The new Arts Minister admits that the official guidelines remain unfinished and no assessors have been appointed.

During a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday it was revealed that the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) is drastically behind schedule. The largely unpopular new funding scheme was the brain-child of the former Minister for the Arts, George Brandis, who shocked the Australian arts sector when it was announced in the Federal Budget that over $104 million would be syphoned from the independently administered Australia Council for the Arts into the Government run NPEA.

A brief moment of optimism was offered to the disenfranchised Australian arts community when Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull’s first Cabinet reshuffle following the Liberal leadership spill saw the Arts portfolio withdrawn from Senator Brandis’ authority and reassigned to Senator Mitch Fifield. However, despite lobbying efforts by members of the #FreeTheArts movement, who have protested and petitioned the Government to abandon the NPEA since its announcement, Senator Fifield as stuck to his predecessor’s vision for the future of arts funding in Australia, saying that he will “endeavour to make the scheme work”.

However, during the hearing yesterday the new Arts Minister was forced to divulge how underprepared the Ministry is to administer its new scheme. “Though the Government’s arts slush fund was due to come into effect from 1 July 2015, Senator Fifield admitted today under questioning from Senator Bilyk that the Government has still not appointed any assessors,” a Labor party statement revealed. “The Government had committed to begin making appointments within 25 days of applications being received.”

In addition to the absence of any assessors to begin issuing the appropriated funds, which the Labor Party has described as “the Government’s arts slush fund,” formal guidelines to establish eligibility criteria are also unfinished. Draft guidelines were published earlier in the year during Senator Brandis’ tenure as Minister for the Arts, but following overwhelming objections to the exclusion in the those draft guidelines of independent artists and artists working in certain disciplines, Minister Fifield pledged to reassess the eligibility to reflect the concerns of the arts community.

“Incredibly, 162 days after the Government’s slush fund was announced in the Budget, all that has been delivered is disruption and cuts to established programs. Not one grant has been made under the new program,” the statement continued. “It is quite clear that the former Minister, Senator George Brandis, was making up arts policy as he went along. Senator Fifield appears to be following suit.”

Despite being pressed to offer a more definitive timeline for the launch of the NPEA, Minister Fifield was unable to share any firm dates on when the snatched Australian Council dollars might begin funding the arts. He was also unable to provide any additional information as to the status of assessor appointments or when the official guidelines of the new scheme might be published. In addition to the outrage at the apparent chaos within the Arts Ministry, many in the arts community have also voiced their concerns that Michael Napthali, the former “Arts Advisor” to George Brandis, has become Prime Minister Turnbull’s advisor on the arts, leading many to assume a lingering, behind-closed-doors influence by Senator Brandis on Australian arts policy.

Artistic Director of Ensemble Offspring and prominent member of the #FreeTheArts movement, Claire Edwardes, shared her concern about the disarrary the Liberal party has caused within Australian arts sector. “Needless to say the confirmation that Napthali is now Turnbull’s arts advisor is extremely disappointing. Regardless it is now time for Fifield to step up, listen to our reasoning and take action,” she said. “He has been sitting on this for way too long. The opportunity is still there for the cuts to be reversed and we will continue to fight for this important cause.”