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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee - 27/05/2015 - Estimates - ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S PORTFOLIO - Australia Council

Australia Council

[14:11]

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I asked you earlier about the impact of there being a cancellation of a funding round. You said that is difficult to assess.

Mr Grybowski : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am also interested in the impact for the non-quarantined companies of the new funding arrangements for the Australia Council and what measures, if any, you have put in place to ameliorate that impact.

Mr Grybowski : As you know, we offered six-year funding. That was part of the suite of funding opportunities which we launched last year. Those applications closed in March this year and we had in excess of 400 applications to the six-year funding rounds. That was, as I referred to earlier in the day, a suspension of that program. In the same announcement we also confirmed, or honoured, the contractual arrangements to our existing 148 key organisations or small- to medium-companies through this period of uncertainty while the new program criteria were established and while we reviewed our programs to provide them with the certainty through to the end of 2016.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: With the new policy proposal and the changes in funding for the Australia Council: Minister, was there any reparatory statement, regional impact statement? What sort of impact assessment was conducted?

Senator Brandis: No, that is not the way the budget process works.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I was not asking you how the budget process works. I asked: has there been any RIS or regional impact statement conducted?

Senator Brandis: As I said, the answer to your question is 'no', but I was perhaps in too brief a form trying to explain to you why the answer was no. That is, because that is not the way the budget process works.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Chair, I am not going to waste the committee's time with debating that point.

CHAIR: Good.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I will move on to a different matter. Minister, what discussion has occurred between your staff and board members of arts agencies around the budget measures?

Senator Brandis: I cannot answer your question on a particularity because I do not know in particularity. I have one arts advisor, Mr Napthali, who is very well known to the sector. I know that Mr Napthali has many and frequent discussions with all elements of the sector. I know that he has spoken generally about the budget. There has been quite a lot of interest in the sector in these budget measures, but beyond that I cannot be more particular.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So you are not aware if he has had more specific conversations about the budget?

Senator Brandis: I am sure he has had specific conversations, but what the detail of those conversations is I am not in a position to tell you.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The concern that we have heard from several sources is that arts agencies and the boards of arts agencies have been threatened not to criticise the stripping of funds from the Australia Council.

Senator Brandis: I am sure that is not true.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Why are you sure that is not true?

Senator Brandis: Because I am absolutely certain that nobody on behalf of the government would have said that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You are sure that not one member of your staff would have said such?

Senator Brandis: Absolutely—certainly not Mr Napthali, who is a perfect gentleman.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I did not specify any particular individual.

Senator Brandis: Mr Napthali is the person on my staff who engages with the agencies.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I might ask the Australia Council whether the quarantining of the funds to the major performing arts organisations will ultimately have an impact on the funds available for the minister's priority, as he was telling us earlier, about regional arts activities.

Mr Grybowski : The major performing arts framework, which is administered by the Australia Council in partnership with the state and territory governments, is now nearly in its 15th year. Those companies, over that period, have expanded their role and remit across the country into community outreach and school and education work. As much as their budgets allow, they tour extensively across regional Australia. Indeed, picking up on the minister's comments of earlier today, the understanding of the Australia Council budget and the seemingly high allocation within New South Wales and Victoria is because a large number of the major performing arts companies are resident in those states. Their funding is attributed to that origin, but indeed the activity that they undertake is right across the country.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can you give me some examples.

Mr Grybowski : Opera Australia tours to each state and territory on a two-year cycle. The Australian Chamber Orchestra tours nationally 12 times a year. Bell Shakespeare tours regularly. Circus Oz, which is based in Melbourne, tours and also has seasons regularly. The Australian Ballet tours, again, regionally and to other capital cities. Touring is a key part of those large companies.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Just going back to the small to medium arts organisations, I think I asked the question, but I am not sure we went to any specific measures, if they are in place, to assist those organisations in the impact of these new arrangements.

Mr Grybowski : We have continued or confirmed their funding to the end of 2016.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That's it?

Mr Grybowski : That is right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Whereas up to date they envisaged a six-year—

Mr Grybowski : Those 148 were part of some 400 or so that had applied for the competitive process for six-year funding and indeed also would have been eligible for the multi-year project funding through our grants program.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Minister, I think I alluded to this earlier, and I will give you the reference. Unfortunately I do not have the actual article, but it was an Australian piece on 16 May which, post the budget, indicated that the minister's new fund would be determined by ministerial staff. From what you said earlier, I can assume that is incorrect?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The decision-making process is still yet to be determined, along with the guidelines? Is that correct?

Senator Brandis: You have heard Ms Basser explain the way this will work. But, if you want to grasp the way in which it will work by comparison, think of the way that Visions of Australia or Playing Australia funding used to work before they were brought into the Australia Council. The officials within the ministry would assess programs; they would consult where appropriate and make recommendations.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: In the example you are providing did they advertise rounds?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Ms Basser : The way we administer programs is there are clear and transparent guidelines, there are public rounds, applications are received, the professional people within the ministry assess, some programs have some kind of external professional assessment element as well, they are assessed against criteria and then that is formulated into advice that goes to the minister with recommendations on funding and an assessment against each of the recommendations.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I think I am finished with the Australia Council. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Thanks very much, Mr Grybowski and your colleagues, for your attendance today and for what you do.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: With regard to the funding arrangements for national cultural institutions, the minister has assured the Senate that there were not substantial funding changes, as I recall—sorry, I think reduction in arts funding of any substance was the comment. Do the cuts for the National Gallery of Australia from 63.1 to 61.6, the National Museum from 48.2 to 47.6, the National Portrait Gallery from 15.6 to 13.8 and Old Parliament House from 17.4 to 16.2 represent the efficiency dividend, or is there some other element?

