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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Australia Council

Australia Council


CHAIR: We now move to the Australia Council and we thank you for providing your time, Mr Collette. We're not doing opening statements, but you may like to table one. I'm in the hands of the committee. No questions from the opposition senators? Any questions from—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I can ask some questions of the Australia Council.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thanks for giving us your time today. I firstly just want to ask whether there had been any work done on pitching to government ahead of the budget on a need for an increase to Australia Council funding, given just how terrible the arts have been smashed over the last two years.

Mr Collette : There are a couple of things by way of response. In terms of the creative sector being affected, clearly we've worked very closely with the department on particularly the RISE funding and the sustainability funding and we've been very pleased to be at the table giving the best possible advice we can pertaining to those parts of the sector that we know well, particularly with RISE and sustainability. It has been a very effective way of dealing with balance sheet pressures on many of our multiyear funded programs.

Our view is that this will take some time to play out. Through those measures, I'm happy to say that none of the organisations we fund multiyear—small to medium or partnership—at this stage have got to anything like insolvency. But there has been significant claim on the sustainability fund thus far.

I guess the thing we see coming down the track—and it's up to the government what policy response it might have in the future—is, again we thought towards the end of last year it was very encouraging that audiences were voting with their feet and coming back very strongly. And you could feel a bit of optimism in the sector. Omicron clearly has put great pressure upon that and this time the dynamics are slightly different because this is not because of lockdown; it's because audiences think this is a far more contagious form of COVID.

Just to finish that thought—and it is anecdotal and I don't pretend it's any more, because we won't know until we start getting the first quarter results from our companies about what the forecasts look like—in the last couple of weeks, given my colleagues and I are deeply and broadly in contact with the sector, I say some of the anecdotal evidence is encouraging. That first gasp of reluctance that came with Omicron may be easing for some of our organisations.

But my point is the pressure on reserves and balance sheets and abilities to take risks, we think, is something that is going to play out over the next six to 12 months. We talk closely to the department about possible policy responses to that. But at the moment the organisations we serve are still intact and their balance sheets are such that they can go forward.

As to the second part of your question, if I may quickly, we're constantly in conversation with the department about ideas for further investments. You know very well that multiyear funding demand is well in excess of what we are able to invest in multiyear organisations, as one example, and, indeed, individual artists and project grants. So there's always an unmet need, and by 'unmet need' I mean applications of quality, not just looking at the total quantity but indicatively. Individual and project grants run to about 16 per cent. We think there's probably double that of worthwhile projects that could be funded through funding rounds. When I say 'worthwhile', of course I mean worthwhile to artists but also worthwhile to the community, which is very much where the Australia Council is looking—the public benefit of the investment in arts and creativity for the broader country.

But there are also other areas that we think of where the arts and creative sector can play such a vital role: in mental health and welfare, youth engagement and healthy ageing. These are conversations we have all the time with our constituents and, indeed, with the department about what future investments may look like. So it's not a specific response to the current budget round but it is absolutely the way we are advocating for future investment in the creative industries.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I have a final question. I hear what you're saying about the importance of the Arts Sustainability Fund in keeping those actual arts organisations, and particularly those that facilitate a lot of other community arts networks, afloat and how important that was to stop insolvency. I just want to tease out: it seems to me that the Australia Council was vital in making sure that happened because of the long-held expertise that the Australia Council has had of knowing where the strengths and weaknesses are. Is it fair to say that without the leadership of the Australia Council the money may not have gone where it needed to go?

Mr Collette : Thank you for your confidence in the Australia Council, which I share, of course. I think the important thing here is we have worked, as I heard Dr Arnott say, daily with the department. We have deep expertise in the arts organisations and the artists that we fund. So we have been able to provide very significant advice on investment of RISE and, of course much more materially, the sustainability fund, which has flowed to mostly the organisations that are funded through the Australia Council. And there has been very strong collaboration between us and the department.

Yes, to your point, I think advice has been absolutely valuable in how the money is invested—and we have been very pleased to be at the table—so that the department and the minister in his final decision-making can take advantage of the knowledge that resides at the Australia Council.

CHAIR: That is all we have for you. Thank you very much for dialling in to our estimates hearings today. We'll suspend briefly while we organise Screen Australia.

Proceedings suspended from 12:54 to 13:03

CHAIR: We will resume briefly in order to get a clarification from Dr Arnott.

Dr Arnott : In response to Senator Davey's earlier question about regional projects that have been successful for RISE, out of the 450 organisations, 96 were located in regional or remote Australia, which is 24 per cent of projects funded. In fact, when we look at it across them, 49 per cent of all the events funded in the first six batches of RISE occurred in regional or remote locations. That's 2,013 regional events which have received almost $106 million in RISE funding, supporting over 106,000 jobs in regional Australia.

Senator DAVEY: Thank you for getting back to me.

CHAIR: We will suspend the hearing.

Proceedings suspended from 13:04 to 13:59