The Federal election was called on 8 May 2016. No political or election material will be placed on this website during the caretaker period. Election material is available from party websites.


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

RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas

20 November 2015

KARVELAS:

After sustained pressure from the Australian arts community the Federal Arts Minister has redesigned the controversial fund proposed by previous Minister George Brandis. Minister Mitch Fifield today announced that the Catalyst Australian Arts and Culture Fund will replace George Brandis' National Program for Excellence in the Arts. And it seems the new fund won't be taking as much money out of the Australia Council budget, which was one of the most controversial elements of the George Brandis idea. Minister Mitch Fifield joins me now thanks for your time.

FIFIELD:

Good to be with you Patricia.

KARVELAS:

How is this Catalyst Fund different from to the previous proposal by George Brandis?

FIFIELD:

In a couple of important ways. We've endeavoured to make sure that it isn't seeking to supplant or compete with the Australia Council or Creative Partnerships Australia. We want the Catalyst Fund to complement those two pillars of support for the arts in Australia. And we want to create a new program that can encourage innovation, that can provide opportunity to organisations that might not otherwise have the opportunity to access funding such as galleries and libraries and archives and museums to have a shot to put proposals forward.

KARVELAS:

You've released guidelines on how the catalyst funds will be used. What are the key principals? I mean why does it need to be separate to the Australia Council?

FIFIELD:

It seeks to do some very different things to the Australia Council. Importantly we're proposing that Catalyst can help support new ways of partnerships and collaboration. So it could be someone might want to set up a new fellowships program, or they might want to come up with an innovative way of funding an infrastructure project. So on the partnership and collaboration side that's something really that the Australia Council doesn't do. International and cultural diplomacy, yes we know that our major performing Arts organisations who are supported by the Australia Council do some good work there. But we want to open this up so that other organisations have the opportunity of expanding audiences overseas and in Australia through tours and exhibitions and exchanges. And also, importantly, we have the stream in Catalyst of innovation and participation so that we've got a chance to do even more to support the arts in the regions, also, do more to support the involvement of people with disability in the arts and look at different digital solutions for instance. So these are a range of things that I think complement what the Australia Council does rather than compete or seek to supplant the good work that they do for small and medium organisations and importantly for individuals.

KARVELAS:

On RN Drive my guest is Mitch Fifield the Minister for the Arts and Communications. He's just announced an overhaul of arts funding a different proposal to the one that was being pushed by George Brandis. The Catalyst program will have an annual budget of $12 million a year. So what's happening with the rest of the $105 million that was originally due to be shifted from the Australia Council to the program that Senator Brandis was trying to set up?

FIFIELD:

Well when people talk about the $105 million they're talking about a number that's over the forward estimates. If you look at that in an annual sense it was really a figure of $26 million and part of that was to transfer responsibility from the Australia Council to the Ministry for the Arts for things where there was no controversy. Things like the Visions of Australia Program, things like the Festivals Australia Program. No one really was suggesting that that funding be returned to the Australia Council. Where the interest and focus was, was on about $19 million per year. Now $8 million of that is going back to the Australia Council. So the Australia Council will now have an annual budget of $193 million per annum and over the forward estimates the Australia Council will have $783 million. So I've heard some commentary that the Australia Council is operating on a fraction of its former budget. Not true. AusCo has $783 million over the forward estimates and because we've put $8 million back, they'll have $193 million each year.

KARVELAS:

I've got a question from somebody on Twitter who listens to the program, who's interested in this, who says "how can doubling up on admin be helping because if you've got two funds you've got double the admin don't you?" that is true.

FIFIELD:

I saw that Tweet earlier Patricia and I think that individual might have the view that we're creating a new bureaucracy or a new administration to run Catalyst. It's not the case. The Ministry of the Arts already exists. The Ministry of the Arts already has a range of programs that it administers. So we're definitely not setting up a new bureaucracy.

KARVELAS:

So are these changes a result of the pressure from the arts community which was very vocal in its opposition to the George Brandis changes?

FIFIELD:

Look it was always the intention that the National Program for Excellence, that incarnation, that there would be consultation. And I was very keen as the incoming Minister to talk to the Arts community, not only about the guidelines. But also, about the quantum of funds and how the new program could work with the Australia Council and Creative Partnerships Australia. So definitely the input that I've had and the consultations that I've engaged in have help shape not only the repurposing of $8 million to the Australia Council but also the shape of the Catalyst Fund.

KARVELAS:

But do you acknowledge that it was a broken relationship after the previous Minister sought to overhaul the funding and sought to overhaul it and I'll quote him in one case he said it was "a closed shop" the way that the funding for Arts happened under the Australia Council. You don't agree with that language do you that it's a closed shop, do you? Because you're returning money to it.

FIFIELD:

Look I can only judge the relationship of the Government and the sector in terms of my own experience. And I've found the sector to be very warm, very generous and very engaging. That's been my experience and I'm someone of the view that your effectiveness as a Minister, is to some extent determined by the quality of your relationship with stakeholders. But also I think, as I've probably said to you before, the willingness of a Minister to be both a steward and a student in their portfolio area.

KARVELAS:

But clearly it was a broken relationship; you do have to acknowledge that you've had to mend it somewhat.

FIFIELD:

Look I just take people as I find them and I've found that the Arts sector has been very willing to engage.

KARVELAS:

Now there are still some grumbles as you know about the way that you've announced this, the Catalyst Program. That there is still a separate program, not everybody is happy, is this the end of the road or are you open to perhaps more changes based on the feedback you will receive after today?

FIFIELD:

Look I think before the NPEA was first announced, there was no one in government, or in the sector for that matter, who would have suggested that administrative nirvana had been achieved in the arts. And I don't pretend for a second that I'm the first Minister who has found the perfect combination. What we're doing is seeking to fill some gaps. What we're doing is seeking to give organisations who might not otherwise have the opportunity, to access some funds to be innovative, to be creative to trial different things. That's what we're seeking to do here. I've also sought to rebalance the funding by putting some back to the Australia Council. But my ears are always open and I'm very keen to work with the sector as we refine things over time.

KARVELAS:

And you've talked about this new Catalyst programme. You've used the word innovate a lot in this interview, does this have kind of the fingerprints of Malcolm Turnbull all over it, because that's a word that he keeps repeating as well. Did he give you any direction or idea that he wanted this new rebranded overhaul of the alternative Arts Program you're constructing to have that as one of its chief goals?

FIFIELD:

Malcolm is very keen and very willing to give his Ministers their head. But something he makes crystal clear, not just to Ministers, but to the community is that he wants Ministers to be thinking about ways of fostering a culture of innovation. And that's one of the great things about the arts, is that it encourages lateral thinking. It encourages people to approach things from different angles. And the Arts has a very important role to play in helping create a broader culture of innovation. That's what the creative industries, that's what creative individuals can make a big contribution towards. And that's what I hope Catalyst can further.

KARVELAS:

Thank you so much for your time Minister.

FIFIELD:

Great to talk Patricia

KARVELAS:

And that's Mitch Fifield, he's the Minister for the Arts and Communications. And he's announced today, well that he's effectively gone back on the George Brandis proposal on the Arts overhaul. Instead there is now a catalyst fund, it's called the Catalyst Australian Arts and Culture Fund to replace George Brandis' National Program for Excellence in the Arts and some money goes back to the Australia Council budget. What do you make of it? Is it a much better version of Arts funding than the one that was previously announced by George Brandis? 0418226576 I'd love to get you texts on this, you can also tweet us at @RNDrive.

Media contact:

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

Back to top