The Senate inquiry into Arts Minister George Brandis’ controversial changes to arts funding opens this week. There could be some uncomfortable moments for the beleaguered Arts Minister and his Excellence adventure, now that the full scale of the changes to the Australia Council’s funding profile has been revealed with the publication of the council’s submission to the Senate inquiry on Friday.
With hearings kicking off in Melbourne on Wednesday
and then travelling around the country, the sketchy evidence and ramshackle process underpinning Brandis' Excellence raid is sure to be put under considerable scrutiny.
The Senate inquiry, voted up with unanimous support from non-Coalition parties, will be chaired by maverick ex-Palmer United Senator Glenn Lazarus. It will probe the circumstances and rationale behind Brandis’ sneak attack on arts funding, in which he moved $105 million from the Australia Council to the new National Program for Excellence in the Arts, which Labor has described as a “slush fund.”
Brandis made the move without even telling the Australia Council beforehand. The unprecedented move has already forced major disruptions to the arts sector, with the confirmation last week that the Australia Council would abandon its six-year funding for organisations, replacing it with a four-year process and a much-reduced grant pool.
The Australia Council submission reveals that funding programs to individual artists and arts projects will decline by more than half this year, compared to 2013-14 levels.
All up, the Australia Council has had $123.3 million, removed by the various decisions taken by George Brandis at the budget. This includes the $105 million from the Excellence raid, as well as $6 million for Books Councils (details of which are still forthcoming) and $7.3 million in efficiency cuts.
The Australia Council’s appropriation will fall to $184.5 million this year, down from $211.7 million last year. But with $107.7 million quarantined for the major performing arts sector, the council’s discretionary budget is down by 34.8%.
A figure in the submission spells it out.