This week I spoke in the Parliament against the extraordinary decision of the Arts Minister George Brandis to take funding responsibility from the independent Australia Council and give it to himself.
I told Parliament:
In 1963 John F Kennedy said: ‘I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his or her vision wherever it takes him or her.’
Indeed, here in Australia, I believe that our arts and creative industries are a critical part of our vibrant social tapestry.
They nourish our communities and provide opportunities for local artists to perform, create and cultivate.
Those more like me who are not artists have the opportunity to learn from, appreciate and engage with this talented and multifaceted industry.
Yet our federal government has lost its way when it comes to nourishing and promoting arts and culture.
It has forgotten that the best communities are diverse and in order for talent to flourish it must first be cultivated or, as John F Kennedy explained, ‘society must set the artist free’.
That is why it is very disappointing to see George Brandis, our Arts Minister, take an axe to funding for the Australia Council.
After attacking the arts in their first Budget the Coalition have continued on their crusade.
This year they have cut another $104.7 million from the independent Australia Council and transferred it to Senator Brandis and his department to oversee.
Over the next year, grants to individuals and groups and small arts organisations will total just $12 million.
To put this into perspective, the Australia Council allocated $46.2 million in grants and initiatives, just two years ago, in 2013-14.
The Australia Council has a proud history of independence and is well-known for its work in supporting emerging artists, yet Senator Brandis seems to think he knows better than they when it comes to championing artistic excellence.
My own electorate of Grayndler is home to many theatres and spaces where local artists perform and display their work.
Live music venues thrived, including the Factory Theatre, the Enmore Theatre, New Theatre and Camelot Lounge as well as Lazybones and Gasoline Pony just down the road from my office in Marrickville.
The Chrissie Cotter Gallery in Camperdown features regular exhibitions and events and the Addison Road Community Centre gallery is joined by the extraordinary work of students at Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design and Newtown High School of the Performing Arts.
This diversity contributes to our inner-west community, giving people opportunities that might not otherwise exist.
The government has a role to play when it comes to arts and creative industries, providing support not trying to control it.
Cutting funding is certainly not what is required.
The Minister and the Prime Minister must restore independence to arts funding. That is what the arts community expects and that is what the Australian community supports.
(Hansard, Wednesday 9 September 2015)