Cultural Policy

31 May 2013

James Zarucky investigates the Government’s first cultural policy in over twenty years.

Last month saw the release of the Federal Government’s long-awaited national cultural policy, Creative Australia. Launched by the then Arts Minister Simon Crean, it’s the first federal cultural policy to be unveiled in almost 20 years. The previous one was commissioned by the Keating government, all the way back in 1994.

Quite a bit has changed within the arts sector in the intervening decades, not to mention the broader shifts which have occurred in the economic and political spheres. The rapid evolution of digital technologies and communication services, the continued cross-pollination of previously discrete art forms, and the growth of Australia’s creative industries are just some of the developments that Creative Australia seeks to address.

The seeds of this policy can be traced back to the Rudd government’s widely criticised 2020 summit in 2008. Though the summit was mocked at the time, one outcome of the event was the recognition that a new cultural policy was needed to meet the contemporary demands of the sector. Some initial consultations followed this, but it wasn’t until Crean took over the Arts portfolio in 2011 that further meaningful action was taken. A discussion paper was released later that year with submissions solicited from industry organisations and the electorate, culminating in the policy’s public launch in 2013.

Much of the media coverage of Creative Australia has focused on its commitment for a $235 million package of new arts funding. This consists of an increase in existing government support for a number of arts agencies and organisations, as well as a whole host of new initiatives. Notably, the federal government’s arts funding and advisory body, the Australia Council, will receive $75 million of extra funding over the next four years.

Additionally, long overdue reforms of the Council’s structure and application processes will also take place.
A key theme of the policy is the championing of Australia’s creative and knowledge industries, and their vital contribution as part of the nation’s economy. Creative Australia outlines the need for continued government support of innovation within the sector, particularly to maintain its relevance in what it terms the “digitally enabled 21st century”. The biggest beneficiary of this objective is Screen Australia, who will receive $10 million for the development of local multi-platform and digital content. This complements the $20 million it received earlier this year to establish the Australian Interactive Games Fund. Another win for the screen media industry was the allocation of a $20 million fund for one-off investment incentives to encourage the production of prominent foreign films here. The high Australian dollar has had an adverse impact on our ability to entice international producers to our shores. It’s hoped that the initiative, when combined with existing production offsets, will contribute to Australia becoming an attractive destination for location shooting and post-production services once again.

For the most part, the industry’s reaction to the new cultural policy has been largely positive. The increased funding, and the subsequent media coverage, has been a welcome development for a sector that is often overlooked or ignored in many policy discussions. Perhaps surprisingly, the $8.1 million set aside for individual MPs to put towards supporting young artists in their electorate has attracted the most criticism. Whether you see this as further encouragement of the arts at a local level, or cynical pork-barreling in an election year will probably depend on your personal political leanings.

Since announcing the policy, Crean has been stripped of the Arts portfolio following his role in the recent failed Labor leadership coup. Given that the next federal budget is soon to be finalised, this has raised some concerns as to whether many spending initiatives would survive the review process. The incoming Arts Minister Tony Burke has acted quickly to make assurances that the policy will be implemented in full, and Australia’s arts community is certainly hoping he follows through on this particular commitment.

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