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Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
01/09/2015
Impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth budget decisions on the arts

KASAT, Ms Pilar Amparo, Managing Director, Community Arts Network Western Australia

MACHIN, Ms Jessica, Chief Executive Officer, Country Arts WA

[10:52]

CHAIR: Welcome. I thank you for coming here today and talking with us. The committee has received submissions from each of you as submissions 468 and 469 respectively. Before I invite you to make an opening statement, do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your submissions?

Ms Machin : No.

Ms Kasat : You have been provided with an amendment submission and it was a very minor amendment.

CHAIR: Thank you. Would you each like to make it brief opening statement of no longer than two minutes before we go to questions?

Ms Machin : For 21 years Country Arts WA has provided resources and services for regional arts and cultural activity. We are membership based, hundred per cent regionally focused and work across all nine regions and support all art forms. We deliver funding and touring programs for regional communities on behalf of state and federal government under a highly effective devolved funding structure. We support a network of art organisations across regional WA by providing much-needed core operational funding. These organisations, projects, events and festivals that they run are underpinned by an extensive volunteer network.

Last year, these organisations and programs we ran engaged over 1,600 artists, had over 73,000 participants, delivered over 330 professional development opportunities to over 15,000 participants and enjoyed audiences in excess of 270,000. Some of these stats include large regional programs funded by Australian Council creative communities initiative. This program is gone. In 2014, our touring program delivered performance and workshops to over 27,000 people, 154 performances and 122 communities. We travelled over 84,000 kilometres, that is 2½ times around Australia. We mainly tour independent artists and small to medium organisations. Many of our stakeholders work with, or receive the services of, metro based small to medium organisations, either working in partnership, engaging in professional development programs, or hosting touring shows.

Our members have stated there is grave concern that with the funding changes there will be a reduction in services to regional WA, less development of arts in country areas, reduced touring, fewer events, fewer partnerships, reduced connection to state and national activities, and fewer professional development opportunities for regional artists.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sorry, who said that?

Ms Machin : Our stakeholders, our members. Many regional communities value highly the opportunity to engage in professional development, especially at a time when post-secondary and tertiary fine arts education in regional areas have been cut or reduced significantly. Now ArtStart is gone. There is also concern that the social and economic results of the cuts to the Australia Council, and with the draft guidelines of the NPEA, will be felt across remote and Indigenous Australia, particularly in WA, where there are 274 regional and remote Aboriginal communities.

Ms Kasat : Thank you very much for the opportunity to appear before you.

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of the people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

Chimamanda Adichie

This quote encapsulates the work of CAN. Over 30 years, we have supported and encouraged communities to tell their own stories using a range of art forms. Our values of respect, social justice and sustainability inspire our work to catalyse active participation in art making at the local community level. Working and engaging with communities has taught us that consultation builds trust, and trust is fundamental to the success of our work. Trust has been eroded by the recent budget decisions on the arts. There was no sector consultation to shift funds from the Australia Council to the ministry, and the extensive sector consultation done in recent years for both the National Cultural Policy and for the review of the Australia Council have been largely ignored. These changes, and the lack of consultation, do not reflect well in terms of building trust and confidence in the process that may follow.

Over last year, CAN engaged over 200 people in local community arts and cultural activities. More than 5,000 people created art. More than 200 professional artists were employed and for every dollar that CAN devolved $1.30 was leveraged locally. We have had regular local, state and national media coverage, including The 7.30 Report, ABC24, NITV and The Weekend Australian. We have worked with national and state institutions, such as the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Maritime Museum, the Western Australian Museum, Yirra Yaakin, PICA, as well as many other local arts groups. For us, the biggest impact will be felt on our community as programs delivered in regional WA. For the past nine years, we have worked alongside the Nyungar people, the traditional custodians of the south-west corner of Western Australia, and one of the largest cultural blocs in the country, with a population of 30,000. We believe in the power of community arts to transform communities and we have seen the most compelling impact of this work with the work we have done with the Nyungar people. Thank you.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you very much, and good morning. Thank you very much for your submissions, and also for the work that both of your organisations do here. I agree with you, Ms Kasat, with what you are saying about the stories and the importance of capturing the stories. Ms Machin, I know just how well your organisation does support rural and regional WA, and I think you have got great programs together. Were you here for the previous testimony?

