Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (21:26): Two months ago I spoke about the funding changes former arts minister George Brandis introduced. Those changes took $104.7 million from the independent Australia Council. It put those funds into a slush fund that left decisions on who receives funding to the minister. The Australia Council is well regarded and ensures that decisions are made at arms-length from government and by those involved in the arts who have the appropriate knowledge to make those decisions. Decisions have been made in this way for decades and the consensus is that this system is fair and it works.
We should not underestimate the importance of the arts to our community and our society. The arts reflect and create our culture and enrich our communities. That is why I held the Shine the Light on Arts Forum in my own electorate where many local organisations and creative workers came to tell of their concerns and the impact these changes will have on them. While Senator Brandis is no longer minister and the government has redesigned the policy as a result of pressure from the arts community and from Labor, it is still bad policy. It is bad for the arts in Australia. Under the new leadership of Minister Fifield, changes have been made to return $32 million to the Australia Council. However, we now have a mish-mash of organisations making funding decisions with some funds returned to the Australia Council and there are still substantial funds in the ministerial slush fund of the NPEA and the new Catalyst organisation. This is not only confusing but it will also ensure the fracturing of funding with one organisation not having oversight. In addition, the new system will make the application and award process more expensive and time consuming, further impeding the development of the creative arts in this country and alienating those working in creative industries.
Beyond Empathy is the sort of organisation that will suffer from these changes. It is dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged young Australians through the use of creative and performing arts. The organisation has developed the Mubali Project, a program that connects Indigenous teenage mothers to antenatal care. This is done in conjunction with the services they provide as an arts organisation and the funding they receive from the Australia Council. Another example is the physical theatre company Legs on the Wall, who represented Australia at the London and Beijing Olympics, who would be bereft without funding from the Australia Council.
This country is suffering from a funding drought for creative projects and organisations and it is only getting worse. Without proper funding, projects like Mubali and organisations like Legs on the Wall will simply disappear. Australia needs creative independence, but the process is being purposely stifled by the current position. Funding needs to be provided objectively across the board on a case-by-case basis, where organisations and individuals are given equal consideration and it is not decided on the whim of a minister. These changes are caustic to the creative community. I support the arts community both in the inner west and throughout Australia in calling for them to be reversed. The government has gone a bit of the way—they need to go all of the way and restore the proper funding to the appropriate body, the Australia Council.