Too little, too late, too confusing? The funding criteria for the arts COVID package is a mess

Jo Caust, University of Melbourne

On Tuesday, seven months after the sector closed down in March, applications opened for the government’s COVID-19 arts relief package, named “Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand”, or RISE.

A$75 million will be allocated between 2020 and 2021, but a close read of the criteria for this new funding program raises more questions than it answers.

The recipients will be selected by department officials. Their proposals must be “efficient, effective, economical and ethical”.

And, perhaps most crucially, in the shadow of the “sports rorts”, the NSW “arts rorts”, and the pain felt by the sector during the Brandis era, the final say on where the grants go will be placed in the hands of the federal minister for the arts, Paul Fletcher.

An opaque process

The standard mode for delivering arts funding in Australia is through arms length funding judged by artform peers.

It has been long recognised government arts support should be kept separate from political processes, and arts knowledge – as in fields such as science, medicine or education – is a prerequisite for determining the quality of arts funding applications.

The RISE funding guidelines applications will be assessed by “experienced assessors” from the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications – a department that dropped “arts” from its name this Feburary.

Will these “experienced assessors” have any artform knowledge or experience, or simply be experienced in assessing grants?

The document states the government assessment officials are allowed to consult more widely, including with the Australia Council or State government entities – but this does not imply any peers will be involved in the process.

Further, the officials will only be making “recommendations”, and the minister “decides which grants to approve.”

The arts have an uneasy recent history with arts ministers deciding funding.

In 2015, then minister George Brandis reallocated A$104.7 million from the Australia Council’s funding to fund his own scheme for “excellence”, later named Catalyst.

This did not end well for either the minister or the arts. Brandis lost his job under a new prime minister and Catalyst was retired.

Read more:
After the Catalyst arts funding mess, many questions remain

The Australia Council never returned to its pre-Brandis funding allocation.

In New South Wales in 2018, the ABC reported the minister for the arts had interfered in the funding decision process, overruling recommendations and redirecting money to his own favoured projects. And in the lead up to the last NSW state election, more reporting found arts grants were selectively targeted to organisations in Coalition-held seats.

Efficient, effective, economical and ethical

The funding guidelines say projects must represent “value for relevant money”, defined as “an efficient, effective, economical and ethical use of public resources”.

What is “value for money” in the context of the arts? It could be the amount of money requested, the intent of the project, the quality of the people involved, the numbers in a potential audience, or the amount of money that may be earned.

How do you determine “efficiency”? Is a play with a cast of two deemed more “efficient” than a play with a cast of four? Or is a project more “efficient” if it involves no people at all and only involves technical effects?

Is performance “effective” if it can occur over several platforms – live, in audio and in video – and so it has a broader audience impact? Or perhaps that makes it “economical”.

The meaning of “effective” here could be that a performance moves one to tears or to laughter. It has an emotional “effect” on the audience.

The term “ethical” might suggest no animals are hurt during the production – or maybe it is just another way of describing high moral values.

‘Contributing to government objectives’

The conditions for funding note:

Activities must demonstrate that there is a funding need, contribute to job creation, support Australian artists or performers (or their work), provide experiences to audiences, be of a nature that is likely to be popular with Australian audiences, and financial viability.

These are all factors which are hard to argue in an arts grant proposal. There isn’t a formula for producing popular art.

Perhaps of most concern though is that any proposal should be “contributing to government objectives”.

Many arts projects are critical of government objectives and policies. That is the nature of arts practice which takes a critical or different view of the world we live in.

This potential for public criticism by artists has a chequered recent history in Australia. In 2014, Brandis threatened to withdraw government funding from the Sydney Biennale for refusing sponsorship from Transfield due to their work in immigration detention.

Read more:
We should value the Biennale protest, not threaten arts funding

Welcome, with lingering concerns

Given the impact of the pandemic, the arts in Australia are in a dire situation and the sector needs all the help it can get. But it is important the process for making decisions in arts funding is transparent, ethical, and not subject to any political preferencing or rorting.

While this package is welcome – if not long overdue – the selection criteria suggests an approach that does not serve arts practice well and in fact suggests that, once again, a minister for the arts is exercising his personal largesse and judgement.

The Brandis era resulted in a senate inquiry, a divided arts sector and a significant loss in arts funding.

Let’s hope history isn’t doomed to repeat.

Correction: an earlier version of this article misnamed the refused sponsor of the 2014 Sydney Biennale, the sponsor was Transfield.The Conversation

Jo Caust, Associate Professor and Principal Fellow (Hon), School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

$400 million in government funding for Hollywood, but only scraps for Australian film

Marvel Studios

Jo Caust, University of Melbourne

On July 17, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an additional A$400 million to attract film and television productions to Australia until 2027.