Ms Kasat : Yes.

Senator REYNOLDS: So you would be aware with my line of questioning. Given that the NPEA is a fact, and it is still draft guidelines, have you heard some of the testimony in terms of some of the suggestions that need to go back to the minister to make sure are incorporated in the drafts?

Ms Kasat : Yes.

Senator REYNOLDS: Was there anything there that you did not agree with? Obviously, the draft guidelines are focused on Indigenous, rural and regional, small to medium. I am not sure about individual, so I will have to go back and check to see what the situation is with individuals. Was there anything in that list that you did not agree with that we talked about before?

Ms Machin : No, did not 'not agree'. I was interested when you state the guidelines talk about 'Indigenous'. That is great. It is very broad, as I understand it, and I think some of the feedback we gave is it would be great to have some greater clarity because there is confusion. For example, there is a lot of Aboriginal arts centres in Queensland and also in Western Australia, and they do receive funding from the ministry through the Indigenous strategy. But they are concerned that they cannot apply to the NPEA. They ask for some clarity around that. An example of those arts centres is Warakurna in Western Australia. Just recently, Eunice Porter won the Western Australia artist award from the Arts Gallery of WA. Warakurna is a community of 180 artists and in the last 10 years they generated $3 million worth of non-welfare income for that remote Aboriginal community on a very small subsidy from the ministry. The difference of $10,000 or $20,000 can make all the difference of an arts centre manager staying or being able to service those artists.

Senator REYNOLDS: So the issue is clarity of the definition of Indigenous, and clarity in detail, you would like to see from the draft of the final?

Ms Machin : Yes

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you. I got that. It is a good point. Anything else, Ms Kasat?

Ms Kasat : When I look at the three streams that the guidelines articulate, it is very difficult to see how the small- to medium-arts sector will be eligible for this. To give an example, down under incentives. The small to medium sector rarely gets involved in infrastructure projects because most of us do not own our own premises. So to think that we can actually get involved in infrastructure projects is beyond the small- to medium-arts sector.

Under international and culture diplomacy, they are talking about the international significant art and artists, and then the last sentences talks about greater opportunity to experience the world's finest performance and exhibitions. It is not to say that we are not ambitious—the small to medium sector is very ambitious—but the language here does not indicate that the small- to medium-arts sector can actually engage with this.

Senator REYNOLDS: I have just written down what you said, but so that I have understood the intent—while the description of it specifically talks about small to medium and a focus on small to medium, you are saying you want more clarity in terms of those three criteria to make sure that small to medium is not inadvertently left out?

Ms Kasat : I have no evidence that the guidelines are articulated for the small to medium sector. There is not anywhere that appears like the small to medium sector will be favoured in these categories and the language does not indicate that. Just to finish that point under the strategic initiative, the last line there says 'major initiatives'. It all indicates that this will not be favouring the small- to medium-arts sector.

Senator REYNOLDS: So you want clarity and surety?

Ms Kasat : Yes, absolutely.

Ms Machin : The other area of clarity that would be great is around the term 'excellence'. I am just referring now to Regional Arts Australia submission on the guidelines. Country Arts WA is a member of the national organisation. Some organisations expressed concern at the potential in the NPEA to impose a particular brand of excellence on regional Australia. We would think it a great pity, for example, if the majority of those important funds went to major performing arts companies for national touring project initiatives over and above their current funding and used to parachute mainstream excellence into regional and remote communities at the expense of local product and without due consideration for the need for genuine engagement and audience development in those communities. That is not saying the majors will do that; it is saying that in the criteria we need some more detail around that engagement and what is the definition of excellence, especially from the regional arts perspective.

Senator REYNOLDS: So you agree the concept of excellence, that it could be merit based in that sense. It is not the word 'excellence'; it is more about the criteria and the detail that surrounds what it is and how it will impact on touring companies.

Ms Machin : Our sector through a long process with the Australia Council to actually inform, and they have a framework which actually helps talk this artistic vibrancy. There are many ways to actually determine excellence. So we ask for that clarity of detail in that regard.

Senator REYNOLDS: Unpicking that further, it is, yes, excellence; and, yes, you have worked through a process with the Australia Council you are happy with, so you would like that framework for excellence applied to the NPEA?

CHAIR: No. What she is saying is that she does not know what excellence means.

