Bill Shorten has promised Labor will boost arts funding by $160 million if elected, describing the cash injection as an investment rather than a cost. The Opposition Leader took to the stage at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne on Saturday to unveil the party’s policy.

He promised to dump the Coalition’s controversial Catalyst arts funding program, handing back control of funding decisions, as well as any remaining money, to the independent Australia Council, to which he said Labor would provide $20 million a year in new funding over four years from 2017.

He said his government would deliver the ABC an extra $60 million to increase local drama production.

School music programs, live music and the Regional Arts Fund would also benefit from increased funding if Labor forms government.

The arts community has been critical of the Catalyst program and its predecessor, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NEPA).

A total of $105 million, about 15 per cent of the Australia Council’s budget, was diverted to NEPA when it was established.

Arts funding decisions were placed in the hands of then-arts minister George Brandis, a move which saw him accused of politicising arts funding.

There were also concerns emerging artists could be disadvantaged.

NEPA was replaced by Catalyst in November last year, but the scheme was dismissed as being little different.

Of the $105 million diverted from the Australia Council when NEPA was formed, $32 million was returned when Catalyst was created.