Bishop and Brandis on Culture

Andrew Taylor, ‘Double act: Julie Bishop joins George Brandis at Australia Council launch’, Sydney Morning Herald, August 18 2014


When it comes to support for the arts, the presence of two senior ministers in the Abbott government is apparently worth its weight in gold.

Arts Minister George Brandis and Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop both attended the launch of the Australia Council’s five-year strategic plan at the Sydney Opera House on Monday.

Senator Brandis said their presence “ought to demonstrate to you the very strong support the Australian government gives to the Australia Council specifically, and the sector in general”.

In the May budget that “very strong support” took the form of a $28.2 million cut from the Australia Council’s budget over four years, and a total reduction in cultural funding of $110 million.

Australia Council board chairman Rupert Myer said the budget cuts had not influenced the council’s strategic plan, which aims to export Australian art overseas, enhance access to arts and streamline grants applications.

Senator Brandis said the strategic plan reflected the government’s priorities, particularly steering the council’s focus towards suburban and regional areas. “Creative genius, artistic ambition, cultural endeavour does not just live in the capital cities,” he said.

He pointed out that funding to regional arts, as well as major performing arts companies, had been quarantined from budget cuts.

Ms Bishop said cultural diplomacy would be a part of Australia’s foreign policy. She also revealed that she had been Senator Brandis’ date at the opening night of the ballet in Melbourne, which she said was a “fabulously glamorous affair”.

“George and I had so much fun that we decided we need to do this double act more often as we support the arts community in this country.”

Australia Council chief executive Tony Grybowski acknowledged that applying for grants had become cumbersome and complex for artists. “We hope to see more sweat and tears go into the art form, not the application form,” he said.

Six-year funding for arts organisations and reducing red tape are principal features of the new grants’ model that will start from January 2015.

However, funding may not be evenly distributed across various art forms. “The amount of money allocated will primarily be determined by the quality of applications received through the grant programs,” an Australia Council spokeswoman said.

“However, we will seek to maintain an appropriate spend in each area of practice.”