Senate Inquiry – have your say on Federal arts funding

Thursday, July 9, 2015
Kate Larsen

#FreeTheArts hashtag

Readers, writers, literary journals and organisations are concerned by the recent changes to Federal arts funding.

In May this year, the Federal Government cut $104.8 million from The Australia Council to go towards a new National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), to be managed by the staff of the Ministry for the Arts.

The cuts will have significant implications for writers and literary organisations across Australia, and the issue has been referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for a Senate inquiry.

To make sure the voices of our sector are heard, we ask you to make a submission to the Senate Inquiry by Friday 17 July 2015.


With no reduction in funding to the 28 major performing arts organisations, the Australia Council cuts will come from funding previously allocated for small to medium organisations, independent writers and artists. But the NPEA's draft guidelines state that it will not fund individuals, resulting in less funding and fewer opportunities for independent practitioners.

The Australia Council is an arms-length statutory authority that has provided a mechanism for independent arts funding for more than 40 years, with grants being fully accountable and applicants being assessed by a panel of their peers. But the NPEA's draft guidelines state that that not all recipients of the new funding will be announced, significantly reducing the accountability and transparency of the process.

There are also concerns about whether the new fund will be administered independent of political intervention, about equity and diversity in terms of access to funding, and the potential impact on freedom of expression.

Whether you’re a reader, writer, arts-worker or audience member, this is your opportunity to help demonstrate the value of our sector and help give the government, public and media a full picture of what's at stake. The more people we have sending the same messages, the stronger the voice of the literary sector will be.


Your submission can take any form: written, illustrated, audio, video etc. If you have already written a letter or contributed to the #FreeTheArts campaign, that can also form the basis of your submission. Here’s some tips to get you started.

  • Read the Inquiry Terms of Reference. You can choose to address all of the terms or just those that affect you most.
  • Look at examples of other submissions
  • Send in your additions to Writers Victoria’s draft submission (below) or write / draw / record your own. This could include:
    • Your credentials or connection to the sector (for example, as an independent writer, artist or arts-worker, representative of an organisation, reader, participant or audience member, educator, etc).
    • Your thoughts on the Federal Government’s arts funding cuts in the 2014 and 2015 Budgets.
    • Your personal experience of Federal arts funding and/or how engagement in the literary sector or arts world has benefited you in general.
    • The potential impact of these budget decisions on you and your work, the broader literary sector or arts community.
  • Send your submission by Friday Friday 17 July to or post to: Committee Secretary, Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, PO Box 6100, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600
  • Spread the word. It’s important that people within and outside of the arts sector contribute to the inquiry. Tell your friends and family that this issue is important to you, ask them to sign the online petition or make their own submission. Or you can join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook using the #FreeTheArts hashtag.

If you want to take it further, you can send a copy of your submission to your local Federal MP, Mark Dreyfus, Senator Brandis, the Prime Minister and your local newspaper.

You can also provide feedback on the draft guidelines for the new National Programme for Excellence. Submissions are due by Friday 31 July.

Senate Inquiry - Writers Victoria’s response (draft)

Writers Victoria is concerned by the decisions made about Federal arts funding in the 2015 Budget.

As the state’s peak body for writers and writing, Writers Victoria supports, represents and advocates for more than 3,200 members and the broader literary sector.

We are a not-for-profit, membership organisation that works within the small-to-medium arts sector and as a member of the National Writers Centre Network - Australia's largest network of writers.

On behalf of our members, participants and audiences, we seek a reversal of the cuts to the Australia Council and an assurance that federal arts funding will continue  to be administered through an accountable, arms-length, peer-reviewed processes.

Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the arts

The ecology of the arts and cultural sectors is diverse and varied. The shift of $104.8 million from The Australia Council to the new National Programme for Excellence (NPEA) will have significant implications for Australian readers, writers and literary organisations, as well as for the broader arts sector. It will not only impact on Writers Victoria as an organisation, but on our literary- and arts-sector colleagues and our constituency of individual writers, editors, publishers and readers.

