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MYEFO budget update: Culture shock as Canberra’s institutions take Hollywood hit

The National Library of , having recorded a $10 million deficit in the last financial year, will have to trim $1.5 million from each year’s funding. Photo: Katherine Griffiths More public service newsCanberra cops MYEFO capital punishment
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Some of Canberra’s cash-strapped cultural institutions are scrambling to cope after being hit with a 3 per cent “efficiency dividend” cut to their budgets this week by the federal government.

Most of the money saved will then go to Hollywood studios to help them film blockbusters in Sydney.

The National Museum will now have to find an estimated $1.2 million in “efficiencies” each year to satisfy the dividend demand, unveiled in Tuesday’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.

The National Library is facing even tougher times.

After recording a $10 million deficit in the last financial year, the library will have to trim $1.5 million from each year, based on the $50 million in government funding it received from the Commonwealth in 2014-15.

The National Portrait Gallery’s director Angus Trumble told The Canberra Times of the “considerable” task of finding $173,000 in savings from his much smaller budget, just to satisfy the dividend until the end of the present financial year.

Mr Trumble will then have to come up with savings of $400,000 a year for the next three years for his institution’s contribution to $52 million in savings from the arts portfolio.

About $47 million of that will be re-directed to US-based studios to help finance the filming of big-budget blockbusters, Thor and Alien sequels, in Sydney, the MYEFO papers reveal.

None of the institutions were able to say on Wednesday how many jobs were now at risk because of the cuts, but ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the increased efficiency dividends would hurt Canberra by inflicting damage on the cornerstones of the city’s tourism trade.

In total, $36.8 million will be saved by imposing the 3 per cent efficiency dividend on “cultural and collecting entities within the arts portfolio”.

Mr Trumble said it would be tough for the Portrait Gallery to find the savings.

“For an organisation as small as ours that’s a significant challenge,” he said.

“We had some warning several months that they [the cuts] were in the pipeline, but just what they were exactly obviously didn’t make itself apparent until about two weeks ago.

“We’re a pretty lean and efficient organisation and we have been for a long time.

“We’re obviously conscious that the impact on our much larger neighbours and siblings is greater than it is for us.”

Mr Trumble was yet to meet with the gallery’s board to determine where the savings would come from, but he said every effort would be made to minimise the impact on the gallery’s programs and its 60 full-time and casual staff.

“The economic circumstances the country finds itself in means this is hardly surprising, we just have to get on and deal with it,” he said.

The National Gallery was also scrambling to find a way to cope with the reduced funding.

Director Gerard Vaughan said the gallery’s council and management were “deeply concerned” after “many years of cuts” to all arts agencies.

“Any reduction in funding now has serious consequences,” he said.

National Museum director Mathew Trinca was coy about the impact on his institution, which has ended each of the past three financial years between $1.2 million and $1.7 million in the red.

“We’ve been on a long journey about making our business efficient and productive and we will continue that and play our part in achieving the savings our government is asking of us at this time,” Dr Trinca said.

But Mr Barr said the Turnbull government had found “new ways to hurt Canberra”.

“The national institutions of Canberra are a vital part of what makes Canberra the nation’s capital. They are a cornerstone of our tourism attraction to interstate and international travellers,” he said.

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