The NOR misses the publication deadline for its findings, while artist submissions mount for senate inquiry into the NPEA.

It never rains but it pours for Minister for the Arts George Brandis. After two solid months of bad press following the revelations in the Federal Budget of the senator’s raid on the Australia Council to fund his own National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), another of the Minister’s pet projects has seemingly run aground.

The National Opera Review (NOR) was established a year ago to “examine the artistic vibrancy, engagement with audiences and financial positions,” of the four companies receiving the largest amount of government subsidy: Opera Australia, State Opera of South Australia, West Australian Opera and Opera Queensland. Led by Dr Helen Nugent, alongside Moffatt Oxenbould, Kathryn Fagg and Andrew McKinnon, this panel of experts was tasked with gathering evidence, including conducting a nationwide public consultation, for a report that should have been published by June 30, but now the Ministry for the Arts say the review will not be published until the end of 2015.

No specific reason has been given for the delayed publication of the National Opera Review, but the timing suggest the release of the report was delayed to avoid it being overshadowed by the negative publicity surrounding Minister Brandis and the Ministry for the Arts in the wake of the major controversy whipped up by the launch of the NPEA. All of the four companies under review by the NOR are currently part of AMPAG, the umbrella organisation for the 28 major performing arts companies in Australia, which under the new funding paradigm instituted in the Federal Budget are protected from the almost $105 million of cuts to the Australia Council being used for the development of the NPEA.

Meanwhile over 2000 artists and arts organisations around Australia have submitted statements to the Senate ahead of the government ordered inquiry into the NPEA, largely from small to medium sized arts organisations and independent artists. The Senate investigation was called for after it emerged that Senator Brandis sought no consultation with the Australian arts sector before instituting his controversial reforms to the arts funding infrastructure. The motion for the inqury passed following lobbying efforts by representatives from the Labor Party, the Greens and all four independent Senate crossbenchers in response to significant outcry from the Australian arts community. The findings of the inquiry are due to be released on the September 15.

Among those voicing their opposition to the reallocation of government subsidy of the arts were percussionist and Artistic Director of Ensemble Offspring Claire Edwardes, recent APRA AMCOS Art Music Award finalist Lachlan Skipworth, composer Liza Lim and Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, as well as prominent arts leaders and organisations such as Sue Giles, the artistic director of Victorian-based company Polyglot Theatre, John Davis on behalf of the Australian Music Centre, and the New Music Network.

Echoing the concerns of the majority of submissions, Perth-based composer Lachlan Skipworth said in his statement that he was “outraged by the plan to transfer funds away from the Australia Council, which will effectively destroy the small/medium sector,” whilst Claire Edwardes called for the senate to “cancel all discretionary funding by the Arts Minister not processed through the Australia Council.”

However, conspicuously absent from the public list of submitted statements was any contribution from the 28 AMPAG organisations, which have been strongly criticised by many artists for their lack of comment on the highly contentious changes to arts funding. 

A full list of publically disclosed submissions can be viewed on the Australian Parliament website.

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