Arts Department Demoted by Federal Government in Restructure

Signals Uncertain Future for Arts in Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Last Friday 6th December the Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a restructure of Federal departments from 18 down to 14, resulting in the Department of Arts and Communications being absorbed into new Department for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. The title ‘arts’ is now completely removed.

As can be expected, the entire arts community and industries across Australia are angered and outraged about this un-consulted and sudden restructure  announcement and fear for what it means to the future status and funding of all arts programs and organisations.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) stated in a media release that the Morrison Government’s decision to axe the Department of the Arts sets a new low in its treatment of the arts sector, says the union for Australian arts and entertainment workers.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance says the decision, which was made without any outside consultation, sends a message to the entire arts sector that it is not valued by this government, despite contributing many billions of dollars to the economy and employing tens of thousands of people.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy

MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said the arts community was still reeling from the impact the 2015 Australia Council cuts and there were now real fears that the decision to fold the arts into the new Department for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications was a precursor to further funding cuts.

“The absence of the word ‘Arts’ from the new department’s title says it all,” Mr Murphy said.

“This government’s disdain for the arts has reached a new low. It did not release an arts policy at this year’s federal election, and its attitude has been cut, cut, cut.

“Artists and arts organisations and of all sizes are struggling in the wake of the 2015 Australia Council cuts, and there is widespread concern that this decision will foreshadow further cuts to arts funding next year.

“We are already aware of arts organisations that are battening down the hatches in expectation that their funding will be reduced.

“The arts contribute billions of dollars to the economy and generate tens of thousands of jobs. They also serve a public good with millions of Australians enjoying the arts either as active participants or as audiences.

“The arts also play a fundamental role in telling stories about contemporary Australia. But as we have seen with the erosion of the public’s right to know and attacks on press freedom, this is a government that is intent on silencing the storytellers, particularly those who confront it with on issues it would rather keep hidden.

“The only explanation we have been given for the abolition of the Arts Department is a wishy-washy statement about reducing government waste.

“If there are efficiencies to be gained, then there is now no better opportunity than to redirect those savings directly into arts communities and reverse the years of neglect and erosion of funding.

“Our members will not take this lying down.

“Mere words the government will not be enough. We call on the Morrison government to show through its actions that it is committed to the arts.”

Paul Fletcher MP

In response to the change, many in the arts world have been vocal critics both publicly and online via social media. The hashtag #savethearts was quickly created and trended online as a protest to the cutting of the arts department. While at the moment the government’s line is that the Arts will still be ‘business as usual’, the current Minister for Communications and Arts, Mr Paul Fletcher, has even said that this presents “an opportunity” for artists.

“There is no change in the resources committed to the arts – $749 million is what the Commonwealth is committing to the arts in 2019/20,” said Fletcher.

Mr Fletcher also said the move presents “interesting ideas for cross-pollination”. Even the government’s own figures state that cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion to Australia’s economy in a single year.

One of the things that arts people say to me often is that they don’t want to be just put into a bucket that is only about arts,” he said.

“It is a sector that is full of very creative, innovative, thoughtful people, and they want their expertise to be available more broadly. This is a good opportunity to do that.”

However, the fact that the word ‘arts’ is now removed signals to many that it is the beginning of the invisibility of the arts as part of a broader Australian conversation and experience.

The new restructure has also effected the Departments of Education; Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business; Agriculture, Environment and Energy; and Industry, Innovation and Science.

Do You Want to Take Action Against This Change?  There are a few things you can do personally to help reverse this restructure and voice your objection to the Arts being absorbed by another four Federal departments:

  1. Contact the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison: www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm
  2. Contact the Minister for Communications and Arts, Paul Fletcher: www.paulfletcher.com.au/contact-paul-fletcher-mp
  3. Sign and Share the Change.org Online Petition: www.change.org/p/scott-morrison-tell-sco-mo-not-to-keep-the-federal-arts-department-independent
  4. Follow #savethearts on your social media feeds and Request to Join the Facebook Group #savethearts: www.facebook.com/groups/438276283750845/