TRANSCRIPT - RN Drive
with Patricia Karvelas
20 November 2015
E & OE
Catalyst – Australian Arts and Culture Fund
After sustained pressure from the Australian arts community the Federal Arts
Minister has redesigned the controversial fund proposed by previous Minister
George Brandis. Minister Mitch Fifield today announced that the Catalyst
Australian Arts and Culture Fund will replace George Brandis’ National Program
for Excellence in the Arts. And it seems the new fund won’t be taking as much
money out of the Australia Council budget, which was one of the most
controversial elements of the George Brandis idea. Minister Mitch Fifield joins
me now thanks for your time.
Good to be with you Patricia.
How is this Catalyst Fund different from to the previous proposal by George
In a couple of important ways. We’ve endeavoured to make sure that it isn’t
seeking to supplant or compete with the Australia Council or Creative
Partnerships Australia. We want the Catalyst Fund to complement those two
pillars of support for the arts in Australia. And we want to create a new
program that can encourage innovation, that can provide opportunity to
organisations that might not otherwise have the opportunity to access funding
such as galleries and libraries and archives and museums to have a shot to put
You’ve released guidelines on how the catalyst funds will be used. What are the
key principals? I mean why does it need to be separate to the Australia
It seeks to do some very different things to the Australia Council. Importantly
we’re proposing that Catalyst can help support new ways of partnerships and
collaboration. So it could be someone might want to set up a new fellowships
program, or they might want to come up with an innovative way of funding an
infrastructure project. So on the partnership and collaboration side that’s
something really that the Australia Council doesn’t do. International and
cultural diplomacy, yes we know that our major performing Arts organisations
who are supported by the Australia Council do some good work there. But we want
to open this up so that other organisations have the opportunity of expanding
audiences overseas and in Australia through tours and exhibitions and
exchanges. And also, importantly, we have the stream in Catalyst of innovation
and participation so that we’ve got a chance to do even more to support the
arts in the regions, also, do more to support the involvement of people with
disability in the arts and look at different digital solutions for instance. So
these are a range of things that I think complement what the Australia Council
does rather than compete or seek to supplant the good work that they do for
small and medium organisations and importantly for individuals.
On RN Drive my guest is Mitch Fifield the Minister for the Arts and
Communications. He’s just announced an overhaul of arts funding a different
proposal to the one that was being pushed by George Brandis. The Catalyst
program will have an annual budget of $12 million a year. So what’s happening
with the rest of the $105 million that was originally due to be shifted from
the Australia Council to the program that Senator Brandis was trying to set
Well when people talk about the $105 million they’re talking about a number
that’s over the forward estimates. If you look at that in an annual sense it
was really a figure of $26 million and part of that was to transfer
responsibility from the Australia Council to the Ministry for the Arts for
things where there was no controversy. Things like the Visions of Australia
Program, things like the Festivals Australia Program. No one really was
suggesting that that funding be returned to the Australia Council. Where the
interest and focus was, was on about $19 million per year. Now $8 million of
that is going back to the Australia Council. So the Australia Council will now
have an annual budget of $193 million per annum and over the forward estimates
the Australia Council will have $783 million. So I’ve heard some commentary
that the Australia Council is operating on a fraction of its former budget. Not
true. AusCo has $783 million over the forward estimates and because we’ve put
$8 million back, they’ll have $193 million each year.
I’ve got a question from somebody on Twitter who listens to the program, who’s
interested in this, who says “how can doubling up on admin be helping
because if you’ve got two funds you’ve got double the admin don’t you?” that
I saw that Tweet earlier Patricia and I think that individual might have the
view that we’re creating a new bureaucracy or a new administration to run
Catalyst. It's not the case. The Ministry of the Arts already exists. The
Ministry of the Arts already has a range of programs that it administers. So
we’re definitely not setting up a new bureaucracy.
So are these changes a result of the pressure from the arts community which was
very vocal in its opposition to the George Brandis changes?
Look it was always the intention that the National Program for Excellence, that
incarnation, that there would be consultation. And I was very keen as the
incoming Minister to talk to the Arts community, not only about the guidelines.
But also, about the quantum of funds and how the new program could work with
the Australia Council and Creative Partnerships Australia. So definitely the
input that I’ve had and the consultations that I’ve engaged in have help shape
not only the repurposing of $8 million to the Australia Council but also the
shape of the Catalyst Fund.
But do you acknowledge that it was a broken relationship after the previous
Minister sought to overhaul the funding and sought to overhaul it and I’ll
quote him in one case he said it was “a closed shop” the way
that the funding for Arts happened under the Australia Council. You don’t agree
with that language do you that it’s a closed shop, do you? Because you’re
returning money to it.
Look I can only judge the relationship of the Government and the sector in
terms of my own experience. And I’ve found the sector to be very warm, very
generous and very engaging. That’s been my experience and I’m someone of the
view that your effectiveness as a Minister, is to some extent determined by the
quality of your relationship with stakeholders. But also I think, as I’ve
probably said to you before, the willingness of a Minister to be both a steward
and a student in their portfolio area.
But clearly it was a broken relationship; you do have to acknowledge that
you’ve had to mend it somewhat.
Look I just take people as I find them and I’ve found that the Arts sector has
been very willing to engage.
Now there are still some grumbles as you know about the way that you’ve
announced this, the Catalyst Program. That there is still a separate program,
not everybody is happy, is this the end of the road or are you open to perhaps
more changes based on the feedback you will receive after today?
Look I think before the NPEA was first announced, there was no one in
government, or in the sector for that matter, who would have suggested that
administrative nirvana had been achieved in the arts. And I don’t pretend for a
second that I’m the first Minister who has found the perfect combination. What
we’re doing is seeking to fill some gaps. What we’re doing is seeking to give
organisations who might not otherwise have the opportunity, to access some
funds to be innovative, to be creative to trial different things. That’s what
we’re seeking to do here. I’ve also sought to rebalance the funding by putting
some back to the Australia Council. But my ears are always open and I’m very
keen to work with the sector as we refine things over time.
And you’ve talked about this new Catalyst programme. You’ve used the word
innovate a lot in this interview, does this have kind of the fingerprints of
Malcolm Turnbull all over it, because that’s a word that he keeps repeating as
well. Did he give you any direction or idea that he wanted this new rebranded
overhaul of the alternative Arts Program you’re constructing to have that as
one of its chief goals?
Malcolm is very keen and very willing to give his Ministers their head. But
something he makes crystal clear, not just to Ministers, but to the community
is that he wants Ministers to be thinking about ways of fostering a culture of
innovation. And that’s one of the great things about the arts, is that it
encourages lateral thinking. It encourages people to approach things from
different angles. And the Arts has a very important role to play in helping
create a broader culture of innovation. That’s what the creative industries,
that’s what creative individuals can make a big contribution towards. And
that’s what I hope Catalyst can further.
Thank you so much for your time Minister.
Great to talk Patricia
And that’s Mitch Fifield, he’s the Minister for the Arts and Communications.
And he’s announced today, well that he’s effectively gone back on the George
Brandis proposal on the Arts overhaul. Instead there is now a catalyst fund,
it’s called the Catalyst Australian Arts and Culture Fund to replace George
Brandis’ National Program for Excellence in the Arts and some money goes back
to the Australia Council budget. What do you make of it? Is it a much better
version of Arts funding than the one that was previously announced by George
Brandis? 0418226576 I’d love to get you
texts on this, you can also tweet us at @RNDrive.
Justine Sywak | 0448
448 487 | Justine.Sywak@aph.gov.au