The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee today handed down its report into the Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts.

The report calls for a complete reversal of the funding cuts to the Australia Council, Screen Australia and for the abolition of the beleaguered ‘Catalyst’ program.

“The Committee calls on the Government to restore all the funding stripped from the arts in the 2014 MYEFO and 2015 budgets and ensure the Australia Council has enough funding to implement its 2014 strategic plan,” Senator Bilyk said.

“The Arts community sent a clear message to the Government that they want the funding removed from the Australia Council to fund the NPEA/Catalyst programs returned to the Australia Council,” Senator Bilyk said.

“The gutting of an institution that has been developed for over 40 years is a disaster, and has left the sector in disarray.”

The Committee recommended that if Catalyst were to proceed that new funding be found, and its assessment procedures be copied from the Australia Council to ensure it doesn’t act as a Ministerial ‘slush fund’.

“Witnesses at all 10 of the public hearings I attended said time-and-time again that they trusted the processes of the Australia Council to fairly allocate funding, and were opposed to the Minister making decisions as to what projects will receive funding” Senator Bilyk said.

“If the Government must have its own arts slush fund, they need to find the money from elsewhere and return funds to the Australia Council’.

The Committee also called for the Government to adopt evidence based policies for the arts.

“Australian artists are absolutely furious that such major policy changes have appeared to be made ‘on the run’,” Senator Bilyk said. “The Government needs to develop a coherent and clear arts policy, including priorities for arts funding supported by evidence-based analysis”

The Committee also asks for greater clarity from the Government regarding how the Australia Council, the Ministry for the Arts and the Catalyst program are to interact.
“The guidelines for the new ‘Catalyst’ program neglects to mention the Australia Council’s advisory role,” Senator Bilyk said.

“The Committee calls for greater clarity about the respective roles of the Ministry for the Arts and the Australia Council, as well as the other statutory arts bodies”.

Evidence received by the committee condemned the decision to allocate large amounts of arts funding to be allocated solely at the discretion of the Minister.

“It’s inappropriate that the Minister strips away $12 million dollars from the Australia Council just to fund art projects that he personally approves,” Senator Bilyk said.

“We can see with the recent scandal of Minister Brandis giving the ‘one off grant’ of $2.42 million to the Australian World Orchestra that such a fund will be used purely for political purposes, not artistic ones.

The Committee received written submissions from over 2,700 people and organisations, and over 200 witnesses appeared at the 10 public hearings.

While the Senate report has been handed down, Australian arts organisations are still under significant threat from these changes.

“The Government needs to admit they are wrong and reverse all their arts decisions. Until they do, artists, arts organisations and the broader Australian community need to continue the fight to free the arts,” Senator Bilyk said.

The full committee report will be available at the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Website here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Arts_Funding

SENATOR CATRYNA BILYK DEPUTY OPPOSITION WHIP IN THE SENATE SENATOR FOR TASMANIA