Budget 2014: What a Difference a Day Makes

Students, television, theatre – what does the Australian Federal Budget mean for the entertainment industry as a whole?

Australian Coins Money
Image by Ben Hosking

If you’re an arts student, you woke up this morning in a whole new world. Your fees are about to virtually double. The interest on your HELP debt will rise. If you can’t find a job after graduation you’re looking at six months without Newstart payments. If you can find a job, you’d better hope it’s with a major theatre company or on a movie project with an ironclad budget agreement, because the Federal government revealed last night a budget set to slash and burn.

With this morning’s major papers all agog over the astoundingly Draconian budget handed down by Treasurer Joe Hockey last night, the images on the front covers ranged from the Treasurer wielding a bloodied scalpel (The Daily Telegraph) to a bastardised version of the iron throne of Westeros (The Financial Review). While a literal and proverbial winter is indeed coming to Australia over the next four years, the cuts made to the Arts portion of the Federal budget by comparison are actually quite tiny. Even so, in an industry that so infrequently receives a government boon, every little bit counts a whole lot.

The main topic for discussion is the breach of election promise with regards the ABC and SBS. A day before the election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised the electorate that Australia’s two public broadcasters would receive no cuts to their federal funding. Eight months later and we face a loss of $43.5 million for the networks over the next four years, while the ABC will lose their $223 million Australia Network – the international arm of the broadcaster. ABC managing director Mark Scott has already stated publicly that this will result in significant job losses within the network and a technological backslide. He also criticised the Abbott government for their lack of consultation throughout the process. You can read more about that in this article from the Sydney Morning Herald.

More cuts are expected for the ABC following the efficiency audit currently being conducted on the network, and this on the heels of a 2013 budget from the Gillard, Labour government that promised the ABC a $90 million increase over three years. What is there to say? It’s arrested development.

A further $38 million will be cut from Screen Australia over the next four years – though this was less harsh than predictions which saw the Abbott government merging Screen Australia with the Australian Arts Council and significantly reducing the budget of both bodies. Screen Australia is the production company behind Australian film and television projects like Rake, Sleeping Beauty, The Cup, Mental, Kath and Kimderella and Adoration.

Though a further $28.2 million will be cut from the Australian Arts Council, the major theatre companies such as STC, MTC and Opera Australia will not face a reduction in funding. The major state and national theatre companies are in secure, three year funding contracts. The result unfortunately will be a reduction in funding for smaller production companies and independent artists. Experts have already predicted that this will result in less original Australian work being developed and promoted over the next four years. This will place a greater strain on major theatre companies to assist with the development of up and coming projects. Screen Australia has already frozen all applications for funding for new projects in some departments effective immediately. The Australian Arts Council will almost certainly follow suit. You can read reactions from Australian industry experts at The Conversation in this article.

While less than $100 million dollars has been removed with this federal budget from the national arts agenda – a drop in the bucket compared to the $80+ billion being removed from health and education infrastructure – it’s a funding cut that will have a quiet but powerful impact. From students looking at inflated study expenses through to artists attempting to develop new works, if this budget makes it through the Senate, it will have a widespread affect on the growth of Australian culture throughout the next half-decade.

The one reprieve on offer, surprisingly, comes from the Prime Minister himself. PM Tony Abbott has already stated that if the budget fails to pass the upper house (where the Labour Party and the Greens hold sufficient seats to prevent supply should they choose to block the budget in its entirety), he will call another general election. It would be great to think that the Australian people would be able to count on their Prime Minister to keep his word. Unfortunately yesterday’s budget has only gone to prove that this is not the case. One thing seems for certain, for the next few weeks, all eyes will be on the federal Senate.

By David Allen

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