Though less swingeing than the Commission of Audit's recommendations, which included a 50% cut to film and TV funding body Screen Australia, Australia's arts community has reacted with concern to the cuts to its funding announced in Tuesday's federal budget.
Screen Australia will lose $38m over four years, including a $25m reduction in the agencies appropriation; $10m from the termination of the Australian interactive games fund, meaning that games development will no longer receive government funding; and $2.5m by closing the interactive multiplatform funding initiative.
Graeme Mason, Screen Australia’s chief executive, said: “We will undertake a comprehensive review of all programs and how they are delivered. We will maintain our commitment to working efficiently in order to minimise the impact on the Australian screen sector. We will focus on our core business to support culture, innovation and quality on Australian screens.”
"I feel it’s a cut into the culture of Australia," said producer Liz Watts, the founder of Porchlight films. "It will impact our ability to finance productions here, both TV and feature films, especially combined with the ABC cuts."
The Porchlight film The Rover is about to show at the Cannes film festival. "Ironically, that film would not have been made without Screen Australia," Watts said.
Matthew Deaner, executive director of Screen Producers Australia, warned that a lack of investment in Australian film would cause local talent to go overseas.
"New Zealand and Asia have increased support for screen productions, we have China on our doorstep, which is a very large market for screen producers, and we’ve always had the draw of Hollywood. We not only lose the talent, we lose the capacity of our nation to tell its own story in its own way, and the economic stimulus that brings."
In a statement released by the actors' union Equity, Richard Roxburgh, the producer and star of the hit TV series Rake, said that government investment in Australian TV and film had paid off.
"Our screen industries are currently thriving and this ongoing support has enabled Australian actors such as myself to work on great shows in our home country.
"The cuts to Screen Australia funding are significant, even if the most alarming predictions haven't come to pass. It would be a great shame if this resulted in fewer projects being funded at a time when our Australian screen industry – particularly television drama – has found its stride and is making its mark internationally."
The Australia Council, the nation's arts funding body, will be cut significantly, losing $28.2m over four years; $9.6m for the first year and approximately $6m for the following three.
Though some expressed fears that smaller theatre companies and individual performers would be hit, a spokesperson said: "The council is currently considering the most appropriate ways to apply this adjustment, with a focus on minimising the impact across the sector. Core operational funding to the major performing arts companies, the visual arts and crafts strategy (VACS), key small to medium arts organisations and regional touring will not be affected."
Other arts cuts include the merging of the administration of seven Canberra-based arts institutions – including the National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery of Australia – to save $2.4m over four years.
The Adelaide Festival Centre's Asia Pacific Centre for arts and cultural leadership, which funds arts administration and exchange programs between South Australia and Asia, had its $1.8m funding removed.
"We’re disappointed but not surprised," said Douglas Gautier, the centre's CEO and artistic director. "We think it’s an opportunity lost but we won’t give up. It just means that our programmes will be a bit modest and the opportunity to send young Australians in the arts industry to Asia Pacific and to bring colleagues for exchanges from which creative and economic ties grow will just be a bit slower in development. But it's a tough budget context and we understand that."
However, it wasn't all bad news for the arts. Though the Commission of Audit recommended the abolition of funding for TV and community radio, the Treasury pledged $17.7m.
Community Broadcasting Association of Australia president Adrian Basso said: "There are going to be millions of listeners and volunteers breathing a big sigh of relief tonight. Community stations run on the smell of an oily rag – if the government had cut funding, as modest as the funding is, it could have spelt the end of many vital community radio services.”
The Australian Ballet School in Melbourne was also awarded a surprise $1m one-off grant, which will go towards buying a residence for students. The school had previously raised $3.5m for the boarding hall from non-government sources.
The schoolʼs director, Marilyn Rowe, said: “Achieving a student residence is the last outstanding part of the vision I set for the school when I commenced as its director 16 years ago. Itʼs a wonderful announcement.”
A spokesman said the school was funded by a mix of sources: a third from fees, a third from the federal government and a third from philanthropy and other sources. It said 40% of its full-time students received some form of bursary support to pay the school's fees.
Asked whether ballet students at a private school deserved government funding more than the young filmmakers likely to be hit by the cut to Screen Australia, a spokesperson said: "We are not in a position to make comparisons to other members of the arts sector but we can say that our students deserve this support. They are a well-deserving group of committed and passionate young people. The health and welfare of our students is foremost in our efforts and the $1m towards a student residence will help us address the necessary duty of care to young students."