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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 World Today with Peta Donald

20 November 2015

LANDERS:

The new Federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield is trying to repair the Government's troubled relationship with the arts sector. One olive branch has been his decision to restore some of the funding taken from the Australia Council, which is the Government's independent arts funding body. While arts organisations have welcomed the move, they point out that the Australia Council is still operating on a fraction of the money it once had and as a result small to medium arts groups are going to suffer. From Canberra Peta Donald reports.

DONALD:

This year's budget slashed support for the arts funding body, the Australia Council. More than $100 million over four years went instead to a new fund, to be run by the Arts Ministry. There was outrage from the artists and the Opposition, which accused the Government of setting up a slush fund. Now the new Minister Mitch Fifield is taking a different approach.

FIFIELD:

I've been at great pains to spend a lot of time with the Australian arts community and to listen and the intention always was with the National Program for Excellence that it would be reshaped in the light of feedback from the Australian artistic community and that's what's happened. And as a result of that, we have repurposed $8 million to the Australia Council in recognition of their important role in supporting small and medium organisations and particularly individual artists. But we've also refashioned a new program called Catalyst which will seek to complement the Australia Council and Creative Partnerships Australia and to fill some of the gaps.

DONALD:

About a third of the funding removed is now to be returned to the Australia Council. Twelve million dollars a year will stay with the fund run by the Arts Ministry, which will now be called Catalyst and have an emphasis on innovation.

BEYER:

It's great. You know we're really pleased that this is happening.

DONALD:

Nicole Beyer is co-convenor of the group, Arts Peak. She says it's good the new minister is listening but she says the Australia Council has still lost two-thirds of its funding, that would have otherwise have supported small to medium arts organisations around the country.

BEYER:

As organisations fail, you know, audiences will be seeing less work. A lot of these organisations work in regional areas for example or they run programs with different communities. Those programs won't go ahead. They run programs such as artists in schools, particularly disadvantaged schools so there are all of those programs have already been cancelled so schools will no longer have those artists coming in as residents. A lot of those sorts of programs that you know, that we forget about when we think about performers on stage or something, there's a lot of that sort of arts participation that isn't going to happen.

DONALD:

Labor's arts spokesman Mark Dreyfus says the Government back down is a good thing but he's still concerned about the new Catalyst fund.

DREYFUS:

It's still a ministerially controlled fund. It's still, as we called it, a ministerial slush fund and that's a problem so we'll wait and see what the guidelines say, we'll wait and see what the detail is. But already it's possible to say the Government has not cured the immense disruption that has been caused across the arts sector and it still suffers from the problem of ministerial, complete ministerial control and the lack of independence.

DONALD:

It's a point dismissed by the Minister Mitch Fifield.

FIFIELD:

I don't think anyone would look at me and think that that's the approach that I would take to this fund. I think there are some…

DONALD:

So you can guarantee it won't be a slush fund?

FIFIELD:

Look, it is not, it is not a program that has a political purpose in mind. It has a community purpose in mind and that is to encourage communities and organisations that might not otherwise have access to funding support, to trial new things, to be novel, to be creative, to think laterally, to be part of helping to foster and create an innovative society.

LANDERS:

And that is Federal Arts Minister Mitch Fifield ending Peta Donald's report.

Media contact:

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

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