Another $5.2 million of cuts will be redirected to Creative Partnerships Australia (CPA) to foster private sector support for the arts. While writers and literary organisations may benefit from CPA’s match-funding programs, the initiative favours organisations with the resources and contacts to seek and obtain philanthropic support. That these programs are being supported through a transfer of funds from the Australia Council rather than through additional funding will inevitably place increased pressure on the small-medium sector generally and disadvantage the writing sector specifically.

A further $7.2 million in ‘efficiency savings’ will be cut from the Australia Council over the next four years. The announcements come just months after the newly-streamlined funder implemented a restructure and revised its funding programs, and a year after an initial $28.2 million was cut as part of Budget 2014.

The cuts also follow on from last year’s announcement that $6 million would be taken from the Australia Council budget to fund a new Books Industry Council. Not much has been heard about the initiative since then, however, and the National Writers Centre Network has yet to be involved in the scoping process. There is significant concern across the sector that the Books Industry Council will also redirect funding away from the sector.

“The arts sector is already under enormous pressure from last year’s funding cuts,” Anne Dunn reported from the recent ‘Our Future in Our Hands’ forum in Sydney. “People are clearly saying that Minister Brandis needs to bring new money to the table for his new program. He needs to grow the investment rather than sacrifice the small to medium and independent artists, who are critical parts of the sector ecology.”

What should have been a period of stability and strategic growth now risks destabilisation, with the cuts putting extraordinary pressure on artists, funding agencies and philanthropists across the country.

Suitability and appropriateness of the establishment of a National Programme for Excellence in the Arts

We support the Australia Council as an independent arm’s length statutory body free from political influence.

In contrast to the arms-length, peer-reviewed funding model of the Australia Council, the NPEA will be administered by Senator Brandis' Ministry for the Arts. The Australia Council has provided a mechanism for independent arts funding for more than 40 years, with grants being fully accountable and applicants being assessed by qualified industry peers. This rigorous process has ensured decisions are made by experts in a particular art form and independent of political and other potential pressures. By comparison, the NPEA's draft guidelines state that that not all recipients of the new funding will be announced, significantly reducing the accountability and transparency of the process.

With no reduction to funding to the 28 major performing arts organisations, it is the small to medium arts sector and independent writers and artists who will bear the brunt of these changes.

The Literature Section of the Australia Council had one of the smallest pools of available funding, so it’s easy to see why writers and literary organisations are nervous about what will happen next – particularly as literature is not listed as an eligible artform within the draft NEPA guidelines. Melbourne’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature is at risk.

In response to the budget cuts, the Australia Council has announced that it has suspended the six-year funding program and cancelled its June grant round. We are already seeing the impact of these changes on organisations in terms of their staffing and future programs, in addition to their frustration over the thousands of hours of work that have been wasted.

Initiatives such as ArtStart, the Creative Communities Partnerships Initiative, Artist Residencies and Artists with Disability funding programs will not be offered in the future. The loss of these unique capacity-building, training, development and research initiatives could see us risk the next generations of cultural workers and Australia’s reputation for cultural ambition and excellence.

The remaining Australia Council cuts will have to be found from funding previously allocated for small to medium organisations, independent writers and artists. But the NPEA will distribute less money ($20 million/year) than it took from the Australia Council, and its draft guidelines state that it will not fund individuals, resulting in less funding and fewer opportunities for independent practioners. The new program also reduces opportunities for multi-year and long-term funding that allows organisations to engage in effective and strategic planning.

Protection of freedom of artistic expression and prevention of political influence

We are extremely concerned about issues of accountability and whether the new fund will be administered independent of political intervention, about equity and diversity in terms of access to funding, and the potential impact on freedom of expression.

