Budget 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014
Kate Larsen

In the wake of this week’s Federal Budget, the Writers Vic team have been sifting through the press and paperwork to get a sense of the impact it may have on our nation’s writers and literary organisations.

Arts funding

The immediate effects of Budget 2014 are most likely to be felt through the $28.2million cuts scheduled for the Australia Council for the Arts.

As the country’s peak arts funder, the Australia Council makes annual grants of around $200million to artists and companies (including writers, publishers and organisations like Writers Victoria), of which it will need to trim around $7million of ‘uncommitted funding’ each year.

“The emphasis in the wording is on ‘uncommitted’,” said the University of Melbourne’s Jo Caust on The Conversation website. “It means the cuts will affect mostly individual artists and smaller arts organisations that are not presently on triennial or annual funding agreements.”

“The choices left for the Australia Council are to make cuts within its own organisation; to cut individual and project grants which will affect small to medium arts; or do both,” wrote Raymond Gill for Crikey.

The cuts follow hot on the heels of the Australia Council’s recent review and restructure, the full rollout of which is still to be implemented.

They form one part of a broader sweep of arts cuts that will see an $87million reduction for the sector over the next four years. Screen-writers in particular will be hit by $10.3million in cuts to Screen Australia and games writers by the closure of the Australian Interactive Games Fund. It is still unclear how readers, writers and researchers could be affected by the rationalisation of the National Library of Australia office with six other major cultural institutions in Canberra.

Arts programs inside the Attorney-General’s department will also be cut by $4.4 million, affecting playwrights and performance writers through cuts to the Festivals Australia and Playing Australia programs, as well as emerging writers and arts graduates through changes to ArtStart.

Vision and Impact

The budget papers do not refer to Creative Australia, the National Cultural Policy that featured so heavily in last year’s budget, with online pundits noting that the cuts suggest (via omission) that there is no intention to follow through on its recommendations.

“The cuts effectively wipe out most of the funding increases delivered by Labor just last year as part of its Creative Australia national cultural policy, and will have huge implications for arts organisations and screen producers around the country,” wrote Deborah Stone for Artshub.

“Labor’s Creative Australia policy added $200million for the Arts. This Budget has taken most of that funding that back,” says a statement on the website of Federal Opposition MP Mark Dreyfus. “These funding cuts will have a devastating impact on all arts and cultural activities right across Australia, from the national institutions, main stage theatres, galleries and libraries, through to regional and community arts activities,” it said.

The budget papers do not link to an alternative vision for Australian arts and culture or acknowledge the impact of the arts and cultural sector on the Australian economy, as highlighted by Alison Croggon in Overland Journal last year:

“In 2011, cultural industries directly employed 531,000 people, and indirectly generated a further 3.7million jobs. Copyright industries were worth $93.2billion to the Australian economy in 2007, with exports worth more than $500 million.

According to its own figures, the mining industry is worth $121billion a year to the Australian economy, only around 25% more than the cultural industries. Mining employs significantly fewer people than the cultural sector: 187,400 directly, and a further 599,680 in support industries.”

In his recent article for The Conversation on the state of Australia’s cultural economy Jason Potts adds that the contribution of the cultural and creative economy to Australian GDP was $86billion in 2008-9. By industrial sector, literature and print media contributed $13billion in gross value added (GVA) estimates alone.

Reading and Literacy

The Government will achieve savings of $6.4million over four years by shutting down the Get Reading! Program, which will cease from 1 July this year.

Angelo Loukakis, executive director of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), commented on the decision on the Books+Publishing website.

“The ASA is disappointed that the government cannot find a little money for a program to promote the reading of Australian authors’ books—an important project for advancing literacy, education, the culture generally. As for ‘duplicating activity in the media and publishing sector’, there is no such support program being conducted by the sectors mentioned to actually duplicate.”

Higher Education

The proposed changes to university funding may also be felt across the arts sector.

HECS will be retained (and made available for a wider range of courses), but graduates will be required to pay it back sooner and at higher interest rates.

By deregulating university fees, institutions will be able to charge what they like for undergraduate degrees. This could present particular challenges for outer metropolitan and regional students, who may face the introduction of higher fees (for popular courses) and/or less choice (from those universities who can’t attract enough students).

“On the other hand the move to extend government support to students at TAFEs, private universities and in diploma programs from 2016 will be good news for the sector, where a large number of aspiring artists and performers study and many arts professionals earn a good part of their living,” wrote Deborah Stone for Artshub.

Emerging screen-writers may also feel the effects of the $3million budget cut slated for the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS).

Diverse Australian Voices

While we welcome the government’s commitment to deliver the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in full, accompanying changes to the Disability Support Pension (DSP) and Carer Payment may restrict the ability of many people with disability to engage with Australia’s arts and cultural offer.

In addition to the wider funding cuts scheduled for the broadcaster, the ABC has also announced that it will close online disability website, ABC Ramp Up at the end of this financial year. As the only dedicated mainstream disability platform, the loss of Ramp Up will be significant for Australian writers with disability and their allies.

Within the $500million in cuts projected for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs, we were disappointed to read about the loss of $9.5million from the Indigenous Languages Support Programme and the potential effects this will have on Indigenous writers and storytellers.

And following on from our own Writing the Refugee Experience program, Writers Victoria is also particularly interested to monitor the ways in which ongoing changes to migration and refugee policies will affect the development and sharing of our diverse Australian stories.

Participation and Audiences

Reduced incomes for young, disabled and older Australians, as well as students and those from low- or single-income families may also have a flow-on effect for arts organisations.

Those organisations who work within a community cultural development framework may experience an increase in demand for their programs at a time when the resources to deliver them are increasingly scarce, while mainstream arts companies may see a decrease in their participation and audience levels if organisations need to increase their attendance or membership fees in order to survive.

Budget 2014 as a (very) short story

As the budget was unveiled, hundreds of people published their own creative interpretations using the #threewordbudget hashtag. Check them out on Twitter...