Australia

Arts community mobilises against Scott Morrison after federal arts department axed

Scott Morrison speaks to the media on Friday. Source: AAP

A battle of words between Australia's arts community and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is taking shape.

The arts industry is mobilising against an "appalling" decision by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to axe the federal arts department.

On Thursday, Mr Morrison announced dramatic changes to the public service, cutting the number of departments from 18 to 14.

The current Department of Communications and the Arts is set to be scrapped.

Instead, Mr Morrison said arts will fall under the new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications, which among other things will oversee road and rail.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives this week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives this week.
AAP

On Friday, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief executive Paul Murphy said, "this government's disdain for the arts has reached a new low".

"The absence of the word 'arts' from the new department's title says it all," he said.

"Artists and arts organisations and of all sizes are struggling in the wake of the 2015 Australia Council cuts, and there is widespread concern that this decision will foreshadow further cuts to arts funding next year."

According to the government's own figures, cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion to Australia's economy in a single year.

Cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion to Australia's economy in one year.
Cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion to Australia's economy in one year.
Getty

Since the news broke, people from across the arts industry have taken to social media.

Stage and screen identities, including Toby Schmitz and Kate Mulvany, expressed outrage.

Those in the classical music space didn't pull punches, with composer and chair of the Australia Ensemble Paul Stanhope asking "what more can these f*ckers do to us?"

Singer Kate Miller-Heidke showed her disbelief.

Composer and performer Cat Hope encouraged the sector to "band together, write and phone your MP - activism works".

Mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Dark went as far as suggesting "all of us in the arts sector stop working for a year and see what happens to the economy".

Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre said it was "deeply concerned" by the announcement and called on the government to instead "champion creative Australians by placing them front and centre with pride".

While comedian Tony Martin tried to make light of the situation.

Labor's arts spokesperson Tony Burke also attacked the government on Friday, saying "it's hard to see this as anything other than a downgrade to arts policy".  

"Australia's artists, actors, filmmakers, writers, musicians and broader creative community has every right to be concerned about this decision - apparently made without any consultation with the sector," he said. 

"The government of Australia should back Australian culture. This lot doesn't."

Announcing the changes on Thursday, Mr Morrison said "having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people".

"The new structure will drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges," he said.

It remains to be seen how the arts will fit into this new department and what it means for arts funding and resources.

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