It’s budget time again. One of the few events in Australia during which the entire country suddenly become financial experts. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the division of government funds, or perceived slights toward certain factions of society. Granted, it can’t be easy to balance the financial affairs of a country of 24 million people, but there always seem to be cuts that hurt Australians when the budget is unveiled – which is why budget day is so closely watched by the media, and the general populous.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews threw shade at the federal government via a very salty Facebook post in response to Sydney’s apparent advantage in the dispersion of funds. The budget has negative consequences for new migrants seeking welfare, small businesses, Newstart recipients, and smokers of rolling tobacco, who will see harsher taxes on the tailored cigarettes alternative. Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom – the budget includes an overhaul for the treatment of military veterans, with more than $200 million being allocated to them. First home buyers are catching a break, as are athletes and the very sick.
Perhaps those who tremble the most around budget time are people within the arts communities. Arts funding tends to be the most volatile area of the budget, as many in politics see it as a non-essential area of public investment. It has been said that the mark of any great civilisation is the quality of their art, but of course the middle aged politicians who run the country don’t usually see it that way. Rather, they see the mark of a great civilisation as military spending. But I digress.
The Victorian government poured money into the arts, if not the artists themselves, in their state budget unveiled last week. But last night as Scott Morrison unveiled the country’s budget, the federal government seemed to do nothing for the arts. That isn’t exactly true – they did return some money that they stole from the Australia Council For The Arts, but they didn’t add anything new. The budget formalised a previously announced return of $90.2 million over five years to return funding to the Australia Council For The Arts which has been cut by the LNP in 2015 during Tony Abbott and George Brandis’s calculated ideological attack on the entire arts industry.
The return of the funding was championed by our current Arts Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield. The promise results in a $10 million dollar contribution over two years coming out of the Australia Council For The Arts‘ own reserves – meaning that the Australia Council For The Arts is essentially paying themselves back in part for money that was already taken from them. It’s like if you stole $10 from a mate, apologised, gave them back $7, told them to make up the other $3 themselves, and then called it fair.
Live Performance Australia who represent live arts and entertainment producers said that the redistribution of funds was “too little, too late” for small performing arts companies who were hit the hardest by Brandis and Abbott’s attacks. “The restoration of some stability after a disruptive period is welcomed, but our industry still needs a longer term vision,” Evelyn Richardson of Live Performance Australia said in a statement, which also pointed out that the live entertainment industry generated $2.5 billion for the economy annually.
Leader of the recently formed Arts Party PJ Collins said that though there were “no further shocks” in the budget, “the damage done in the last three budgets remains untreated.”
The Australian Major Performing Arts Group, an umbrella group representing Australia’s 28 major performing arts companies are yet to make a comment on the budget.