlam goes on to say:

Apart from that, we heard from contemporary performing arts companies, dance companies, theatre companies, the local music industry, visual artists and designers, writers, digital artists, community and regional arts centres, practitioners and those who support them, arts lawyers, community arts centres, regional arts centres, peak representative bodies, publishers and teachers the length and breadth of the country and of Australia's extraordinarily diverse and powerful arts sector who thought this should never have happened in the first place. In fact, they thought that they should not have been brought into the Senate inquiry, into this format where they had to defend something that had been broken when simply it did not need fixing—by Senator George Brandis or by anybody else.

This was an announcement that happened in May and that the Australia Council found out about on budget day, when Senator Brandis condescended to give the head of the Australia Council a phone call to let him know the government had ripped this money out of the Australia Council's peer-reviewed process, which allows all comers to put forward their creative proposals, and put it into this isolated slush fund. There were a couple of draft guidelines that followed a few weeks later that simply made the problem wors e , and made the apprehension and the misgivings even worse.

We saw 2,260 submissions made to that inquiry.. . if you comb through them [as Senator Smith in the Senate has said] you will find a very small handful, you will find one or two; you will find not more than a dozen of those 2,500  submissions that supported the idea, for various reasons—that is fine; they have the right to submit to these inquir i es as well—and an avalanche of dissent to this proposal. We have held 10 hearings across the country, and 218 organisations have presented, with this extraordinary opposition. We saw something last week from minister Fifield—and give him his due; there was a selective sigh of relief around the country when Senator Brandis lost that portfolio; go out and concentrate on other staff and leave the arts the hell alone. There was a bit of a sigh of relief, but you could not miss the intent. The intent, laid on Senator Fifield's broad shoulders is: 'Fix this mess. Make this go away.

So now, instead of a $20 million Senator Brandis slush fund, we have a $12 million Senator Fifield slush fund.

Not good enough! New leader, same old policies; new arts minister, same attitude. It is not good enough for our arts sector in South Australia, and those members of the opposition in this house should be standing up for our arts sector.

The Hon. T.T. NGO ( 20:03 :15 ): I rise on behalf of the government to support the Hon. Kelly Vincent's motion. I am happy to support the Hon. Tammy Franks' amendments that she just moved. I thank both the Hon. Kelly Vincent for moving this motion and the Hon. Tammy Franks for moving the amendments subsequently.

Back in May the federal government announced that $104.8 million over four years would be cut from the Australia Council for the Arts to establish the National Program of Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). This announcement was made with no consultation with the arts community, and with no clarification about what it would mean for the future of our small and medium arts sector.

In South Australia our independent artists in our small and medium arts community are the lifeblood of our creative sector and rely on a mix of state and commonwealth funding as well as private sponsorship to thrive.

The reduction of funding to the Australia Council, while requiring it to continue to deliver government-directed programs at current levels, including the Major Performing Arts Framework and the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy, will affect its ability to support smaller arts organisations and independent artists.

When the changes to funding were made, the Australia Council had to suspend its Six-Year Funding for Organisations program to which many of South Australia's arts organisations had applied. This funding would have seen organisations, such as Windmill Theatre and Slingsby, secure long-term funding, ensuring their future and removing the red tape of having to apply for funding on an annual basis. These changes created so much anxiety in our community as some of our brilliant small and medium organisations, after pouring their heart and soul into these funding applications, were left in limbo.

Following the announcement of the NPEA, the Australian arts community expressed its concern through the social media campaign #Freethearts, amongst other avenues. Locally, our Arts Industry Council led the way, and I was pleased to see all sections of our arts community coming together and presenting a united front to oppose the changes.

The Minister for the Arts, the Hon. Jack Snelling MP, led the opposition through these changes on a national front. After many unanswered letters and meeting requests, in October this year minister Snelling participated in the meeting of cultural ministers with representatives of all Australian states and territories. Minister Snelling expressed in no uncertain terms the views of the arts community and the dire consequences of the changes to our vibrant arts sector.

