Saturday, March 12, 2016

Breakfast with Michael Lynch CBE, AM.

Michael Lynch

Breakfast with Michael Lynch CBE, AM.   Currency House, at Museum of Contemporary Art, Quayside Room, 140 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney, Wednesday March 9, 2016.

Report by Frank McKone

Entitled “East West Home’s Best? A Reflection on Art and Politics”, Lynch’s speech began by recounting his recent four years’ experience as CEO of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Hong Kong.  Then he went on:

So, having got the ball rolling in West Kowloon, it was time to come home.  And, as our new leader says, what an exciting time to be an Australian in the great Age of Innovation!

We returned a week after the election of the great visionary Malcolm Turnbull who had wrested power from undoubtedly the worst PM since Billy McMahon; or at least since Kevin Rudd.  The atmosphere was palpably different, almost reminiscent of the halcyon days when Gough was elected.

The SMH commented in its editorial that “now he has a second chance at the top job, he is doing everything possible to reform the nation in his image.  He has a year to complete the makeover”.

But it’s still the Government led by our worst Prime Minister, and Malcolm must be judged by their actions, not by our hopes.  And I would like to be fair to Malcolm, as he is my local member and a very nice guy, who could make me feel proud to be an Australian at such an exciting time if my issues are addressed.

This doesn’t augur well for the PM, coming as it does from an AM (2001 – for services to arts administration, especially as General Manager of the Australia Council) and what’s more a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2008 – after, as CEO of London’s South Bank Centre, he rehabilitated Royal Festival Hall, opened by the Queen in 2007).

Apart from “hoped-for advances on Climate Change, Same Sex Marriage, Public Broadcasting” his emphasis was on funding for the Arts, beginning with the 10% cut under Richard Alston “in 1996 [when] the Howard government was elected.”

The worst though was “when, without warning and contrary to all the public commitments given by the Abbott government, the Australia Council had 40 million dollars taken without discussion and given to the then Minister George Brandis to create an alternative funding mechanism in Canberra under the Minister’s direct conrtrol and divorced from any advice from the Australia Council.”

What an astonishing way to run arts funding and arts policy! was Lynch’s reaction, but he goes on What has happened since is a disgrace to the present government....  Malcolm, you must stop this madness and restore funding to the Australia Council and you must do it in this next Budget before you go to the people this year.

But maybe even worse is his “concern over governance in our arts organisations and where it may lead us”:  The Captains of Industry seem to have done very well in taking over the governance role in most of the arts organisations I have encountered.  The Chairs and boards are now comprised of the truly great and the good, who have played a significant role in building private philanthropy as the most desired funding source...but it comes with a corresponding slide in corporate support for the arts and a perilous prospect of diminishing government support from both State and Federal sources, and also from local government.

The key point he notes about what this development means is: This is something we need to be very careful of as I’m sure it’s leading to very risk averse activity in many arts organisations.

For the full text, contact Martin Portus, Currency House, at