Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday, December 5, that the government’s Department of Communications and the Arts will be eliminated, reports SBS News. The move is part of a major federal services restructuring, which will scale back the overall number of federal departments from eighteen to fourteen. Cultural policy development and grants management will soon be incorporated under the new Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Communications.
“Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision-making and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people,” Morrison said of the decision. “The new structure will drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges.” He also said that “in [the] area of communications, [we’ll get] a strong synergy between what’s happening in communications policies, communications, infrastructure delivery and regional Australia,” but did not elaborate on how axing the department would impact the arts.
Mike Mrdak, the head of the department since 2017 and a veteran public administrator, will be one of five federal secretaries to lose his job. “I was told of the government’s decision to abolish the department late yesterday afternoon,” Mrdak wrote in a memo. “We were not permitted any opportunity to provide advice on the machinery of government changes, nor were our views ever sought on any proposal to abolish the department or to changes to our structure and operations.”
Esther Anatolitis, the executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts, told SBS News: “Someone has made the choice to devalue a $111.7 billion [a year] industry. We would expect government at the highest level to reflect what makes us who we are and where we see our future as Australians. That makes this step of removing the name of the arts ministry a massive backwards step culturally for Australia.”
Paul Murphy, the chief executive of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said, “Artists and arts organizations 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.”