Friday, 7 October 2016

Have you ever been to a movie?

Senator James Paterson wants Blue Poles sold, and all funding of arts and sport stopped, to help pay off our national debt.

The estimated $350 million the painting might gather would represent about 0.07% of our $470 billion gross national debt.

Paterson claims that we "fund $7 billion a year into the arts". He's wrong. Federal spending on the arts this financial year is $639 million. Not even close.

The budget he's referring to is the culture budget and includes everything from arts, the ABC, libraries, museums, and even zoos. I imagine he's not actually suggesting we wipe all those things away. Or does the Senator genuinely believe that a society with a little less debt is better than one with libraries, a national broadcaster and working artists? Has he ever been to a movie?

Does the Senator also realise that the $7 billion government investment in culture makes a $50 billion economic impact? Does the Senator mean that we should ignore this return?

Does the Senator understand the reality of "subsidy"? Very few areas of our society are not subsidised.

Mining gets about $4 billion a year in government subsidy. The big four banks – among the world’s most profitable – are subsidised, through various provisions, by almost $6 billion a year. Education, agriculture, health and manufacturing are all heavily subsidised. Maybe that's as it should be.

Whatever view you take on government support of these sectors, it's fair to say that the arts sector is one of the nation’s least subsidised.

It's telling that when the Senator refers to Blue Poles, he talk of now being a good time "to cash in on our investment". Is that the language of someone who understands the place of arts in a society? It appears that Blue Poles is only worth something when it's sold.

I'm reminded of Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic: knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.