Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield held dozens of meetings in his first three months in the job with the arts sector and stakeholders to try to fix the mess left by Attorney-General George Brandis, but the funding never came back.
When Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister, responsibility for the arts portfolio shifted from Brandis to Fifield after what had been a tumultuous two years for the sector. Brandis gutted funding across the sector, cutting close to $300 million since 2013. A total of $123.3 million was taken from the Australia Council, with Brandis establishing a $105 million “National Program for Excellence in the Arts”.
When Fifield took over last year, $32 million was returned to the Australia Council, and the ministerial fund was renamed the Catalyst program, but it remained a fund where the minister had final say over what did and did not get funding. According to Fifield’s diary of his time in the first three months as minister in the Turnbull government in 2015, he had a flurry of meetings with those involved in the sector, from the National Portrait Gallery in September to a meeting with the Australian Council chair, and meetings with his state and territory counterparts in the arts.
He held meetings with the department about the National Program for Excellence in the Arts in late October before it was turned into Catalyst in November. His last meeting about Brandis’ excellence program before it was cut and rebadged was just two days before Catalyst was announced. Fifield held a series of interviews with journalists in the lead-up to the announcement, and then held announcements at a number of funding for programs in the weeks following. Below is an outline of Fifield’s diary in the arts for the first three months as minister:
- September 23, 2015: National Portrait Gallery Chair — Briefing
- October 1, 2015: RN Books and Arts (pre-record interview Anna Taylor)
- October 2, 2015: Australia Council Chair and CEO Catch-up
- October 2, 2015: State and Territory Cultural Lunch prior to Meeting of Ministers and officials — Cultural Ministers
- October 2, 2015: State and Territory Cultural Meeting of Cultural Ministers — Ministers and officials
- October 2, 2015: State and Territory Cultural Reception following Meeting — Ministers, officials and invited of Cultural Ministers guests
- October 7, 2015: Chief of Staff and Ministerial Meeting regarding Arts adviser, Departmental First budget Assistant Secretary, Arts Division (Minister’s attendance tentative)
- October 22, 2015: Announcement regarding screen industry support
- October 23, 2015: Australia Council, Rupert Myer AO Lunch
- October 28, 2015: Sophie Mirabella, Chair — discussion about the Wangaratta Jazz Festival
- October 29, 2015: Director of National Portrait Gallery — Visit to National Portrait Gallery
- October 29, 2015: Departmental officials Briefing on the National Program for Excellence in the Arts
- November 2, 2015: Creative Advisor for the Meeting regarding ANZAC Centenary – ANZAC Arts and Centenary Arts & Culture Fund
- November 6, 2015: Arts Peak Executive Director Catch-up
- November 6, 2015: Trustee of the Sydney Opera House Lunch, hosted by the Trustee of the Sydney Opera House
- November 6, 2015: Visit to Australian Ballet
- November 8, 2015: Australian National Maritime Opening of new Warships Museum Chairman, Australian Pavilion, “Action Stations” National Maritime Museum exhibition, including ribbon cutting Director, Chief of Navy (Minister representing Prime Minister)
- November 10, 2015: Event to celebrate life of Gordon Darling AC CMG, founding patron of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia
- November 13, 2015: National Library of Australia Meeting with Library’s Director-General — regarding activities and future directions
- November 17, 2015: Department Secretary & Meeting regarding Program for Excellence in the Arts
- November 17, 2015: Speech for Regional Arts Australia Visual Arts Showcase 2015
- November 18, 2015: Note regarding National Film and Sound Archives of Australia’s annual release of “ten sounds”
- November 18, 2015: Speech for Screen Producers Association of Australia conference
- November 19, 2015: The Australian (Matthew Westwood) Interview regarding Catalyst funding program
- November 19, 2015: Fairfax (Matthew Knott) Interview regarding Catalyst funding program
- November 20, 2015: ABC RN Drive (Patricia Karvelas) Pre-recording of interview on Catalyst funding program
- November 20, 2015: Speech at Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art
- November 25, 2015: Hon Warren Entsch MP Meeting regarding funding to Cairns Performing Arts Centre
- December 4, 2015: His Excellency Jose Manuel Montano, Ambassador of Cuba meeting regarding possible cultural exchange program between Australia and Cuba
- December 4, 2015: National Library of Australia Council Meeting
- December 10, 2015: Aboriginal Arts Centre Hub Visit and meeting CEO and Country Arts WA representatives
- December 10, 2015: Chamber of Arts & Culture WA Visit, tour and morning tea Executive Director and members, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts Director
- December 10, 2015: Western Australian Ballet Centre Visit, tour and rehearsal, CEO and Artistic viewing Director
- December 14, 2015: Invited guests Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Minister hosting)
- December 16, 2015: Australian Ballet Director Catch up
It is difficult to do a like-for-like comparison between Fifield’s diary and that of George Brandis in the months before the massive cuts to the sector announced in the 2014 budget. When Brandis provided his diary, the print-out of the Microsoft Outlook email calendar often left off key details such as who was in the meeting or what a meeting was about. Fifield’s office has provided Crikey with more detail in this respect in its summary of the diary.
Just before the election was called and caretaker conventions kicked in, Fifield announced a flurry of funding for arts programs that appeared to overspend the funding for Catalyst. Fifield did not take much policy in the arts sector to the election. Earlier this year, the Australia Council lost another $9.2 million in funding, and then in March the government announced that after $35 million in funding for 189 projects, $61 million in funding would be transferred from Catalyst back to the Australia Council.
Who did Fifield meet with as he was lobbied for media reform and crack downs on piracy? Crikey will have the details next.