Attorney-General Senator George Brandis addressed a press conference in Canberra on Tuesday 25 March 2014. Photo: Andrew Meares

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis says the arts were largely spared in this year's budget. Photo: Andrew Meares

The federal Arts Minister has rejected claims that the more than $100 million cut from the arts in the budget amount to “cultural vandalism”.

Senator George Brandis said audiences will find the federal government’s support for Australia’s flagship arts companies has not been affected by the budget.

“Given the sacrifices that all other members of the community have been asked to make, this is for the arts public a remarkable outcome,” Senator Brandis told Fairfax Media.

Treasurer Joe Hockey announced in Tuesday’s budget cuts of more than $28 million to the Australia Council over four years, $33.8 million from arts programs run by the Attorney-General's department and $25.1 million from Screen Australia.

The bulk of the Gillard government's Creative Australia policy, released last year and which added $200 million to the arts, had been "taken back" by the Abbott Government, according to the Labor opposition.

A former head of the Australia Council, the Sydney Opera House and ex-ABC board member, Michael Lynch spoke out against the cuts in Hong Kong on Thursday, where he presented his annual update on the $2 billion West Kowloon Cultural District development, which he heads.

He said the Abbott government had revealed its dislike for the cultural sector, arguing there was no justification for cutting arts funding.

"It's cultural vandalism,” he said. There is no justification for it. [The government] pretended to support the Australia Council, they never spoke against it [before the election]... They're silly cuts without any real justification other than ideological, its dislike for the cultural sector."

But Senator Brandis said: “This is a budget which I think has been in all the circumstances generous to the arts.”

Senator Brandis was speaking at the opening of the Italian Masterpieces from Spain’s Royal Court exhibition, which cost $9.2 million to mount, at the National Gallery of Victoria on Thursday night.

Senator Brandis, who is a Queensland senator, told the audience that Melbourne’s NGV was “by any measure the greatest art gallery in this country”. “I’m not saying that to flatter you, it’s objectively true.”

He later explained his comment to Fairfax Media.

“I don’t want to start a war, but the scope and scale of this collection, and particularly the works that comprise the Felton Bequest, give this gallery a splendour and a variety of riches … that no Australian gallery can match,” he said.

Senator Brandis said the budget contained a number of new initiatives such as additional funding to Creative Partnerships Australia, the federal government’s philanthropy body, and $1 million provided to the Australian Ballet School to acquire a permanent residence.

“That is not a lot of money in the scheme of things but it will make all the difference for them,” he said. “That has been a longstanding unmet need.”
He said the reduction in the Australia Council’s budget over four years amounted to about 3 to 4 per cent, and was mainly funding that had not been allocated.
“There has been no reduction at all in funding to any of the major performing arts companies,” he said.

Senator Brandis said merging the back-office functions of the national cultural institutions in Canberra had no implications for their independence or “general funding”.

He said the economies of scale and efficiencies that would be achieved was “not a very large saving, but it’s simply a more efficient way to acquire good and services”.

“There will be no implications for the autonomy or the general funding of those major collecting institutions in Canberra as a result of that decision,” he said.