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In May 2015 the then Federal Arts Minister, George Brandis, slashed more than $100 million from the budget of the government's arts funding body, the Australia Council. The funds were diverted into a new National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA). Unlike the Australia Council, the NPEA was not run on an arms-length basis from the government and the funds were not available to individual artists or small to medium arts organisations.
This has resulted in a 70% drop in federal grants for individual artists, a loss of funding for many small to medium arts organisations, including many supporting writers and the politicisation of arts grants made through Catalyst.
Following the May announcement, the ASA joined hundreds of arts organisations and individual artists in condemning the changes. The outcry from the arts sector resulted in a Senate Inquiry that received over 2200 submissions. In September 2015, a cabinet reshuffle saw the arrival of a new Arts Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield who, that November, rebranded the new fund "Catalyst" and returned $8 million per year in funding to the Australia Council. However, in December 2015, the Senate Inquiry into the debacle recommended that all funds be returned to the Australia Council and that the Catalyst program be disbanded.
This has not happened. Despite rumours reported by Daily Review in October 2016 that that Senator Fifield was indeed set to return funds to the Australia Council and all but dismantle the Catalyst program, no confirmation has yet been made by the Minister.
The ASA believes the “Catalyst” fund represents a costly duplication of the arts bureaucracy, as well as opening the door to the potential for political interference in funding decisions. Furthermore, the lack of availability of funds to individuals and small to medium arts organisations stifles Australia's creatives and the organisations that support them.
The ASA believes that the principle of peer-review, arms-length funding is an essential one for the arts in a democratic country. A vibrant, inclusive society needs a vibrant and inclusive arts sector. Out of an annual Commonwealth budget of approximately $400 billion, only about 0.35% goes to the arts, and most of that goes to galleries, museums and the big performance companies.
That's why we believe the Government should disband the Catalyst program, restore and boost funds to the Australia Council and make a provision to allow a greater proportion of those funds to be allocated towards funding writers, illustrators and literary organisations.
The ASA is an active member of ArtsPeak, an unincorporated federation of national peak arts organisations which continues to advocate for the abolition of Catalyst and a full restoration of funding to the Australia Council.
During the 2016 Federal election ArtsPeak, co-convened by the National Association for Viusal Arts (NAVA) and others campaigned heavily against the cuts resulting in, among other things, a public Arts Debate at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne featuring Adam Bandt MP (the Greens), the Hon Mark Dreyfus MP (Labor) and Senator Mitch Fifield (Liberal), a National Day of Action that saw a demonstration outside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's office, and a petition that gained nearly 20,000 signatures.
The result was that for the first time in living memory the arts became an election issue, with the Sydney Morning Herald joining numerous arts organisations, including the ASA, in publishing "arts report cards" comparing arts policies of major and minor parties.
Following the election the ASA has joined ArtsPeak in continuing to call for the restoration of Australia Council funding.
Consider writing to your local MP and Senator about the importance of arts funding for individual authors and illustrators and the organisations that support them. Federal politicians are swamped by emails so if you can do it, a letter will pack more of a punch. Let them know what the restoration of Australia Council funding would mean for you in your professional practice as an author or illustrator. Invite them to speak with you or the ASA further on this issue. Ask them to take action by abolishing the Catalyst fund and restoring funds to the Australia Council.
And, if you haven't already done so, join the ASA. The ASA's lobbying efforts in Canberra would not be possible without our members' support. The more voters we can show we represent, the clearer our voice will be heard by the politicians with the power to make change.
Alternatively, if you're already a member or prefer to contribute without joining the ASA, you can donate to our Endowment Fund. Donations to the Endowment Fund go directly towards supporting the ASA to lobby and campaign for the rights and professional interests of authors and illustrators.
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