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One cut too many – how much more efficient can our national culture get?

National Library of Australia’s unique Trove collection under threat National Library of Australia’s unique Trove collection under threat
Chris Bowen · March 15, 2016

The insistence of governments to apply annual budget cuts to a sector of the economy – arts and culture – that is providing some of Australia’s strongest economic growth, makes no sense, and is exacting a real toll.

While the debate over $20 million in annual arts funding cuts raged in 2015, a less noted aspect was the application of efficiency dividends, a euphemism for budget cuts, which when rigorously applied to government departments theoretically make them more efficient. However when also applied to national cultural institutions, a now widespread practice, the consequences can be dire.

New efficiency dividends for the next four years will cripple the federally funded cultural institutions

Sasha Grishin in The Conversation, points out that this dividend was initiated in the 1980s by the Hawke Government as an emergency measure. However it has been retained and increased ever since, “despite several reviews demonstrating its shortcomings.”

The arts portfolio is generally not immune, and almost all national institutions are now impacted, with the curious exception of the Australian War Memorial.

At times Ministers have used their discretion to not apply these cuts, and cultural institutions have in the past been beneficiaries.

But not now.

In fact the cuts have gone up, and as Grishin notes: “new efficiency dividends for the next four years will cripple the federally funded cultural institutions”. The net effect is an erosion over time of the ability of these institutions, which include the Australia Council for the Arts and The National Library, to do their job.

For music, this means the Australia Council in 2016 could not factor inflation into grant funding for small to medium organisations. This is on top of the substantial reduction in funding flowing from former Arts Minister Senator Brandis’ now partially reversed budget cuts, which will affect these organisations, and many others in the sector.

What is really disturbing for music however, is the effect on Trove. A national treasure trove is how some see it. A wonderful and ambitious project to digitise much of Australia’s creative output, including all recorded music, books, images, music, and maps, as a public resource – forever. The ABC has reported that budget cuts are likely to see staff shed and programs reduced, and Trove, which is acknowledged as a world leader, may be unable to be updated.

Not only is Trove in doubt, but the National Library is also forced to resort to fundraising for valuable collections such as that of our esteemed composer Don Banks.

Trove, a wonderful and ambitious project to digitise much of Australia’s creative output, is under threat

Expatriate arts administrator Michael Lynch, who ran London’s Southbank Centre and a major new Hong Kong  cultural project before returning home, lost no time in blasting these decisions, and silence from corporate arts boards. The Financial Review reported him last week as saying this is:  “a disgrace to the present government” and “one of the worst pieces of arts administration I have seen in almost 40 years of working in this sector”.

Cuts by attrition take their toll, to morale and to the ability to create, innovate and to deliver public programs.

The majority report of the Senate Inquiry into the 2015 arts budget has recommended funding cuts and efficiency dividends be reversed, and arts lobby group ArtsPeak has made a similar call.

Ironically, it makes little sense to prune a sector which is actually one of the biggest drivers of our economy. Our copyright industries generate more value add to the Australian economy than manufacturing and health care; with recorded music being one of the most significant contributors[i]. And Australia’s Creative Industries are strong contributors to employment growth, growing 40 per cent faster than the economy as a whole[ii].

Furthermore, this is a sector which generates tourism, employment, tax revenues, and can even be cash flow positive for Governments, as reported in our recent story on research for APRA AMCOS into contemporary music tax incentives.

It makes little sense to prune a sector which is actually one of the biggest drivers of our economy

As Julianne Schultz pointed out in her powerful article on global culture, the cultural sector “now accounts for about a fifth of GDP in most developed countries and is rapidly growing in others”. However here in Australia the figure is below ten percent. Schultz goes on to note it is also a: “sector in which Australia has distinctive advantages, but one in which we are in danger of falling short”.

Now is the time to back our creative class, the creators of intellectual property who drive a modern economy, and an enlightened culture

Now is the time, if ever there was, to back our creative class, the creators of intellectual property who drive a modern economy, and an enlightened culture.  We say, stop the cuts and back our creative class – it holds our future.

You can sign an online petition to support Trove here.

[i] Australian Copyright Council (2015)

[ii] ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) CREATIVE ECONOMY REPORT CARD (2013)

Comments

  1. Tim Sherratt (@wragge)

    Thanks for the post! Over the last few weeks there’s been a huge wave of support for Trove with many people taking to social media to share stories of its use and value in their research, and also in their lives. There’s been: 9500+ #fundTrove tweets/retweets; 20+ blog posts; stories in the major newspapers; at least 5 radio segments; 3 online petitions with thousands of signatures; and now almost 1900 likes on the #fundTrove Facebook page. People care, and the campaign continues to grow.

    For a summary of the #fundTrove campaign see: http://discontents.com.au/fundtrove/ For the latest news and updates see: https://www.facebook.com/fundtrove/

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