Saturday, April 11, 2020

Arts funding in decline

And the pips are squeaking. Arts personalities are not only reliably Leftist themselves but they also abuse conservtives.  And they expect a conservative government to keep giving them money?

The basic point at issue is WHY should the government fund the arts?  They are enjoyed by only a small minority of the population.  The average Joe follows sport, not the Arts.  But as an elite pursuit, the political elite, particularly on the Left, are sympathetic to the Arts and cheerfully divert the taxes of the average Joe into the pockets of people who have nothing but contempt for the average Joe.

There is always some pretence that the Arts are "uplifting" in some way but I have never seen any solid evidence to that effect. Hitler was devoted to the Arts.  Was he uplifted by them?

Hitler at Bayreuth

 And the arts were well supported by the brutal Soviet system.  So reducing  subsidies to the recreations and entertainments of the elite is a proper activity of a democratic government

As any performer or comedian will tell you, timing is everything.

The cliché was never more painful than last Friday, when the Australia Council for the Arts handed down the results of its four year funding round for smaller cultural organisations.

The results were heartbreaking. Some of Australia’s most important and innovative arts organisations have lost their federal funding: the lifeline that they had counted on to try and ride out these extraordinary times. The list of organisations being “transitioned out” of Australia Council funding includes the Sydney Writers’ festival; many of the nation’s literary magazines, including Australian Book Review, Overland and the Sydney Review of Books, and a long string of theatre and dance companies, such as Sydney’s Australian Theatre for Young People, Adelaide’s Restless Dance Theatre, Perth’s Blue Room and Melbourne’s famous small theatre La Mama.

For perennially hard-pressed cultural organisations, funding cuts would be difficult in any climate. Unfortunately for Australia’s small cultural organisations, this is the very worst time of all.

The coronavirus outbreak has heralded wrenching changes to all sectors of our economy. But with the possible exception of aviation, no sector has fared worse than culture.

This is not a “recession” or a “downturn” by any normal definition. In response to coronavirus, whole sectors of the cultural industries have completely ceased operating.

By government fiat, every single performing arts company in the land has shut down in recent weeks. Every festival. Every theatre, opera house and music hall. Every public address or panel of speakers. The majority of art galleries and museums.

The arts minister, Paul Fletcher, argues that arts organisations affected by the restrictions can apply for the government’s jobkeeper package – indeed, he wrote in a media release that the stimulus could total billions of dollars across the cultural sector when finally totted up. “Most organisations in the arts sector are expected to meet the eligibility requirement of revenue having fallen by 30% or more, given that performances have been suspended and venues closed,” Fletcher’s statement notes.

This is scant consolation for the organisations that lost their funding late last week. The jobkeeper package is not even legislated yet, and there are many questions as to how it might apply.

The answers are depressingly familiar. The current funding round is the tortuous outcome of years of creeping austerity levelled on the Australia Council by successive Coalition governments. The pain began in Joe Hockey’s first budget of 2014, and was followed by the notorious “Excellence Fund” raid sortied by George Brandis, in which $105 million was ripped out of the Australia Council to pay for a parallel funding program dreamed up by the former arts minister in a flight of vainglory.

Some of the excellence funding was eventually returned, but in real terms Australia Council funding has declined by nearly 20% since Labor left office in 2013.

To compound matters, most of the Australia Council’s funding is quarantined for a group of larger performing arts companies co-funded with the states and territories, known as the Major Performing Arts organisations. These big companies, such as Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, and the various state orchestras and theatre companies, soak up three-fifths of the Australia Council’s total budget. There simply isn’t much funding left to go round.

The dilemma is made even more painful by the fact the smaller companies (often known as the “small-to-medium” sector) have double the audiences of the majors, and produce around four times as much work each year. However, they get about a quarter of the funding.

 There is enough money to fund Australian culture properly, of course. It’s simply a matter of political will

As a result, the Australia Council has been left in an invidious situation. As a matter of policy, it is not allowed to take money from the major companies. But it doesn’t have the money to fund the small-to-medium sector properly.

The inevitable result was Friday’s bloodbath.

For a lover of culture, going over the list of who missed out is shocking. Companies of the calibre of La Mama, Australian Theatre for Young People, Polyglot, Liquid Architecture, Australian Book Review, Overland, Information and Cultural Exchange, the Sydney Writers festival, St Martins, Restless Dance Theatre, The Blue Room Theatre, Barking Gekko, the Sydney Review of Books and Ensemble Offspring are some of the most significant cultural organisations in the country. There can be no pretence that they have failed to win funding because they lack merit. They aren’t getting funding because there isn’t enough money.

There is enough money to fund Australian culture properly, of course. It’s simply a matter of political will. While the Australia Council’s annual budget is less than $200 million, the government has announced economic stimulus measures worth nearly $200 billion in recent weeks. Yes, some cultural organisations will benefit from the stimulus measures. But we are now throwing nationally significant arts companies to the wolves.

