Labor promises new cultural policy ahead of election

Instead of announcing an arts policy prior to Saturday’s election, the ALP has pledged to develop a national cultural policy instead.

A new cultural policy – the first since the abolition of Creative Australia by the Abbott Government in 2013 – has been promised should Labor be elected to government this Saturday.

Such a policy would centralise First Nations art and culture; reaffirm the need for arms-length arts funding; revive cooperation between Federal, State and Local governments; and examine the potential for a national live events insurance scheme to counteract the sector’s uncertainty as Australia emerges from the pandemic.

Describing a cultural policy as ‘a broad, comprehensive roadmap for Australia’s arts and culture that touches all areas of government, from cultural diplomacy in foreign affairs to health to education,’ Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke MP said an Albanese Labor Government would bring new drive, direction and vision to Australia’s arts sector by developing such a policy.

‘The arts sector is currently in an extreme state of flux as it seeks to recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic – and from a decade of Liberal National neglect, contempt and cuts,’ Burke said.

‘A new direction is needed from a Labor government that will give the arts the support it needs.’

Read: A new ‘policy imaginary’ for Australian art and culture

Announcing the ALP’s intentions on Monday night (16 May), Burke said a new Labor Government would embark on a thorough, nationwide consultation in each State and Territory immediately after the election in order to inform the proposed cultural policy.

‘Although it is of course important for us to get this right, speed is of the essence. Creative Australia will be used as the starting point and all stakeholders including State and Local governments will be properly consulted to chart a path forward,’ Burke said.

Labor has proposed that a national cultural policy would:

  • Revive cooperation between federal, state and local governments to ensure we have a national approach to arts and culture.
  • Reaffirm the need for arms-length funding. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments have used arts funding as a personal plaything. Labor is clear – the selection of funding for performance and creation of works should not be determined by the personal taste of a minister.
  • Examine a national insurance scheme for live events. The sector has been calling for a national insurance scheme since November 2020 but their pleas have been ignored by the Morrison Government. Commercial insurance which covers COVID-related risk is no longer available for promoters and organisers, putting a major dent in confidence.
  • Promote Australian creators on streaming platforms. The Liberals have gone out of their way to reduce the amount of Australian content on our screens. They have also been far too slow to move on screen content obligations for streamers. We will work with all stakeholders to determine ways Australian content can be boosted for both Australian music and screen content on streaming platforms. 
  • Protect performers and audiences from ticket scalpers. For too long, companies like Viagogo have been allowed to get away with fleecing audiences and depriving performers of vital revenue. Labor would work with State and Territory governments to secure a national approach to this problem.
  • Put First Nations art and culture at the centre of our approach to the sector. There can be no cultural policy without a specific focus on First Nations art and culture. 
  • Restoring ‘arts’ as part of a named government department. When the Coalition removed the word ‘arts’ from any government department at the end of 2020, it signalled what everyone in the sector already knew: arts and culture was the lowest of their priorities. It’s time for that to end. Labor will restore ‘arts’ as part of a named government department.

These commitments follow a series of funding announcements recently made by the ALP during the election campaign to date:

  • National Aboriginal Art Gallery, Alice Springs NT – $80 million.
  • Frankston Regional Arts Trail, VIC – $2 million.
  • Macleay Island Arts Centre, QLD – $1.5 million.
  • Fremantle Creative Hub, WA – $1.2 million.
  • Nairm Marr Djambana Building Upgrade, Frankston VIC – $850,000.
  • Campsie Cultural Hub, NSW – $6 million.
  • National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA), Central Coast, NSW – $5 million.
  • Southern Highlands Regional Art Gallery (Ngununggula), NSW – $450,000.
  • PIP Theatre, Brisbane Arts Theatre & PIP Theatre, QLD – $15,000.
  • Reverse Scott Morrison’s cuts to the ABC and provide stable five-year funding terms to the ABC – $83.7 million.
  • Feasibility study to expand the reach of Double J on radio – $500,000.

If elected, ‘Labor will also roll the functions of and funding for Creative Partnerships Australia into the Australia Council. This will bring private sector expertise back into the Australia Council, make it stronger, and re-affirm its role as the premier arts funding body in Australia,’ Burke said.

Notably absent from Labor’s election promises to date has been any mention of returning or increasing funding to the Australia Council for the Arts, which has suffered significantly under the Coalition – most notably the notorious ‘Brandis Raid’ of 2015, which saw $104.8 million over four years ripped out of the Australia Council’s budget.

The Coalition Government – which has been in power since 2013 – has failed to develop a national cultural policy for the sector during its time in power. Nor has the Coalition presented a detailed arts policy at the current election, or at the Federal elections of 2019, 2016 and 2013.

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‘Without a comprehensive cultural policy to guide and coordinate action, the sector has been picked apart by Coalition funding cuts,’ Burke said.

He went on criticise the Coalition for failing to adequately support the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘When the pandemic hit it became clear the Morrison Government didn’t even consider artists to be workers, or their employers to be real businesses,’ Burke said.

‘Labor advocated relentlessly for support for the sector, including for artists and entertainers to be included in income support schemes such as JobKeeper,’ he continued.

‘The arts, entertainment and cultural sector is important to who we are as Australians and plays a vital role in the economy.

‘There is a lot of work to do in this space to rebuild the damage done by a decade of Liberal Government. 

‘A new cultural policy is the foundation for a better future for Australian artists,’ Burke concluded.

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts