ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON NOTICE;Question Nos 2876 and 2820 – 15 Mar 2016

I also rise to take note of an answer given by Senator Fifield in regard to question on notice 2820.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: So you are moving to take note?

 Senator BILYK: I am.


 Senator BILYK: Thank you.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: I am not sure that is what you want to do, but if—

 Senator BILYK: Sorry. If it helps, Mr Deputy President, I want to respond to the response given by Minister Fifield.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Yes, on the matter before the chair at the moment.

 Senator BILYK: That is right.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Bilyk. You can do that.

 Senator BILYK: Thank you. I appreciate the fact that Minister Fifield gave a response, albeit very short, in regard to the fact that the question had been sent to, I think, Treasury, and then on to him. However, he has completely failed to really give any sort of explanation on the full details of the government’s cuts to cultural and collecting institutions. These questions were originally asked, as Senator Wong indicated, on 16 December 2015 by Senator Wong and then, on notice, were transferred from the Minister representing the Treasurer to the Minister for the Arts on 6 January 2016. We are now well into March, and I think that the Senate now deserves explanations in regard to these cuts.

This government should be ashamed of its additional $52.5 million cuts contained in MYEFO to Australia’s cultural and collecting institutions, and these cuts were delivered on top of already savage cuts in previous budgets. This is a government that has shown not only a disdain for Australian arts and Australian culture but an outright hostility to it. The Abbott and Turnbull government want to attack Australian culture, and for the life of me I cannot see why. Those opposite should celebrate the cultural worth of our national institutions, the talent of our artists and the importance of our history.

We are all aware in this place of the disastrous $104.7 million cuts to the Australia Council to create, as Senator Wong referred to it, the Brandis personal slush fund. As we remember, it drew universal condemnation from the arts industry and the broader community and led to thousands—literally thousands—of submissions to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee into arts budget cuts. I have never before seen such a strong response to a Senate inquiry, and it highlights just how wrong, how thoughtless and how misguided this government’s cuts to arts and culture are.

The arts community breathed a collective sigh of relief when Senator Brandis was dumped from the Arts portfolio, and there was general feeling in the arts community that things could only get better under a new minister. Unfortunately, that confidence was completely misplaced. Things not only have not improved but in fact have become worse under Minister Fifield, as the MYEFO shows. The government said in the MYEFO papers:

The Government will achieve savings of $52.5 million over four years from 2015-16 within the Communications and the Arts portfolio, including:

$36.8 million from cultural and collecting entities within the Arts portfolio, except for the Australia Council. The savings will be achieved by introducing a 3 per cent efficiency target for these entities;

$9.6 million through a number of arts programmes, including the cessation of the Book Council of Australia—

and I will come back to that later—


$6.0 million from the Department of Communications and the Arts by implementing ongoing efficiencies.

Particularly targeted were the Canberra based institutions, especially the National Library, which faces about a $6 million cut, the National Museum of Australia, facing a $5 million cut, and the National Gallery, facing a $4 million cut, as well as smaller cuts to the National Portrait Gallery, the National Film and Sound Archive and the Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House. These are institutions that Australians are proud of. They are world-leading institutions that preserve and display our cultural heritage, and they are vital for research. They are vital also to telling Australians who we are as a people. I, for one, am utterly astounded that the Turnbull government wants to destroy these institutions and stop Australians hearing the stories of Australia.

The National Gallery will lose, as a result of the cuts, $4 million over the next 3½ years. Yesterday, being a public holiday here in Canberra and in Tasmania, I visited the Tom Roberts exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. The NGA was packed with Australians wanting to experience the works of this fine Australian artist. Through the works of Tom Roberts, contemporary Australians were gaining an understanding of what Australian life was like at the turn of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th.

While looking at Tom Roberts’s incredible depiction of the industry which produced the wealth of Australia—the wool trade—in Shearing the Rams, I could not help but wonder whether those around me who were viewing the paintings knew just how much the government had cut from the National Gallery and how it is putting in jeopardy the ability of our major cultural institutions to produce exhibits like this one. I am pretty sure that those in the gallery would have been horrified had they known about the cuts and about the failure of the government to give a detailed answer to this question on notice, months after it was asked.

We did receive some answers in Senate budget estimates in February regarding changes to the budgets of the cultural institutions. It looks like the six flagship institutions in Canberra—the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum, the Museum of Australian Democracy, the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Library—have been forced to absorb the massive cuts, starting with more than $3 million in this financial year. This represents around $20 million in cuts just to these institutions. Australians love their national cultural institutions and, as I said, are proud of them. But this Prime Minister, who pretends to be a friend of the arts community, should be ashamed of the outcome of these cuts.

