What #AusVotes2019 offers the arts

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George Dunford

On the eve of the election, here’s how the major parties are fighting for the arts vote.
What #AusVotes2019 offers the arts

Image: Arisa Chattasa via Unsplash.

On Saturday, the 2019 Australian election limps to the finish line – with the arts only really appearing on the agenda over the last fortnight. While the Greens got in early, Labor may have delivered the knockout punch with their policy launch last Saturday (11 May) and the Libs don't seem to give a democracy sausage for the arts.

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Have Labor already tipped the vote?

Over 3.4 million Australians have voted early at the end of Wednesday, so perhaps they were swayed by Bill Shorten's launch of an arts policy which ArtsHub reported earlier this week. Dubbed Renewing Creative Australia, it hearkens back to glory days of the Gillard Government's Creative Australia policy which was killed off in the Brandis raids on the Australia Council.

Labor is promising to re-build Australia Council funding with $122 million coming their way but there are some promising signs of new directions too. As alluded to at the NSW state election, there is the promise of a National Indigenous Theatre with $11 million and another $3 million for First Nations media. It's likely that Melbourne's Ilbijerri Theatre Company will get major performing arts status under Labor. All are good indicators that we will see more Indigenous performers and productions on stages and screens.

And while we're on screens, there is a juicy $25 million for the Interactive Games Fund that dried up with the Abbott Government. Building up the interactive games has proved big business in Victoria with Melbourne International Games Week becoming a tourist magnet for geeks. On screenhub David Tiley thought the policy would be 'pretty good' for film and television with $40 million to go to the ABC for Australian content.

What's most promising for the sector though is that there is a commitment to looking at mental health and sexual harassment in the industry. Sure there's no costings against it, but it shows that they've been listening to what's been happening in the industry and want change.

What the Greens have on the table

In an op-ed ArtsHub ran before the Labor policy launch, Sarah Hanson-Young outlined some policies that will now sound quite familiar – $2 million for First Nations content creation, restoring funding to the Australia Council and better funding for television content. Of course Labor and the Greens are slugging it out for a similar voter so their policies will have a resemblance but the differences would be revolutionary for the sector.

Like what? Well the Greens have noticed that 98% of Australian artists received Newstart between 2010 and 2015. Their plan to establish an opt-in Living Arts fund would 'guarantee participating artists an income subsidy equal to the difference between their other income and a living wage'. It would help smooth out funding for artists while they maintain their practice and while the costings aren't there, they plan to fund it through sales of works produced as the 'Fund will own a small share of every creative work produced by the participating artist'. So artists would receive upfront funding to be paid back in part when a work sells – not a bad scheme, though would it push artists to be more commercial?

Another interesting idea is $10 million for a Creativity Commission to 'help us transition from STEM thinking to STEAM thinking by integrating the creativity, usually reserved for the arts, throughout the economy and society'. It sounds great and promises to be multi-disciplinary with inputs into industry but some industries may be over creative disruption.

Read: NAVA releases Federal Election report card

Also in the mix are an artists program in schools ($150 million over four years) and pushing quotas for Australian content on screens to push back the flood from streaming services.

We ran a review of the Greens policy along with an op-ed from Sarah Hanson-Young – not from bias but because the Greens got back to us. We approach all the major parties for comment ahead of the election and heard nothing back from them.

Decoding the Liberals’ policy

There's been no official announcement of the Libs’ arts policy so many are assuming that it might be more 'cuts and chaos' (as Tony Burke said at the Labor launch). Digging deeper into the Liberals’ other policies though, there are some promises for the arts.

Their tourism and jobs policy, for example, promises Sovereign Hill $10.1 million for a 'museum enhancement' and the Adelaide City Deal will see the establishment of an Aboriginal art and culture gallery. MONA will receive a $1.5 million trickle for 'a major art installation in Tasmania’s south' as part of Dark MOFO but this is hardly the $50 million flood of cash that Labor has promised to develop various new public facilities. 

Read: Election not taking culture seriously 

Plus there is the previously announced $22.5 million Live Music Australia Grant program for small businesses that host live music performances by Australian artists and help expand the touring circuit to regional venues. 

All up the arts policy is patchy and has no overarching vision – apart from offering more to regional arts which may just be about swinging electorates that need propping up with dollars.

About the author

George Dunford is Content Director at ArtsHub and screenhub. He has written for Meanjin, The Big Issue, Lonely Planet, The Good Food Guide and others. He has worked in digital leadership roles in the cultural sector for more than 10 years including at the National Library of Australia, National Museum of Australia and the Wheeler Centre.
Twitter: @Hack_packer
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