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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3005


Senator COLSTON(12.47) —I wish to use this opportunity to raise a matter which is disturbing to me as a senator for Queensland. Certain information has been provided to me by the Royal Queensland Theatre Company. It appears from a letter I have received that Queensland is being short-changed in funds for theatre in education projects. The letter I have received outlines the excellent work being carried out by Roadwork, the theatre in education team in Queensland. All of the letter is pertinent; therefore, I would like to read it to the Senate. It reads thus:

Dear Senator Colston,

The first activity the RQTC ever presented when it began operations in 1970 was a Secondary Schools Company with a programme designed to tour schools throughout the State. This was a deliberate decision to emphasise the importance the Company placed (and places) on Theatre-in-Education.

In subsequent years we have improved and enlarged this aspect of our work. We now call our TIE Team ROADWORK, which comprises a Secondary Schools and a Primary Schools Company. Both companies tour schools throughout Queensland. We have for the past 15 years run two residential training courses for Secondary School students: the Theatre Experience and Theatre Techniques Weeks. In 1983 we inaugurated the Queensland Youth Theatre which services young people in the metropolitan area of Brisbane, and this activity continues to flourish.

In order to keep admission prices to ROADWORK as low as possible, we have used monies from the subvention granted to us by the Queensland State Government and from the Theatre Board of the Australia Council. In the latter case a proportion of these funds was always specially `ear-marked` for our TIE activity.

In 1984 the Theatre Board withdrew funding for ROADWORK. We believed the decision to be a bad one and wrong for a number of specific reasons, so we asked the Theatre Board to review the decision. This request was granted, but in the event the same decision was reached: no funding. We then appealed to the Australia Council itself who overturned the Theatre Board's decision and funding for ROADWORK in 1985 was restored.

1985 also saw the introduction of ceiling funding for theatre companies by the Theatre Board. Such ceilinged funds are designed to cover Main House activities only. Thus funding for TIE in 1986 comes under Special Projects and is the subject of a separate submission for subvention. Our submission for Roadwork in 1986 was once again refused by the Theatre Board.

In fourteen years our TIE company has performed to more than 1 1/2 million children in an area nearly one quarter the size of the Australian Continent. The Theatre Board's decision to deprive Queensland students of a theatrical experience which is culturally enriching and which builds our audience for the future is reprehensible. It is all the more iniquitous that when the interest in theatre studies in schools is rapidly increasing.

In 1979 427 students enrolled for Speech and Drama at Board level. In 1985 this figure had grown to 10,390, an increase of 2,033.5 per cent. In 1983 Production and Performance was registered with the Board and two years later there are over 60 schools including it in their syllabi. When we include Theatre which is also a Board subject the total number of students studying courses related to the work of Roadwork is 13,305, which is 19 per cent of the total student population of Queensland.

It is worth drawing attention to the fact that the Theatre Board acknowledges that Queensland receives less than an equitable amount of its project funds and is seeking ways to redress this situation.

ROADWORK is the only TIE Team in Queensland. It would appear that we have been refused funding so that smaller States with more numerous TIE companies can have their funding increased. It would be interesting to have comparative breakdowns of monies spent on TIE and youth activities in Queensland against those spent in other States.

We recognise that in support of the `arms length' funding principle we cannot ask you to intervene on our behalf, but we bring this matter to your attention because the school students in your electorate are being disadvantaged by the Theatre Board's decision.

We shall do our utmost to find the necessary funds to continue with ROADWORK in 1986 but if we are not successful we shall have to truncate this valuable and valued service to the students of Queensland.

With all good wishes,

Sincerely,

Alan Edwards, Director

Mr Acting Deputy President, there are questions raised by this letter which must be given prompt answers, and I ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, to provide answers as soon as he can. Firstly, has the Theatre Board acknowledged that Queensland does receive less than an equitable amount of project funds? Secondly, what is being done to redress this situation? Thirdly, has Roadwork been refused funding so that smaller States with more numerous theatre in education companies can have their funding increased? Finally, can comparative breakdowns be given, as outlined in Mr Edwards's letter? If they cannot, I would like to know why not. This matter is an important one for Queensland and, again, I ask for a prompt reply from the Minister concerned, Mr Cohen.