Mathew Kenneally As Arts Minister For A Day


The Arts Ministry was never much of a Ministry. There aren’t many idealists in young Labor or Liberals hoping one day to take a hold of the $653 million portfolio. The defence budget by contrast will be $31.9 billion in 2015-16. That’s a lot of submarines.

Worse still, traditionally the Australia Council, a body independent of Government, distributes that $653 million. Not only is the budget measly, you don’t get to decide where it goes!

Our newest Arts Minister George Brandis decided he was not going to take it! Brandis has taken $104.7 million out of the Australia Council and put it in his own new program for excellence. The Minister will administer the Program. In fact Senator Brandis has already overseen discrete grants to the Australian Ballet School, Melba recordings, and the Australian World Orchestra.

Ben Eltham has written that “The [Minister’s] agenda is transparent: money will be taken from the Australia Council and distributed to the Minister’s favourite arts organisations”.

The way Brandis is doing Arts Minister sounds a lot more fun. Find stuff you like, fund stuff, go to that stuff and attend drinks backstage. Frankly, it’s my dream job. It made me wonder, if I were Arts Minister how would I spend the millions?

Immediate priority would be to raise the funds needed to buy the rights to Star Wars (the current pathetic budget probably won’t cover it). Australia would re-make the prequels, un-remake the originals, and get to work on the sequels. I’ve spent hours in bars explaining the perfect plot Star Wars film to my friends. Saving Star Wars from Disney is an issue any decent nerd cannot turn away from.

I will use the inevitable profits from Star Wars to buy the rights to Star Trek. Good week-to-week science fiction will return to television. It will be on the ABC and it will be against the law to cancel it. Cabinet Members will be forced to make guest appearances on the show.

My Program for Excellence would obviously include a bucket-load of money for my beloved Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Comedians would be funnier if they got $5,000 just for participating. The profit motive is driving more and more comedians to tell jokes that “the people” find funny. This populism is killing comedy, or at least the comedy I like. A $5,000 grant will encourage more absurdist, punch-line light free performances, which comedy aficionados can enjoy in appreciative silence.

I’d de-fund the Opera, not because I don’t understand it but because it’s Italian and taxpayers money should not be going to foreign art. As a drunk on a train would say, if you’re doing art in Australia speak English, or mime, but not Italian! However, my program for excellence would not be anti-Italian. I would fund latte art, an artistic trend ignored by the major parties for years.

Even though I am only an imaginary Arts Minister I do not want Australia’s conservatives to feel left out of the imaginary Kenneally arts program for excellence.

There has been a great debate in our community about the “ugly-ness” of wind farms. I will fund a $20 million program to “yarn bomb” all of Australia’s wind turbines. Only Australian-made yarn permitted. It’ll be good work for the hipster community and a real leg-up for the wool industry.

To boost morale in this the 15th year of War on Terror I’d commission terror themed theatre. We could do a play about a Government Minister overcoming the fear of being asked a question by Zaky Mallah, forgetting about it and going to have a nice lunch. There would have to be a play about the last time Australia faced invasion: 2013, The Boating of Australia. Tony Abbott to be played by a Winston Churchill look-a-like.

Those are my humble ideas for excellence. How would you spend the Arts budget? Tell us below. Use your imagination. Don’t let rules, fairness, the idea of independence, or anything hold you back.

Ps: Please do let something hold you back, specifically the guidelines for commenting on the New Matilda website.

Mathew Kenneally is a stand up comedian who moonlights as a lawyer. He's a regular new Matilda columnist and is the co-author with Toby Halligan of the satirical blog Diary Leaks. He is also the co-founder of the topical comedy room Political Asylum.