Don't cut Backbone Youth Arts funding

By Terri Butler MP

24 February 2020

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a) the importance of grassroots youth arts organisations, including Backbone, based in the electoral division of Griffith;

(b) that for thirty years Backbone has helped young people find purpose, develop skills and contribute to our nation's culture; and

(c) that despite Backbone's success, the Government has cut its funding, and the organisation now faces closure; and

(2) calls on the Government to urgently commit to restore funding to Backbone.

One of Queensland's only youth arts organisations, Backbone, has had its funding slashed by the federal government despite its success. Backbone is a much-loved youth arts organisation based on the south side in Brisbane, and for 30 years it's been helping people find purpose, develop skills and contribute to our nation's culture. Eighty per cent of the young people that go through Backbone's doors move into employment. It's an incredibly successful organisation in helping younger people find employment. But despite this success the Liberal-National government has slashed all the federal funding to Backbone and, as a result, the organisation for the past several weeks has been fighting for its survival. Backbone have relied upon federal arts funding, receiving $100,000 each year, but their recent application was rejected.

Sadly, under the Liberals and Nationals it's situation normal for Queenslanders to miss out on their fair share of federal arts funding. Queenslanders make up approximately 20 per cent of the nation's population, but we receive only around 13 per cent of the Australia Council arts funding and even less of the former communication and arts department grants. Only 2.82 per cent of those grants went to Queensland in 2018. The Morrison government should step up, cancel these cuts and fund this important community service. The Morrison government should not cost shift this service onto other spheres of government. But the Liberals and Nationals have rarely seen arts funding that they didn't want to cut. No wonder people were mortified when the government decided to get rid of the arts department and diminish the standing of arts in the Commonwealth government. I'm grateful to the shadow minister for the arts for standing up for small-to-medium organisations. The shadow minister has acknowledged that Backbone plays an important role in the local community and has provided a great service to local kids. I thank him for calling on the Morrison Liberal-National government to reverse their decision to cut Backbone's funding.

Backbone's Artistic Director and CEO, Katherine Quigley, has been an absolute champion for her organisation and its track record throughout this very trying time. She has told me that Backbone is one of the few remaining youth arts organisations of what was once a thriving sector in Queensland. It delivers vital employment, capacity building and training to young people and creates safe spaces for those who are experiencing difficult times. She says the organisation is a vital stepping stone and that it has been so for many artists and cultural leaders now working across Australia. She says:

What we do is preventative mental health, it is creating opportunities for kids to get busy, to be creative and to find likeminded peers to create extraordinary experiences for their communities.

In the six years I have worked at Backbone, I have seen a rapid increase in the number of young people who report debilitating mental health, but through participation in our programs that connect them to accepting and non-judgemental communities, we literally turn their life around.

Having a place to call home and feeling connection to a greater purpose and community literally saves lives and creates not just jobs, but lasting and successful careers.

Isn't that the truth? At a time when there is less community cohesion, it seems, than ever before—when there is so much disconnection, so much alienation and so much isolation amongst young people—people are crying out for opportunities to participate, and to be able to participate in culture, in something that's engaging and that's fascinating, brings people together. It brings them into the public square and gets them out of their homes and into a community setting. You can tell that from the success rate alone. The idea of 80 per cent of kids that go through this organisation's doors ending up in employment is reminiscent of Youth Connections. It's reminiscent of those great programs of the past through which people found ways, through following their own interests and their own fascinations, to become connected in the community. That then gives them confidence, it gives them connection and it gives them capacity. That's what this organisation does.

That's why I call on the Morrison Liberal-National government to reverse these cuts and fund Backbone in full, not year to year but on an ongoing basis. This is an organisation that contributes to the arts, that is Queensland based and that has a track record of success. It shouldn't have to be writing grant applications every year just to make sure its very limited operations are able to continue. I call on the government to give Queensland its fair share of arts funding, at both the elite and the grassroots levels, and I call on the government to recognise that Queensland's young people desperately need opportunities like those that this organisation provides.