Capital Hill, ABC News 24

E&OE Transcript. Subject: Arts cuts








FRIDAY, 13 MAY 2016

SUBJECT/S: Arts cuts

PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Mark Dreyfus is the shadow AG and Shadow Arts Minister. I spoke to him earlier. Mark Dreyfus welcome to RN Drive.

MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ARTS MINISTER: Good to be with you Patricia.

KARVELAS: Are you just slightly worried about Bill Shorten tonight? A lot of people say his delivery comes across as a bit rehearsed, a bit wooden, do you think he’s well-suited to a live debate?

DREYFUS: I’m very confident that Bill, particularly because of the well over 20 Town Hall meetings that he’s had since the second half of last year right across Australia, is going to do very well in tonight’s debate.

KARVELAS: The Australia Council has today announced 28 million dollars a year for four years for 128 arts organisations, which means many will also lose their funding as a result. But isn’t that a necessary evil when there is finite money to distribute? You do have to make choices don’t you?

DREYFUS: What we’ve seen today is the shocking news that some 65 organisations that had been receiving ongoing funding from the Commonwealth Government through the Australia Council will not now be receiving funding and it’s a dreadful disaster for these organisations. This is the direct result of the government in last year’s budget having taken 28 per cent of the discretionary funding away from the Australia council to create a ministerial slush fund and it’s actually played out over the last two weeks. We’ve seen a government handout, some $24 million in funds as project grants, to a range of artistic endeavours. But what’s happened is in order for those project grants to be handed out by the Minister, that the Australia Council has had to take this very large cut and it’s meant that the ongoing funding of small to medium companies in Australia has now been cu

KARVELAS: What organisations are losing funding that you think deserve to keep it and are you prepared to back particular companies?

DREYFUS: Well what’s happened is that the existing funding arrangements, which the Australia Council has been operating for many years, including the additional funding that had been provided under Labor has now all been taken away. The arts sector as a whole has had to suffer some $300 million in cuts and it means that long established organisations, the 30-year-old Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, Legs on the Wall, a dance company, and Meanjin a literary magazine, the Adelaide-based companies Slingsby and Vitalstatistix, and I note there are some 65 small to medium companies now receiving funding that are not going to receive ongoing funding. It’s a level of disruption that no-one could have contemplated when the Coalition came to office in 2013. The government didn’t have a written arts policy. They certainly didn’t give the slightest indication that they…

KARVELAS: Sure but we’re in an election campaign now, in 7 weeks you could form government, so what would a Labor government do about it? Would you restore all of the funding?

DREYFUS: We would set about the repair task and regrettably it’s a very large repair task, some of the small-to-medium companies have told me it’s going to take years in some cases. They think the damage can’t be repaired at all. We will do our best to repair the damage that has been done to the arts community by this government.

KARVELAS: So you say do your best but you’re not being specific about what your best might mean.

DREYFUS: Specifically, we will end the Ministerial slush fund now renamed Catalyst by Senator Fifield as the new Minister after Senator Brandis, a failed Arts Minister was sacked. We will restore all the funding by ending that Ministerial slush fund, the funding will be returned to the Australia Council so far as it is possible to do so.

KARVELAS: So far as it is possible you say. $105 million…

DREYFUS: Some of the money has already been spent and that is of course regrettable. Some of it has been rushed out on the last day before caretaker in the disorderly way this government is now conducting itself, but no longer thinking about proper government in Australia, they’re just thinking about how to get re-elected.

KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Arts Minister. What evidence do you have that Catalyst has been a Ministerial slush fund since it was created or rebadged since late last year? What is the evidence that that has been the case?

DREYFUS: The government initially had no guidelines, it took money off the Australia Council. It took several months to develop even rough guidelines. And now it’s rushed out a whole, in a very disorderly way, some $24 million worth of grants in the space of about 4 days just before the election, writs were issued before the election, some of them don’t even accord with the government’s own guidelines, they certainly don’t accord with the timetable that the government had spelled out on how it was going to spend this money, some of them are for what are known as built heritage projects which were said to be outside the guidelines. In a number of cases the announcements were made with Liberal candidates in particular seats. It looks like a Ministerial slush fund to me and it smells like one.

KARVELAS: Just on a few other issues before I let you go, Bill Shorten today promised that every secondary school teacher of a STEM subject, that’s you know science, technology, engineering, maths would be qualified in their field by 2020 under Labor. So would experienced teachers have to go back and get a relevant degree if they don’t have one?

DREYFUS: I think that most Australians would be shocked to learn that some 40 per cent of teachers who are teaching mathematics to our children in Australian schools don’t have a relevant qualification in mathematics. I think people expect that in these subjects the science and technology subjects, their children are going to be taught by people who have got qualifications. Our policy is directed toward ensuring that occurs, which is where this idea of the 25,000 scholarships comes from. $393 million is going to be the cost. It is a cost absolutely that would be well-spent because what we need to get to is something that I think meets everyone’s expectations, which is that our children are going to be taught by people who are qualified in the subject that they’re teaching.

KARVELAS: Sure, sure but if you have a really experienced – I mean I know teachers like this, I have friends in this category. A really experienced science teacher teaching year 8 or 9, why do they need to go back and do a science degree over three years when actually they’ve been teaching the subject over a number of years and have actually been quite good at it?

DREYFUS: We’re going to get to this over time, if someone’s become…my own thought would be if someone’s become very good at it, they’re not going to have a great deal of difficulty in mastering qualifications. And I think much more commonly the situation is that we have teachers who are struggling to teach subjects that they have no learning themselves in, that they have no qualifications in. Definitely this is an objective we should be aiming for, that everyone who is teaching in these STEM subjects has a relevant qualification.

KARVELAS: On some other issues, did Bill Shorten’s economic credentials take a hit this week when he said Labor’s education spending would boost GDP by 2.8 per cent straight away when clearly there’s no evidence that would happen?

DREYFUS: Not at all. The people who have been putting forward what are essentially, it seems to me, word game arguments, are they seriously rejecting the idea that we benefit economically as a nation from increasing the educational levels of our population? I haven’t heard anyone seriously argue that. But that seems to be the implication of the arguments that have been raised. But let’s get down to tin tacks here, Patricia, we need to educate our children to the highest possible level, because that’s the only thing that is going to improve our economic productivity and our prosperity.

KARVELAS: Sure, but Chris Bowen has had to walk back on the party’s position, I’ve been watching the language of this closely and you can’t just say it doesn’t matter, because it does matter. You can’t say you’re going to get an economic dividend straight away when you’re not.

DREYFUS: We’re looking at an OECD report and this is what I think some of the debate has been about, which looked at a hypothetical situation, if everyone now working in Australia had been educated to the level and the manner that Gonski is aimed at, we would have greater productivity and a larger Gross National Product than we presently do. And all it’s doing is drawing attention to what our objective is here which is to improve educational levels, to give every child in Australia appropriate educational opportunities, because we know, and I think you would know Patricia and our listeners would know that that is something that is going to be good for the economic health of our country in the long term.

KARVELAS: And I know Labor voted against the Senate ballot changes but as a QC, did you ever think Bob Day’s High Court challenge stood a chance?

DREYFUS: Um no. Not at any time. And I don’t think any other serious constitutional lawyer or commentator anywhere in Australia gave it much of a chance and I’m not surprised by the High Court’s rejection of it.