Thursday, May 21, 2015

Today by Nick Feik

Champagne government
George Brandis’ arts money grab will not win him many friends

Arts Minister George Brandis has never been popular in the arts community, nor has his government. His position as Attorney-General and arts minister has often put him in a conflicted position, on issues of free speech in particular. In the recent budget, the government gave the arts community another reason to denounce him.

In a move that was neither predicted nor telegraphed, the government announced that it would create a National Centre for Excellence in the Arts, worth $104.7 million, to be administered by the arts minister’s office. Exciting, right?

Following this announcement was another: funding to the national peer-reviewed funding body, the Australia Council for the Arts, would be reduced by … $104.7 million.

How will the new program’s funds be distributed? No-one knows. But it’s fair to say that decisions will be subject to the discretion of the arts minister. Brandis’ biases are fairly obvious: he likes the finer things, the bigger companies, and the more traditional “highbrow” productions. He’s less keen on individuals being given federal money. Individual artists, that is.

The arts community, such as it is, has responded with understandable outrage, and petitions. By what criteria, other than the whims of the minister, will taxpayers’ money be spent? What are his qualifications? He’s a lawyer, by trade.

Peter Craven, on the other hand, has put in a subtle bid to help Senator Brandis and the arts ministry, arguing that a ministry that’s “open to expert and visionary advice” could encourage true excellence in the arts, while the peer-review process is “a can of worms doing its best to simulate a nest of vipers”, and egalitarianism in the arts a recipe for mediocrity.

The two sides would agree on at least one thing: there are a lot of mediocre people both in politics and the arts; they shouldn’t be indulged.

The royal commission into child sex abuse has demanded immigration authorities hand over documents related to the abuse of children in detention.

And pressure is building on Cardinal George Pell to appear before the child abuse royal commission in the wake of allegations made against him.

The recent budget has seen small swing back to the government, but the populace still seems unimpressed by the leaders of our two major parties.

According to Fairfax, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has conceded his suggestion that employers “try before you buy” when hiring the long-term unemployed may fall afoul of the “canons of sensitivities”.

Cory Bernardi has stated that he believes a referendum on indigenous recognition in the constitutional would be divisive. This is a bit rich. Advocating the “No” position on national radio, he essentially volunteered to lead the effort to exploit confusion in the community, deploying the Andrew Bolt argument that any attempt to recognise indigenous would categorise Australians by race, and therefore be tantamount to racism.

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.



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