Senator REYNOLDS: I would rather hear from the witness.

CHAIR: I am telling you. I have heard her twice say that.

Senator REYNOLDS: I would rather the witness answer.

CHAIR: I am the chair and I have heard Ms Machin answer your question twice. I am suggesting that you are wasting time continually asking questions that she has already answered.

Senator REYNOLDS: This is a very important point. I understand that in relation to the NPEA you want the definition of excellence.

Ms Machin : Yes.

Senator REYNOLDS: But, as I understood your testimony, you have gone through that process of defining excellence with the Australia Council. Was that what you said?

Ms Machin : Yes, the sector went through and informed the Australia Council's process.

Senator REYNOLDS: Would it be logical for me to then say that the work the sector has done with the Australia Council on excellence would be what you want to be applied to the NPEA?

Ms Machin : I would say it would be absolutely critical that the ministry, as they have stated, is going to work with the Australia Council to determine what the difference is. Because if they are simply adopting what the Australia Council has then I am not sure if there is a need for a new definition.

Senator REYNOLDS: So, you want a clarity of what it is for the NPEA.

Ms Machin : Yes.

Senator REYNOLDS: But you like the definition that is worked out by the Australia Council?

Ms Machin : Yes.

Ms Kasat : May I make a comment?

CHAIR: Yes, sorry.

Ms Kasat : I think the notion of excellence is intrinsically linked with the idea of peer review. This is why the sector was absolutely adamant when the review of the Australia Council occurred that this was something the sector considered enormously important. Because of the subjectivity of the arts, excellence is such a subjective term. It is very abstract, and the way that that is applied is through the peer process. We know that the Australia Council peer process, which was just beginning to be implemented, was a very rigorous process. This is why I would be prepared to defend that process, because I understand that that was the best the Australia Council has had, after the review of the Australia Council.

Senator REYNOLDS: So, you are agreeing with Ms Machin that peer review is excellence? You are saying that you want the Australia Council process of peer review, which in your mind equals excellence, put into the NPEA?

Ms Kasat : No, I am saying that excellence is the capacity of peers to judge the work of their peers. That is really important to be able to achieve excellence.

Senator REYNOLDS: This is a really important point that you are trying to communicate to this inquiry. Ms Machin, you said you want 'excellence' defined in the NPEA and more clarity about what excellence is?

Ms Machin : Yes, and the criteria around that.

Senator REYNOLDS: You are talking about criteria but you are saying that criteria is so subjective: criteria is peer opinion. Is that what you are saying you want in the NPEA—that excellence would be satisfied if it was the same criteria as the Australia Council, which is peer review?

Ms Kasat : I also agree with Jessica here. Then the question would be: why are we duplicating them?

Senator REYNOLDS: That is a different issue about excellence.

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Reynolds, we have to get moving.

Senator LUDLAM: It is hard to know where to start, isn't it? Thanks to you both for coming in. Can you quickly spell out for us the difference between the submission that you tabled most recently and the previous one?

Ms Kasat : Yes, on the second-last page, under the dot points, there was a sentence that was taken out of the first dot point. The last sentence was taken out. And in the following dot point, there was just an addition of a word. Sorry, I cannot find it right now.

Senator LUDLAM: Was it edited for stylistic edits, or have you changed the emphasis?

Ms Kasat : It was just an assertion that we made. At the time when we put the submission I thought it was probably unfair. It is on the second dot point about the assessment process. It says, 'It appears that it is not separate from political influence.' Yes, that is what it is.

Senator LUDLAM: I have got it. It is, nonetheless, still a pretty strong submission. But I will read from the new one rather than the old one. You have spoken of CAN's experience over the last 30 years. How long have you been involved with the organisation?

Ms Kasat : Eleven years.

Senator LUDLAM: At the bottom of the first paragraph you have said, 'There is nothing, however, that rivals the instability, upheaval and vacuum created by the recent withdrawal of almost $105 million from the Australia Council,' and you are comparing that with the history of the organisation over 30 years. Given that, as coalition senators have been at pains to point out, it is all in draft and maybe it will land in a different way, what is it about this proposal that has seen that 'unrivalled instability' as you have put it?