Canberra is the home to several national institutions and proudly plays the role as custodian of a great deal of our national cultural history. The boards and staff of these institutions now have no alternative but to look at job losses, reducing programs and turning to private supporters as a way of ensuring they can continue their service to the Australian community. Once again, the government sought to hide scrutiny of these cuts by announcing them—when was it?—just before Christmas last year.

I would just like to take a moment to say what fine work the staff at these institutions do and how disappointing it is that the government cannot share their passion for preserving and promoting Australia’s cultural heritage. It is not feasible that this $20 million in cuts can be absorbed without impacting on services, forcing the institutions to consider reducing programs and having to beg private donors for money. It is quite clear that Senator Fifield is still reading from the script handed down by the Abbott government, which had no respect for the arts in Australia; absolutely nothing appears to have changed. Senator Fifield and Mr Turnbull have failed the arts sector to a greater degree than even Mr Abbott and Senator Brandis did. And that was quite large. Senator Fifield and Mr Turnbull have seen the devastation caused by the cuts by Mr Abbott and Senator Brandis and yet instead of reversing them they have cut harder and deeper, with full knowledge of the impact.

The National Library is particularly impacted by the Turnbull government’s shameful multimillion dollar cuts to the Australian flagship cultural institutions, with key services and personnel facing the axe. It will lose $1.485 million in 2015-16, $1.490 million in 2016-17, $1.495 million in 2017-18, and $1.499 million in 2018-19 ongoing. I find it particularly galling that the National Library will need to find savings of almost $1.5 million in just the last six months of the 2015-16 financial year. It has been reported that the nation’s book repository will lose 22—22!—full-time equivalent staff by the end of the next financial year. The key services affected include public exhibitions; the collection of international subscriptions, including Asian language text; the vital task of digitisation of its massive collections—necessary so that publications can be kept safe for future generations; and Trove, a fantastic searchable online database of Australian text, which will stop collecting content from museums and universities until it receives more funding. National Library Director-General, Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, said the $4.4 million cut that the institution was forced to absorb over the next two financial years would have a grave impact.

The National Library is an institution which keeps all publications released in Australia. It is one of our most vital cultural institutions. Not only does it serve the purpose of collecting text, it also makes reams of information easily accessible for academics, students, researchers and everyday Australians interested in their history. It is no less than the repository of our collective identity as a society. One of the things I am particularly concerned about with the cuts to the National Library is the future of Trove. For those who do not know, Trove is an online resource of the National Library of Australia, launched in 2010. The National Library of Australia developed Trove into a world-class digital collection of resources from all around Australia. It is a world leader and it is admired as best practice by galleries and libraries, even in the United States and Europe.

Trove’s content, much of which is digital, comes from more than 1,000 libraries around Australia, as well as other cultural and educational institutions and international collections with relevance to Australia. It is one of the largest digital cultural collections in the world, with some 471 million items and more than 20 million unique users every year. Trove takes users straight to the source, not just to a list of websites, and allows them to search across pictures, unpublished manuscripts, books, oral histories, music, videos, research papers, diaries, letters, maps, archived websites and Australian newspapers from 1803 to 1954. I know just how useful a resource it is for researchers, writers, family historians, academics and students. It is so useful that 70,000 people every day are searching for information to help us better understand, as individuals and as a nation, our past and our present. In particular, I know that many University of Tasmania students use Trove extensively as part of their research. I am horrified that access to these resources could be affected into the future.

The Turnbull government’s latest funding cuts to the National Library mean that the library can no longer maintain this innovative and valuable research resource. Among other cuts to the Library’s services, the Library has announced that it will cease aggregating content in Trove from organisations such as museums and universities unless it is fully funded. Contributing organisations, particularly smaller historical and scientific bodies facing budgetary pressures of their own, are highly unlikely to be able to fund Trove. This would be a disaster for future researchers trying to look back to today, or for documents from our past that may be decayed, destroyed or lost before being digitised. This means the destruction of Trove as a vital and current source of information for researchers in almost every field of human endeavour that you can imagine. Researchers in the sciences, humanities, education, health, manufacturing, business, services and technology all use Trove.

The Turnbull government and the Prime Minister say they believe in innovation and creativity but they allow these cuts to take place. This all comes from the government that produced a statement on innovation that made no mention of artistic innovation and creativity. The Australian people deserve a government that takes its cultural heritage seriously and acts in the best interests of our history, rather than a government that does not particularly care.

Senate Estimates was told that the National Museum is facing cuts of $4.9 million over the next four years. While they will not lose staff immediately, staff are being redeployed to ‘capital projects’, which will only last a certain time. Estimates was also told that the National Portrait Gallery is being asked to find savings of $173,000 in the remainder of this financial year and very nearly $400,000 in the following three financial years, ongoing. Mr Trumble from the Museum told the estimates committee that they would find a range of savings, including but not limited to ‘cutting pretty much everything’.

