Small & Medium Arts & Culture

(6pm, Lord Mayors Reception Room, Sydney Town Hall)

This is a critical time for both the arts and local government. Both are under serious threat from conservative governments.

Around $105 million has been slashed from the Australia Councils budgets over the next four years and transferred to the new nebulous National Program for Excellence in the Arts - NPEA. In response, the Australia Council has cancelled its next two grants rounds and plans to offer six year funding. This will have the biggest impact on small to medium arts companies and individual artists. Companies that applied for six year funding will have to apply again for a new four year funding program.

The Australia Council also has to suffer an efficiency dividend of $7.2 million, with this cut falling disproportionately on the small to medium arts sector.

The City has responded. We've made a submission on the draft NPEA guidelines and we've made another submission to the Senate Inquiry into arts funding. Both these submissions stress the importance of the small and medium sector to Australia's cultural life.

We know that the Federal Government's changes will increase pressure on the City's own grants and sponsorship programs. City staff are engaged in discussions with their colleagues at the state and federal level to gain a fuller understanding of the extent of this impact.

In the meantime, the City is getting on with its work to support the cultural life of the City. We're implementing our Creative City Policy and our Live Music and Performance Action Plan, and we already have runs on the board.

We've launched Art Money, a scheme that provides interest-free loans for people to purchase artworks from City galleries.

We're supporting a pilot program to help venues who want to program live music but don't know how.

We've negotiated the inclusion of new $25 million five storey cultural hub which will provide rehearsal and studio space for artists, performers and other creatives in the Greenland residential tower being built in Bathurst Street.

And we're undertaking detailed work to look at changes to our processes and regulatory framework to make it easier to establish new creative spaces. As part of this work we've funded Sydney Fringe to undertake a pilot pop-up theatres project in Erskineville and Newtown.

All this important work is now under threat from the State Government's Fit for the Future process.

While the idea of encouraging councils to be "fit for the future" sounds benign, the motivation behind it presents a real threat to our democratically elected, progressive, non-corrupt Independent team's work here at the City, including our work supporting culture and the arts.

In recent months, the Government, taking instruction from the Daily Telegraph, has ramped up its rhetoric about council amalgamations. It's becoming increasingly clear, that despite widespread community opposition, this Government will force councils to amalgamate.

Councils had to show how they would be 'Fit for the Future' by the end of June. In our area the starting point for being fit was becoming part of a 'mega-council' that would also include Botany Bay, Randwick, Sydney, Waverley and Woollahra. This would be a local government area with a population of over 500,000 (the size of the state of Tasmania).

The new council would have no increased responsibility or authority for areas such as transport, housing or planning.

There's no evidence forthcoming from the government that larger councils would result in better management and lower costs. Randwick Council did do the research with the City's support and found that an amalgamation would save $146 million over ten years - that's around 54 cents per resident per week!

An amalgamation would severely cost the City through ongoing disruption over several years - based on our experience of the amalgamation of the City and South Sydney in 2004.

The impact of another City amalgamation at this time would put hundreds of millions of private investment at risk and impact negatively on Sydney's future prosperity and the NSW economy. A decline in construction activity of just one per cent over the next decade due to disruption or delays would have a negative economic impact in excess of $300 million.

That would be bad news for everyone, including the arts and cultural sector, which is increasingly being forced to rely on private sector support.

Fortunately, the City can demonstrate that it is "fit for the future" on its current boundaries across all measures. Leading independent financial auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers say that we are a "benchmark against which other councils could be compared" and the NSW Government's own Treasury Corporation (T-Corp) rate our finances as "strong" with a "positive outlook" - the only NSW council to receive this rating.

We're supported in our stance by a statistically sound, random survey carried out by an independent company on behalf of the City found overwhelming opposition to a larger City of Sydney council area.

Over 80 per cent of residents and over 70 per cent of businesses want the City's boundaries to stay the same.

And why wouldn't they?

Since 2004, with Independent, community led leadership the City has been responsive, accountable, transparent, progressive, corruption free and importantly we take action rather than just talk.

In 2007, we undertook the largest ever community consultation in the City's history. The result was Sustainable Sydney 2030 - a comprehensive, visionary plan that guides every aspect of our work.

Sustainable Sydney 2030 recognises that exceptional liveability is the driver for prosperity and economic growth for global cities - the places where people want to live are the places where they want to work and to set up business.

It sets clear strategies to cut carbon emissions by 70% by 2030, increase transport options, build stronger communities, foster a diverse cultural life and make the city an attractive place to live, work, study in and do business.

We followed Sustainable Sydney 2030 with comprehensive consultation and research to develop OPEN Sydney, our strategy to encourage a vibrant, diverse, safe nightlife and our Creative City Policy.

While other governments are selling assets and cutting back on services, we responsibly plan for the future, and in the last eleven years, the Independent team has delivered debt-free budgets and billion dollar capital works programs.

We have invested in property and responsibly managed our finances so we can fund new infrastructure and services, including the refurbishment of the Baptist Tabernacle as the new state of the art Eternity Playhouse, Glebe Town Hall and Paddington Reservoir Gardens.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens is an ideal space for cultural activities and Glebe Town Hall has rooms ideally suited for acoustic live music.

In the past decade, we approved development worth $24 billion and we've been internationally recognised and awarded for our focus on design excellence and sustainability - working with private developers and on our own projects.

Our vision is a city with beautifully designed, sustainable buildings and public spaces to encourage innovation, inspiration and pride.

We've upgraded 57 unused laneways with a network of plazas where shops and bars thrive, fostered new business sectors leading to 90 small bars, 20 food trucks and 24,000 car share members and we've encouraged night time cultural and community activities in our libraries.

We host and support major cultural festivals and events such as Sydney Festival, New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year, Sydney Film Festival, Sydney Writer's Festival and Mardi Gras.

And we continue to invest more than $34M every year in the entertainment and cultural life of our city.

All of this is now under threat.

In October the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal - IPART - will deliver its verdict on Fit for the Future proposals of all NSW Councils to the State Government.

IPART's report will remain secret until the state government chooses to release it - if it ever does.

No one knows what will happen next - not even the State Government's own top local government bureaucrat.

What we do know is there is a very small group of people pushing for mega council amalgamations - they are property developers, big business and the Daily Telegraph.

This is the broadly the same group that thinks giving two votes to businesses is a good idea.

The aim is to install people in Town Hall who will serve their interests, rather than the interests of the City's residents and visitors. People who couldn't care less for the City's fine grain, its carefully balanced cultural ecology, people who will deliver a future for our city shaped by vested interests, rabid right wing media and conservative politics.

We want to continue city government of the people, by the people for their benefit.

That's what good government is about!

The Liberal Government ignored the community and forced me out of State Parliament; they ignored the community and allowed businesses two votes in City of Sydney elections. Don't let them ignore us this time.

Let's fight to keep our city strong, independent and community led.