Ms Kasat : Yes, Senator, we have been for the past three years in planning mode. We apply to the Australian Council for six-year funding. Because of the changes to the Australian Council, those six years were not honoured. Only three years were honoured, so that took us from 2014 to2016. That was already for the key producer organisations, which are community arts organisations, and there are 14 across the country. We already had felt this impact about 12 months ago.

Subsequently, we were asked to reapply under the new category for six-year funding and that obviously has been cancelled now. Let me say that the six-year funding that the Australian Council intended to go forth with was modelled on this very successful model where the key producer organisations, the art community arts organisations, had been funded in previous years. One of the more successful figures that I can give you is that for every dollar that the Australian Council invested in this small company, they were able to leverage $8 for every $1. That is an incredible capacity of the sector to be innovative, to be incredibly resourceful to be able to find another $8 on top of that.

I suppose the issue for us is that we have been three years in a state of flux. Once you have capacity to be funded for a long period of time, those relationships that we have other funders, with the community are really critically important. So, to all of a sudden to know that perhaps in 12 months times we will not be funded, it is impossible to make relationships and get other funding.

Senator LUDLAM: I can ask some of the individual companies when we get to the panels fairly shortly, but are you aware of any third party funders or corporate partners who have walked away as a result or at least who have put funding on ice or on hold?

Ms Kasat : Not from us personally, but certainly I know companies in Queensland where that has occurred.

Senator LUDLAM: Queensland, interesting.

Ms Kasat : Yes.

Ms Machin : But we do know, Senator Ludlam, in regional WA with the decline in the resources sector, many of the corporate companies that did support small-to-mediums and community organisations are walking away. BHP Billiton, for example, has just pulled out of a long-term partnership with Hedland Arts Council in Port Hedland; we were supporting building their capacity. A lot of the small-to-mediums and independent and smaller organisations do get affected in this climate. They do not have the boards of the major Australian preforming arts companies. They do not have the buying power. I mentioned the 270,000 audience members in regional WA, which is half the population of regional Western Australia. Most of the events that are put on are free and that is about engagement, access and participation.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I am presuming, particularly, in the instance of the resource industry, those big funding partners walking away is just an unhappy coincidence. We are not ready to tie it—

Ms Machin : That is a particularly unhappy coincidence.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Like the Greens in the federal parliament.

Senator LUDLAM: That is really funny.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But true. It is not funny; it is sad.

Ms Machin : But I suppose it emphasises the point: when a company walks away, that is when those small-to-mediums need more than ever that government support. I know that Senator Reynolds was saying: what will the art sector do? And I know Senator Brandis said we are looking forward to knowing more detail about the endowments and opportunities to support the small-to-medium sector in that. Our sector does not have that buying power, those people on the boards that open those doors to businesses, so we are really curious to know how that is going to play out.

Senator LUDLAM: Given that we have not seen the final guidelines land yet so we do not know how it is going to look in practice, is it your view that we actually needed a separate funding body? Nobody has come out and said the Australian Council fund model is perfect, but do we actually need a separate funding entity?

Ms Machin : If there was an extra $110 million, I would absolutely be supportive of it.

Ms Kasat : I think there is a key issue. Australia compared to other similar countries will receive 0.1 per cent of our GDP for the arts. That is considerably lower than New Zealand and Canada.

Senator LUDLAM: That is as a proportion of government funding?

Ms Kasat : Correct. I think the key point here is the sector has been chronically underfunded and, in particular, the small-to-medium art sector. If you look at all the figures here and in Western Australia, the small-to-medium sector gets about 10 per cent of the overall funding pool. Federally, my understanding is that the small to medium get about 30 per cent of the overall pool. That sector in particular has been underfunded so long I think we welcome diverse modes of funding. But this seems to have come from nowhere and with no rationale. This is why the sector is, I think, so disappointed.

Senator LUDLAM: Do small to medium have 30 per cent of the audiences, or is it a little bit larger?

Ms Kasat : I do have those figures. I can take that on notice but perhaps some of my colleagues here this afternoon could talk about audiences.

Senator LUDLAM: Not if it is a lot of work. My instinct is that it would be a hell of a lot higher than 30 per cent.

Ms Kasat : I would say so, too.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay, I will leave it there.

CHAIR: Earlier, you touched on the endowment incentive stream. Could you just explain that and tell us why small and medium organisations are not in a position to be competitive for this funding?