Senator Brandis: I should point out that the answer I gave to which you have referred but from which you have not actually quoted in direct speech was an answer to a question from Senator Gallagher, whose question was directed to the effect on arts funding of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts—or at least that is what I understood her to be inquiring about—and the point I was making in my answer was that, as a result of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, there had been no reduction in arts funding, because every dollar that funds that program was money that would otherwise have gone to the Australia Council. So the creation of the National Program for Excellence in the Arts did not come at the cost of other funding programs. It did not come at the cost of the aggregate of the arts budget.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Oh, I understand that.

Senator Brandis: That is not to say that there were not some savings elsewhere in the arts budget that have nothing to do with this.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: And that is what I am asking about.

Senator Brandis: That is right. I just wanted to make sure we understood the context here.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: My question is about the funding for national cultural institutions, not about the new fund, and my question is about those reductions that I have just indicated. Do they represent the efficiency dividend, or are there other elements that you regard to be of not any great substance?

Senator Brandis: That is a question of judgement and what you mean by that. The reductions of funding to the National Gallery of 1.8 per cent and to the museum of 0.4 per cent—contrary to what you have put to me, there has actually been an increase in funding to the National Portrait Gallery of 0.2 per cent.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So the figures I have referred to are not accurate?

Senator Brandis: I am giving you the figures that I have been advised about based on the portfolio budget statements.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I might cross-check that PBS because that is where I understood those figures came from.

Senator Brandis: Ms Basser might be able to expand a little further.

Ms Basser : The national cultural institutions had some small changes, as you have noted as reported in the portfolio budget statements, to the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery. The National Gallery of Australia figure did relate to an element of shared services, which was a small savings with regard to security arrangements. The reported figures identify all funding sources as being from government—that was what was reported in the press—but in addition to government funding our institutions generate their own income from ticketed events, merchandise sales, venue hire and other means, and they also receive generous private and philanthropic donations. So those numbers reflect some of the up and down of that non-government revenue as well.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Anticipated reductions in non-government revenue?

Ms Basser : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Do you know why they are anticipating a reduction in non-government revenue?

Ms Basser : You would need to ask them.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I thought the coalition was the champion of arts philanthropy.

Senator Brandis: We are.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Then why would the national cultural institutions be anticipating a reduction in their non-government revenue?

Senator Brandis: As Ms Basser said, you would have to ask them, but I can give you example after example. Do you want me to start with the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, for example, where we and agencies like the Australia Council within this portfolio have been enormously successful in leveraging private money from public investment?

Ms Basser : I would also like to point out that these are quite miniscule. At the National Museum of Australia the reduction is 0.4 per cent, and the National Portrait Gallery is actually an increase of 0.2 per cent. They are figures at the margin.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: These are the PBS figures?

Ms Basser : These are the figures that were reported in the press, I think. No, these are the PBS figures. That is right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So you are using the PBS figures now.

Ms Basser : Yes, that is right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The figures I was referring to were probably the ones in the press.

Ms Basser : That is right.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: And they included revenue from non-government sources.

Ms Basser : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. We have gone over time. I have some questions in relation to entertainment visa reforms which I will put on notice. I would like an update on the book council.

Senator Brandis: What would you like to know?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: When are funds going to be available or distributed?

Ms Basser : That is an initiative for the 2015-16 financial year and, as the minister indicated earlier, the council and its terms of reference will be announced shortly. We will be working with the council once it is announced in terms of advice from them about the funds. They will go through a similar guideline development process.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. This may be the appointment that the minister alludes I might be impressed by.

Senator Brandis: No.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, you haven't found a bookish Labor Party person!

Senator Brandis: That's not fair to your own side! There are many bookish Labor Party people.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I was not asserting it; I was asking about you.

Senator Brandis: No, in fact there has been a veritable avalanche of books written by ministers of the former Labor government which have a rather uniform theme of paying out on other ministers of the former Labor government. They are of variable quality, I am bound to say. Most of them are a little turgid. I do not read them myself, but Mr Lambie in my office seems to be obsessed by them.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So we are waiting for the program guidelines and details yet to be announced, but your aspiration would be for the program to commence on 1 July?

Ms Basser : It is a 2015-16 program. Once the program is in place and announced, absolutely in terms of the money we will seek advice and develop guidelines for the program—clearly, as soon as we can in the financial year.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am conscious that we have gone over our intended time for the arts. I also did have some questions for the National Film and Sound Archive, but I will put those on notice as well. I think we indicated to the ACC that, given some of their timing limitations, we would make a time slot available for them roughly after lunch. I am happy to move there unless someone else has arts questions.

CHAIR: You are talking about tomorrow?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, today.

CHAIR: Have we finished with the arts?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am putting on notice the remainder of my questions so that we do not blow out the program too significantly.

CHAIR: Excellent. So we can move on to Australian Crime Commission now. I thank the ministry of arts people for their assistance.