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If government is supposed to be about nation building, Halifax Bennett marks down recent funding cuts to the Australia Council to a “triple D” rating – destabilising, devaluing and devolving.
There is nothing monopolistic about culture. Similarly, art, creativity and social norms are not specifically regulated by a primary institutional body. Culture is the result of social processes. It is a combination of passive and active instances that consequently form the ways we live; the ideas we consume and the knowledge that we use to progress our society.
It is somewhat confusing to merge this evaluation of culture with how it has been portrayed by George Brandis. The Attorney-General (Ed’s note: oh, and he’s the Arts Minister too, right? Apparently…) has recently outlined how funding cuts to the Australia Council are a positive development – $110 million in cuts are planned over four years.
“No one thinks that monopolies are a good idea.”
These are the words of George Brandis.
An unnecessary, if not untrue statement, considering there would be a portion of his voters and colleagues who would disagree with him. Yet the issue comes down to one of practicality and results. Plainly, what purpose will this funding change serve, and to what effect the establishment of a new arts body will improve relevant cultural outputs.
To state that one institution has a monopoly is divisive, and a skewed representation of the Australian arts community. Given his portfolio, Brandis should have a healthier understanding of how bodies such as the Australia Council operate, and secondly, how culture is not simply a product created through government funding, but a process that transcends individuals and communities.
In understanding these recent announcements, the extent of change should be discussed. How much will this change the role of the Australia Council? Additionally, to what lengths will this further the possibility of decreased funding in future years? These are dire questions, but ones based in reality nonetheless.
Much of the opposition to humanities funded by the government purse can be linked to ideology on two fronts; Neoliberal economic conservatism, as well as the culture within the Liberal Party of opposing artistic, scientific and social bodies. We have waved goodbye to funding for the Climate Council, and we no longer have a science Minister. At this rate, it wouldn’t be unthinkable to say that funding for the Australia Council would disappear entirely over the coming years.
More recently, there has been controversy around discussions between Brandis and members of the Australia Council prior to the public announcements of cuts to funding. Whether a discussion took place about the establishment of the new National Program for Excellence is somewhat unknown. More to this, we will simply have to wait and see if the new program will aid in destabilising the “monopoly” that the Australia Council holds over state funded cultural operations. The words used to frame these cuts are simply dialogue for the sake of dialogue, an excuse to stand by.
What this new program will achieve is slightly unknown, but a cut to funding for the Australia Council will almost certainly limit the role of the body, reduce output and devalue the institution.
As the Federal Minister for the Arts, Brandis could be regarded as having served the cultural community through the establishment of a new body. Yet this has come at the cost of destabilising the Australia Council. A body that is responsible for overseeing the administration, management and research involved throughout the artistic community.
If government is supposed to be about nation building, the most recent actions by Brandis could be framed as destabilisation, devaluing and devolving.
We don’t need more cuts under the guise of economic security and rationality. We need effective and empowering policy. Policy that builds toward something more impactful and relevant; this is what is required.
It is a shame to see these cuts to the Australia Council. It would be a greater shame to see the Australia Council gone in the future.