Ms Kasat : The Chamber for Arts and Culture got a report around the small to medium art sector to understand the state of play. The small companies had already articulated that they felt that the major and flagship companies really take a lot of air to be able to play in that space with corporate or philanthropic moneys. That can only suggest that the small companies are already feeling the pinch. As Jessica articulated, we do not have the level of influence on our boards to be able to access those funds.

Ms Machin : We also do not have the core funding to employ business development managers, philanthropic donation managers—you know, the range of staffing that goes with having to raise that sort of money.

CHAIR: Have either of you had to cancel any projects because of these changes?

Ms Machin : We have not had to cancel any projects. But the Creative Communities initiative has been stopped by the Australia Council. The Australia Council had funded some significant regional programs in Western Australia through that fund, and that is no longer available. With those sorts of projects you could actually receive a significant amount of money for a large part of regional WA. For every $1 invested, there was a $5 return. That is no longer available. It also funded Ausdance's Future Landings program—and I think are appearing later on. Those things are not there anymore. For ourselves, no it does not affect us immediately. Country Arts WA does not receive core funding from the Australia Council, but we had put an expression of interest in through the six years funding. That was to support a major initiative in the Goldfields-Esperance region. The Goldfields-Esperance region alone is three times the size of Victoria. We decided we are not going to pursue that. We understand that there is less funding, so on a moral and ethical level we would not put in an application because we think we need to enable organisations that do rely on that. It does mean, from a regional WA perspective, potentially that they miss out on an opportunity.

Ms Kasat : For us, it is probably more critical. About 60 per cent of our work is in regional WA. If we do not obtain funds from the Australia Council regional program the work that we have done with Aboriginal communities in the south-west corner of Western Australia, which is also very large—two times the size of Tasmania, I believe—is absolutely in jeopardy.

CHAIR: Have you experienced or do you foresee any staffing cuts?

Ms Kasat : Right now, for us it is impending. For us in 2016, we will definitely lose some staff.

Ms Machin : Not through these changes. But through the retraction of corporate resources money and the mining sector we have had to lay off some.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are arguing for the status quo, for the system to remain as it is?

Ms Machin : We are arguing for more clarity around the difference—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am talking about before this change in the last year's budget. You would like to see Australia Council as the sole funder?

Ms Machin : No, that it is not part of our submission. Through Regional Arts Australia, on behalf of the ministry, we manage the regional arts fund. We have done that for over 20 years. It is a highly successful, evolved, peer assessed model.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You would like it as it was before the changes announced in the budget?

Ms Machin : We would like further clarity on those differences between what is happening with MPA and how it complements the Australia Council before we could make a call on that.

Ms Kasat : I disagree with the changes. I disagree with the money being taken from—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You would like things to stay as they are?

Ms Kasat : The ministry have also funded our organisation. They have done a fantastic job in the particular category that they have been funding us. The Australia Council underwent very significant changes—in fact, the biggest changes that the Australia Council has undertaken in 40 years. That process did not go through. The sector was consulted and everybody, in good faith—there were 100 written submissions and thousands of surveys—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So you did not like the system as it was—

Ms Kasat : May I finish my point, Senator?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Well, time is short.

CHAIR: You can finish.

Ms Kasat : Thank you. If that process had gone ahead, I think then any changes would have been welcome because we would be able to see the trajectory of those processes. This is what is frustrating. We went so far into a process and then something that came from absolutely nowhere suddenly occurred and this is why we—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: My question was: did you not like the system as it was before the budget? You wanted change?

Ms Kasat : There was a lot of feedback around how the Australia Council could improve. We were waiting to see those improvements. If you gave us another 18 months we would probably be having a different conversation about whether those changes were good or bad.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Depending on what the Australia Council came up with.

Ms Kasat : But they could not implement those changes. That is the point that I want to make.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What caused the Australia Council to do that, do you know? I do not suppose you can answer that.

Ms Kasat : To not implement the changes?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes.

Ms Kasat : I think that was Senator Brandis's decision.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No.

Ms Machin : They developed a cultural policy.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What caused them to look at changing their—

Ms Kasat : The Australia Council review came about as a direct result of the previous government looking at the whole state of play in the arts. The review of the Australia Council asked, 'Where is the landscape of the arts? Let's look at the bodies that actually fund the arts, if we are going to make a policy that looks at changing the distribution of the arts.' The review occurred in that context.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So you did not like the system as it was. You were looking for—

CHAIR: Do not put words in their mouths.