In a press release, Morrison argued Australia is an attractive destination due to our relative success in managing COVID-19. The idea is that this financial expansion of the “location incentive” program will attract international filmmakers in production limbo to come to Australia.

What does the Australian film industry get out of this incentive? There is no doubt more film production here will ensure the employment of production staff, technical crews and support actors, many of whom have been badly economically affected by the stoppage in film making. As Morrison notes:

Behind these projects are thousands of workers that build and light the stages, that feed, house and cater for the huge cast and crew and that bring the productions to life. This is backing thousands of Australians who make their living working in front of the camera and behind the scenes in the creative economy.

The existing location offset provides a tax rebate of 16.5% of production expenses spent in Australia, while the location incentive – which this $400 million will go towards – provides grants of up to 13.5% of qualifying expenses.

This new input is predicted by the government to attract around $3 billion in foreign expenditure to Australia and up to 8,000 new jobs annually.

This is not a fund to make Australian films, but an incentive for foreign filmmakers to make films in Australia.

Read more:
Queensland has saved a Hollywood blockbuster, but the local film industry is still missing out

Global incentives

Many countries offer similar incentives.

The UK offers up to a 25% cash rebate of qualifying expenditure; Ireland offers 32% tax credit on eligible production, post-production and/or VFX expenses for local and international cast and crew, and goods and services.

Singapore is even more generous, offering up to 50% of qualifying expenses. But as a condition of receiving the money, the filmmakers must portray Singapore in a “positive light”.

There are usually caveats: a minimum spend of the film’s budget in the country providing the incentive; a minimum employment of local practitioners on the crew; and in some cases a “cultural test”.

In the UK, productions can earn points towards this cultural test by filming in English, contributing to local employment, and creating films “reflecting British creativity, heritage and diversity”.

Aquaman holds a gold staff.
Aquaman was filmed on the Gold Coast.
Warner Bros

Does Australia apply any similar conditions? The location tax offset requires the company to be operating with an Australian Business Number, and have a minimum qualifying spend in Australia of $15 million, while the location incentive is for “eligible international footloose productions”, that is international films being produced in Australia.

Delights, and concerns

The Australian and New Zealand Screen Association — whose members include Universal, Walt Disney, Sony, Netflix, Warner Brothers and Paramount — commissioned a research report on Australian location incentives in 2018.

The report argued other countries have been more generous in their provision of location offsetting, thereby resulting in a loss of international production in Australia. The association is delighted about this latest announcement.

But how do local filmmakers feel about this funding? Screen Producers Australia, whose members include local producers and production businesses, has said this funding may help to support around 20% of the local workforce, but is concerned about the lack of support for Australian filmmakers making Australian films.

Very rich people stand in a very posh room.
The Great Gatsby was filmed in Sydney.
Warner Bros

This new funding will certainly not help the production and development of locally made films and television. As Screen Producers Australia asserts, foreign made films and producers can now access more government funding in Australia than Australian made films and producers.

A sector in crisis

On June 24, the federal government announced new funding packages to support the “creative economy”. This included $50 million for a Temporary Interruption Fund to help film and television producers who are unable to access insurance due to COVID-19 to secure finance and restart production.

Read more:
The arts needed a champion – it got a package to prop up the major players 100 days later

This $50 million is the only support the government has specifically targeted towards the local film sector under coronavirus. Nearly a month on, no details have been released on how filmmakers will be able to access this support.

Since April 2020, free-to-air and subscription television services have been exempt from the need to adhere to the Australian content stipulations, significantly reducing the amount of Australian television content produced into the foreseeable future.

Read more:
Coronavirus TV ‘support’ package leaves screen writers and directors even less certain than before

This was further compounded by an announcement by the ABC in mid-June they would be reducing their commitment to local content production, given ongoing budget cuts.

The capacity of the Australian film and television sector to continue to make Australian stories that reflect our culture is seriously impacted.

While the government is showing support and generosity to foreign filmmakers and commercial television interests, it seems less inclined to demonstrate similar largesse to its own creators.

Some film workers are now likely to be employed, but the sector overall will not be assisted. If our own stories are not being made for our audiences, the on-going loss to the nation will be significant.The Conversation

Jo Caust, Associate Professor and Principal Fellow (Hon), School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Government unveils $250 million for ‘creative economy’

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Morrison government has announced a $250 million package for the entertainment, arts and screen sectors, which have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis.

The grants and loans will be rolled out over the next 12 months.

