This article was co-written by Professor Lisa French, Dean of RMIT’s School of Media and Communication, and Mark Poole, head of the Australian Directors’ Guild in Victoria and chair of the RMIT Screenwriting industry advisory committee.
Revive, Australia’s Cultural Policy for the next five years offers a strong vision for the arts – one we have not seen since Paul Keating’s Creative Nation. In launching the policy at the Espy in St Kilda, Melbourne, this week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said this follows on from 65,000 years of storytelling in Australia and builds upon Gough Whitlam’s vision for the arts in the seventies.
Story and place are at the centre of the policy, so it is no surprise ‘First Nations First’ is a central pillar. Indigenous filmmaking has been a vibrant site of our screen sector in the last two decades with successes in both film and television.
Revive aims to reverse cuts to the arts enacted by past governments and restore the arts to their rightful place, as the heart and soul of Australia. While film and television are not especially central, the policy is well considered and has firm actions and timelines to guide funding in the upcoming budget this May.
The policy includes a strong commitment to provide security of funding to the national broadcasters ABC and SBS by delivering five-year funding terms and indexing ABC funding. This is welcome news to the screen sector. The Revive policy also alludes to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation’s argument that funding for children’s television is a key element to Australia’s cultural future and acknowledges the dire reduction in children’s television production after the previous government relaxed free to air content quotas. However, Revive does not propose to restore those quotas or establish new ones.
One of the screen sector’s main hopes for Revive was for the government to make a commitment to requiring the streaming services that operate in Australia to produce more Australian screen content. Revive includes actions and a timeframe for the streaming services to ‘invest in key genres, including children’s content, scripted drama and documentaries.’
However, the detail of such legislation is yet to be worked out. It seems that the screen sector will now have to lobby hard for a minimum of 20% to be sourced from local revenue for such production, a figure that is agreed by the major players as what is required. On the other hand, flagging that the streamers will be required to lift their Australian content will presumably encourage them to plan more Australian production to meet the requirements by 2024.
This will increase jobs which have declined with the removal of content regulation in the past decade and counter ‘risks drowning out the voices of Australian storytellers’ (page 87). Importantly, it will ensure our stories, language, character, humour, and perspectives are part of the Australian media landscape.
Screen Australia is mentioned sporadically within Revive such as funding being provided via the agency for the games industry. There is also continued support for investment in large-scale screen productions in Australia. The policy refers to the screen sector having a record year in 2021-2, with production activity levels high.
This presumably means that the government believes the reductions in funding to Screen Australia over the past few years do not require reversal. The buoyant levels of production are, however, largely due to the influx of large-scale international productions that shoot in Australia, employing many Australian cast and crew but not local writers or directors.
Screenwriting and gender?
A new body, Writers Australia, will be established, focussing on support for the literature sector. Support for other forms of writing such as screenwriting is not mentioned.
There was scant attention to gender equality despite the known reality of unequal salaries for women in the screen sector as shown by Screen Australia’s Gender Matters research, and a lack of opportunity for women. However, the slogan ‘a place for every story, a story for every place’ is an implicit recognition for the need for inclusive policies within the arts and representation of minorities on our stages and screens.
Intersectional considerations are implied in the new policy, but not specifically called out. Forms of discrimination (such as sexism, racism, classism, and ageism) interact to further exacerbate inequality and marginalisation.
The arts are positioned as crucial to the Albanese government’s mission, and a significant commitment, and value, is placed on enabling our education system to give students at all levels access to arts, humanities, media, and entertainment. This focus on young people, who are our future, is welcome.
Along with that is recognition of the importance of digital media literacy, that not only is our human right to creativity recognised, but that skills to navigate, interrogate, critique, and ethically create arts is essential, and that is a key role for educators. The policy embraces arts, humanities, media, and entertainment as crucial to society and this government, and digital inclusion, especially for Indigenous Australians, as a priority.
The focus on diversity includes community media, an important vehicle for supporting diverse voices. The initiative of an Arts and Disability Plan is a welcome part of policy, which recognises diversity, essential to innovation. This position has been adopted by all screen agencies and arts organisations, but leadership is important, where a government leans in is where we can expect action.
The focus of this arts policy marks a return to placing cultural goods as a worthy end, without needing to justify the arts in terms of economic gains alone. That is worthwhile. As Burke exhorted, the rest is up to you, challenging the screen industry, artists, and agencies in attendance to ensure that the policy translates into concrete results over the next five years.
Professor Lisa French is Dean of RMIT’s School of Media and Communication. She is internationally recognised for her research on Australian in film and has served on numerous industry boards, including the Australian Film Institute (AFI), The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), and Screen Australia’s Gender Matters Taskforce.
Mark Poole is the head of the Australian Directors’ Guild in Victoria and chair of the RMIT Screenwriting industry advisory committee. He has served on the boards of the Australian Writers’ Guild and Australian Directors’ Guilds and is a writer and director of drama and documentary.