Arts minister Mitch Fifield has chosen the day before the budget to unceremoniously dump details of 79 arts grants from his Catalyst fund, without so much as a press release.THE HON MARK DREYFUS QC MP SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE ARTS MEMBER FOR ISAACS GOVERNMENT SNEAKS OUT $12M FUNDING DUMP ON BUDGET EVE Arts minister Mitch Fifield has chosen the day before the budget to unceremoniously dump details of 79 arts grants from his Catalyst fund, without so much as a press release. From the moment its predecessor the “National Program for Excellence” was created by George Brandis from the $105 million ripped away from the Australia Council, Labor has had concerns about the lack of transparency in Catalyst’s grant-giving process. This ministerial slush fund, derided by the Australian arts community and slammed by a Senate inquiry, has effectively destroyed the independent, arms-length principle of arts funding maintained by the Australia Council. Early grants announcements did nothing to allay Labor’s concerns that Catalyst could be misused as a political instrument in an election year, with funding announcements timed with Prime Ministerial visits and $1 million given to a heritage project in the Liberal-held electorate of Mayo, in South Australia. Today a full list of grant recipients has appeared in arts media, though there is no sign of an official announcement by the government. The grants include many worthy recipients. But Labor is concerned at the haphazard way they have been announced, and the complete absence of explanation by the government as to why they have been chosen. What rationale links a $75,500 grant to bring an Amy Winehouse exhibition from London to Melbourne, with a $50,000 grant to take a play to the World Anaesthetic Congress in Hong Kong? How do either of these fit with Catalyst’s aim to fund “innovative ideas from arts and cultural organisations that may find it difficult to access funding for such projects from other sources”? No explanation is given. If elected, Labor would return funding to the Australia Council, and make sure the integrity of arts funding in Australia is restored. MONDAY, 2 MAY 2016
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