Yesterday, representatives of 170 small-to-medium arts organisations took their arts funding protest to Canberra, hoping to meet with their minister, George Brandis.
But instead of fronting the arts workers, all of whom will be directly affected by the Abbott government’s $100 million slash to the Australia Council’s funding, the Arts Minister opted for a game of weasel words. (Interestingly, Brandis did find time yesterday to meet with the lobby group for the major arts organisations, the Australian Major Performing Arts Group.)
When asked in question time to confirm that he had refused to meet with the protesters, the minister was delighted to offer this rebuff:
“Mr President, I am delighted that for the first time, I suspect, ever the first question in question time is about arts funding. The Abbott government has such a wonderful story to tell about arts funding. We of course live in straightened fiscal circumstances, there is no doubt about that, as a result of the legacy of Australia’s worst ever finance minister. Nevertheless, in this year’s budget, once again, arts funding was protected. The same amount of funding that was available has been continued into the same year. Not a dollar has been taken away, not a dollar. But what we have done is that we have moved some 13 per cent of the funding that was paid for the arts through the Australia Council into a new program, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts.”
As Ben Eltham has written in Crikey, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts is a discretionary fund within Brandis’ own ministry. It is not expected to fund the small-to-medium sector, but instead was purpose-built with the aim of funnelling more funding to opera, ballet and the major orchestras.
In other words: George Brandis will decide who gets a large part of this country’s arts budget, and the circumstances in which they get it. The arrogance is astounding.