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Allegations of partiality after many grants for music composition awarded to members of the Australia Council grants committee -

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QUENTIN DEMPSTER: For years there's been criticism about the way arts bodies hand out taxpayer's money. Today even a cynical art world was surprised by claims that the Australia Council Music Committee handed out nearly half its money to just five of its own members. David Margan reports.

JOHN COLBORNE-VEEL: Frankly, I'm appalled that people on a committee can actually vote money to other people that are on the same committee. I think it's disgusting.

CARL VINE: There is no clique in operation here. I mean, there's accusations made about the council endlessly that there are cliques operating at every level.

DAVID MARGAN: Arts funding has the reputation as one of the nastiest games in town, even when the money involved is peanuts. Did you know, for example, that the Australia Council and its 110 bureaucrats gives just 0.15 per cent of its budget to Australian composers and their compositions. So you could imagine how some of our composers feel when over a third of that money goes to those handing out the grants.

JOHN COLBORNE-VEEL: I think they should give money fairly across the board. The new composers and young composers certainly need to be nurtured.

DAVID MARGAN: John Colborne-Veel is President of the Fellowship of Australian Composers and he doesn't even bother applying for these grants, as he believes they're waste of time.

JOHN COLBORNE-VEEL: Well, I think anybody would have some doubt about their impartiality when you've got half the committee getting funding from a round of grants. In fact, they've got, what 46.3 per cent of the available funding for composer commissions is going to people on the music committee that's adjudicating it.

CARL VINE: The actual figure is 8.1 per cent.

DAVID MARGAN: We're looking at the area of Australian composers, Australian composition, 46 per cent of the money available for that ....

CARL VINE: Eighteen point six per cent.

DAVID MARGAN: Eighteen point six per cent?

CARL VINE: Yes, but the figure is not important.

DAVID MARGAN: But on our calculations Australia Council Music Committee members walked away with almost half of the funds available in the category for Australian composition.

JOHN COLBORNE-VEEL: Basically, I think the problem comes from the fact that they're autonomous and they don't have to be accountable to anybody, so this is why these practices seem to creep in.

CARL VINE: The guidelines are very clear. A member of any committee of the Australia Council cannot directly apply to that committee for funds. It's very explicit.

DAVID MARGAN: But this third party could indeed be the husband or wife or brother, sister, lover, aunt, next door neighbour, of the person who's really the applicant.

CARL VINE: It could be.

DAVID MARGAN: Seems to be a bit of a subterfuge, really, doesn't it?

CARL VINE: Well, not really. I mean, there is a basic element of trust that one must exercise.

JOHN COLBORNE-VEEL: It's worked around because composers aren't allowed to commission works for themselves. It has to come through a third party for all composers. Now, they say that this is quite all right because a third party person's commissioning the person on the committee, and I just think it's not on, myself. According to their code of conduct it's entirely appropriate for people on a committee to be the recipients of grants that are adjudicated by other composers on the committee, and I just don't think that's a proper code of conduct.

DAVID MARGAN: The Australia Council could claim that it keeps its committee members at arm's length from the money, but that's clearly no more than a cosmetic device. Paul Grabowski is known as a composer and musician but he's also chairman of the Australia Council's Music Committee. He, and bands he's associated with, have received over $12,000 from that committee.

CARL VINE: Paul Grabowski left the room whenever he was an indirect recipient of a grant. He was never a direct recipient.

DAVID MARGAN: Who got the money?

CARL VINE: The band did.

DAVID MARGAN: The band did? That's Paul Grabowski's band?

CARL VINE: No, he's the artistic director of the band. It's quite possible ....

DAVID MARGAN: But the band has his name. It is his band.

CARL VINE: He is the artistic director.

DAVID MARGAN: So he got the money?

CARL VINE: So you're saying that if the ABC gets a grant it all goes to David Hill. Is that what you're saying?

JOHN COLBORNE-VEEL: Well, they should be completely impartial. It should be a body of people who have got no vested interest in the outcome of the funding grant.