Michael Lynch says budget cuts to ABC, arts is ‘cultural vandalism’

In Hong Kong … Ex-ABC board member Michael Lynch described budget cuts to the arts and the ABC ‘silly’.One of Australia’s most senior cultural figures has slammed the Federal Government’s move to axe the ABC’s Australia Network as one of the “dumbest” diplomatic decisions in decades and branded more than $100 million in cuts to the arts as an act of vengeful “cultural vandalism”.

Michael Lynch, the former head of the Australia Council, the Sydney Opera House and an ex-ABC board member, spoke out against the cuts in Hong Kong on Thursday, where he presented his annual update on the $2 billion West Kowloon Cultural District development, which he heads.

Treasurer Joe Hockey announced in Tuesday’s budget that the ABC would lose its $223 million in funding for the Australia Network, which broadcasts programs from multiple Australian TV networks 24 hours a day in 49 countries across Asia, the Pacific and the subcontinent.

He also revealed cuts of more than $28 million to the Australia Council over four years, $33.8 million from arts programs run by the Attorney-General’s department and $25.1 million from Screen Australia.

The bulk of the Gillard government’s Creative Australia policy, released last year and added $200 million to the arts, had been “taken back” by the Abbott Government, the Opposition has said.

Lynch said the axing of the Australia Network was a “silly” move, especially since it had recently received approval to broadcast into China, which would have major negative repercussions in terms of of Australia’s relationship with the region.

“I think it will be a devastating blow,” he said. “It’s one of the few areas where Australia has a constant profile on a 24-hour basis.

“The decision to shut it down when you’ve just been given access to China is one of the dumbest decisions I’ve seen in 30 years.”

Lynch said the cuts to the Australia Council this week and the rolling back of the Creative Australia policy were worse than cuts by the Howard Government in 1996 when he was in charge of the organisation, and would have a greater effect.

“It’s cultural vandalism. There is no justification for it. (The government) pretended to support the Australia Council, they never spoke against it (before the election)… They’re silly cuts without any real justification other than ideological, its dislike for the cultural sector.”

In response to the cuts to the Australia Council, it’s chief executive Tony Grabowski said they removed some of the funding increases handed to the Australia Council last year by the Gillard government, but left the national arts funding body with more money than in the previous financial year.

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