The arts sector is celebrating the removal of the arts portfolio from Attorney-General George Brandis in the aftermath of sustained protests over the Brandis-led cuts to the Australia Council for the Arts.
An open letter, signed by a collective of dozens of writers including renowned musician and author Nick Cave, had demanded new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sack Brandis as arts minister and reverse arts funding cuts.
In Turnbull's cabinet shake-up following his replacement of Tony Abbott as prime minister, Senator Fifield was appointed arts and communications minister.
Performing Artshub said the alliance Free the Arts, which has campaigned against the cuts and championed the interests of the small-to-medium arts sector, described the axing of Brandis as a “clear victory” for the industry.
“But there is still a lot of work to do,” Free the Arts spokesperson Sarah Moynihan said in a statement. “The change of minister provides the government with the opportunity to fix the mess created by his predecessor before more damage is done ...
“Senator Fifield needs to put an immediate halt to the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) and the Book Council and go back and consult with sector leaders.
“There is an opportunity for the government to restore confidence and respect in the Australia Council and its role as Australia’s arts funding and advisory body and enable Council to get back to implementing its strategic plan.”
Performing Artshub said Fifield's appointment was “met with widespread jubiliation”, but it was unclear how Fifield would respond to the sector's concerns.
In a joint statement by the co-convenors of ArtsPeak (the coalition of peak national arts organisations), Nicole Beyer and Tamara Winifkoff said they are pleased the arts portfolio has been taken from Brandis as he did not understand or value the sector he was supposed to advocate for.
“The arts sector is confident that Mitch Fifield will quickly realise that the government has a unique chance to cut its losses, and recall the NPEA and return the funds to the Australia Council,” they said.
“It’s not too late — the NPEA has not officially opened — but Minister Fifield does need to take action urgently, ahead of the critical funding decisions the Australia Council is soon to make about the future of hundreds of small-to-medium arts organisations.
“If this becomes Minister Fifield’s first task as arts minister, it would be a significant commitment to a new way of dealing with the arts sector across Australia.”