While minister Snelling fought against the changes, the state opposition was nowhere to be seen. As with the submarines, when it came to standing up for the community, they went into hiding. I note that today the Hon. David Ridgway moved on behalf of the shadow minister, the Hon. Stephen Wade, an amended version of this motion. I must say, it is rich for him to now try to commend the government for the compromised Catalyst program when, while the Labor government and the federal Greens Party were fighting against these changes, they were denying there would even be an impact.

I refer the house to the comments in the other place by the member for Dunstan, who interjected while minister Snelling was responding to a question around changes on 22 September, dismissing the concerns of the arts community as rubbish. Now that the changes have been made, they want to jump on board. They want to acknowledge that the NPEA was a bad idea and give themselves a pat on the back.

While over there they are patting themselves on the back, the government will continue its fight against the new Catalyst program. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. This program will still see cuts to the Australia Council. It continues to ignore the importance of our individual makers and presenters. It still creates a double-up of bureaucracy in the arts ministry.

The state government welcomes the federal government performing a partial backflip, restoring some of the funding through this compromised Catalyst program, but ultimately we support the amendment, and obviously the motion, because we acknowledge that these changes have not alleviated the concerns of the arts community. We call upon the federal government to listen to the arts sector and restore the full funding to the Australia Council.

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 20:10 :14 ): I indicate that I will be supporting the Hon. Kelly Vincent's motion.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT (20:10:30): Can I thank all the speakers to the motion: the Hon. Tung Ngo, the Hon. David Ridgway, the Hon. Tammy Franks and the Hon. Mr Darley. I do not think I have forgotten anyone. I also thank Ms Franks for moving the amendment to my motion, as I was not able to move it myself as the motion was in my name, but I did think that having that amendment in place was far better and far more respectful of the concern in the arts community than the Liberal opposition's amendment.

I do appreciate what the Liberal opposition is trying to achieve. I think, to put it bluntly, they are trying to straddle two worlds—that is, show support for the arts community but not upset their Liberal brethren at the federal level too much. I am here moving this motion to support the arts community point blank and, quite frankly, I do not really care who I have to upset to do that.

Can I also say in regard to the Hon. Mr Ngo's motion that I thank the government for their response and very much look forward to seeing his Fringe show where he attempts to put lipstick on a pig. I think it will be a great one-man show and I am sure that all of us will come to see that.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Yes, English is weird. It is clear that artists currently working in the industry see this move to the Catalyst program, away from the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, as not much of a move at all but rather as an attempt at a quick fix to stop artists speaking out against the government rather than actually supporting artists and adequately recognising the social and economic impact they make to our state and our nation.

It seems clear, too, that the preference is still to return the funding to the Australia Council and for this reason I do not support the Liberal amendment to the motion. Furthermore, I note with some dismay that the opposition amendment asks the federal government to be 'sensitive' to the needs of artists, particularly emerging artists and artists of diverse background. I respectfully suggest that one can actually be sensitive to a need, or a feeling or a concern, without necessarily acting on that. As an example, when I take my cat to the vet and she has to be poked and prodded in all kinds of horrible ways, I am extremely sensitive to the fact that she does not enjoy that at all, but I still do it.

The Hon. G.E. Gago interjecting:

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I am sure the vet could put lipstick on a pig. Next time I take Daisy to the vet I will be sure to ask her. Furthermore, moving right along, call me bitter and twisted and cynical, but given that the government has already, under its move to the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, thrown the funding cycle of many artists and organisations—and therefore their livelihood—into uncertainty earlier this year, I do not actually have a lot of confidence in the ability of government to be sensitive to the needs of arts workers, given that it threw their livelihoods and their futures into disarray and into uncertainty without so much as a peep of consultation earlier in the year. Therefore, I am very pleased to see the amendment (which I drafted but was moved by the Hon. Ms Franks) passed with the support of the council.

