In case you’ve been hibernating in a dark room for the past week, perhaps in a bid to fast-track today’s epic second Bluesfest 2016 lineup announcement, Australia has a brand new Arts Minister.
George Brandis is out and Mitch Fifield is in, and the rookie arts portfolio-wielder has just shed more light on some of his plans for Australia’s creative industries (and also given us an interesting insight into his own personal musical tastes, but more on that later).
The Bad News…
Despite calls for Fifield to undo some of the damage wrought during Brandis-the-mandis’s brief but destructive reign of terror, Fifield has backed his predecessor’s plans to slash funding to the Australia Council and other peak arts funding bodies.
In his first media appearance since getting the promotion, Fife-dawgz confirmed that he would indeed be gutting $105 million from Australia Council and ploughing onward with Brandis’ controversial National Program for Excellence in the Arts (a body created by the Abbott government, over which Brandis enjoyed supreme personal dominion).
“Obviously I hear what some organisations are saying,” Fifield told ABC Radio National (via The Age) in response to a vocal backlash against the frankly suss-AF NPEA, which is currently under review by a Senate inquiry.
“The $26 million that George (Brandis) has set aside is actually to support small and medium organisations,” he claimed.
But as The Age points out, very few details have been released about the NPEA so far, and members of the arts community have expressed outrage and concern that giving the Arts Minister ultimate power to sign off on any grants would lead to favouritism towards the classical arts such as ballet, opera and the symphony.
Although, while that may have been true of Brandis, Fifield has also been quick to prove that he ain’t no square, gushing to the ABC about his artform of choice: ’80s new wave music.
Fifield named The New Romantics and Pet Shop Boys as some of his all-time favies: “I won’t say I lose control but I enjoy it very much”, he confessed.
The Sort-Of Good News…
And speaking of the ABC, there may be some good news on that front, with Fifield denying any suggestions that he would move to privatise the network.
In a metaphor as strange as it is colourful, the good Minister compared Australia’s love of the ABC to a rocky relationship, and promised to “not be a stranger” there.
“I think you can probably characterise how Australians see the ABC a bit like a long term relationships,” he said.
“Sometimes you can’t get enough of it, sometimes you want nothing to do with it. Sometimes it drives you to distraction, but ultimately you keep coming back.”
But despite the ABC successfully keeping Fifield coming back, he’s still defended the Coalition’s move to slash $254 million from its budget.
“I’ve yet to come across a commonwealth agency that’s achieved administrative nirvana,” he said.
“But one thing is certain. As a government we will make sure that the ABC is well resourced to do the job that Australians want it to do.”
“… As you’ll see, the government is engaging well with the ABC. We’re not being strangers.”
Negotiations over the ABC’s current three-year funding plan are currently ongoing, and Fifield isn’t jumping the gun on that front: “I don’t want to pre-empt where the triennial funding will end up,” he said.
We wonder if the ABC might improve its prospects if triple j starts adding more Pet Shop Boys to its rotation?