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Thursday, 17 November 1983
Page: 2868

Mr LEO McLEAY —No doubt the attention of the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment has been drawn to a letter from the Honourable Barry Unsworth published in the National Times last weekend regarding the withdrawal of Australia Council funding for a community arts officer for the Labor Council of New South Wales and to yesterday's reported withdrawal of support by the Victorian Government for the Australian Ballet, the Australian Opera and the Australian Dance Theatre. In the light of these events, can the Minister advise the House whether the Australia Council has decided on its Budget for community arts for 1983-84? Will he assure the House that this withdrawal of support for the high arts will not further affect the Australia Council's allocations of funds for community arts, as instanced by the cutback in funding for the Labor Council of New South Wales?

Mr COHEN —I thank the honourable member for Grayndler for his question. The recent Budget contained a $4.5m increase in funding for the arts. At the September meeting of the Australia Council funds were allocated to various boards. The Music Board is responsible for the Opera, the Theatre Board for ballet and the Community Arts Board, obviously, for that activity. The fact is that funds cannot be reallocated between boards. So whatever was allocated at that time is under the control of those various boards. The Australia Council took substantial steps to implement government priorities-that is, access and participation-particularly through the Community Arts Board and special incentive programs. For example, $245,000 was provided for the 'art in working life' program. The multicultural program received $325,000; the youth arts program, $220,000; and the 'artists in the community' program $210,000. Since these central incentive funds must be matched by board expenditure, it effectively means a commitment of some $2m to these programs. In addition, the Council has established a special touring fund to increase access and participation with a budget of $750,000. I hope that honourable members will start to see the effect of that in their electorates in the future.

In summary, the Council has not only boosted the Community Arts Board directly, but also it has committed a total of $2.75m to access and participation priorities. This figure is more than half of the $4.5m increase in the Council's cash budget. Putting it another way, it is significantly more than a real increase in the Council's budget after allowing for inflation. There has been a net reallocation of funds to these priorities. Little or no notice was given to the companies in question, by the way. No formal advice was given by the Ministry of its intentions to its governmental colleagues in regard to funding vis-a-vis the Theatre and Music Boards of the Australia Council. Unfortunately, the Council has no funds to make up the shortfall created by Victoria's action. Victoria has withdrawn support from the Australian Ballet, the Australian Opera and the Australian Dance Theatre. I recognise Victoria's problem. It is a serious problem. Its Arts Centre is a magnificent complex which will be opening early in the new year. However, every time the State Government decides to withdraw support from some section of the arts, the Australian Government cannot be expected to pick up the shortfall. Otherwise what would obviously happen is that every other State would follow suit. They would all pull out funding and expect the Federal Government to do it.

With regard to the question of the Community Arts Officer in New South Wales, I have voiced concern about this matter. I have been accused of interfering in this matter. I have received requests from dozens of members in this House to follow up failures to provide grants in all these areas. It is my usual procedure to write to the Australia Council to seek explanations. I did so in this case. I got back what can only be described as a non-explanation. The Australia Council told me that it was not going to provide these grants but it would not explain why. I said that that was an unsatisfactory situation and I asked the Australia Council to do something about it. We, as a Labor Government want to know why-I am sure honourable members on the other side of the House want to see the 'art in working life' program extended as we wish to see that happen-the Labour Council of New South Wales, which has had previous grants, is no longer eligible at the moment. If it is doing something wrong, let us help it to make its application correctly so that it can get that grant.