Activity collapsed in these sectors with events quickly cancelled when the pandemic began and gatherings were prohibited. Many people have not been able to access JobKeeper. Getting work started again will be complicated by ongoing social distancing requirements that will make for smaller audiences.

Scott Morrison is anxious to stress the package isn’t just aimed at helping the public faces.

“This package is as much about supporting the tradies who build stage sets or computer specialists who create the latest special effects, as it is about supporting actors and performers in major productions,” he said.

Morrison will seek approval from the national cabinet to give the entertainment industry greater certainty about the timetable for enterprises to be able to re-activate their businesses.

The government says the “creative economy” is worth $112 billion and employs more than 600,000 people.

The measures include:

  • $75 million for seed investment to reactivate productions and tours. These competitive grants will provide capital to help production and event businesses to stage new festivals, concerts, tours and events, “including through innovative operating and digital delivery models”. Grants will be between $75,000 and $2 million.

  • $90 million for concessional “show starter” loans. They will assist businesses to fund new productions and events. The loans will be delivered through banks, backed by a 100% Commonwealth guarantee.

  • $50 million to “kick start” local screen production. It will be administered by Screen Australia and support local film and television producers to secure finance to re-start filming. Filming of new productions has largely stopped as insurers are not providing coverage for COVID-19.

  • $35 million direct financial assistance for Commonwealth-funded arts and culture organisations facing threats to their viability due to COVID-19. These may be in theatre, dance, circus, music and other areas. The Government will partner with the Australian Council to deliver this funding.

Morrison said the commercial arts and entertainment sector was one of the first sectors hit by the pandemic and would be one of the last to come out of hibernation.

“We’re delivering the capital these businesses need so they can start working again and support the hundreds of thousands of Australians who make their living in the creative economy,” Morrison said.

“These measures will support a broad range of jobs from performers, artists and roadies, to front of house staff and many who work behind the scenes, while assisting related parts of the broader economy, such as tourism and hospitality.”

He said many in the sector would find a new way to operate while the current social distancing measures remained.

A ministerial taskforce will be set up to partner with the government and the Australia Council to implement the plan for the creative economy.

The government said the package was on top of $100 million a month going into the arts sector through JobKeeper and cashflow support over April and May.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Staff cuts will hurt the National Gallery of Australia, but it’s not spending less on art. It’s just spending it differently

Thennicke/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Joanna Mendelssohn, University of Melbourne

On September 10 1965, Sir Robert Menzies commissioned the National Art Gallery Committee of Inquiry to consider the establishment of a national gallery for Australia.

The resulting Lindsay Report, published in 1966, is an ambitious document, describing an art gallery to serve the nation through the quality and range of its collections and exhibitions.

It emphasised the need to have an all encompassing collection of Australian art. The report recognised, in the second half of the 20th century, it was not possible to acquire a significant collection from European art history and advised a focus on modern art, including from Indigenous Australian artists, south and east Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

James Mollison became the gallery’s first director and began collecting work in 1971, construction began in 1973, and the National Gallery of Australia finally opened in 1982. The Lindsay Report was most recently reviewed in 2017, and is still the guiding document for the gallery’s foundation and continuing collection policies.

Menzies understood a culture that supported the arts and the humanities was essential to Australia’s development. Although his aesthetic taste was conservative, often described as reactionary, he greatly valued the arts.

For many years, his successors showed equal enthusiasm for seeing the National Art Gallery grow into international prominence.

Now, with subsequent efficiency dividends, the gallery is facing a budgetary shortfall and will lose 10% of its staff. The gallery has also recently reduced the number of new acquisitions, leading some to assume a connection to the loss of funding. This is not the case.

A $6 billion collection

In the late 1970s, after the prices paid for American and European art became a political issue, the Fraser government placed restrictions on the price the gallery could pay for international art. Any major purchases would now require permission from parliament.

Read more:
Blue poles 45 years on: asset or overvalued drip painting?

As the gallery’s acquisition budget was not otherwise constrained, the gallery redirected its purchases to create an encyclopaedic collection of Australian art. Over the years, the collection has matured into a balance between Australian, American, European, Asian and Pacific art, still keeping the bias towards art of the 20th and 21st centuries as proposed by the Lindsay report

The collection now comprises almost 160,000 works of art valued at A$6 billion – a remarkable achievement for a collection that began only fifty years ago.

Over the last decade, the gallery has added an average of 2,134 items to its collection each year, including 863 new purchases.

In the early years, under James Mollison’s directorship, there was a need to build the collection from a very small base of works that had found their way into the hands of the old Commonwealth Art Advisory Board.

