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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
27/05/2015
Estimates
ATTORNEY-GENERAL'S PORTFOLIO
Australia Council

Australia Council

[12:42]

Senator MILNE: Could I ask the Australia Council to come back to the table, please. I just want to go back to the line of questioning I had before with the minister and the department in relation to what the loss of the $104 million actually means to the Australia Council, in terms of what is left—I will call it discretionary—after those contractual arrangements over the six-year period with the major performing arts companies are accounted for. If we take out the $104 million, am I right in saying that this is effectively a 28 per cent cut in funding for the things for which the Australia Council has responsibility?

Mr Grybowski : Just to clarify and ensure that it is completely on the record, I will read from the statement that we put out on 21 May and that we communicated to the sector. The Australia Council's appropriation for 2015-16 is $184.5 million. That includes $120 million in government programs, including $106.6 million allocated to the core grants of the major performing arts companies; $5.8 million allocated to the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy; and $8.1 million allocated to Playing Australia, the Contemporary Touring Initiative and the Contemporary Music Touring Program. That leaves $62 million to support our grants programs, our initiatives and our operating expenses.

Senator MILNE: So you are now down to $62 million.

Mr Grybowski : Correct.

Senator MILNE: You did not mention there, I don't think, the literature program—because I want to come to the Book Council in a minute. Is that part of the $5.8 million? Where was that in the scheme of things?

Mr Grybowski : The reduction for the literature program has already been taken off the $184 million. So that is already gone.

Senator MILNE: Let's come back to the $62 million. Effectively, you have gone from what to $62 million in terms of what you had as discretionary, after you had taken out the rest of this?

Mr Grybowski : Prior to the minister advising our chairman, Mr Myer, about the change, we were expecting $23 million additional.

Senator MILNE: So $23 million has gone and you have been left with $62 million.

Mr Grybowski : Correct.

Senator MILNE: Notwithstanding that the minister has said that some of those people who may have applied for that funding might well apply for funding under the new program, can you just give me a sense of what this actually means to lose that $23 million.

Mr Grybowski : Our basic principle is to look holistically at the offers to the Australian arts sector to ensure that the artists and the arts organisations have the very best opportunity and, indeed, in discussions with our board, to ensure that the funds that we have are invested in the areas of greatest need and according to our strategic plan. We are working incredibly collaboratively, as Ms Basser has mentioned on several occasions, with the ministry, and that work will continue in the coming weeks. Our board meets in June, following work by the executive, to determine our forward contracts. The Australia Council plans several years ahead, but we have got to work out our forward contracts, what our commitments are, so that we can smoothly transition into the new funding arrangements, make any modifications to our granting programs to ensure—again, going back to the principle—that the arts sector of Australia is supported in the best way and in the simplest and easiest way, working collaboratively with the ministry.

Senator MILNE: The issue here, though, is that it means just under a third less in terms of what you have to spend on those programs, if they are not picked up by the new national centre for excellence in the arts.

Mr Grybowski : From what we were offering, yes.

Senator MILNE: Are there any particular sectors that you think this is going to affect, given that the national centre for excellence in the arts will, as its name suggests, probably be going after a certain type of program? Are we at risk of losing the new, the innovative, the experimental?

Mr Grybowski : It is too early to determine. I can just repeat my point of ensuring the complementary nature of the programs. The principle of our revised grant program and, indeed, our six-year funding program was to provide the greatest flexibility, the greatest entrance point, to ensure that artists and arts organisations were eligible to apply.

Senator MILNE: I now want to go to the new proposed book council. I want to go to the literature grants. My understanding is that, previously, the literature program was about $4 million. Is that correct?

Mr Grybowski : That was under the previous structure of the Australia Council. We transformed it into the new structure, with the centralised grant program, which we announced from August last year, where all art forms would be catered for but with no predetermined budget allocation. You are right: roughly speaking, in the past, there was around $4 million directly going to what was previously known as The Literature Board.

Senator MILNE: With the announcement of the book council, presumably that has come out of the generic pool. How much less is going over to the book council?

Mr Grybowski : To the remaining funds of $62 million will ensure that literature is supported from the programs that we offer through that fund; but, again, ensuring that we do not duplicate programs or activities and initiatives that are offered by the Book Council.

Senator MILNE: Yes, but that is where I want to—

Mr Grybowski : We will not be taking a direct cut on literature. Again, it is the same principle.

Senator MILNE: Yes, but now we are going to have the Book Council and we are going to have the Australia Council still supporting literature. My concern here is that the Book Council may not support individual writers and authors. Essentially, that is what funding has done in the past; it has gone to individual authors to support them in their work. So you are obviously going to see a lesser amount that can be allocated than before because you have gone down to $62 million.

Mr Grybowski : Yes.