Aren’t there bigger priorities than arts funding in a pandemic, you might ask? Yes, of course there are. Everyone in Australian culture agrees that social distancing is necessary and that the festivals and theatres must shut. No one argues that arts funding should take priority over hospitals. But surely we can now agree that culture matters too.

As Benjamin Law pointed out in a perceptive article last week, what are the locked-down citizens of Australia doing in their time of crisis? They are reading, watching Netflix, listening to podcasts, singing and dancing at home. They are making culture.

Covid-19 is an opportunity to ask ourselves as a nation why we take our artists and cultural organisations for granted. Why, even in an emergency, can’t we find the money to fund a couple of hundred of the most important arts organisations in the country properly?

The answers are both complex, and simple. Historical precedent, conservative antipathy to arts funding, and enduring beliefs that artists are not really deserving and that culture is not a real industry all play a part.

But the simpler explanation is a failure of imagination.


Cardinal Pell 'plans to spend the rest of his retirement in Sydney' after his release from prison - because the Pope isn't giving him his old job back

Cardinal George Pell will spend the rest of his retirement in Sydney where he feels more comfortable and can move around more freely, according to reports.

The 78-year-old travelled from Melbourne to Sydney on Wednesday stopping briefly at a servo to buy a phone charger and newspapers.

He arrived at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, in Sydney's inner west, at around 9pm on Wednesday.

It is understood that he will spend the rest of his retirement at the seminary, where he has briefly lived before.

Pell had hoped to return to Rome but there has been no job offer from the Pope and his previous role has been filled.

He had been appointed at head of the Secretariat for the Economy to fix the church's finances following a number of financial scandals.

But the role was handed over to Spanish priest Fr Juan Antonio as Pell continued to fight child sex abuse charges.

Cardinal Pell was freed from jail on Tuesday after Australia's top court ruled he had not been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

In 2018, a jury convicted him of abusing two choirboys in the 1990s. The cleric has maintained his innocence.

Pell was released after spending 405 days in Barwon Prison, in regional Victoria.

He spent his first day of freedom driving up to Sydney where he is expected to spend the rest of his retirement.

During a pit stop at a petrol station on the Hume Highway in Victoria, the Cardinal told media he was 'very pleased' to be free.

He apologised for not dressing better, saying he wasn't expecting company on the trip.

'Before you arrived, it was better here,' he told media at the service station when asked about life behind bars, before adding his prison experience was 'not too bad'.

He also asked reporters to adhere to social distancing and not get too close to him.

One of George Pell's accusers accepted the high court's decision to overturn his child sex abuse conviction - saying the law is 'weighed in favour of the accused'.

Known as Witness J, the former choirboy came forward after another accuser died in 2014 and claimed he too was abused by the cardinal.

He said he understood there must be 'due and proper process' in a civil society, but feared the system was flawed  - leaving many child sex offenders unpunished.

'I respect the decision of the High Court. I accept the outcome,' Witness J said in a statement released by his lawyer, Vivian Waller.

'It is difficult in child sex abuse matters to satisfy a criminal court that the offending has occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt. 

'I understand why criminal cases must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt.

'No-one wants to live in a society where people can be imprisoned without due and proper process. This is a basic civil liberty.

'But the price we pay for weighing the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished.'

But Witness J said he hoped the outcome wouldn't discourage child sexual abuse survivors from coming forward, and reassured them 'most people recognise the truth when they hear it'.

'I am content with that,' he said.

In a statement on Tuesday, Cardinal Pell said he bears no ill-will toward the man, now in his 30s.

The decision has been divisive and police are now investigating the vandalism of Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral.

'Rot in Hell Pell' was emblazoned on the doors of the cathedral where he was alleged to have abused the two choirboys.

Before leaving Melbourne, Pell wanted to visit family and friends but decided against it due to the coronavirus restrictions.


Year 12 exams must go ahead

Keep calm and carry on. That should be the clear, consistent message we give Year 12 students at the moment.

And yet education Ministers met earlier this week to discuss the plight of Year 12s amid calls to cancel the ATAR and end-of-year exams, apparently in order to reduce student stress caused by coronavirus developments — as though radically overhauling how students are admitted into universities within one year wouldn’t lead to even more anxiety for Year 12s.

And it is incredibly naïve to think the practical problems of an entirely new university admissions system could magically be resolved between now and the end of 2020.

One proposal is to replace the ATAR with a ‘learner portfolio’ based on extra-curricular activities and subjective assessments.

But the ‘innovative’ thought-bubble alternatives to the ATAR are especially unfair for high-achieving disadvantaged students. Advantaged students tend to have more extra-curricular opportunities and professional networks, so would gain an unfair benefit in competing for places in high-demand university courses. Just imagine the differences in CVs and ‘learner portfolios’ between students from wealthy inner-city suburbs areas and those in low-socioeconomic areas.

