Shadow Arts Minister pledges to undo $105 million of Abbott-Turnbull Government cuts to arts spending.

They say no news is good news, but that didn’t quite ring true for artists across Australia on Tuesday, as the 2016/17 Federal Budget failed to announce any significant news, good or bad, about arts funding. The absence from this year’s budget papers was a stark contrast to last year’s, which shocked the arts sector by dividing Government spending on the arts between the established Australia Council and the Catalyst Fund (formerly ex-Art Minister George Brandis’s National Programme for Excellence in the Arts). 

There had been a hope that the budget announcement earlier this week would address the overwhelming outcry from Australian artists over the division of arts subsidy, which has had a devastating impact on arts organisations, particularly on the small to medium scale, throughout the country. However, a new glimmer of hope has now been offered by Shadow Minister for the Arts, the Honourable Mark Dreyfus QC, who has pledged to return the money siphoned to the Catalyst Fund from the Australia Council, should Labor win the upcoming Federal election.

In a statement issued yesterday, Dreyfus labelled the interference of the Abbott-Turnbull administration with arts funding as “shameful,” adding: “Labor will return the lost money to the Australian Council and rebuild the trust and confidence in the arts sector which has been trashed by this Government.”

Dreyfus also criticised the new Federal Budget for not addressing other major arts funding cuts during the Coalition administration, which over the past three years has slashed arts and culture spending by $300 million, in addition to the $105 million extracted from the Australia Council to establish the NPEA/Catalyst Fund last year. In addition to the reduced Government investment in the Australia Council, mandatory “efficiency” savings and infrastructure changes to arts grants, the Shadow Arts Minister also called attention to the reduction of Government spending on major cultural institutions, which will see significant job losses and a reduction in activity including fewer services and exhibitions available to the public. 

To counter the negative impact of the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s three years in power, Dreyfus has pledged to champion the arts sector should Labor return to power. This is expected to include the dissolution of the Catalyst Fund, which Dreyfus labelled a “ministerial slush fund,“ adding that Catalyst, “has haphazardly doled out money in a way that undermines the principle of independent, arms-length arts funding in Australia.”

Politicians making grand promises ahead of an election is hardly a guarantee, but Dreyfus has already proven himself to be an ardent supporter of the arts over the past year. Following last year’s Budget announcement, he met with concerned artists and delegates from the #FreeTheArts movement, as well as playing a role in the successful campaign to form a Senate Inquiry into the impact of the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts.

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