The cut this financial year for the Australian National Maritime Museum is $333,000 and next financial year it will be $769,000 from a budget of around $21 million a year. The Australian National Maritime Museum is Australia’s national centre for maritime collections, exhibitions, research and archaeology. The museum welcomes over 520,000 visitors annually, including families and interstate and international tourists. The museum presents a changing program of stimulating exhibitions and events to share Australia’s maritime history and connect the stories, objects, people and places that are part of our country’s narrative. Given Australia’s history as an island continent, I am extremely disappointed once again that the government is cutting another important cultural institution.

Also included in the MYEFO cuts was $8 million of funding ripped by Senator Brandis away from the Australia Council for a new book council. The whole situation with the book council has been a joke from the very beginning. The government has now abolished that body, which was never fully established and never actually met, but has not returned the funding to the Australia Council, and I doubt at this stage that it ever will. It would be a farcical situation if it were not such a terrible attack on Australia’s artists. They have ripped $8 million away from an agency to create a new book council, which did not ever get up and running, but will not return the unspent money to the agency. This decision has locked in an $8 million cut to the arts with absolutely no benefit to the arts at all.

Cuts have also been made to the Museum of Australian Democracy. We know from budget estimates that the Museum of Australian Democracy is losing $207,000 this financial year, $476,000 next year and then $479,000 and $482,000. The Museum of Australian Democracy in Old Parliament House is a fantastic resource, particularly for the tens of thousands of school students that visit Canberra each year. The museum have said, ‘It means that our exhibitions will run for longer, we will have fewer exhibitions happening and we will do one less significant event each year.’ This is a truly disappointing outcome for such a fantastic education resource.

Let us not forget that the government has also made drastic cuts to Screen Australia. The budget update reveals that the Turnbull government will cut $10.4 million from Screen Australia to help fund its spending on two Ridley Scott films—Alien: Covenant and Thor: Ragnarok. We certainly want more major Hollywood blockbusters made here, but not at the expense of Australian films. MYEFO says that the government will provide $47.3 million over two years from 2016-17 for the two films but when the foreign minister, Ms Bishop, announced $47.3 million of grants for Hollywood blockbusters in October she did not admit that this would come at the expense of Australian filmmakers.

Labor condemns the government’s cut to Screen Australia—the third in only 18 months. The continued attacks on the country’s main film and television funding agency mean its annual allocation will fall from $100.8 million two years ago to $82.2 million next financial year. Mr Turnbull has cut Screen Australia even further than Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey could bring themselves to. Screen Australia provides critical support to Australian filmmakers to tell Australian stories in Australian voices. Many of our producers, directors, actors and creative professionals rely on its help. Mr Turnbull should be working to help the Australian film industry grow, not trying to shut it down.

I have spoken in this place before about the effects that the government’s cuts will have on the screen resource organisation Wide Angle Tasmania. I know my colleague here Senator Polley is interested in this as well. I am still angry that Wide Angle Tasmania, a professional, active and engaged organisation, will be closing its doors on 30 June 2016 because of this government’s cuts to Screen Australia. Wide Angle Tasmania is the heart of the screen industry in Tasmania and provides training opportunities, equipment hire and extensive networking opportunities. It is utterly unthinkable that Wide Angle Tasmania loses its $80,000 grant, yet Ridley Scott will get $47.3 million for Alien: Covenant and Thor. Couldn’t this government have given him $47.2 million and reserved enough for Wide Angle Tasmania to keep its doors open? This government should be ashamed of such a terrible outcome for the Tasmanian screen industry caused by this government’s poor judgement and terrible priorities.

While we are talking about film, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia says the impact of the MYEFO adjustment to the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia’s budget will be a $387,000 reduction this current financial year, an $890,000 reduction in 2016-17, an $897,000 reduction in 2017-18 and, finally, a $905,000 reduction in 2018-19.

Australia has a strong history in film and sound—well, we did have until this government came to bear. In fact, the first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, was made in Australia in 1906. The national audiovisual collection holds more than 2.16 million works, and the collection includes films, television and radio programs, videos, audio tapes, records, compact discs, phonograph cylinders and wire recordings. Once again, due to these short-sighted cuts, the ability of the archive to promote and preserve Australian film and sound works has been put at risk.

The government like to talk big on the arts. Mr Turnbull is the first to attend big openings like the opening of the Tom Roberts exhibition at the NGA, but, when it comes to actually funding these institutions properly, he is completely missing in action. The government care so little for the arts that, months after this question on cuts to the cultural institutions was asked, they have been unwilling to update this chamber with the required answers. They have also failed— (Time expired)