How transparent is the Australia Council’s Annual Report?


Australia COuncil funding by category, 2008-2009. source: 2008-09 Annual Report

Over at Marcus Westbury’s blog, he’s posted a graph breakdown of the Australia Council’s funding by artform category, from the Australia Council’s 2006-07 Annual Report.

I was intending this post to be a detailed breakdown of Australian government cultural and arts funding, drawing on the public sources and drilling down into the detail of the funding to describe the distribution of that funding in various ways. But after glancing at this year’s Australia Council Annual Report, I am going to write instead about the decreasing transparency of that document.

While I mention cultural funding, though, here are some top-line figures. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, cultural funding across all levels of government in Australia exceeds $6 billion (it was $6,311.4 million in 2007-08, to be precise):

The Australian Government contributed $2,358.9m (37.4%) to total cultural funding while the state and territory governments contributed $2,952.2m (46.8%) and local governments provided $1,000.3m (15.8%).

Where does the money go? Mostly to parks and environmental heritage, broadcasting (the ABC and SBS), libraries and museums, in that order:

Environmental heritage was the largest recipient of funds, with funding of over $1.4 billion ($1,466.4m) or 27.6% of total cultural funding from the Australian Government and state and territory governments combined. The other major recipient of Australian and state and territory government funding in 2007-08 was Radio and television services at over $1.3 billion ($1,355.0m) representing 25.5% of Australian and state government cultural funding. Libraries received $1,036.4m or 16.4% of total funding, including $653.4m from local government while Other museums and cultural heritage received $630.4m (10.0%).

Once you drill further down into the figures, it becomes quickly apparent that the majority of cultural funding is channeled through relatively large government cultural departments and agencies, while grants and subsidies to artists and non-profit cultural organisations – the kind of thing most people would recognise as “arts funding” remains a relatively small proportion of total cultural spending by the government sector.

Part of the difficulty with reporting on this area is the aggregated nature of the statistics available. The Australia Council’s annual statement (this year branded with the embarrassingly Orwellian slogan “One Arts Sector: One Arts Council”, which must make the artists and organisations in parts of the sector not supported by the Australia Council feel wonderful) has become noticeably less transparent in recent years, and the Council has also had a less than consistent approach to which statistics it reports.

One glaring omission from the 2008-09 Annual Report is a breakdown of its grant recipients. You can find these breakdowns in earlier reports, and mighty useful they were too. It might seem like a minor point, but the list was in fact a key data source for my 2007 investigation of financial and governance irregularities in the Noise festival. Noise is a major initiative funded by the Australia Council as a national youth media ‘festival’ (even though it is no longer a festival), but which actually involved the payment of large sums of money to the private company of Sydney promoter Brandan Saul. Noise continues to receive funding, by the way, but you have to drill down into the entrails of the report’s financial statements to find reference to it.

The Annual Report has a few other notable omissions and unexplained inconsistencies . Owing to a new system for classifying artform data, there is a new category called “cross-artform” which is presumably the successor to the category which used to be called “multi-artform/other.” Is it the same category, or a different one? We don’t know because the Australia Council doesn’t explain it, or publish the funding breakdowns which would enable us to independently verify it. One of the highlighted projects from the Inter-Arts departmental description in the Annual Report is the commendable Splendid project, which included some real talents of the emerging Australian scene, like Alice Lang and Mish Grigor. Splendid is definitely a “cross-artform” project – but what else is? We don’t know.

Tomorrow, I’ll get around to that special post breaking down Australian cultural funding, and I’ll discuss some interesting factoids that fall out form it, like the fact that support for individual artists at the Australia Council appears to be falling, and that funding to public agencies and cultural organisations dominates cultural funding at nearly every level and category of funding program.

UPDATE: Marcus informs me the grants breakdown is to be forthcoming in a future document.

One thought on “How transparent is the Australia Council’s Annual Report?

  1. Pingback: Artabase Editorial » Ben Eltham’s Cultural Policy Blog

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