Ms Kasat : There were shortcomings. Absolutely, there were shortcomings.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: The witnesses are quite capable of answering without your assistance, Mr Chairman.

CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, you are misleading this committee. The witnesses did not say what you just said.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: The witnesses can answer for themselves. They are more capable than, I suspect, many at this side of the table.

CHAIR: Are you including yourself?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, probably.

CHAIR: I hope you are.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Probably. So you did or did not like it before?

Ms Kasat : The system was the best we had. It had some shortcomings that were absolutely articulated in the Australia Council review. We were looking towards whether those changes were an improvement. The sector would have made a judgement of those, had time been on our side.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You thought that, at the end of this Australia Council review, Western Australia would end up with better than $5 per head of arts funding?

Ms Kasat : Certainly we are very active in advocating for that. We made many representations at the Australia Council level.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And never being successful?

Ms Kasat : No, I would not say that. As other witnesses have said, the peer review process is very onerous. I have heard that from people who sat directly on the last Australia Council review. I think the focus of those is not necessarily state equity; it is about excellence.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you think the people in Western Australia, rightly, look at the figures and say, 'We are not getting enough'? Certainly people in my state do. It was a system that was broken and should not have been allowed to continue.

Ms Kasat : Sure. I do not think it is the only category that we could look at. Absolutely, as a Western Australian, I would say, 'Yes, we are not getting our fair share by population.' Having said that, though, there are other ways to look at assessment.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will just go on to Indigenous funding. Are you aware of the new programs that came as a result of the last budget for Indigenous languages and arts?

Ms Kasat : Yes, I am.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What do you think of those?

Ms Kasat : CAN has been successful in obtaining funds from the ministry under the Indigenous Culture Support program. So I suspect it will continue to receive some of those funds.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: These are new programs that provide greater security for organisations, streamline reporting, reduce red tape, improve flexibility and support a broader range of art forms, and come with a total of $43.4 million. Are you happy with that?

Ms Kasat : I am not sure that they are necessarily new, because the language and culture programs were already in existence under the ministry.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: So they are not new changes, you are saying?

Ms Kasat : No, they are not new programs; they are—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Well, that is different to what the minister says, but you no doubt are right. The Indigenous Visual Arts Support Program is providing $22 million to support and develop professional Indigenous visual arts practice. Are you saying that is already there—that is not a new program?

Ms Kasat : I am not sure about that particular program, so I will take that on notice.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Given that every one of you in this room owes a share of $700 billion worth of debt, are there other things that you think should be usefully looked at for Indigenous art funding, or Indigenous arts? Perhaps if I leave out funding, you might include that in your answer.

Ms Kasat : I would reiterate the point that the small to medium sector really punches above its weight in terms of being able to leverage other funds.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Nobody disagrees with that.

Ms Kasat : But I think that is an important point, Senator. When you are telling us about our national debt, I think it is important to recognise those people that have actually done a lot of work to be able to leverage the work, because we are very passionate about the work we do.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am sure of that.

Ms Kasat : Sorry, I have lost track of your question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I was asking if there was anything else that you think would usefully help Indigenous people in the arts world?

Ms Kasat : Yes, probably a collective of other government support. I think cross-government support on some of these programs will be critical. I can give you a very quick example. Some of the work we have done with Indigenous young people has improved their school attendance by 10 per cent, and that was not the aim of our project—but that has been part of the positive outcomes of some of our projects.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I was asking what else could be done. You are saying—

Ms Kasat : Cross-government support for some of the successful programs.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do either of you get funding from the state government?

Ms Kasat : Yes.

Ms Machin : Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You appreciate that comes from the state ministry of arts. It does not come from a Western Australian Australia council sort of thing. I know it is not enough, but are you happy with the funding you have got from the Western Australian government?

Ms Machin : As Henry Boston stated, our department decided with the Australia Council to actually align support—knowing that the small to medium sector, as Ms Kasat said, punches above their weight, to provide longer-term funding and more sustainability, enabling us to get on with the job of actually making the art and doing the work. Our state government was very responsive to that. I suppose it was a bit like turning a battleship around. But we all went with that, with good faith and goodwill because we were all excited about potentially what would be occurring with the alignment of state and federal funding, which would reduce a lot of the administrative burden.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Are you aware that the state government has been speaking to the federal government about the new arrangements for the arts?

Ms Machin : Not the detail, although I am aware of them. I would hope they would be.

Ms Kasat : Yes, of course.

CHAIR: All right. We need to move on, I am sorry.

Ms Kasat : Just a quick comment—we receive about 10 per cent state government support. It is not adequate, and we are in conversations at the moment with them, as we have applied to increase that funding.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Ten per cent state government?

Ms Kasat : From our overall budget, yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How much federal government, how much state—?

Ms Kasat : Ten per cent.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, state government.

Ms Kasat : State government? About 10 per cent.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: How much is federal government funding and how much is corporate?

Ms Kasat : No corporate at the moment, but we receive a cocktail of funds from other government departments, both state and federal.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Bilyk, do you have some questions?

Senator BILYK: I do. Where to start, though? In your submission, you talk about the strategic initiatives stream being broad and lacking clarity and that the first in, first served and 'no limit to the amount sought' criteria are issues. Can you talk us through your concerns there?

Ms Kasat : I think the issue, which was expressed also before by other witnesses, is that, if there is a pool of funds where it is first in, first served, the assumption is that people will not have adequate time to prepare and actually be able to take the opportunities that may come over a period of time. Also, I think there is a concern that if there is a large initiative—and all the guidelines talk about major initiatives and large initiatives—as a small company it will be very hard for us to compete if this is at all geared towards larger initiatives.

Senator BILYK: In fact, the draft guidelines under strategic initiatives do comment that the Australian government will directly fund appropriate major initiatives. Audience-wise in regional areas, how does that play out? Do you think that these major initiatives will actually travel to the smaller areas? I am presuming that that is what the minister thinks might happen.

Ms Machin : I think that is partly some of the concern around it, especially because in the larger states you have larger regional centres that can accommodate the major organisations touring or the major initiatives, but a lot of the smaller regional and remote ones do not have the infrastructure or the capacity to do that. So, what can occur is that it is the larger regional centres that actually access a lot of the product. We would be concerned that that would happen. The other issue is around the statement—I do not know where it was said, but someone made the statement—that regional is the new black. Regional arts does not want to be a fashion accessory; they actually want to engage in a meaningful way and have a lot of access for the artists in the community. There is a lot of thinking to be done around how that may roll out.

Ms Kasat : From the report that the chamber commissioned on the small to medium in Western Australia we know that the small companies attracted audiences of 1.6 million. So, if some of those companies do not exist in the future it is obvious that those audiences will miss out.

Senator BILYK: You also talk about the program excluding some art forms, such as literature and gaming. I think Senator Ludlam and I have had this question before—we do not actually know what the gaming part really means, so we need to seek some clarification of that. I do understand that the government took $6 million from the Australia Council in 2013-14 for the new book council of Australia, but I cannot find anything else out about the book council. Have you got any information you could share with me?

Ms Machin : No.

Ms Kasat : I do not think there is anything public, but I know that colleagues of ours from the literature sector will be coming as witnesses. Perhaps they will be better placed to answer that.

Senator BILYK: That would be good. I think the public needs to know a bit about what is happening in that area as well, so it would be good if we have something going on there.

Ms Machin : To answer your other question about major initiatives—I am going back to the RAA submission—again, this is around the question of clarity. We did request greater clarity around the notion of national outcomes such as: is it intended that each funded project needs to have national outcomes across Australia? RAA believes that such an interpretation is unnecessarily restrictive and we would recommend an approach that would see a quantum of individual, localised projects taken together and delivering strategic outcomes across the nation because, again, smaller organisations or artists cannot deliver across the country but they can locally.

Senator BILYK: I also noticed in the submission that you mentioned that during the previous consultation process you were consulted. How were you consulted? Was it by being given draft guidelines?

Ms Kasat : There were a number of ways in which that process occurred. There were quite a lot of public announcements in relation to this and the drafting of the national cultural policy, and that was because the previous national cultural policy was done in 1994. There was an extremely big gap between these two national cultural policies so there was a lot of sector interest when this was announced. There was a capacity to write submissions and there was a survey. There was a survey also done when the Australia Council review was undertaken. There was a lot of sector awareness of this process. The other thing was that it was over a long period of time, so it was somewhat protracted but it was nonetheless very thorough. There was also a group of people representing vastly diverse arts sectors—a reference group that the minister appointed. There were 20 people—and I was one of them—across all art forms, and again that group was chartered with steering the process. It was quite comprehensive.

