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Book Council a casualty of arts budget cuts

InReview

The newly created Book Council of Australia has been axed in the mid-year budget review as part of $52.5 million in cuts from the Federal Government’s Communications and Arts portfolio.

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Just three months ago, then arts minister George Brandis appointed high-profile publisher Louise Adler to chair the council, which was set up to provide advice to the Federal Government on strategies to strengthen the profile of Australian literature.

But in its mid-year economic and fiscal outlook released yesterday, the Government announced that it planned to save $9.6 million on arts programs over the next four years, including through “the cessation of the Book Council of Australia”.

As academic Stuart Glover writes on The Conversation today, the council was perhaps doomed from the beginning, attracting criticism for the fact it was funded by $6 million taken from the Australia Council budget, as well as over its structure and membership.

Arts Minister Mitch Fifield said yesterday he would consult with the literary community about other forms of representation and promotion.

“I thank those who had indicated their willingness to serve on the council, particularly Louise Adler, who had agreed to be chair, and the many people who have generously shared their views on Australian writing and reading,” he said in a statement.

A further $36.8 million cut in spending on cultural and collecting entities within the arts portfolio, excluding the Australia Council, will also contribute to the $52.5 million savings, with the Government saying the money will be redirected to “repair the budget and fund policy priorities”.

One of those priorities is the luring of big-budget Hollywood movies Alien: Covenant and Thor: Ragnarok to be filmed in Australia. Directly below the arts spending cuts ­– or “efficiencies”, as they are termed – the mid-year budget review includes the additional spending of $47.4 million which the Government recently announced it would provide for the two major film projects over two years.

“This measure will ensure Australia takes advantage of foreign investment associated with the filming of these two large budget films,” the review says.

At the time of the announcement, Minister Fifield said the films would create jobs and bring spin-offs for the tourism industry and broader economy.

However, at the same time, Screen Australia, the Government’s key funding body for the Australian screen industry, has suffered its third budget cut in 18 months.

While the organisation itself has been stoic in the face of its reduced budget, the chief executive of Screen Producers Australia, Matthew Deaner, told film industry website if.com.au yesterday that the cuts would affect innovation and the global competitiveness of the Australian screen production industry.

The latest arts funding cuts are seen by some as another blow to the industry, which has faced funding turmoil since former minister Brandis  diverted $104 million from the Australia Council in this year’s budget to the National Program for Excellence. Under the Turnbull Government, Fifield was appointed to replace Brandis as Arts Minister, and it was announced last month that $32 million of the stripped funding would be given back to the Council.

-with AAP

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