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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8651

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (16:57): I rise today to speak on what I would call this so-called matter of public importance. Barely three hours ago in this place the leaders of all parties addressed a very serious issue of national security. It was a big disappointment that instead of addressing issues of national security and other genuine matters of public importance, we now have this issue again rehashed. Contrary to the shameless and blatant political scare campaign from those opposite, which absolutely and completely misrepresents the facts, the government's new $12 million Catalyst arts and culture fund will in fact for broaden the arts funding environment and will create more opportunities for the Australian arts community. Using emotive and misleading word such as 'plaything',' slush found', ' ripped out', 'fallen from the skies' and 'reductions', none of those terms equate with the facts. Rather than using emotional rhetoric, let us have the facts of this program.

Catalyst will in fact complement the work of other government arts funding organisations by focusing on small and medium arts organisations and encouraging innovation and collaboration in their programs. Contrary to the assertions of those opposite, it does not duplicate the work of the Australia Council. Further, Catalyst will encourage recipients to explore shared funding arrangements with the philanthropic and private sectors, which has to be a good thing to help them find more funding for their programs. The program also aims to forge new creative partnerships and to promote new ways to build participation by all Australians in our rich cultural life. This is a good thing. If those opposite had put forward this proposal in government, they would be saying exactly the opposite now. They would be trumpeting this fantastic new program to help small to medium arts organisations in this country. They cannot stand the fact that those on this side of the chamber put forward, not only for the environment but also for the arts, positive, innovative new programs to broaden support to the arts community. The Australia Council provided $175 million in funding in the 2012-13 financial year, while during that same period $21.2 million was provided to support arts in regional and remote Australia. The Catalyst program is also seeking to address inequitable per capita distribution of Australia Council funding to the states and territories. Those opposite now say that, while the Australia Council does some fantastic things, it is not equitable. For example, my home state of Western Australia receives $5 per capita per year and Queensland receives $3.40 per capita per year in comparison to Victoria with $6.80 per capita year and New South Wales with $7.80 per capita per year. That is not equitable and it is not fair, and it needs to be addressed. This new funding model is a new approach designed to support new artistic endeavours.

To highlight the absurdity of the opposition's claim that the government is attacking peer reviewed arts funding—I think Senator Ludlam referred to it as 'the arts community run on love, not money'—this government is committing $783 million to the Australia Council over the forward estimates. That is over three-quarters of a billion dollars, so I would say to Senator Ludlam; that is not just love; that is a lot of taxpayers' funding. As Senator Macdonald said, it is absolutely critical that we make sure that this taxpayers' money is spent as wisely as possible.

What are we doing? This government, despite its fiscal restraints, has not reduced arts funding in this country. Despite the rhetoric that you hear day after day from those opposite, from which you would think that that funding has been reduced, it has not. Almost $200 million per year still goes from the Australia Council to our many arts organisations. But it is not just the Australia Council; I have examples of at least seven other programs that are funded by this government. Screen Australia, as we all know, is a fantastic organisation that is behind a lot of the blockbuster TV and film programs in this country, including our No. 1 film at the moment, a wonderful film, The Dressmaker. There is the Regional Arts Fund, which supports sustainable cultural development in regional and remote Australia. The Creative Partnerships Australia is another program that helps to connect private, philanthropic and social arts donors with the arts community. Sounds Australia, Arts Access Australia, the National Cultural Heritage Account, are other organisations that are strongly supported by this government—again, completely contrary to what those opposite have been saying. I would hardly call this government's policy an assault on arts funding. Not only have we maintained the funding but we are also providing a wider range of arts organisations within this country to access these funds.

Those opposite keep mentioning this inquiry by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, which I also sat on for a while and I participated in the hearings. In my personal opinion, this inquiry is probably one of the most disgraceful abuses of the Senate committee process I have witnessed so far in this place. In the last budget the government maintained arts funding. What they did was reallocate just over 15 per cent of that funding from the Australia Council to another program—another program that is absolutely consistent with the way states and territories allocate their arts funding.

Instead of just introducing the program and saying, 'Here are the guidelines,' the government issued draft guidelines and made them open for the entire arts community to make submissions on, which they did. This Senate inquiry has had, I believe, up to 10 hearings around this country. I can think of no other inquiry in recent times that has had 10 hearings around the country, and on an absurd situation—on draft guidelines that had already been subject to public consultation. I do not think there is anything—national security, tax reform, health, education, welfare reform—that has had 10 hearings around the country. To me that is an abuse of the Senate process. Again, just because those opposite say it is unfair and use all of these emotive words, it does not make it so.

One of the things I particularly like in this program is that there is a specific international and cultural diplomacy funding stream which will further promote Australia's talents and interests overseas. It will also support Australian arts organisations to bring art and artists to Australia to broaden the range and the exposure Australian audiences have to overseas performers.

The Catalyst funding model is a welcome new concept, and one that aligns with the government's agenda to deliver innovative arts funding to provide the most public benefit. It does not conflict with the Australia Council funding. Just because it is different and just because those opposite have not suggested it, does not mean that it is a bad thing. The facts simply do not support the disingenuous rhetoric of those opposite. As much as it may gall those opposite, we are looking after the Australian arts community in a very tight fiscal environment. We have maintained arts funding and broadened it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Back ): The time for this discussion has now expired.