Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

ABC Radio National Books and Arts with Michael Cathcart

23 November 2015

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CATHCART:

So tell us about the new programme Catalyst. $12 million a year, what kinds of arts projects do you see this going towards?

FIFIELD:

Well it's to give an opportunity for a range of organisations that might not previously have had the chance to access government funding. Organisations like galleries and libraries and archives and museums. That's one part of it, but more broadly it's intended to give an opportunity for organisations to come forward with innovative and different ideas. And really to trial some different things.

CATHCART:

Why not just give the money to the Australia Council and give them some instructions that that's the sort of thing they should be funding?

FIFIELD:

Well the Australia Council has I think a very particular role. It emphasises artistic excellence. It looks at core funding for operations. It is the channel through which we support individual artists. It does fellowships. It does residencies. It has a fairly clear mission and I didn't want to dilute or distract the Australia Council from its core mission. So what we're seeking to do with Catalyst is not to supplant or compete with the Australia Council, but really to complement its efforts.

CATHCART:

Just give me an example then will you? Of the kind of project you think might get up, that wouldn't have got up in the past. Because I'm not that clear what you've got in mind.

FIFIELD:

Well, take for example through the partnerships and collaborations stream of Catalyst. You could have an organisation that wanted to trial a new fundraising model for an infrastructure project. And they might seek from the Catalyst fund to secure an amount of money which they could then go to other organisations and say "look we've got this support from the Commonwealth Government, will you partner with us? Will you let us leverage this money?". So that's one example through the partnerships and collaborations stream, for example.

CATHCART:

Yes, so just to explain that this was a provision that did exist under the old NPEA which you've retained and this is the idea that if you can create a partnership with industry then you can pair that with a government funded project. I mean with respect that still doesn't explain to me, you know, what we see for our money. I mean you're talking about innovation okay, so we are raising money for what?

FIFIELD:

Well, It's raising money, it's helping organisations who might not otherwise have a source of funds to go, with a proposition, to others. To seek to do something different. That's not something that you can currently do through the Australia Council.

CATHCART:

But what I'm feeling for is what outcomes are we looking for? Because everyone was trying to read the mind of the previous Minister. What kind of art did he like? What kind of art was he going to encourage? We're still in that game a little bit Minister, because this is happening within your ministry, so we do want to know what kind of work ultimately you're trying to curate and foster.

FIFIELD:

Well I want to see what the ideas are that are in the community. I'm not looking to have the Mitch model of what the arts might look like and what the arts might produce. We want to see what's out there. We want to say here's an opportunity to innovate. Here is an opportunity that hasn't previously existed. Come forward with your ideas.

CATHCART:

I don't know, the Mitch models kind of catchy. It sort of works. Okay, so my organisation comes along, we put an application in under the Catalyst provisions. We should say that it doesn't have to be one of these things that's paired with private funding, you can just ask for money outright. How will this be assessed? Is it still going to be a combination of offices within your ministry and so called independent assessors drawn from the wider community.

FIFIELD:

That's right, they'll be an independent list of assessors, and for some projects there will also be officers of the department who are on that assessment panel.

CATHCART:

So these independent assessors, have you recruited those? Where have all of them, where will they come from?

FIFIELD:

There's been a registration process for assessors and the Department will choose assessors who've got experience relevant to a particular stream, the particular application. And I should emphasise that there are three streams, there's partnerships and collaborations, which we've touched on. There's the innovation and participation stream. And an international and cultural diplomacy stream.

CATHCART:

Okay let's talk about international art diplomacy, because that's an interesting one. How you reach out and promote art overseas. How will that work? Let's talk again about the kind of project you'd like to see?

FIFIELD:

Well at the moment we have good international diplomacy that happens through our major performing arts organisations who are funded through the Australia Council to do that. We have an opportunity here through the international and cultural diplomacy stream to give the opportunity to organisations who might not have previously have had overseas on their radar. To come forward with a proposition as to how they might present themselves as a sort of programme that can be engaged with that might encourage people from overseas to come here. And that could be through something like an exchange. It could be a tour overseas. It could be an exhibition.

CATHCART:

Okay, and just to be clear this is an agency I suppose. The Catalyst, which is there to fund groups. You've made it clear that the provision under NPEA, that it wouldn't be for individual artists, you're going to retain that. This is about funding groups. Why not include individual artists in your vision?

FIFIELD:

Just two points, firstly we are not creating a new agency. Catalyst will be administered by the Ministry of the Arts which is already there. Already exists. Already runs programmes. So the view that has occasionally been put forward that we're setting up a new bureaucracy is not correct.

