Further cuts to arts funding will be made over four years as part of the Government’s strategy to tackle the deficit.
More than $3.7 billion in spending cuts were announced by Treasurer Scott Morrison today as the Federal Government attempts to tackle a deficit which is predicted to last beyond the end of the decade. Health, welfare and aged care are among the hardest hit areas, however the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook report also outlined yet more cuts to the arts. $52.5 million in savings is to be found within the Communications and the Arts portfolio over the next four years.
Details of specific cuts have not yet been released, but the MYEFO states that $36.8 million will be taken from “cultural and collecting entities within the Arts portfolio,” which will be achieved by introducing a 3% efficiency target. $9.6 million will be taken via cuts to “a number of arts programmes, including the cessation of the Book Council of Australia.” $6 million will be taken directly from the Department of Communications and the Arts, headed by Senator Mitch Fifield, via departmental “efficiencies.” In response to the closure of the Book Council of Australia, a statement released this afternoon by Senator Fifield said, “I will be consulting widely with the literary community about alternative sector-led mechanisms for representation and promotion.”
Screen Australia will also suffer its third funding blow in 18 months, losing $10.4 million – 3% of its budget – over the next four years.
The report does exempt the Australia Council from any additional cuts, which will come as welcome news to the battered arts funding body after a year of devastating budgetary reforms leading to lost programmes and redundancies. However the newly announced “efficiencies” in the MYEFO may see the loss of money originally administered by the Australia Council but subsequently redirected to the Catalyst Fund (formerly the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts).
The impact of the Australia Council’s slashed funds is becoming increasingly apparent as the results of the most recent funding rounds have been announced. Youth theatre organisations have experienced a shocking loss in financial support, with just three successful applications out of 13 in the September grant round. This particular round was especially competitive given the knock-on disruption caused by the NPEA debacle. Almost 1700 applications were made to the Australia Council, but only 290 were approved for funding.
The ominous ambiguity of the MYEFO will add yet more anxiety to an already fraught arts community in Australia, who have suffered disastrous funding losses due to cuts to the Australia Council announced in the 2015/16 Federal Budget in May to fund the creation of the now defunct NPEA. While the precise nature of these most recent cuts is yet to be revealed, it seems yet more financial hardship is inevitable for the Australian arts sector.