We also have concerns about the lack of industry consultation in establishing the NPEA. In a Senate Estimates hearing on 27 May, Senator Brandis confirmed that he had not consulted with the arts community before announcing plans for the new agency. We believe that arts funding arrangements should be decided on within the context of evidence-based policy, devised through broad and thorough consultation and research.

Access to a diversity of quality arts and cultural experiences

We assert the great social and public value of the arts which influences and engages people across all layers of society.

The proposed disruption to the current funding model will have a profound and long-lasting effect on the arts as an integrated and inter-connected culturally diverse industry.

We are particularly concerned about the impact of the budget announcement on writers, artists and organisations from diverse backgrounds, such as the participants of our Diverse Writers initiative and Write-ability program for writers with disability. In practical terms, the changes will create an additional barrier to entry and access for diverse practitioners and organisations and move more funding to major organisations, which are already criticised for a lack of diversity (of form, story, artists, participants and audiences). 

The cuts will move support from communities and individuals to institutions and businesses, add admimistrative complexity and opacity for smaller organisations and independent practitioners, and raise the administrative burden / risk beyond the capacity of many. It will also further preference those organisations that have the resources and contacts to seek and obtain philanthropic support through the diversion of funds to Creative Partnerships Australia.

By narrowing the diversity of cultural products and producers in Australia, the NPEA and associated budget cuts will narrow the concept of the Australian arts sector and preclude many from the acknowledged benefits of participation, community cultural development and best-practice cultural planning. It will also provide significantly less funding and fewer opportunities for independent artists and small to medium arts organisations, resulting in increased competition, lack of diversity, downsizing, job losses and reduction in Australia’s creative industries (and their subsequent contribution to our cultural identity, social integration and economy).

Funding criteria and implementation processes to be applied to the program

A delegation of arts leaders met in Canberra in June to reject the establishment of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts and its narrow concept of ‘excellence'.

Within an arts context, it is important to maintain a broad definition of the term ‘excellence’, one that can be that measured in a variety of different ways - from quality to reach, experimentation, cultural relevance or impact - not just on organisational profile or scale.

A focus on funding excellence at the expense of development risks not having a next generation of writers, artists and arts managers to create excellent work. As Ben Neutze wrote for Daily Review, artists and administrators warned that last year’s cuts would “hurt the artists and smaller companies who can afford it least, and are a major source of innovation and creative energy.”

Implications of any duplication of administration and resourcing

The introduction of the NPEA will directly result in arts funding infrastructure being unnecessarily duplicated, causing resources to be diverted away from the sector.

The establishment of a second arts funding body would not only duplicate functions already exercised by the Australia Council, but also increase the workload for applicants as arts organisations would be required to submit similar or identical applications to both bodies, effectively doubling assessment workload and costs.

Setting up a new grants infrastructure which is likely to duplicate the Australia Council's, but without the benefit of its industry expertise or the  buffer of arms‐length decision-making, represents a significant waste of public funds. Equally concerning is the step it takes towards a new culture of legitimised political interference in the arts.

We are also concerned that the cuts will cause irreparable damage to the operations and impact of the Australia Council itself, should the organisation have to make further efficiency savings after having just completed a major restructure, responded to $28.2 million of cuts as part of Budget 2014, and redirected $6 million to fund the new Books Industry Council (of which Senator Brandis has yet to release any details).

With dollar-for-dollar grant subsidies significantly smaller than those received by other sectors, the creative industries in Victoria alone contributed $22.7 billion in 2013 (or 8% of the state economy) and employed more than 220,000 people. The creative industries are growing at almost double the rate of the broader economy, and a recent report showed that 89% of Victorians attended a cultural venue or event last year – each engagement an opportunity to support education, community cohesion, access, inclusivity, health, expression and understanding.

Through the duplication of resources and channelling of funds away from the sector, the introduction of the NPEA will have a significant and long-lasting impact on Australia’s artists and organisations. Risking this delicate arts ecology simply doesn’t make cultural, artistic or economic sense.