Exams may not be enjoyable for students, but they are the great equaliser in education. They assess and rank each student’s academic ability in each subject in the same way at the same time, with transparent and detailed methodology.

In any case, it would be unfair to change the rules for Year 12s at this late stage. After all their hard work in Year 11 and up until now, students deserve to receive a meaningful Year 12 certificate — based on rigorous exams rather than vague superficial indicators — at the end of this year.

Sure, the current situation with many students not attending school makes it harder to prepare, particularly for disadvantaged students who don’t have access to effective learning support online or at home. A simple solution to this is to encourage secondary schools to remain open with normal classes for just their Year 12 students, if they don’t have adequate online classes in place.

Teachers are still working hard to ensure their students are prepared anyway. It’s been inspiring to see teachers so quickly get their heads around less-than-ideal education technology to ensure they can continue teaching and answering student questions.

Thankfully, education Ministers remain adamant that students will receive ATAR scores this year and it appears Year 12 exams will go ahead (but might just be delayed by a month or two). They shouldn’t backdown. Whatever other harm the coronavirus will do to Australia, we should insist it won’t stop Year 12 students from getting the rigorous qualification they need for future life.


Our liberty and prosperity are in peril if COVID-19 triggers an arms race of compassion

Tom Switzer

Since the first responsibility of the state is to protect its citizens, it is understandable why, faced with a pandemic on a scale not seen since 1918, drastic measures have been taken to try to keep loss of life to a minimum.

However, some of the emergency policies launched to respond to the coronavirus pandemic could remain in place and that will more deeply entrench government across the economy and civil society.

Political leaders face two challenges: first, to judge carefully when restrictions can be lifted and to strike a balance between the damage caused by the virus and that caused by economic ruin; second, to ensure those restrictions do not leave a legacy in liberal societies, but are removed so society can proceed as before.

This won’t be popular to read in certain circles, but the enthusiasm with which some governments – at home and abroad – have decided to print money and increase police powers has been disturbing.

When police accost people sunbathing alone – or use drones to monitor people walking on hillsides (as they have done in England) – people are entitled to be outraged. The delight some police take in asserting the powers the state gives them is uncomfortably clear.

The coronavirus pandemic is a grave moment in human history. But it should not be prove to be a pivotal one, becoming a moment where society changes profoundly and permanently.

Once the main threat has passed, restoring the liberty of citizens to go where they wish on public property, when they wish, and with whom they wish may prove the least of the problems for society. It will be far more difficult for governments to remove wage subsidies, reduce debt and restabilise economies.

For one thing, some workers will be seduced by the new dispensation, unaware that the cost to supposedly richer taxpayers is nothing compared with the cost to the future of the economy.

For another thing, the socialist that seems to exist within even supposedly liberal, free-market politicians finds it so easy to prevail, because those politicians feel it gives them an acceptable degree of serious power.

This sits at odds with true liberals – that is, those who believe that the function of governments is to find ways of distributing power from the state to the people.

The pandemic has forced the closure of many businesses in every economy. Some of the smaller and more vulnerable ones will never reopen.

Once the grave threat from the pandemic has passed, governments should do everything possible to ensure a minimum level of regulation so the next wave of entrepreneurs can enter the marketplace as easily as possible. This means resisting the temptation to increase taxes, which would stifle innovation, retard the recovery and risk drawing the world into a 1930s-style depression.

Of course, businesses have generally supported the widespread subsidy of wages around the world while they are closed. It means they can afford to retain staff and not have their employees’ hardship on their conscience.

However, these can only ever be emergency measures. The destruction of prosperity and personal liberty that would come from their retention should be easy for any businessman or woman to understand.

And sadly, there are too many precedents. In many nations that participated in World War II and ended up on the winning side, the statist, over-regulated, high-taxation regimes deemed essential during the war lasted years after 1945. In Australia, food, clothing and petrol rationing persisted for several years.

How long can the present restrictions last before people start to rebel against them? In recent days, food shops have been looted in Italy, and Italians have used social media to call for a rebellion against the harsh lockdown. Could we expect civil disobedience and disorder here?

The problem for western governments is they have drawn up a template for dealing with a pandemic that focuses on saving life first and saving the economy later.

So far, that judgment seems to be popular across Australia and elsewhere. But what if things return to normal by September (as the Prime Minister expects) and the coronavirus returns in a year’s time, as the 1918 pandemic did? Can the western economies go through this process again, suspending economic reality and printing money?

The temptation, indeed the political compulsion, to do so would be enormous. An arms race of compassion, such as we are witnessing now, will be on between those governments, with one fearing to be outdone by another and to look poor in the eyes of the electorate. Meanwhile, reckless spending policies will pile up an unsustainable mountain of debt, culminating in a generation of young people who don’t know what it is to be able to find a good job.

When this crisis is over, responsible governments should do everything to ensure a true return to normal. If they fail, future historians may view the general prosperity and freedom we’ve taken for granted in recent decades as an aberration


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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