20 organisations from multiple sectors, including Diversity Arts Australia have signed a letter to the PM urging a whole of government approach to the National Cultural Policy.
A coalition of peak arts bodies has written to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urging him to ‘support full investment’ in the Federal Government’s soon-to-be released National Cultural Policy.
The letter is signed by 20 organisations from multiple sectors, including screen, literature, live performance, First Nations and the visual arts.
Its signatories note that ‘A forward-looking, ambitious National Cultural Policy that provides a framework for jump-starting the arts will give Australians a real sense of belief in a future that is joyful and meaningful’.
Their letter continues: ‘We welcome the recent budgetary measures for education, health, women’s safety, anti-racism and disaster relief. We believe that the arts, entertainment and cultural industry can play a significant role in helping to deliver long term gain in these critical pressure areas for all Australians through a whole of government lens, in partnership with the public, private, philanthropic and non-government sectors.
‘We urge you to support immediate and appropriate investment in the National Cultural Policy to transform and safeguard a diverse, vibrant and sustainable arts, entertainment and cultural sector now and into the future,’ the letter reads.
Not just financial investment
As well as writing to the Prime Minister, the consortium of peak bodies – including Theatre Network Australia, BlakDance, Screen Producers Australia and the National Association for the Visual Arts – have also written to the all-important Expenditure Review Committee, which advises Cabinet on Budget spending priorities and whose members include the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance.
Nicole Beyer, Executive Director of Theatre Network Australia, told ArtsHub that the call to support full investment in the National Cultural Policy includes financial investment, but also investment and commitment across other areas.
‘In a lot of peak bodies’ budget bids we called for the return of $130 million to the Australia Council, and that just addresses the funding decline over the past decade … But there’s also investment in legislative changes, such as artists being recognised as professionals through Centrelink for example; investment in government agencies to embed creative solutions in their work, and that will require a whole-of-government approach across portfolios,’ Beyer said.
Working across government to ‘address tough problems’ will require additional investments of a different kind, Beyer continued.
‘We know creativity has a huge role to play in education, wellbeing, regional development, in disaster recovery, in health etc. And we think that it would be great for the Policy to outline a framework for that exchange. So is that roundtables of peak bodies in different industries? Is it summits or forums for the cross-fertilisation of ideas across different industries? Committees of bureaucrats from the different industries? Those sorts of things will required investment in time and resources and staffing,’ she explained.
A once-in-a-generation opportunity
Kate Eltham, Co-CEO and Business Director at BlakDance, stressed the importance of getting the National Cultural Policy right, noting that a properly supported and expansive cultural policy can have life-changing effects for generations.
‘Just look at the impact of Paul Keating’s Creative Nation policy in 1984. There would be few adults today who got to learn a musical instrument in school [in the 1980s and 1990s] who couldn’t trace the benefit of that back to the Creative Nation policy. And whole industries like design and the screen industry would never have grown through the 1990s and 2000s without that policy,’ she said.
‘That policy initiated Festivals Australia to deliver regional festivals around the nation, and now we know today from data that cultural tourism on the back of those festivals is one of the biggest drivers of economic development in regional Australia.
‘So a National Cultural Policy is really a once-in-a-generation opportunity for a progressive government to enshrine investment in the types of strategies that are going to help the sector not just recover more quickly from COVID, but which will keep delivering benefits for our kids and their kids as well,’ Eltham explained.
She also noted that discussions around cultural policy have changed in recent years.
‘The main shift we’ve seen in the consultation around the new National Cultural Policy has been to put First Nations arts and cultural leadership and decision-making at the centre, where it belongs. What we want from government is to match this aspiration with investment,’ said Eltham.
A rare alliance
The consortium of peak bodies’ approach to the Prime Minister and Expenditure Review Committee is significant not just because of the subject of their letter, but also because it represents a rare opportunity for the broader cultural sector to speak with a united voice.
Matthew Deaner, CEO of Screen Producers Australia, said it was ‘really important for the screen industry to be behind this initiative’.
‘The screen industry is part of a broader creative industries ecosystem … and while our priority at the moment is to have a regulatory framework on streaming services, we think it’s really important to have a fulsome National Cultural Policy which will have supportive funding allocated to many, many parts of the ecosystem,’ he said.
The Federal Government has already indicated that content quotas for streaming services in Australia will be included in the National Cultural Policy, Deaner continued.
‘We’re expecting an announcement as part of that and what we have advocated as an industry is for a 20% reinvestment of the streaming revenue into the system, which of course employs composers, screenwriters, actors, craftspeople, technical people – a lot of different parts of our creative industries will get the benefit of that investment across a diversity of businesses and a diversity of genres,’ he said.
‘And it’s not actually taxpayers’ money we’re asking for – we’re asking for a fair exchange in terms of what are very profitable and successful and powerful businesses; we’re asking them to contribute to the Australian economy and our creative industries.’
Tackling fundamental challenges
Penelope Benton, Executive Director of the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA), said she hoped a properly supported National Cultural Policy would tackle some fundamental issues in the cultural sector.
‘We need the Policy to respond to the priorities of the sector. We all know that artists, arts workers and the small-to-medium organisations have been neglected for way too long. Because of the decline in funding over the last decade the sector is actually in a really unhealthy place,’ Benton said.
Referencing a recent article by University of Melbourne lecturer Kim Goodwin examining labour shortages in the arts, Benton continued: ‘[Goodwin] talks about the need for structural change in how arts workers are employed, a shift away from the reliance of volunteers and incorrect appointment of unpaid interns or low wage casual and fixed term roles. We really need to move into more secure and fairly paid employment.’
Such challenges are part of a current NAVA campaign to see artists fairly and fully recognised as workers.
‘One of the things that NAVA is currently really strongly advocating for is an industrial award for visual arts, craft and design that includes standard entitlements that are recognised under the national workplace relations system,’ said Benton.
‘It’s really important to us that we have a legal framework that mandates the payment standards for artists and arts workers. But also organisations and galleries need to be better supported so they can offer secure and realistic workloads with decent pay. And this is why we really do need full investment in the National Cultural Policy,’ she explained.
Hungry for hope
In terms of its aims and initiative, Nicole Beyer expects that the National Cultural Policy will be ‘a pretty ambitious three-to-five year plan and a positive vision’ for the sector, including a focus on First Nations artists, young people, and the current skills shortage affecting the industry.
Reiterating the importance of a positive vision for the sector and the nation, Beyer said: ‘I think that people are really wanting meaningful experiences. I looked at Patternmakers’ latest Audience Outreach Monitor and it proves what we’re seeing on the ground – and what we’re seeing is audiences returning to arts and cultural experiences in droves.
‘And what they’re wanting are new, uplifting and challenging experiences. That’s what the research shows, that’s what people are wanting. And that’s interesting, because of course, that’s what arts and culture does. Art experiences give us hope, and hope is desperately needed after the floods and the fires and the pandemic. So I think now is the time to invest in this National Cultural Policy because the timing is perfect – people are wanting hope.’
The full list of signatories
The consortium of peak bodies’ letter to the Prime Minister is signed by:
Arts Access Australia
Australian Festival Association
Australian Museums and Galleries Association
Australian Music Centre
Australian Society of Authors
Diversity Arts Australia
First Nations Media
Indigenous Art Code
Live Performance Australia
National Association for the Visual Arts
Performing Arts Connections Australia
Regional Arts Australia
Screen Producers Australia
Symphony Services Australia
Theatre Network Australia
The National Cultural Policy is due to be released by the end of the year, according to a statement made by Minister for the Arts Tony Burke MP in July.