To surmise why the arts industry does not see the move to the Catalyst program as much of a shift at all, I want to quote from an article which was published in Daily Review just the other day,written by Richard Letts, who I understand is the chair of The Music Trust. He says:

The new Federal Arts Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, visited a very political meeting of arts industry leaders a few weeks ago. It was called by #Freethearts to continue opposition to recently ousted Arts Minister Senator George Brandis's transfer of $105 million of Australia Council funds to his own Arts ministry.

Senator Fifield was warm, conciliatory, and—for a few moments—frank in his criticism of Brandis's management.

By way of introducing himself to his audience, Senator Fifield said that he was often asked whether he attends arts performances.

And yes, he does. He reeled off a list of events in which the artists were disabled people.

At a guess, this was meant to surprise. But I recall meeting him years ago when he was supporting music education programs in disadvantaged schools because, among other things, they were so broadly beneficial to the kids. There was no apparent political advantage in this. His interest in the disadvantaged and disabled seems quite genuine.

The music education program is an example of the 'instrumental use' of the arts. Senator Brandis proclaimed that he was an art-for-art's-sake man. He was critical of Labor's Simon Crean who as arts minister created an arts policy that 'joined the dots'—the dots being all the places in which the arts could bring public benefit. This could include using the arts to rehabilitate prisoners, give stroke victims back their voice, or children the desire to be at school.

I would assert that the arts do all of these things best when the arts are at their best. Arts for art's sake and arts for people 's sake.

For Brandis, art for art's sake meant support for high 'heritage arts' and that tends to be the world view of conservative parliamentarians. But not, apparently, of Mitch Fifield.

The very strong opinion of the #Freethearts meeting was that Senator Fifield should return all of the funds Senator Brandis hijacked from the Australia Council.

He was asked at the meeting to explain what was the benefit of putting the Australia Council funds under the control of the arts ministry. He had no answer. You can add him to a very long list of people who have been unable to describe any benefit.

So would he return the funds to the Australia Council then?

His answer was he would decide within the next two weeks, because 'people needed certainty'.

Senator Fifield has made his decision. As was announced last week, about a third of the purloined funds will be returned to the Australia Council ($8 million).

He is retaining the rest and putting it into a fund, no longer under Brandis' 'National Program for Excellence in the Arts', but now called 'Catalyst'.

Catalyst will in particular support innovation. The guidelines do not mention 'excellence' though it surely will be a criterion.

In Daily Review recently I suggested the new minister could bring something positive out of this debacle by supporting innovation in the arts—following new PM Malcolm Turnbull's declaration that Australia should be an innovative nation. And so Senator Fifield has.

But I also made the suggestion that he return the funds to the Australia Council and not keep them in the Arts ministry.

Can there be any advantage in his ministry running a program in support of innovation in the arts (or indeed any other arts grants program)?

Perhaps one. Arts assessments are inevitably partly subjective. Different panels may make different choices among applicants. The Ministry and the Australia Council will use different panels.

But then there is a question about the expertise of assessors. Will the best project s be funded ?

At the Australia Council, applications are assessed by panels of arts peers whose expertise is, as far as possible, matched to the art of the applicants. It seems that in the Arts ministry there will be panels of three assessors of whom one may be an artist peer and the others are arts bureaucrats.

I will leave that quote there for now, but I will briefly quote from another article, just to make the point, which recently appeared in ABC Arts by Alison Croggon, as the Hon. Ms Franks mentioned, titled, 'Catalyst: New arts policy name, same old story':

Last week, Attorney-General George Brandis's highly criticised National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) finally bit the dust.

Senator Mitch Fifield, appointed the Minister for Communications and the Arts by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in September, announced its replacement by the much more artspeak-friendly initiative, Catalyst.

The announcement followed months of unprecedented lobbying—

As the Hon. Ms Franks pointed out, some 2,260-plus submissions—

and protest from a galvanised arts community, and in some quarters was hailed as a victory. But reports of the death of NPEA are greatly exaggerated.

