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  • Dec 06, 2019

Australia To Cut Federal Arts Department

Australia’s federal department for the arts will be axed as part of prime minister Scott Morrison’s public service overhaul. Image of Morrison speaking aboard the USS Ronald Reagan in July 2019 via the US Pacific Fleet’s Flickr.

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announced on December 5 that the federal department for the arts will be cut as part of a public service overhaul. The current Department of Communications and the Arts will be folded into a new federal body dedicated to Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, effective February 1, 2020.

The Department of Communications and the Arts was only made aware of the decision a day before the announcement. According to an internal memo sent by the outgoing department head Mike Mrdak: “We were not permitted any opportunity to provide advice on the machinery of government changes, nor were our views ever sought on any proposal to abolish the department or to changes to our structure and operations.”

Although the government has yet to release details on how the shakeup may affect the allocation of resources to the cultural sector, arts professionals in Australia have responded with shock and consternation, citing concerns over the lack of consultation on the policy and fear of potential budget cuts. Speaking to SBS News, Esther Anatolitis, executive director of Australia’s National Association for the Visual Arts, stated that slashing the department was another blow to an arts industry still reeling from funding cuts in recent years, and represented a “choice to devalue a AUD 111.7 billion (USD 76.4 billion) [a year] industry.”

The arts department is one of four to be axed, resulting in four new, consolidated federal bodies spanning industry, energy, environment, education, employment, and other public services. 

The Australian arts sector has struggled with a significant budget shortfall since former federal arts minister George Brandis stripped the Australia Council of AUD 105 million (USD 82 million) in funding back in 2015. Earlier this year, two-thirds of the Australian arts organizations applying for federal multi-year grants were turned down at the first stage by the Australia Council for the Arts, a portfolio agency of the Department of Communications and the Arts. 

Ophelia Lai is ArtAsiaPacific’s associate editor.

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