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Tuesday, 14 May 1985
Page: 1870

Senator SHEIL —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment to an article in the Courier-Mail of last Tuesday in which it was reported that the Chairman of the Australia Council admitted that the Council had deliberately discriminated against Queensland in allocating grants resulting in less than 60 per cent of the national per capita average being given to Queensland. In view of the fact that 10 of the 14 members of the Council executive, including the Chairman, are Labor Government appointees, does this admission by the Council that it is victimising Queensland reflect a directive from the Federal Government, or is it merely that the appointees to the Council are themselves prejudiced against Queensland?

Senator RYAN —I will have to respond in the negative to the last two parts of Senator Sheil's question. Certainly I cannot imagine that there is any victimisation, on behalf of either the Council itself or any particular board of the Council, towards Queensland. However, the Minister has provided me with some information about the Courier-Mail article which I will now make available to the Senate. The Government is aware of Mr Edwards's criticism of the decision of the Theatre Board to introduce ceiling funding reported in the Courier-Mail of 18 April 1985 and his criticism of the Australia Council for failure to secure sufficient funds. However, the Government is on target in honouring its commitment to restore funding for the arts to the 1975-76 levels in real terms. I am very pleased about that since I was the one who made that commitment on behalf of the then Opposition.

The Australia Council's allocations were increased in 1983-84 by 13 per cent and in 1984-85 by 14 per cent. The Council has just received an additional $802,000, which meets the Prime Minister's 1984 election commitment to maintain the real level of funding for companies of excellence. The decision of individual boards with regard to the allocation of those funds is a matter for those boards to be endorsed by the Council. I remind the Senate that the Government supports the principle of arm's length funding, and the allocation of specific grants is a matter not for the Government but for the Council.