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Australia Council confirms: Creative Australia is dead

Ben Eltham

The Australia Council restructure confirms what we suspected: Labor's national cultural policy is dead.
Australia Council confirms: Creative Australia is dead

Creative Australia, Labor's national cultural policy, appears finished.  

As ArtsHub reported on Tuesday, the Australia Council announced a new Strategic Plan this week.

The new blueprint, announced with much fanfare, contains little real detail and leaves many important questions unanswered.

After poring over the eight-page document and its associated media releases, ArtsHub asked the Australia Council a number of questions to attempt to clarify the way the new structure would operate. 


The Australia Council has now responded to ArtsHub's questions about the restructure.

With details few and far between, it appears that the cultural sector will remain in the dark about critical aspects of the new paradigm for some time yet.

But the response of the Australia Council confirms one critical point: Labor's national cultural policy, Creative Australia, is dead. 

Whatever shape cultural policy takes under George Brandis and the Abbott government, it seems clear that the policy legacy of Labor – including the extra funding announced by Simon Crean in 2013 – is history.

We asked the Australia Council and Arts Minister George Brandis' office the following questions:

1) What is the relationship of this Plan to Creative Australia? Do we still have a National Cultural Policy and is the Australia Council still working under the framework, or this a new and essentially independent policy direction?
2) How exactly will the new peer review mechanisms operate?
3) How does this Plan relate to the major performance organisations? Is it still the case that the MPO funding pool will be quarantined from budget cuts announced in May?
4) What will the funding breakdowns look like – how much money will go to each of the strategic goals, each of the funding pools, and between artists, organisations, MPOs, and other initiatives? Are there at least some kind of indicative figures?
5) Will gaming and game design practitioners be able to apply under the new guidelines?

The Australia Council responded in writing yesterday evening. The answers shed new light on the emerging shape of cultural policy under George Brandis as Arts Minister. As of this morning, Minister Brandis' office has not yet replied to our enquiries. 

In response to question 1, about the status of Creative Australia, the Australia Council replied that 'we are not able to comment on government policy – any policy questions may be directed to the Minister’s Office ... The Strategic Plan was created by the Australia Council, approved by its board and outlines its four priority areas. This plan has been endorsed by the Minister for the Arts.'

This confirms what we suspected on Monday: Creative Australia is dead. The refusal of the Australia Council to explain the current policy framework is shown dramatically by the fact that the Council simply won't mention the words 'Creative Australia' or 'national cultural policy.' Labor's six-year dream of a 'joined-up' federal cultural framework is dead. 

In its response, the Australia Council went on to list a number of promising initiatives and details that give some insight into how the Council expects to deliver the four goals of the Strategic Plan.

Some of these are quite concrete, such as the appointment of Sophie Travers as International Development Manager in Europe. In other areas, the boilerplate remains as vague as that delivered on Monday. 'To meet Goal Four,' the Council told us, 'Australians cherish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts, we will work with organisations to collaborate and program work by Indigenous artists to embed their work across our artistic landscape.'

On peer review, the Australia Council told us that 'peer assessment has been fundamental to grant decision-making throughout our 40-year history.'  

'Significant reforms have been implemented this year, which include expanding the number of peers assessing the grants we receive. There are now more than 500 practising artists in the peer pool. A nomination committee chaired by Robyn Archer ensures the strength and diversity of the pool.'

Again, that doesn't explain how the new peer review arrangements will be implemented across the new programs. Nor does it explain how organisations that miss out on a six-year funding round will cope. Finally, it doesn't explain how the Council's peer review structures will apply to an apparently much more 'top down' approach to picking winners for its market development and international touring programs. 

We were not able to secure any meaningful detail about the dollar figures implied by the new Strategic Plan. So, for instance, the Australia Council did not provide a breakdown of how funding will be divided under the new structure. OzCo also refused to break down the funding flowing to the major performing arts sector compared with the rest of the Council.

Next year, the Council will distribute $189.8 million, but there is no detail forthcoming about how this will be carved up.  

'The Australia Council budget has and always will be a mix of directed funding as determined by government and general funding to support artists and the sector,' we were informed. 

On one question, at least, we were able to get a straight answer. Game designers will be able to apply in the new arrangements. 'The new grants model will accept applications from practicing Australia artists who work in digital and experimental arts to have their art proposals assessed by qualified peers, including gaming,' we were told. 

That's a minor win for the gaming sector, at least. 


About the author

Ben Eltham is ArtsHub's industry columnist.