Richard Watts | ArtsHub | Monday 20th July 2015

The inquiry into the impact of Senator Brandis’ raid on the Australia Council budget has received more than 2000 submissions.

Ancient Egyptian art in the Museo archeologico nazionale (Florence). Photo by Sailko via Wikipedia. 

More than 2000 submissions have been received by the Senate Inquiry into the Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth Budget decisions on the Arts.

The high number of submissions shows the widespread public concern about the changes. Typically Senate Inquiries receive much smaller numbers of submissions: the Senate Inquiry into Wind Turbines received 438 submissions, and the ongoing Senate Inquiry into Third Party Certification of Food (i.e. Halal certification) to date has received 388 submissions.

The sheer volume of materials received – which includes submissions from international presenters as well as local artists and arts lovers – has caused a delay in submissions being processed and uploaded to the relevant page of the Parliament House website.

‘Submissions to the Senate Inquiry have flooded in from across the country and even from overseas. #freethearts is absolutely delighted with the incredible response. We have been told the volume of submissions is so great that it will take a couple of weeks to get them all up online,’ said #freethearts spokespeople Sarah Moynihan and Norm Horton from Brisbane’s Feral Arts.

‘We now have the strongest possible evidence that the changes proposed are extremely unpopular. They are not supported by the arts sector, the philanthropic sector, state arts agencies or broader community. It is time for Senator Brandis to stop what he is doing and return the funding to the Australia Council before any more damage is done.

‘The underlying issue is the falling level of government investment in the arts over the last two federal budgets. Senator Brandis needs to stop dividing and politicising the arts and to start working with the whole sector to fix the problem,’ the pair said.

Nicole Beyer, Director of Theatre Network Victoria (TNV), said the high number of submissions showed that artists and arts organisations around the country were ​deeply concerned about the future of the arts.

‘They want to make sure that the devastating impact that the budget decisions will have on their practice is understood by the government. TNV’s members in particular, are the independents and small companies who feel that the value of their work has been completely disregarded in this budget decision. The government can’t ignore this response – they have to really start to engage with us now and answer some questions,’ Beyer said.

‘TNV has been working with our colleagues to advocate that more public hearings are held – with such a large number of submissions, we need to make sure there is an opportunity to fully unpack how this budget decision was made, on what basis the new NPEA was established, and how the cuts to the Australia Council will impact on the arts sector as a whole.’ ​

Announced in June, the Senate Inquiry will examine the suitability and appropriateness of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, following the reappropriation of Australia Council funding by Minister for the Arts Senator George Brandis in the Federal Budget on 12 May.

In particular the Inquiry will study the impact of the new funding model on small to medium arts organisations, individual artists, and on funding from other sources such as the philanthropic sector and state governments.

It will also examine the impact of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts on the Australia Council, ​whether the new funding model will affect freedom of artistic expression, and a range of related issues.

ArtsHub understands that at least one public hearing as part of the Inquiry will be held in Melbourne in August, with the exact date to be confirmed.

However, ArtsPeak spokesperson Tamara Winikoff, the Executive Director of NAVA (the national Association for the Visual Arts) has urged the Senate to hold several such hearings.

‘ArtsPeak (the confederation of national peak arts organisations) calls for at least three public hearings by the Senate Inquiry Committee to give representatives of the more than 2000 submission writers around the country the opportunity to be heard,’ she said.

‘There are really important principles at stake: freedom of expression; immunity of the arts from political interference; and having some evidence based vision which guides Australian cultural policy.

‘The way current decisions are being made and the nature and scale of the cuts to the 2014 and 2015 arts budgets endanger the future health of Australian culture,’ said Winikoff.​

The Inquiry is due to report on 15 September 2015.

IMAGE CREDIT: Ancient Egyptian art in the Museo archeologico nazionale (Florence). Photo by Sailko via Wikipedia.