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On a stormy Monday morning in August, the Australia Council released its strategic plan for 2015–19 at the Sydney Opera House. Heavy, angled rain battered the panorama of bridge and harbour visible through the wall of windows as everyone in the northern foyer of the Opera House stayed on message: Australia is “a culturally ambitious nation”.

The words “funding cuts” fell from no one’s lips. George Brandis, the attorney­general and minister for the arts, told the crowd he wants to support more “creative genius” out­ side the cities, in regional centres. The council reduced 154 grant­ application categories to five; ushered in an “enhanced peer­review process” requiring a “stronger evidence base”; and promised somehow to boost investment in a “significant works initiative” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, all the while broadening the arts’ appeal for children and younger adults in some unexplained way.

Five Sydney and Melbourne theatres have been criticised for an absence of curatorial ideas in their 2015 seasons, failing to engage with contemporary Australian and world politics and for being “very cosy and white”.

Sydney Theatre Company and Melbourne Theatre Company tend to be “about big names” and “driven by star power”, says Lachlan Philpott, chair of the Australian Writers Guild playwrights committee and studio artist in residence at the Griffin Theatre Company. “It surprises me that there’s not one piece that makes reference to our current government,” says Philpott, examining the 2015 play seasons for STC, MTC, Belvoir, Griffin and Malthouse theatres.

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