Senator MILNE: Yes.

Mr Grybowski : There will be fewer grants but funding opportunities from other sources.

Senator MILNE: There may be funding opportunities. I would like to ask the minister, then, about the Book Council. It was announced last year. We still do not have much detail as to the responsibilities of the Book Council, who is going to be appointed to it and how much of the $2 million per year expenditure will be spent on the Prime Minister's prizes; or will it go to bureaucracies? Can you give us an update or an understanding of when the Book Council is going to take effect?

Senator Brandis: We have been doing a lot of work on this since it was announced on 8 December last year. What you need to understand, Senator, is that this is about more than writers. It is about everyone involved in books, whether they be writers, editors, publishers, retailers: the entire industry. So it is a little more complicated than merely literary funding. It is not like the old Commonwealth Literary Fund, for example, that folded into the Australia Council relatively early in its life. This is about the industry as well as the writers. The relative complexity of it is one of the reasons why this has taken quite a while since it was announced on 8 December. We are well advanced towards being in a position to publish the constitution and membership of the council.

Senator MILNE: There will be no industry if there are no authors!

Senator Brandis: Senator, as the Prime Minister's Literary Awards event in Melbourne last December showed, there is an enormous enthusiasm for authors from this government—as you would expect, because so many members of this government are themselves authors, from the Prime Minister down. I think six of the 19 members of cabinet are published authors; and, when Mr Christopher Pyne's book is published, quite soon, that will be seven.

Senator MILNE: It goes to volume and quality!

Senator BILYK: Quality, not quantity!

Senator MILNE: Quality and volume are the two issues I would raise there, Minister, but let's not go there! I am not going to go to—

Senator Brandis: I think quality is a very important issue. If, for example, you had read our colleague Mr Andrew Robb's book about the way in which he dealt with depression and mental health issues, you would not be making a sarcastic remark about that.

Senator BILYK: That is a good book.

Senator Brandis: But you actually obviously have not.

Senator MILNE: No, I have not read that book, but I am interested that you are talking up the works of your colleagues. But I want to come back to—

Senator Brandis: I am very proud of my colleagues. I am very proud to be in the most literate cabinet in Australian history.

Senator MILNE: Can't read science, though! Anyway, let us get back to the Book Council. How did this Book Council proposal arise? Where did it come from, this idea?

Senator Brandis: It is a very good question, Senator. It came as a result of conversations at the highest level of the government, including between me and the Prime Minister, and my office and the Prime Minister's office. I think I should mention in this respect Ms Louise Adler, who you would know, one of the leading figures in the Australian book industry, who has been a great advocate for this proposal. Ms Adler and I have of course spoken about this, and I know Ms Adler has spoken directly with the Prime Minister. So she has been an important figure in this as well.

Senator MILNE: So, out of a conversation, this notion of a book council took effect, and you are saying that we will, in the not-too-far-distant future, have the Book Council and the parameters of what it is to do. Can you just tell me: what is it to do?

Senator Brandis: It is to promote books.

Senator MILNE: To promote books?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator MILNE: And it will promote books and be funded to—

Senator Brandis: To promote books and therefore, it necessarily follows, to promote Australian writing.

Senator MILNE: Yes. My concern here is the loss of funding to Australian writers as a result of cuts to the Australia Council and the money now being used to promote books—which I have no objection to at all, but the issue here is that it is going to promote industry as opposed to writers, and we can argue—

Senator Brandis: Sorry, Senator Milne. You have misquoted me. I did not say industry as opposed to writers; I said industry and therefore necessarily writers.

Senator MILNE: Can you tell me where the funding is currently sitting for the book council. Is it just a line item? Where is it?

Ms Basser : The funding will sit in the Ministry for the Arts.

Senator MILNE: Thank you. What is the current allocation—$2 million? Is that correct?

Ms Basser : That is right. It is $6 million over three years, so $2 million per annum.

Senator MILNE: Thank you. We still do not have a quantum, of course, on what the reduced funding for literature in the Australia Council will be.

Mr Grybowski : No.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Milne. Senator Bilyk?

Senator BILYK: I know Senator Collins wants to continue in this area, so can I suggest that we break for lunch now, seeing as how it is only a few minutes.

CHAIR: I am inclined, if nobody has any other questions, to call the estimates off.

Senator BILYK: It is only five minutes to lunchtime. In lots of other committees I have been in—

CHAIR: I am not interested in what happens in other committees. I am tempted to call the whole estimates off if nobody has any questions, but I think I indicated to Senator Collins that we would probably go with Senator Milne's till one o'clock, so perhaps I will not do that. It might be seen as a breach of faith—and it would be. So we will adjourn now until two o'clock.

Proceedings suspended from 12:56 to 14:03