Australia’s arts industry has welcomed the federal government’s $300m national cultural policy Revive, which was launched on Monday by the prime minister, Anthony Albanese.
Albanese described it as a comprehensive and inclusive way to enhance the lives of all Australians, “from the gallery, to the mosh pit, to your favourite reading chair”. While most of the major policies were released over the weekend, the official launch, held at Melbourne live music venue the Esplanade, revealed a few more details, such as the establishment of a national poet laureate – a position Australia has not had since the convict era – and the commitment to deliver a state of culture report every three years, similar to the government-issued state of the environment report.
Speaking alongside Albanese, the arts minister, Tony Burke, revealed plans to double activity in regional arts and culture, through an increase to the regional arts fund of $8.5m, and to revive the digital games scheme with tax incentives and $12m in funding to make Australia more competitive in the $250bn global digital games market. The National Gallery of Australia’s vast collection will be hauled out of storage and loaned out to regional galleries and museums, supported by $11m in funding.
Among the major policies revealed on Sunday was the establishment of Creative Australia, a body that will supersede the Australia Council as the country’s prime cultural funding and advisory body, with $200m funding over four years.
“The Brandis cuts will be returned in full,” Burke said, referring to $104m the Australia Council lost in 2014 when George Brandis was arts minister. His successor, Mitch Fifield, subsequently returned about $32m.
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Contemporary music and literature will get dedicated bodies to fund and support development of artists and writers, through Music Australia and Writers Australia, and a newly formed Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces will act as a watchdog on issues of artists’ pay, workplace safety and welfare, because, as Albanese said, “arts jobs are real jobs.”
The chief executive of live arts and entertainment peak body Live Performance Australia, Evelyn Richardson, welcomed the $69.4m over four years that would establish Music Australia; and the $19m over three years, and $4.5m a year ongoing, to fund the development of original Australian works of scale. She called the full package the “kickstart our industry has been looking for”.
‘A good first step’ for First Nations arts and culture
The national cultural policy is based on five interconnecting pillars, led by “First Nations first”. The government has pledged to implement the Uluru statement from the heart in full and introduce legislation to protect First Nations knowledge and cultural expressions, with a particular brief on cracking down on fake art that plagues the $250m-a-year Australian Indigenous art market.
A First Nations-led board will advise on investment in the creation of large-scale First Nations works; support the rollout of First Nations languages and cultural knowledge across 60 primary schools; and develop a national action plan on the preservation of First Nations languages, as part of the Unesco international decade of indigenous languages from 2022 to 2023.
Funded First Nations policies include:
$80m towards a national Aboriginal art gallery in Alice Springs.
$50m in partnership with the Western Australian government to establish an Aboriginal cultural centre.
$5m to upgrade NAISDA Dance college’s Kariong campus.
$11m to fund a First Nations language policy in partnership with state and territory governments.
Noonuccal Ngugi man Wesley Enoch, a leading artistic director and playwright, said after 10 years of federal government neglect, Revive was an encouraging start.
“In terms of the First Nations work, there’s a lot of work still to happen,” Enoch said.
“The dollars are great, and I think [developing] the infrastructure will be fun, but ultimately what we need to do is get to the point where arts and culture are intrinsic to a First Nations way of life and they are embraced holistically. And I think we’re on that on that road … it’s a good first step.”
Literature a winner
Under the Australia Council, funding to Australian writers has declined by 40% in the past decade, receiving just $5m in annual support, according to a recent report.
The bespoke body to be established under the Creative Australia fund will oversee the rollout of $12.9m to extend lending rights to writers for audio and ebook loan. It will be Creative Australia, not the prime minister’s office, who chooses the poet laureate and the winners of the prime minister’s literary awards – a prize for which the judging panel has been subject to recent criticism over its lack of diversity.
The chief executive of the Australian Society of Authors, Olivia Lanchester, said it was encouraging to see a government elevate the place of literature in Australian culture with sector-specific priorities and long-term funding under specialist direction.
“It shows the government has listened to the writing community, our calls for a national strategic approach, increased investment and better support for authors and illustrators,” she said.
“It is gratifying to see writers recognised as fundamentally important in cultural policy. They have always been at the heart of our national culture but haven’t featured in government policy for a very long time.”
‘Distinctly thin’ with ‘many questions unanswered’: opposition
While the Australian screen industry has welcomed the Revive commitment to establish a quota for expenditure on Australian content by multinational streaming platforms such as Netflix and Stan, the opposition has criticised the policy as “rushed” with “many questions unanswered”.
A joint statement issued by the Liberal shadow arts and communications ministers, Paul Fletcher and Senator Sarah Henderson, said Labor’s plan to impose content quotas was “an obvious attempt to add some substance to its distinctly thin national cultural policy”.
The statement is based on the assumption that the quota to be legislated by the end of the year will be 20%, which Burke’s office denied on Sunday, saying the exact percentage will be determined through consultation with the industry over the next six months.
The Liberal’s statement said a 20% quota could adversely affect the level of profitability of streaming services in Australia, and could risk some players pulling out of the Australian market altogether.
The opposition also accused Labor of “sidelining” its communications minister, Michelle Rowland.
“Why does it make sense to have the communications minister making rules for free to air TV and pay TV, and the arts minister making rules for [subscription video on demand] services?” the statement said.
“Why has the communications minister, who is meant to be responsible for screen content policy, agreed to be sidelined by the arts minister?”
The chief executive of Screen Producers Australia, Matthew Deaner, said a 20% quota would protect Australian stories and culture.
“If done right this will secure our sector, our jobs and Australian stories for the long haul,” he said.
“This will create a better and fairer and more compassionate and understanding nation. It starts and ends with culture – the core of our community and nationhood.”
Protections for arts workers
The body representing the rights of Australian songwriters, composers and publishers, APRA AMCOS, said the injection of $70m to establish Music Australia was “a profound vote of confidence” in Australian music.
“For the first time in the nation’s history, [it will] provide an opportunity for a whole-of-government, cross-portfolio, strategic and long-term relationship with the breadth of the Australian contemporary music industry,” the APRA AMCOS chief executive, Dean Ormston, said in a statement.
Ormston said the establishment of a Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces would address many of the concerns raised in the music industry in recent years over systemic discrimination, bullying, harassment and assault.
Under Revive, the centre will provide advice on issues of pay and work safety; develop codes of conduct for the sector; make government funding conditional on organisations following those codes; set minimum pay standards for performers contracted by the government at events; and implement all 55 recommendations of the Respect@Work report on workplace sexual harassment.
“Recent events have been debilitating, compounding for many decades, were colleagues have not felt seen or supported,” the APRA AMCOS board chair, musician Jenny Morris, said.
“Rebuilding the industry for the better will let us all regain not just our mojo but our self-worth and confidence, and that will lead to even greater creative output.”
The Australian Recording Industry Association chief executive, Annabelle Herd, said the move would “bring new focus and much-needed reform to workplace culture in Australian music”.