Although one third of the money taken from the Australia Council, $8 million a year, has been handed back, and every mention of 'excellence' in the NPEA's guidelines has been assiduously replaced by 'innovation', even 21 st   century buzzwords cannot disguise the fact that in their essential aspects there are few differences between policies.

It continues:

For those unfamiliar with the arcane world of Australian arts funding, it may be difficult to understand why there has been so much fuss.

As Senator Brandis pointed out, the NPEA was still funding art, it just widened the choices for those shopping around for funding.

But many within the arts saw the creation of the NPEA as the beginning of the end of the Australia Council, and perhaps a step towards ending arts funding altogether.

It has certainly been a convulsive couple of years in the Australian arts world. In 2013, with much fanfare, the doomed Gillard government launched Creative Australia, an ambitious, upbeat policy that was the long-awaited result of years of consultation with the arts community.

Within weeks, Creative Australia was as dead as the government.

After months of speculation, Senator Brandis launched the Abbott government's new arts policy in a lavish event at the Sydney Opera House in September 2014.

The Australia Council's restructure, a key part of Creative Australia, was also announced, although the whole policy was disturbingly light on detail.

Less than six months later, Senator Brandis announced the NPEA , blindsiding the Australia council, which was still adjusting to the restructure.

New programs such as proposed six-year funding terms were cut before they had even been implemented.

Hundreds of companies had spent thousands of hours applying for programs that no longer existed, and instead of seeing the beginning of new stability, were facing the prospect of closing altogether.

It was not long before protests began to gather momentum. Campaigners against the NPEA saw it as a political attack on free speech in the arts—the campaign against it was called 'Free the Arts'.

I will end that quote there. I think I am painting quite a picture of why this move is so shocking, not least of which because it removes peer assessment for arts grants by peers who are actually practising the same discipline as applicants, as well as experts, toward focusing on the opinions of bureaucrats. It was done without consultation and pulled the rug out from under many individual practising artists, many of whom practice on low incomes, with scant funding, and many small to medium organisations which are making a great impact on not only the economy in South Australia and Australia but the society as well.

One example of this that I gave in my speech introducing this motion was the example of True North Youth Theatre, which works with young people to create theatre about their lives and their experiences as young people in the northern suburbs. Two years ago there was no theatre company in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, much less a theatre company that was actually responsive to the needs of some very disengaged and disadvantaged, isolated young people. Two years later I understand that True North has over 60 participants in a variety of workshops, and has just this year been specifically invited to perform its show A Kid like Me, that very important piece of theatre that talks about social pressures on young people today in modern-day Australia—issues like peer pressure, weight loss, bullying, anxiety and so on—on the world stage at the World Festival of Children's Theatre in Canada.

So I certainly refute, in the strongest terms, this idea that art is simply for art's sake. It is most definitely for people's sake. They were, perhaps, not so few words as it turned out, but I think it is important to get these issues on the radar and also to quote the people who are actually currently practising in the arts, because they are, of course, the experts on how this move has affected them and will continue to affect them under the catalyst—I hasten to say perhaps the catalyst, not shake up—of the renaming of Catalyst. With those few brief words—

The Hon. T.A. Franks interjecting:

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Catalyst the pig, the Hon. Ms Franks interjects. Perhaps that would be a good name for a pig, perhaps we could get a parliamentary mascot. I can see quite a campaign coming together, perhaps we could all send a letter to George Brandis with a picture of Catalyst the pig. I have some lovely new shades of lipstick that he or she could borrow.

With those words, I again commend this motion to the chamber, and thank all those members who have indicated support, particularly for the motion in its amended form. I hope that we as a parliament will continue to work together to truly, holistically and permanently free the arts.

Hon. D.W. Ridgway's amendment negatived; Hon. T.A. Franks' amendment carried; motion as amended carried.

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