A fortnight after its delivery, Joe Hockey’s ‘dull’ budget is causing unexpected consternation within the LNP, with sources close to the leadership saying questions have been raised over George Brandis’ future after the Arts Minister and Attorney-General was forced to admit a serious oversight by his department had mistakenly left the Australia Council with some discretionary resources to fund small, independent arts companies and projects.
The Budget stripped $104.7 million from the Australia Council and redirected it to the new National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA) to be run from within the Ministry for the Arts. While many in the arts community see the move as punishment by a Minister vocally critical of artists having political opinions, and have raised concerns about the possibility for interference and manipulation afforded by the new funding arrangement, Senator Brandis declared innocently that the idea never even occurred to him.
“I shall exercise the same hands-off approach to the NPEA that I have demonstrated towards refugees, Muslims, journalists, and Aboriginal people in my role as Attorney-General,” said Senator Brandis. “I will not have any direct involvement in decisions about disbursement of the available funds. That will be entirely left to staff administering the scheme, all of whom I am more than confident know what’s good for them.”
According to political analysts, Brandis’ cut to the “annoyingly independent” independent arts funding body, combined with his work as Attorney-General, had been seen as a strong demonstration that he was able to be ruthlessly controlling, vindictive, and petty-minded across a range of policy areas – traits widely held to be vital for any politician with leadership aspirations.
However, an in-depth budget report prepared for the Australian Financial Review by a work experience student has revealed that the Australia Council was left with $185 million, some of which was not already allocated and would be able to be distributed at the Council’s discretion under its own processes.
Although Senator Brandis immediately transferred the overlooked funds to a hastily established new body – the Biannual Australian Second Tier Arts Review Directorate – and followed Ministerial protocol by laying complete blame for the incident on anonymous staff and advisors, the error is believed to have potentially damaged his political career.
“He’s not in Peter Reith territory by any means,” said Speaker of the House, and undercover Opus Dei enforcer, Bronwyn Bishop, “but he is going to have to put in some solid knife-work to come back from this. Still, we managed to keep Tony Abbott’s career afloat and get him into the Prime Minister’s office, so anything is possible in politics if you’re willing to kick the right people.”