Senator BILYK: And was that was with face-to-face meetings and public consultations?

Ms Kasat : There were face-to-face meetings.

Ms Machin : We had focus groups as well.

Ms Kasat : That lasted for about 18 months. My understanding is that the overall process lasted for about four years, so there was considerable community engagement in that.

Senator BILYK: Following that process, you then had quite a broad government framework to work to.

Ms Kasat : Correct.

Senator BILYK: What were the benefits of that for the arts community?

Ms Kasat : I think the communication was important. People understood the process and the steps of that. That was really important. It was really important to understand that all the mechanisms of arts bodies were being reviewed—that if you are going to do anything new, the instruments to be able to implement your policy have been reviewed. That, to me, made logical sense. The Australia Council undertook the review. It seemed like a logical sequence, really.

Senator BILYK: We had the process then of the six-year funding. People thought there was some stability in that. All of a sudden, and out of the blue, that has changed. And that has caused distress in the community.

Ms Kasat : Yes.

Senator BILYK: It must have been a bit disruptive for people to go to these consultations and things, and it must have cost organisations money. But, in the long run, would you say that it was worth it to have that proper process?

Ms Kasat : Yes. I think in any sense a proper process is important. We work a lot with communities. It is a very different process if you consult and, after you consult, you report back. The processes are refined. As I said in my opening statement, it does engender trust. When these processes do not occur then you really do not know where you stand. No business operates like this—not knowing whether you are going to have money to operate in the next six months. It causes a lot of anxiety. Our colleagues are very anxious, including me.

Senator BILYK: I just wanted to get that on the record and clarified. Thank you.

CHAIR: We are short of time but I would really like to ask a question about the social impact, particularly in the Indigenous area and, of course, country WA. Can you give us an idea of what sort of impact this is having?

Ms Machin : Recently, I came back from a trip to Ngaanyatjarra lands out in the Central Desert. Arts is only one aspect. There is a big systems failure going on out there with all of the changes federally. We have some communities there that are starting to actually starve. There is a mixture of issues going on there. From an arts perspective, there have been changes to visual arts funding and a retraction there, and organisations are locked in at a certain amount.

I will just go back to the Warakurna Artists. When I was out there, the arts centre manager had been dealing with all of these changes that had caused anxiety and uncertainty. Then the final impact on her was finding out that they had had a reduction of $20,000. That does not seem like a lot, but for a small organisation that meant the difference between her having a support officer and not having one. She just said, 'That's it. I can't do it anymore.' Working in a remote community is challenging enough. So she resigned. One of our leading Aboriginal art centres has now gone on a recruitment for that person. These things have roll-on effects. Those arts centres are community hubs. As I said before, they generate an enormous amount of non-welfare income. They are places that young people come to. They are places that elders come to. Pay day is every Thursday, and they come in. They are selling their work. They are represented nationally and internationally. So it has a roll-on effect.

Ms Kasat : I would like to give you two quick examples—one on statisticsand another on a little story.

CHAIR: Be quick if you could, thank you.

Ms Kasat : In 2010 in Narrogin, 47 per cent of students were attending less than 60 per cent of the time. This is at the school. The normal attendance for learning outcomes is 90 per cent. Since our projects have occurred—and this is totally attributed to our programs—there has been a 22 per cent reduction in students in the severe risk category. When programs are running, the attendance is between 80 and 90 per cent. The programs have a huge impact on attendance.

The other example that I want to give is that recently we did a project in Goomalling, a small town in WA. There was an oral history project. The participants were encouraged to bring objects of importance to elicit stories. There was an Aboriginal lady who brought in a little old battered chocolate tin to the workshop. In that tin were more than 300 negatives of photographs that her mother had taken in the forties and fifties. One of my staff members suggested it be taken to the state library. The librarians were absolutely gobsmacked at the significance of this for our history in WA and nationally. They recognised this collection of photographs as having national significance. This would not have happened if that workshop in Goomalling had not occurred, and that is what we will be losing.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Kasat and Ms Machin, for coming here today. We absolutely thank you for your contribution to the arts sector here in Australia.