CATHCART:

What are we going to call it? So it's a fund? It's a process? It's a… What is it? What is Catalyst? It's a?

FIFIELD:

It's a programme. It's a programme administered by the Ministry of the Arts.

CATHCART:

Okay, so the question was why not include individual artists in this procedure? In this programme?

FIFIELD:

I think it's important to maximise the expertise that the Australia Council has in relation to individuals. So my view is that the Australia Council should be the vehicle through which the Commonwealth supports individual artists. And that was a message I have received strongly from the sector. And it's also strongly the view of the Australia Council. They have the expertise. Let's use the expertise that they have there.

CATHCART:

Senator Mitch Fifield is my guest this morning, he's the new Minister for the Arts and we're talking about the new programme. Which is called Catalyst, which replaces the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts. So you've been in the job for 8 weeks, which doesn't seem very long does it when you put it like that? What do you see as the area of greatest potential in the arts in Australia? Now that you're so thoroughly across the whole scene?

FIFIELD:

Michael that's a minefield. If I picked one area and said this has the greatest potential, I'd be jumped upon from a great height.

CATHCART:

Well I am looking for sort of personal enthusiasms. What's excited you? What have you discovered in the 8 weeks? I mean, because we all know that you haven't been an arts guy front and centre, this is slightly new territory for you. What's excited you over the last 8 weeks?

FIFIELD:

The people involved in the arts. Their passion. Their enthusiasm. Their generosity of spirit. Even as a government that may have taken some decisions which weren't entirely embraced, the arts community has been very generous in terms of offering their thoughts. In terms of their willingness to sit down and talk and share with me. So I'm really enthused and really encouraged by the openness that there is in the community to work together with the Government. I think I've said to you before, I don't think that we had achieved, even before these changes, even before the NPEA was in prospect, I don't think there was administrative nirvana in the arts. I don't think we've reached that yet. But, I'm very keen, and I know the sector's very keen, to work together to continually improve the support structures that are provided as a government for the arts.

CATHCART:

Was the Senate Inquiry a worthwhile exercise?

FIFIELD:

Look, Senate enquiries are born in many different ways. Sometimes they're born in partisanship. Sometimes they're born in a cross-party environment. But regardless of the circumstances in which a committee comes about, there's always some useful evidence that's presented. So I'm a big fan of Senate Committees. It gives the community – in this case the arts community – the opportunity to ventilate their views. And that's always worthwhile.

CATHCART:

I know a lot of artists who've appeared before the Senate Inquiry. Put a lot of thought and care into what they has to say. And there really was I thought faith in the procedure that this was an opportunity for arts to talk back to power, talk back to the decision makers and say here's why what you're doing isn't a good idea, which was the overwhelming message of most of the people who appeared before the inquiry. I mean, were they deluded? Or does that kind of exercise actually open ears in government? Or does government simply say "oh the opposition and other parties are just doing this, let them do their stuff."

FIFIELD:

No, I think even if it's the Opposition who have established a particular senate inquiry, government looks at the evidence that comes through the inquiry. One of the things that's been put to me over recent weeks is that the inquiry has provided the opportunity for the arts community to come together and to represent themselves in a way that they previously haven't done. So the arts community have found ways to speak with a common voice, which perhaps they previously haven't had before.

CATHCART:

 Minister, one of the principles that is not going to go away is this idea that there should be arm's length funding within the Ministry. Which is an unusual check on a Minister, because other Minister's are intimately involved in the way the money is spent in their portfolio. But in the arts there is a view that a Minister should not be making decisions about how arts funding is distributed. Not at a micro level anyway. How are you going to maintain the sense that that principle is being respected? Especially in relation to a programme that's being run within your ministry?

FIFIELD:

Well, I think we've got a pretty good balance. The Australia Council gets $193 million per annum, which is completely at arm's length. Through the Catalyst programme there'll be $12 million a year administered by the Ministry of the Arts. And if you look at the States, every single dollar of states arts funding is delivered through their relevant ministries. They don't have at the state level the equivalent of an Australia Council. There's no NSW Council or Victoria Council, or South Australian Council. So there's nothing in principle wrong with having programmes administered by government departments, every state does it. We have at Commonwealth level a modest number of programmes in the arts, a relatively small amount of money administered by the Ministry of the Arts. The bulk of it was, is and remains administered by the Australia Council.

CATHCART:

We'll leave it there Minister, thank you so much for talking to us this morning.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Michael, good to chat.

Media contact:

Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak@aph.gov.au

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