Read more:
James Mollison: the public art teacher who brought the Blue Poles to Australia

Collections policy is not governed by numbers of works but by the nature of what is available, and how it relates to other works already in the collection. Once the collection was established, acquisitions could be focused on areas of particular need. Ron Radford expanded the Pacific collection; current director Nick Mitzevich is focused on contemporary art.

The gallery’s significant budget cuts will not impact the acquisitions budget. Gallery director Nick Mitzevich tells The Conversation the $16 million annual spend on buying art will be maintained, and cannot be appropriated for other purposes.

With such a collections base to work from, he says the gallery will focus on the quality, rather than quantity, of works which can be purchased from the same budget: collecting major works, or, as Mitzevich describes, “absolute excellence”.

But while the acquisitions budget is being maintained, other gallery departments are facing serious budget cuts.

With the exception of the Australian War Memorial, which will receive a controversial $500 million expansion, Australia’s national cultural organisations have been hit exceptionally hard by a succession of conservative governments.

Read more:
Federal budget 2014: arts and culture experts react

The gallery’s operations budget must comply with the Australian Public Service’s efficiency dividend. This year, operating revenue is reduced by $1.5 million. To counteract this reduction, the gallery will cut 10% of its total staff, beginning with voluntary redundancies.

This will inevitably mean a loss of senior staff, some of those with the greatest expertise.

Shifting worlds

It has been a difficult year for the gallery. Due to smoke from the bushfires on January 5 and 6, the gallery had to close for the safety of its collection, including the major summer blockbuster Picasso and Matisse.

It was the first time the National Gallery of Australia has ever closed for more than one day.

Then, COVID-19 struck. The gallery shut its doors on March 23, not re-opening until June 2. Visitor numbers remain small. Yesterday, only 250 came through the doors. This time last year they were in the thousands.

Mtizevich has yet to calculate the full cost of these dual disasters to the gallery’s revenue. He told The Conversation the act of keeping to budget while keeping faith with the National Gallery’s objectives is “not an easy job, a tightrope”.

He is adamant the collections policy will remain unchanged.The Conversation

Joanna Mendelssohn, Principal Fellow (Hon), Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Editor in Chief, Design and Art of Australia Online, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus Update: Australia



Coronavirus: what the latest stimulus measures mean for Australian artists and arts organisations

AAP Image/James Morgan

Jo Caust, University of Melbourne

Galleries, museums, libraries, theatres, cinemas and art centres have closed. All film production has stopped.

Theatre companies, dance companies, opera companies, orchestras, bands, festivals, pub gigs – every kind of cultural activity you can think of has stopped or been cancelled.

We know we are living in an extraordinary time, but the pace of the change has been shocking. Less than a fortnight ago, performers were looking forward to participating in the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Now that has been cancelled, too.

At least 255,000 events have been cancelled across the country with an estimated income loss of A$280 million at the time of publishing.

Side jobs many artists depend on to subsidise their artwork have also disappeared overnight, particularly in hospitality and events.

Read more:
Scalable without limit: how the government plans to get coronavirus support into our hands quickly

Last week, even Opera Australia’s orchestra was stood down. Opera Australia is the best-funded performing arts company in the country, receiving over A$26 million a year in government funding.

(Following action by the orchestra’s union, the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, Opera Australia released a statement saying it’s working to ensure ongoing employment.)

Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher has convened two meetings to address the issue. One is with representatives of the arts sector and one with state and territory cultural ministers.

State support

Four state governments (Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria) have acknowledged the crisis in their sector on arts funding body or arts minister websites and asked grantees to contact them for advice if the activity they were planning cannot go ahead.

Some are offering stimulus packages in addition to those being offered by the federal government.


Arts Queensland has offered an A$8 million package, including:

  • organisational funding from 2017-2020 expanded until December 2021

  • rent waived for tenants of government-owned arts venues.


The Victorian government mentions arts and entertainment as one of the “hardest hit sectors” targeted by its A$500 million business support package.

Artists and arts workers will also be eligible for the A$500 million Working for Victoria Fund.

Federal support

Organisations receiving funding from the Australia Council or the Office for the Arts will:

  • no longer have to deliver on audience KPI requirements

  • have payments brought forward

  • have reporting requirements delayed or removed

  • be able to extend project timelines

  • be able to use money provided for specific outcomes (such as performances or mentoring programs) to pay wages, rent and utilities.

Australia Council CEO Adrian Collette says:

We are also rapidly reframing how the Australia Council’s programs can support the cultural and creative sectors in these unprecedented times. We will share the outcomes of this work as soon as this work is finalised.

