Staff cuts to National Gallery ‘reckless and hurtful’, says Barr

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday June 24, 2020

National Galley, Canberra. Adobe

The National Gallery of Australia will slash more than 12% of staff this year amid rising financial pressure.

The Community and Public Sector Union on Tuesday said the decision was due to a $3.6 million funding shortfall, and flagged the possibility of further cuts following a three-week voluntary redundancy process.

Rising utility and maintenance costs, falling interest rates, the ongoing efficiency dividend, and now the pandemic have all contributed to the NGA’s money troubles. It must find $6.8 million in savings over the next five years in order to be sustainable, according to the CPSU.

“Travel restrictions and a downturn in tourism have hit the NGA, with 80% of the NGA’s audience coming from outside Canberra. Whilst the gallery remains open, serious measures to ensure public and staff safety mean that access is restricted and the future exhibitions uncertain,” it said.

ACT chief minister Andrew Barr also weighed in on the impacts of the coronavirus, noting that the territory’s tourism industry contributes more than $2.5b a year to the local economy and employs tens of thousands of Canberrans.

“Our tourism industry has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, as well as the summer bushfires. Further news of cuts to the National Gallery is another blow to many local businesses that benefit from tourists that the gallery attracts to Canberra,” he said.

He argued that if the federal government can spend $500 million on redeveloping the War Memorial, then there shouldn’t be job losses in other institutions, and described the cuts as “reckless” and “disappointing”.

“At a time when our country is hurting, continuing to enforce efficiency dividends on our National Institutions is reckless and hurtful to many families,” he said.

“Right now, jobs are the priority. Every jurisdiction is trying to get their economies back on their feet.”

READ MORE: Are the arts worth supporting during a crisis?

National cultural and collecting institutions have faced roughly $40 million in cuts since 2014, with the NGA having to slash 10% of its staff four years ago. Roughly 30 NGA jobs are expected to be lost this year.

The ACT government has provided advice to the commonwealth on ways that the institutions could raise more funds and avoid jobs losses, such as allowing the entities to keep parking revenue.

CPSU deputy national secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch has urged the federal government to exempt Australia’s cultural institutions from the “razor gang” and the ongoing efficiency dividend.

“Over the last decade, cultural institutions have been starved of funding by this federal government. There is no fat for the gallery to cut, these staff cuts are only cutting into bone,” she said.

Labor’s Katy Gallagher and Tony Burke said the news was “another sign” that further cuts to the public sector could be coming, noting that over the past six years, almost 9000 Australian Public Service jobs from Canberra — and 18,000 across the country — have been slashed. The Australian Tax Office announced it would close its Geelong office just last month.

They called on the prime minister to guarantee that there will be no further job losses across the APS.

READ MORE: CPSU, Labor slam ATO office closure risking more than 100 jobs

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