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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 88

Senator CARR (3:26 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for the Arts and Sport (Senator Kemp) to questions without notice asked by Senators Murphy and Carr today relating to the funding of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Dance Company.

The answers to the questions relating to the arts by the Minister for the Arts and Sport today highlight just how grossly incompetent this minister is. We now have a situation where it has been acknowledged that at least five major arts companies are in financial deficit, and there may well be others to come. We know now that the orchestras in Adelaide, Tasmania and Queensland, the Sydney Dance Company, the State Theatre Company of South Australia and Opera Queensland are all facing deficits.

We also know that the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra has reported an operating deficit for a number of years. The operating deficit for 2003 reached a figure of $650,000 and is projected to reach $1 million in 2004, with further increases expected. The orchestra’s accumulated deficit at the end of 2004 is estimated to be some $2.7 million, or 45 per cent of its total annual revenue. Quite clearly this is a totally unsustainable position. The orchestra’s operating deficits have to now be carried by Opera Australia’s balance sheet, and we have seen that the Australian Ballet has now made cash injections since 2003. The growing operating deficit that is incurred by the orchestras is now placing increasing pressures on the finances of both the user companies, which, as I say, is a totally unsustainable position. This reflects the general problem of arts funding in this country, a point that has now been made by the Australia Council itself.

The senior executive officer of the Australia Council has made it abundantly clear that the position of the government’s funding is unsustainable. The Australia Council is now also seriously considering having to back down on its other somewhat bungled attempt to abolish the community cultural development programs. And all of this is done in the face of quite evident ministerial indifference. We have a situation in which the minister does not even know that important cultural institutions are off seeing his senior minister—they actually have to go to someone else to find out what is happening and to restore their balance sheets or have some attempt to restore their balance sheets. Belated efforts are being made by coalition backbenchers to raise these issues, but there is no comment from the minister until such time as he is brought under pressure through parliamentary processes. The cultural, artistic and educational values of these orchestras and arts organisations are far too valuable to tamper with, yet that is exactly the position that the government has been advancing. We have a basic problem here in that the government is pursuing an economic rationalist position with regard to arts funding. Senator Brandis commented in this chamber just the other day:

To ask whether an orchestra is sustainable and then to conclude that, if it is not, it should be cut back is to ask the wrong question.

Well, that is precisely the position that the government is adopting time and time again. It is the government that needs to look at the way in which its fundamental funding mechanisms are now operating. We have a situation where business plans are being evaluated on the basis of performance criteria signed off by the Australia Council. They are not spending extravagantly. The minister has before him the McRae report, which he has failed to report. I call upon him now to put that on the table, because he knows what is happening with regard to the Sydney Dance Company—I can only presume that is the case. He has known for some time.

I am very concerned that the government may well be pursuing a broader agenda with the Sydney Dance Company. This is a world-leading company. Its key players are internationally renowned. We have to ask why it is that the government is persisting with such an unsustainable position. Why is it adopting this Pontius Pilate attitude? Is it the case that the government is in fact seeking to drive out of this country Graeme Murphy and people of his calibre? Is it the case that the government, through its parsimonious attitude, will produce a situation where performers and choreographers of his calibre are driven overseas? The government’s claim that the states should bear the responsibility is in sharp contrast with the facts. The states have increased their contribution to the arts companies from 18 per cent to 22 per cent. Their contribution has risen from $8.9 million to $12.1 million. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.