While not specifically mentioned in the federal government’s latest stimulus package, arts organisations are eligible for:

  • cash payments of between A$20,000 and A$100,000 to keep staff employed, with the Australian Tax Office to deliver these payments as a credit on activity statements from late April

  • the Coronavirus SME (small and medium enterprise) Guarantee Scheme, supporting small and medium businesses to access working capital to get them through the impact of the coronavirus.

The Conversation, CC BY

The JobSeeker allowance will now be available) for sole traders, the self-employed and casuals – two-thirds of the cultural workforce – so artists and arts workers will be able to access A$1,100 a fortnight through Centrelink for six months.

Individuals in financial stress will be able access up to A$10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further A$10,000 in 2020-21.

Where to from here?

Arts workers by their nature are creative and many are trying to adapt to the new reality by producing online music, offering classes online, and finding ways to connect with a society now confined to their homes.

The irony is, to mentally and emotionally get through the next few weeks or months, many people in the general community will rely on the arts.

We will be listening to music, reading books, watching movies, visiting online exhibitions at galleries.

Read more:
Couch culture – six months’ worth of expert picks for what to watch, read and listen to in isolation

But the producers of the work – the artists, musicians and writers, plus all the technical people who support their work – are now without any income.

The mental and emotional health of our arts and cultural community is under tremendous pressure and their economic needs are urgent. We all want to rediscover a healthy, creative and culturally exciting society at the end of this dark time. But we need our artists and arts workers to be around to make this possible.The Conversation

Jo Caust, Associate Professor and Principal Fellow (Hon), School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Peter Garrett, Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, today released a report on the biodiversity, ecosystems and social and economic uses of the oceans of northern Australia. The report entitled ‘The North Marine Bioregional Profile,’ brings together and explores the available knowledge of the Arafura and eastern Timor Seas, from the Northern Territory/Western Australia border to Torres Strait, including the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The report is expected to assist the government to better understand and protect our marine environment, conserve biodiversity and determine the priorities in our marine conservation efforts. It will also assist industry to better plan and manage their activities in the region.

A Marine Bioregional Plan for the region covered in the report is expected to be handed down in 2010. In total there will be five plans covering Australia’s marine regions.

View The North Marine Bioregional Profile at:


Controversial Australian priest Fr. Peter Dresser, of Coonamble in the Diocese of Bathurst, has published a booklet where he insists that Jesus was not God, and did not think he was God, and also claims that the Blessed Virgin Mary had as many as six children, Joseph was the father of Jesus, and the bodily Resurrection is not to be taken literally, reports Thaddeus M. Baklinski,

In his booklet titled “God is Big. Real Big!” Fr. Dresser says, “This whole matter regarding Jesus being God … not only does violence to my own intelligence, but must be a sticking point for millions of people trying to make some kind of sense of the Christian religion … No human being can ever be God, and Jesus was a human being. It is as simple as that.”

Fr. Dresser’s restatement of the old Arian heresy that denies the divinity of Christ has elicited a comment from Fr. Anthony Robbie, who has degrees in Arts and Law from Sydney University and in Theology from the Catholic Institute of Sydney as well as a Licentiate in Ecclesiastical History from the Gregorian University in Rome.

Fr. Robbie told The Australian that Fr. Dresser’s claims defied all scriptural evidence.

“What a breathtaking know-all, to claim he knows the mind of Christ contrary to scripture and tradition. His words rob Christianity entirely of its meaning and purpose,” Father Robbie said.

“The Council of Nicaea settled the question that Christ was God in 325, so he is 1700 years out of date. The rest is a regurgitation of every discredited 19th-century liberal Protestant German cliche in the book.”

Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters, JD, JCD, offered his thoughts on Fr. Dresser and the dissident church in Australia in his blog.

“The more modernistic the liberal clerical cohort in Australia tries to become, the older are the heresies that they promote. Lately, one Fr Peter Dresser is promoting his own brand of Arianism, a heresy that basically denied the divinity of Christ, and which was solemnly rejected by the Council of Nicaea (325). “No human being can ever be God,” writes Fr. Dresser in a booklet distributed to the faithful, “and Jesus was a human being. It is as simple as that.”

“Okay, here’s my version of simple: “No Catholic priest may deny the divinity of Christ, and Dresser is a Catholic priest. It’s as simple as that.” If Fr. Dresser really denies the divinity of Christ (among several other things!), declare his formal excommunication and expel him from the clerical state. Do it quickly, do it cleanly, and do it without rancor. But do it,” write Fr. Peters.

Report from the Christian Telegraph