Two weeks ago, the Federal Government announced it will ditch the controversial arts fund Catalyst, following a major backlash from the arts community.

Catalyst, created by former arts minister George Brandis in Abbot-era 2015, essentially placed funds set aside for Australia Council and gave them back to the Ministry of the Arts. It didn’t take long for the fund to be dubbed a “slush fund” by the industry.

Senator Fifield has said he will return $80.2 million to Australia Council over the next four years. But what does that mean for the wider music community?

Head of Member Services Group at APRA AMCOS, Dean Ormston, chats to The Industry Observer.

What just happened with the Catalyst fund? 

To say the Catalyst fund was contentious would be an understatement! The fund was established by redirecting money from the Australia Council back to the Ministry of the Arts, with new criteria theoretically based on ‘excellence’. APRA AMCOS attempted to secure operational funding for Sounds Australia and the Live Music Office through Catalyst  – to no avail. Both initiatives are about investing in the future potential of the contemporary music industry, and as ‘services’ didn’t fit the Catalyst criteria. I think there’s been general applause from across the sector at the announcement that uncommitted funding from Catalyst is being returned to the Australia Council.

What does the government’s decision now mean for the wider music community?

The Australia Council was established as an independent agency to specifically support the creation, performance and promotion of new work, and provide multi-year funding to arts organisations and programs that service the arts sector. The cuts the Government made to Australia Council funding in order to set up the Catalyst fund essentially confused, complicated and diluted the funding landscape. It’s good that the Catalyst funds are back with the Australia Council – it’d be better if the funding pie was bigger!

Who wins, who loses?

We all win – [it means] better clarity around who is funding what!

What has APRA AMCOS’ role been in all this? And has the association worked in an alliance with other organisations?

There was a lot of emotion and reaction in response to Catalyst, and rightly so. It had the potential to be very divisive within the wider arts community. There were many voices sending clear messages to Canberra that there were problems with Catalyst. Our focus was very specifically on advocating the need for government investment in the contemporary music industry, and the enormous potential of government and industry co-investment. Catalyst wasn’t about developing future potential. Its remit was narrow and the available funding limited. Government got a very clear message from the collective arts community that Catalyst was flawed.

What happens next… and what would APRA AMCOS like to see happen next?

We want to see an evolution in how the contemporary music industry is supported by government. In addition to the support provided to artists through grants we’re advocating for a greater level of investment in both the domestic and export potential of the industry. The state governments of Victoria and South Australia (with NSW following suit) have realised that there is an underlying creative industry supporting songwriters, composers and artists, and you need to invest in the industry in order to effect real change.

Last year we established the Parliamentary Friends of Australian Music (PFOAM) in conjunction with the Australian Hotels Association and supported by ARIA, PPCA. This week we held our second PFOAM event at Parliament House Canberra, with over 300 MPs, Senators and staffers turning up to hear Montaigne, Diesel, Megan Washington, Kav Temperley, Ross Wilson and Daryl Braithwaite – the place went off!

The message? We’re an industry that every member of parliament should be proud of and there needs be a much greater investment in our industry, given the relevance and potential for portfolios including Trade, Tourism, Export, Innovation, Small Business and Education.