Cash strapped cultural institutions must find $40 million of savings in addition to budget cuts

National cultural institutions have been forced to find nearly $40 million of savings within four years in addition to federal budgets cuts, prompting fears of further job and program cuts at galleries, libraries and museums.

The government's efficiency dividend has been trimming the operating costs of Canberra-based institutions for nearly 30 years, despite bipartisan opposition from ACT politicians and taxpayers. 

The National Library of Australia has announced a suite of staff and program cuts to meet the government's saving edict.
The National Library of Australia has announced a suite of staff and program cuts to meet the government's saving edict.  Photo: Katherine Griffiths

The latest requirements come despite museums and galleries reducing their expenses by $29.4 million since September 2013, when the Coalition government was elected to office. 

The full impact of the savings regime was detailed by Arts Minister Mitch Fifield in response to a question on notice from Labor senator Penny Wong.

The institutions hardest hit by the efficiency dividend include the National Gallery, the National Library and the National Museum which must collectively find $14.7 million of savings by 2018-19.

The National Library has already announced ongoing cuts to staff and  services including the curtailing of Trove publishing to meet the requirements, in addition to a further $1.5 million of cuts announced in the mid-year economic statement. 


Screen Australia, the agency supporting film and documentary makers, must find $10.3 million in efficiency savings by 2018/19. The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia must also make $3 million worth of cuts within four years.

The National Portrait Gallery of Australia and Old Parliament House must find close to $3 million in savings collectively, while the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney will need to shed $2.6 million.

ACT senator Katy Gallagher said the efficiency dividend and budget cuts had "stripped the budgets of the valued galleries and museums bare and have placed management in the unenviable position of implementing job cuts".

"These cuts will hurt Canberra and will reduce services provided by the custodians of Australian history," she said.  

"I call on the minister to rule out any further cuts in the upcoming budget to prevent even further job losses in the national capital."

In a letter to all staff last month, National Library director-general Anne-Marie Schwirtlich said the efficiency dividend would have a grave impact on the cultural institution.

"The savings required of the library over almost 30 years have had a significant impact on the library's operations and services," she said. "The additional savings we must make in 2016-17 and beyond will have a grave impact."

The federal government has since told the National Library of Australia to consider private funding of its award-winning Trove website, after it was revealed budget cuts meant the site would stagnate.

The service, which houses more than 473 million online resources from Australian libraries, museums and archives, will stop adding new content as a result of efficiency dividends imposed by the federal government.

The National Gallery of Australia has already initiated a recruitment freeze with some vacant positions unlikely to be filled, as it seeks to accommodate the government's savings directive.  

When the recruitment freeze and job cuts were detailed, ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja called for the efficiency dividend to be abandoned, breaking ranks with his federal colleagues.

Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson has also said he does not support any cuts to Canberra's cultural institutions or other areas of the public service.

"I have had numerous conversations with my federal colleagues to express my view and will continue to do so."

ACT Greens senate candidate Christina Hobbs has raised concerns for staff working at the library and accused the federal government of showing "disdain for the public service".