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Brandis mistakes taxpayer money for personal slush fund

Gustav Puncher 19 June 2015

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The Yarts minister's raid on the Australia Council may satisfy two Liberal groups - traditionalists who like glitzy opening nights, opera and ballet, and philistines who'd like to see the end of the Australia Council. Brandis wants to be seen as the great provider – but only to large, established companies that perform traditional and historically-endorsed works. This is a model of deadly conservatism.

This re-allocation of Australia Council funding to the Brandis personal slush fund will therefore damage many smaller and creatively vital Australian Arts companies, and as revealed in crikey.com, will jeopardise more than a billion dollars in cultural activity and hundreds of jobs nationwide.

It has also been noted that smaller arts companies – now most likely to lose funding - are the creators and drivers of nearly all new works in the national arts scene. Amongst the literary bodies at risk would be Australian Poetry Limited, Australian Book Review Inc, Australian Society of Authors, Australian Writers Guild Ltd, Island Magazine Incorporated, Melbourne University Publishing, Meanjin and the State Library of Victoria Centre for Youth Literature

The Australia Council was also set up to award public money to selected artists on merit. Its working protocol – developed over 40 years of hugely significant funding - was to operate at arms-length from the government at all times and to determine merit through peer-group advisory bodies in each of its Arts Boards.

It does not, as claimed in the AG's Portfolio Budget media release, limit its funding "almost exclusively to projects favoured by the Australia Council". The majority of the Council's funding goes to major performing arts organisations, and is not available to projects.

The Federal Government itself spends $100 million a year on screen culture through Screen Australia and funds two national art galleries, museums, and bodies that together get more funding than the Australia Council.

It's extremely gratifying to know there'll now be a Senate inquiry into Arts Minister George Brandis’ proposal – and it is vital too that Brandis's own actions should be assessed. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said the inquiry is designed to hear from the arts community, which has thus far been left out of the discussions. (Consultation is not part of Brandis' over-assertive approach.)

Brandis was spotted reading Our Country, a collection of Australian bush poetry, during a Wednesday evening hearing of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, according to footage viewed by Fairfax Media. By sitting next to the Senator speaking he ensured this indifference would be televised, and his choice of such dated verse was further example of his arrogance towards contemporary artists.

The Saturday Paper June 13-19 (Gadfly) noted that it was unlikely he'd borrowed the volume from the Australia Council library because that's now been closed.

 Puncher&Wattmann thinks he should have been reading the Magna Carta... 

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