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An independent evaluation has found that Australia’s six symphony orchestras have made a smooth transition to become fully independent companies following their divestment from the ABC.

At the request of the Australian Government, the Australia Council for the Arts commissioned the independent consulting firm LECG to evaluate the $25.4 million Orchestras Review 2005 funding package.

The evaluation concluded that since divestment from the ABC to independent company status the orchestras have made great strides artistically and financially in developing distinctive cultural identities and business models, although their financial outlook remains challenging, as is the case with many Australian performing arts companies.

Australia Council executive director of arts organisations Tony Grybowski said that the report found that the 2005 reforms relieved the immediate financial pressures that had been faced by a number of the orchestras.

‘Australia’s symphony orchestras are in better financial shape now than they were three years ago, with the net assets of the sector more than doubling over this time,’ he said.

‘The injection of extra funding through the Orchestras review 2005 helped to improve artistic standards, maintain orchestra sizes and extinguish a number of the orchestras’ debts.

‘A note of warning in the report is the sensitivity of the orchestral sector to any changes in their trading conditions. The nature of the sector, based on the cost of employing a sufficient number of orchestral players required to perform a wide ranging orchestral repertoire, and low asset bases, make them vulnerable to any loss of income. Like other businesses, the orchestras face financial challenges over the coming years.

‘However the report underlines the fact that sound business practices are the orchestras’ best defence should economic conditions continue to deteriorate,’ Mr Grybowski said.

Government funding for the orchestras will be considered through the third major performing arts funding model review, to be completed in mid-2009 for consideration in governments’ 2010/11 budgets.

The 2005 Orchestras Review reforms were undertaken to make Australia’s six symphony orchestras more financially stable and sustainable. The chief reforms were divestment from the ABC and establishment as independent companies, and a range of workplace changes.

The 2005 Orchestras Review applied to the symphony orchestras in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania.

Read the overview of the evaluation by Mr Peter Grant

Download the evaluation summary report by LECG

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