Uncovered: Tax Millions Wasted On Classical Music

3 April 2012 | 6:58 pm | Scott Fitzsimons

Contemporary music stakeholders are outraged that classical music label Melba received $750,000 to release three albums last year.

As reported in The Australian today, the highly regarded Melbourne-based Melba Recordings has been receiving financial grants of up to $5 million from the government since 2004.

The huge amount of money is seen by contemporary music lobbyists as evidence of a disparity of funding between the classical arts and the rest of the arts and music scene, especially given the smaller audience for the 'classics'.

According to the annual report, last year Melba released three albums. During the year they earned $750,000 in government funds and $275,980 in “patron income” while CD sales (including back catalogue) amounted to $18,000.

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Melba's current ambassadors include the likes of Baz Luhrmann, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Sir James Wolfensohn and Sir Gustav Nossal.

Today, in an email leaked to The Australian, Musica Viva's artistic director Carl Vine claims that Melba had managed to exclude itself from the peer-review process of Government funding.

He cited labels like ABC Classics, which released 23 records last year, and independent labels like Tall Poppies and Move who dsitribute up to ten releases a year without – or with little – funding.

Outside of the classical realm, contemporary music stakeholders are shocked at the amount of money offered to the classical genre. Today music lobby group SLAM [Save Live Australia's Music] said they were “outraged” in a statement.

“We are outraged that this amount of funding should be provided to a single organisation outside of the peer review process,” they wrote. “The sheer size of the initial grant provided to Melba Recordings is equal to the entire budget of the music board of the Australia Council.

“We are deeply concerned about how this out-of-round funding came about and call on the Australian Government to do a full investigation into the Australia Council and the role of all the Federal Arts Ministers since 2004.”

They added, “At a time when technology is threatening the livelihood of musicians and election promises to the contemporary music sector remain undelivered, we call on the Australian Government to redirect this funding to urgent contemporary music programs and support.”

An email, currently signed by 111 signatures when Your Daily SPA saw it, will be sent to Federal Arts Minister Simon Crean's office.

Your Daily SPA contacted Melba for comment today, but CEO Maria Vandamme was unable to comment in time for deadline. When asking for a media contact, the receptionist assured us that they were a “very small organisation”.

Vandamme told The Australian that Melba had “been denied the possibility of peer assessment because there is no program at the Australia Council to support our work.”

In 2004, when Melba first received the funding ArtsHub ran an article claiming that not only had Vandamme bypassed the Australia Council, but with the aid of “very influential friends” went above the Arts Minister to then-Treasurer Peter Costello.

Federal Minister Crean declined to comment to Your Daily SPA today and is believed to be reviewing Government funding for the promised National Cultural Policy, for which submissions closed last October.