A chronic, long-term lack of funding for our national cultural institutions was raised with me time and again during the federal election campaign.
I wrote to Senator Gallagher ahead of the October Budget noting the lack of capital funding to carry out essential maintenance on their buildings and the adverse impacts of not one but two savings measures they are subject to: the APS-wide efficiency dividend and a further savings measure, which was introduced in the 2015/16 MYEFO and sits at 1% since July this year.
I asked the Government to review these measures as a matter of urgency.
Our National Gallery in particular is in a financially perilous state and without urgent action, there’s a real risk serious measures will need to be implemented to cut costs.
I understand such measures could include reduced operating hours, even closing its doors by as much as two days per week, serious staff reductions with at least half the current workforce at risk, as well as other closures and cutbacks.
Valued at $7 billion, the National Gallery is tasked with managing the most valuable collection in the country, one that helps to tell the story of us and our evolving culture.
It belongs to all of us, and it does little good if it can’t be preserved, curated, exhibited or made available to the Australians who pay for it.
If we want this collection to grow, and if we want it to be available to future generations, then we need to look at the sustainability of the Gallery’s funding.
Looking at the Budget, the Gallery’s funding is projected to shrink in the next financial year and across the forward estimates.
No other multi-billion dollar investment, whether public or private, would be left to grapple with these types of decisions.
This is part of a broader conversation we need to have about the financial sustainability of all twelve of our national cultural institutions, whose funding has been slowly eroding due to the impacts of continuous savings measures and efficiency dividends.
I appreciate the pressures on the federal budget but this has now become a question of priorities. Continuing huge subsidies for multi-national fossil fuel companies while our national cultural institutions suffer is not striking the right balance.
We now have an Arts Minister who I know cares deeply for our national cultural policy and institutions and I hope we will see this prioritised in the May Budget.