Screen budget 2020 – no relief for ABC, SBS and agencies

Similar amounts of cash to run the agencies while screen makers continue to agonise over the tax changes.

Despite the chaos of a delayed budget, an instant deficit and COVID-19, the underlying budget process remains stable. The baseline for funding is remarkably flat for the various government agencies. 

The ABC actually spent $1.157 billion in 2019-20, and has been offered $1.134 billion for the current year. SBS is down from  $415 million to $406 million, and that $9 million drop is important. However, SBS has its own revenue streams, so its projects have gone up.

Last year Screen Australia had $87.829 million from the government. This year it will get $89.829 million. Somewhere in here is the extra $2.1 million to deal with the internal costs of COVID-19.

The National Film and Sound Archive is up from $27.662 million to $28.379 million, while AFTRS does a bit better, from $30.356 million to $34.278 million. That may pay for going online. 

The real changes are in program funds. As announced last week, Screen Australia gets an extra $30 million to disburse over two years, while the Australian Children’s Television Fund has an extra $20 million, but they do not arrive until July 2021, so they are not counted in this budget in any way.

We can guess the projected future of agency funding because it occurs in the forward estimates, generally out for the next four years. This time round, those lines are empty, a small measure of the national uncertainty.

The one off payments to the sector can be found in the Payment Measures since the 2020 Economic and Fiscal Update, so they are not repurposed funds from elsewhere inside the agencies. AFTRS has its $2.3m to go remote, NFSA saw its digitisation program beefed with an extra $2.5m, the $32m over two years is genuine money for Screen Australia, as SBS gets around $2m each year over four years for enhanced language services.  

The ABC has nothing of the kind. It currently has an average of 4,030 staff  alongside SBS with 1,158. Screen Australia is kept trim with 97, while AFTRS has 145.

CSIRO, by the way, has an annual government budget of around $800m while it earns some $500m externally. This year it was given an extra $459 million to address the impact COVID-19 will have on our commercial activities. It has 5,351 staff while the Climate Change Authority has nine. 

The frustration

The government has an incentive to keep recurring budgets flat so they never seem to be cut and any extras can be special allocations which make the news. That is an acceptable compromise though purists say it increases government control. The downside is important: all these agencies are trying to run their systems through the epidemic although the amount of work has gone up. The pressure goes up relentlessly. 

The prime example of this is the ABC’s disaster reportage for which it did not get extra funds. 

Each flat budget is further depleted by inflation. And any wiggle room by which agencies experiment or change focus to new generations or develop new co-production deals etc etc is harder and harder to fund as the times evolve drastically around us. 

Our colleagues at Artshub have plunged into the wider cultural budget. 

    Read: Budget 20–21: What it means for the arts?

We covered the real implications of the budget last week.

Read: The Devil is in the detail on government changes. Some sulphur, some smiles.

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.