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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9707

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:47): I will start by congratulating the former arts minister, Senator Brandis, on reform of arts funding and for putting out draft guidelines to enable further consultation on this issue. I also congratulate the current Minister for the Arts, Senator Fifield, for the new proposals he has put forward for Catalyst, which resulted from his and the government's consultation on these issues. Of course, that is why you put out draft guidelines—so that you can have further consultations.

Regrettably, the chair of this committee and most of the members were too inexperienced or unworldly to understand the whole process, and that is what it was all about. From the start this was a cynical attempt by the opposition, the Greens political party and a green Independent senator to politicise reform of arts funding. Claims by the majority attempted to create a divisive and combative atmosphere that characterises the government as inherently opposed—

Senator Whish-Wilson: Mr President, on a point of order: I do not think there is such thing as a green Independent senator. The senator is misleading the chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Reynolds ): Senator Whish-Wilson, that is not a point of order.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is typical of the Greens and the Labor Party to stop free speech when anything that is being said is truthful and does not suit their political agenda. That group of people set out to create a division within the arts community, to force them into taking a position against the government and to use arts and culture funding as a platform to launch a cynical political attack that lacks any factual basis and created uncertainty. This is a committee where the majority—Labor, Greens and green Independents—got together and set meetings at a time when they knew no government senator was available. They set hearing dates when they knew government senators were not available to be there.

For some reason the Greens, the Labor Party and the green Independent think that the arts community should be quarantined from the austerity measures which every other portfolio had to meet. If it had not been for the Labor Party running up a debt that was approaching $700 billion then there would have been lots of money for the arts and everything else. The recommendations of the majority are 'more money for this, more money for that and more money for the other', but none of them will ever have the issue of trying to find the money. It is okay to say, 'Yes, give everybody what they ask for.' Wouldn't we as politicians love to be in that position? 'Ask for some money and you'll get it.' If it had not been for the Labor Party running up a debt of $700 billion, perhaps we could have given everybody everything they asked for.

These efficiencies in the arts funding were part of the process of trying to pay off Labor's debt. I should mention that the Australia Council funding under the last year of Labor—now listen to these figures—was $188,000. The following year in the coalition government it went up to $218,000. The following year it came down a bit to $211,000, still more than the $188,000 provided by Labor. In the last financial year, with all the efficiency measures to try to help pay off Labor's debt, it reduced to $184,000, which is much the same as the last contribution from the last Labor government, yet that is not mentioned. Hullo! It is the coalition government that is cutting all the funds to the arts, but it is the same funding that the Labor Party produced. We never heard about that. Typically of the cynical political nature of this inquiry, suddenly it was wrong for the government, which is elected by the people, to have some say in how the taxpayers' money was being spent. And why is this appropriate? Because governments make decisions and they are accountable every three years. If people do not like them, they throw out the government.

What the Labor Party, the Greens and the Green Independent wanted was to give this to an independent body that is really accountable to no-one. They put in an annual report once a year but they are not subject to any direction from the people of Australia who are paying the funds. So there was a great who-ha about how terrible this was. But find in evidence—and it is listed in the dissenting report—that the proposal introduced by the Mr Morrison follows the exact same procedure that all the state governments do, half of which are Labor. But hang on; it is okay if Labor state governments are doing it this way but if it is a coalition government, a federal government doing it exactly the same way, then good heavens, the sky is going to fall in! That just demonstrated yet again how politically partisan this whole inquiry was and how absolutely ridiculous the whole process was.

We had teams of people being encouraged to come in—and that is there in evidence, too—to make these points but they were all on a draft set of guidelines. As I said many a time, if the inquiry were serious, it was held too early because there was nothing there to inquire into because they were draft guidelines. But unfortunately the majority of the committee could not understand that very simple point. On the whole report of the majority there are some 83 pages complaining about the draft guidelines but on the real program, the Catalyst program, there are only three pages. So again it shows how will how hypocritical and politically partisan this was.

The majority report praises the level of consistency in the evidence. That is pretty obvious because the majority of the committee selected those who would give evidence at selected hearings and they selected only the sorts of people who shared their view. If you had a different view, you were not even called. The locations for the various hearings were at places where government senators could not get in the early stages.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: There was one place I was pleased the committee did go to, but it was on my motion—

Senator Bilyk: What's wrong with you?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Reynolds ): Senators to my left, you have been interjecting consistently. I have let most of it go through but it is now becoming overwhelming. I am even having trouble hearing Senator Macdonald.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It does not worry me, Madam Acting Deputy President. This is typical of the Labor Party and the Greens. They shout down anyone who does not have their view or who, more importantly, tells the truth about this cynical, politically-partisan inquiry, which has been an abject waste of taxpayers' money. The inquiry did at least go to Cairns on my motion that it move out of the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra triangle, the golden triangle, and at least get to some places where the regional arts communities could have a say. That is one of the problems: most of the arts funding goes to Sydney or to Melbourne or to the major capital cities. The new program of the coalition government is trying to balance the moneys that are given to the arts communities so that some of it at least goes to rural and regional Australia and to Queensland and Western Australia. There is evidence of all of that.

I have to say that I was concerned by elements of the testimony provided to the committee that seemed to betray an unhealthy sense of entitlement to financial support of the taxpayer in the absence of effective oversight of the regulatory regime. We have a wonderful arts community in Australia.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bilyk, if you would like to speak on this report, you will have an opportunity to do so.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: We do very clever things in arts and culture. There does seem to be an unhealthy sense of entitlement that taxpayers should fund things which people have a passion for doing. As I pointed out, the chairman, in one of his better moods, had a passion for football but he did not get taxpayer funding to pursue his aim to go on to become a champion and a very wealthy man because of his football career, but some of the artists think the taxpayers should be providing that funding all the time.

Time has escaped me, but I simply ask anyone who is interested in this to read the dissenting report, which accurately and, with evidence noted, points out just what a political farce this will inquiry was. I conclude by congratulating both Senator Brandis and Senator Fifield on their attempts to bring reform to arts funding. (Time expired)