Infamously described by Peter Costello in the lead up to the last election as “welfare” for artists, Mr Garrett has finally delivered on his promise to give ArtStart the green light.

At the time of its proposal in 2007 the Member for Higgins tore into the Member for Kingsford-Smith saying:

The member for Kingsford-Smith said that I would never have thought of something like this. Well, blow me down! I never have thought of something like this: that somebody on welfare needs more time to produce art! What are the responsibilities of someone who is on welfare? Do they have to turn up at the office at 8am and take them away from their easel?

First proposed as a way to develop a “Social Security and the Arts” policy that bridged current Australia Council for the Arts, Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office rules, it aimed to determine “the most equitable way to treat earnings and royalty payments for artists currently receiving welfare.”

Sensibly, Garrett has removed the words “Centrelink” and “Australian Tax Office” from the funding measure and it has now re-emerged as a grant which will be administered by the Australia Council.

It’s a major commitment in this year’s Budget with the Rudd Labor Government to spend $9.6 million over four years which will provide two hundred $10,000 grants to “individual graduate artists to enable them to create a major work or event to build their portfolio and increase their self‑sufficiency”.

Aimed at visual artists, musicians, designers and performing arts practitioners, it will provide a much needed leg up particularly for those in capital cities who face rapidly rising rental costs and little support from state based arts bodies — particularly NSW.

However, the real coup for Garrett is how he has managed to maintain all funding for the arts portfolio, even after the massive injections his predecessor George Brandis delivered under the Coalition government. It was a tall order in the face of a downturn in the economy and in fact, the Arts Minister has even delivered a little bit more.

The Indigenous Arts is another big winner in the Budget. A recommendation of last year’s Senate enquiry into Indigenous Arts and part of the “Closing the Gap” initiative will see an additional $10 million provided over four years to “increase the support for art centre operations, ensuring appropriate staffing, training and salaries for art centre employees, and addressing poor recruitment and retention rates in remote areas”.

Other highlights include $8 million over four years to the Books Alive program and $5 million for NIDA, the Australian Ballet School and Australian Youth Orchestra to get out to regional and out metropolitan areas to teach young kids.

Screen Australia, the newly formed national peak body which merged the Australian Film Commission, Film Finance Corporation and Film Australia into one, continues with funding maintained. It’s just a shame that the new organisation hasn’t done terribly much in the last twelve months (although they have got a nice new logo). Hopefully an additional $750,000 in this year’s budget to help administer the new 40 per cent producer off-set rebate will get them going a bit.

Garrett has also tried to address the lack of touring arts programmes to regional areas with a number of grants to get art exhibitions touring. But Regional Australia’s continuing request left over from last year for $24 million in touring funding is still left out.

There is also no sign that the Rudd Labor Government plans to re-install any aspect of Alexander Downer’s policy of using the arts as a means of second-tier diplomacy. The removal of the previous Downer’s On the World Stage program has been a blow to many of our top arts organisations — most particularly in their attempts to engage with Asia.

But in a time of recession the arts should be happy with the renewed commitment of the Federal Government and their new Arts Minister. Now they just have to find a way to stop corporate sponsors from leaving the fold.