Australia’s performing arts awards, the Helpmanns, are not exactly known as a platform for political statements, but Federal Arts Minister George Brandis’ plans to strip funding from the Australia Council came under (indirect) fire at last night’s ceremony. Firstly NSW Arts Minister and Deputy Premier Troy Grant kicked off his speech by noting that he was happy to be at the Helpmanns as the arts minister who hadn’t cut funding. Then the president of Live Performance Australia, Andrew Kay, delivered a passionate speech in defence of the small-to-medium arts sector, which was met with hearty applause from the 2000-strong crowd, after which Brandis commented “I feel like I’ve been to a sermon”. Comedian Denise Scott also remarked that when she kicked off her comedy career it was with a clown performing arts organisation in Albury-Wodonga in the early ’80s, which was fully funded by the government. She wondered aloud what Alan Jones would do with such a story nowadays.

Brandis was in attendance and this morning told Michael Cathcart on Radio National’s Books and Arts that many people “interested” in his new National Program for Excellence in the Arts had approached him at the after party, which is funny as one tipster tells us that although Brandis did attend the VIP party and was more genial than in previous years, he wasn’t anywhere near the actual performers. Our friends at the Daily Review have a wrap-up of the biggest talking points from the ceremony.

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