Federal cuts to arts training boards hit hard

07 June 2002, Australia

State and territory arts training boards across the nation have had their budgets cut by 40% in the 2002/2003 Federal Budget, leading to some being forced to close up shop and others wondering how they will continue to provide services. The national network of Industry Training Advisory Bodies (ITABs) – one in each state and territory, as well as the national CREATE – provides independent advice to both government and industry on training priorities and needs, implements nationally consistent training packages and undertakes relevant research. Such a substantial cut to income, says Arts Training Recreation Victoria’s (ARTV) Executive Officer Robyn Jackson, cannot but have negative consequences: ‘It will effectively stop the work of the last ten years in getting an industry led system of training in Australia, with consistency and portability of qualifications across the nation. Without ITABs like ARTV, the voice of the arts and recreation industries will not be heard.’ The boards’ importance, says Jackson, lies in the fact that they are independent, representative of both employers and employees, and offer practical and relevant advice on arts training needs. Industry groups such as the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry – the Federal Government’s preferred model for this kind of reporting (and the place to which the ITAB funding will shift) – just cannot provide the same level of advice, she affirms, particularly to the arts, which is a sector such organisations do not truly understand. For its part, ARTV is looking to the Victorian Government, a supporter and co-funder of its work to date, to ‘step into the breach’, Jackson admits. A coincidentally timed statewide review of all ITABs has brought its deliberations forward in view of the federal funding cut, and is now due to deliver an issues paper late next week. ‘We’re waiting on some indication from this review to assist our forward planning, but we also need the local industry to indicate to the state government that it is important that such training advice bodies survive and maintain their focus,’ Jackson comments, as she prepares to lobby hard for her organisation’s future. Meanwhile, across the border, the fate of SA Recreation and Arts Training is sealed, according to its Executive Officer, Ruth Smiles. The organisation will close on 30 June after 11 years of service (four as Arts Training SA), and redundancies are currently being offered to staff. Smiles herself intends to maintain her interest in the area, although knowing that this will most likely be in a volunteer capacity. The closure will mean that there will be no statewide arts-dedicated training advice body in South Australia. ‘I’m very concerned that the small business nature of the arts will become lost under the new reporting mechanisms,’ admits Smiles, ‘There are lots of small organisations and volunteers in the arts, and it will be very difficult for their voices to be heard… I believe that the benefits of our training packages are becoming more focused and strongly felt now, and I wonder what will happen without us.’ A release from Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, Dr Brendan Nelson, announcing the shift in funding from the Australian National Training Authority (ANTA) to industry groups, offers ‘streamlined’ communications as the major reason for the change: ‘Roles [for the some 140 ITABs spanning all industries] are often unclear and many bodies are competing for government attention… I will be looking to develop streamlined consultative arrangements for the Commonwealth to hear the views of industry. It is a matter for the states and territories to decide if they wish to continue their own ITAB arrangements.’ Although Jackson admits she cannot speak for other sector ITABs, the arts bodies, to her knowledge, worked well with their national counterpart, CREATE, to send information appropriately to government. ‘We service 12 sectors – eight in the arts and four in sport and recreation – and we struggle with what funds we have now,’ she concludes, ‘I’m certainly prepared to take any advice on areas in which we could improve, but we cannot continue to offer services at the current level without a restitution of support.’ Anyone wishing to assist with lobbying, should contact the arts training body in their state or territory.