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Election FactCheck: did the Coalition cut $105 million from Australia Council funding?

Did Adam Bandt have the numbers right on arts funding? AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Election FactCheck: did the Coalition cut $105 million from Australia Council funding?

The real effects of the Liberals’ devastating $105 million cuts to the Australia Council are now becoming apparent as arts organisations across the country have learnt that they’ve lost funding and will have to cut projects, jobs and potentially even close their doors. – Greens MP Adam Bandt, media release, May 13, 2016.

Arts funding is back in the headlines, as grant lists published by the federal government and the Australia Council emerge just as political parties are throwing themselves headlong into election campaign mode.

The Greens MP Adam Bandt has promised his party would push to reverse cuts to Australia Council and the arts, saying the Coalition made $105 million worth of cuts to the Australia Council.

Is that right?

Checking the source

When asked to provide sources to support that assertion, a spokesman for Bandt told The Conversation:

The $105 million was cut from the Australia Council in the 2015 budget, which is what the statement was referring to. Funding cuts to any organisation will have impacts on its forward planning. Having $105 million cut from the Australia Council would have had real effects both on its own operations, but also the expectations and planning of the artists and organisations that depend on the Australia Council for grants to fund their work, projects and staffing. Returning only $32 million to the Australia Council after six months may lessen these effects somewhat, but it hasn’t negated them.

As this clarification shows, Bandt’s original statement skips an important point: $32 million was later returned to the Australia Council in November 2015.

It’s true that the 2015-16 budget included a plan to cut $104.7 million over four years from Australia Council funding to pay for the creation of the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts (later renamed Catalyst). This was a separate structure to deliver arts funding.

Budget Papers 2015-16

However, the situation changed slightly after Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister in late 2015. In the ensuing cabinet reshuffle, George Brandis was replaced as arts minister by Mitch Fifield.

Some money was put back

In November 2015, incoming arts minister Mitch Fifield announced that $32 million would be put back into the Australia Council over four years. He said:

As a result of consultations and feedback on the draft guidelines for the proposed National Program of Excellence (which Catalyst will be in the place of), the government has decided to return $32 million over the forward estimates to the Australia Council. This will take the total Australia Council funding to $783 million over the four years.

In addition to the funding amount changes, the government has placed restrictions on the Australia Council on how they should deal with this cut. Under the restrictions, any organisation funded under the Australia Council’s major performing arts companies board (such as the Australian Ballet and the Australian Opera Company) would not be affected by the Council’s own reduction in funding.

This meant that any subsequent cuts the Australia Council might have to make would be borne solely by the small to medium arts sector and individual artists.

On May 13, 2016, the Australia Council announced that of 262 small to medium arts organisations’ applications for four-year funding, 128 were successful. In other words, fewer than half of the applicants were funded.

It also emerged that more than 60 already existing small to medium arts organisations had not been successful in getting ongoing funding. A loss of existing arts organisations of this scale has never occurred previously in the Australian arts sector.

Verdict

Bandt’s original statement was not accurate. It didn’t accurately convey the fact that while $105 million was identified in the 2015-16 budget for cuts over four years from Australia Council funding, the government later put back about $32 million of that money.

It’s true, though, that the overall level of Australia Council funding has been reduced. Small to medium arts sector players have said and the government decision to take the funding from the Australia Council and set up a separate ministerial arts fund has caused major problems for them. – Jo Caust


Review

This is a sound article. The FactCheck author correctly points out that even though $105 million was taken out of the Australia Council funding in the 2015 budget, $32 million was later put back with the change in leadership from Abbott to Turnbull and with the new minister for the arts, Mitch Fifield.

However, as the author points out, it is also correct to say that small to medium arts organisations will be most affected. Some will be losing funding for the first time in decades.

Australia Council CEO Tony Grybowski has said that some of the unfunded companies could be successful in project funding rounds with the Australia Council later, as well as from other sources like Catalyst. However, project funding is one-off and is not the same as organisational funding, which allows a company or organisation to plan ahead. Thus, small to medium organisations feel very uncertain about their future.– Maria Miranda


Have you ever seen a “fact” worth checking? The Conversation’s FactCheck asks academic experts to test claims and see how true they are. We then ask a second academic to review an anonymous copy of the article. You can request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.