What Labor promised the arts

With Labor forming government, we revisit what Tony Burke promised for the arts and ask the sector to keep him accountable.
Man (Tony Burke) smiles as

The nine-year political attack on the arts and entertainment sector can end. It can end this weekend.

Australia’s artists have continued to produce great work under the Coalition’s reign of neglect and sabotage.

I don’t want to dwell too much on the pain they’ve inflicted. You’ve lived it. You know what it’s been like.

I want to talk about a better future for the arts.

After all this hostility – and two horrible years of COVID-19 – the question is how do we rebuild?

The first step is a comprehensive cultural policy.

A cultural policy isn’t simply an arts policy. Cultural policies have only been developed in Australia by Labor Governments. Paul Keating and his Arts Minister Michael Lee developed Creative Nation. Julia Gillard and her Arts Minister Simon Crean developed Creative Australia.

In each case it was a whole of government exercise. Because anyone who understands the sector knows arts isn’t simply about entertainment, leisure and hobbies. At its best it affects our education policy, our health policy, our trade, our relations around the world, our industrial relations approach and is a driver of economic growth. 

When George Brandis replaced me as Arts Minister, he didn’t change the cultural policy to something more conservative. He abolished it and replaced it with nothing. For nearly a decade there has been no cultural policy guiding the advice of departments or the decisions of ministers.

Instead we’ve had a culture war. Attacks on artists as workers. Attacks on the universities and TAFE colleges that train them. And attacks on the institutions including the Australia Council and the ABC that support them.

An Albanese Government will restore cultural policy and end the culture war.

Last time it took nearly six years to develop Creative Australia. I had six months to implement it. And within six minutes of the Liberals and Nationals winning, it was gone.

The sector has just been through its darkest hour.

We don’t have six years. So instead of starting with a blank page a Labor Government will use Creative Australia as the starting document and immediately work with the sector to update it.

If we win this Saturday, Australia will have cultural policy reviewed, revived and relaunched this year.

Read: Situating ‘Australian art’ in Japan and beyond

This will allow us to get the structures right and take into account the rapid changes that are happening in the sector right now.

The concepts that underpinned Creative Australia were all sound and will remain. But I have a firm view that the order needs to reflect the extraordinary cultural strength that is unique to this continent.

First Nations first

We have the oldest continuing cultural practices on the planet. The first pillar of Australia’s cultural policy should be First Nations.

We also need to restore co-operation and dialogue between the Federal Minister and State Ministers.

The engagement which should involve Local Government as well has collapsed under Scott Morrison and Paul Fletcher. We need to return to a system where artistic merit is determined by peers, not by the personal views of the Minister of the day.

I also want this year to examine and try to negotiate with the states an insurance system for the live events and festivals sector. COVID and the regulations that have been brought about to manage it have created a real financial risk that cannot be commercially insured. It is having an immediate impact on whether promoters, artists, or businesses believe they can take on commercial risk. They’ve been asking for a government response since 2020 and all they’ve heard from Scott Morrison and Paul Fletcher is ‘that’s not my job’.

In 2013 I debated George Brandis at a Screen Producers Event and I raised my concern that it wouldn’t be too long before we were watching the internet through our TVs and we needed to find a way to support Australian content. George Brandis looked at me condescendingly – hard to believe I know – and said I clearly didn’t understand the issues.

We have now lost a decade where we don’t see enough Australian content streaming on our TVs and we don’t hear enough Australian music in our headphones. Even our authors have been hit by the changes with libraries moving to e-books. We need our settings updated for modern technology.

This is urgent. Australia must not be forever confined to someone else’s stories and someone else’s soundtrack.

And the value of tickets should be for the people putting on the show. To pay for the artists, the venue, the technicians, the roadies, the cleaners, the ushers, the security staff. It’s not to pay for Viagogo. Labor will work with the State and Territory arts ministers to stamp out businesses that sell fake tickets, that rip off consumers, that sever the relationship between the artist and their audience.

And Labor’s Minister for the Arts will have responsibility for a department with the word Arts proudly in its title.

All this is in addition to the commitments we have already announced to establish the National Aboriginal Art Gallery in Alice Springs, the Frankston Arts Trail, Macleay Island Arts Centre, Fremantle Creative Hub, Campsie Cultural Hub, Nairm Marr Djambana, Southern Highlands Regional Art Gallery, and the PIP Theatre, to do the work to plan for an expansion of Double J, and to reverse Scott Morrison’s cuts to the ABC.

Labor has a leader in Anthony Albanese who loves, respects and values the work of artists. On Saturday night Australia could have a Prime Minister who loves, respects and values the work of artists.

This opinion piece was part of a series looking at policies for the Federal Election 2022 and was originally published on 18 May as Opinion: A better future for the arts sector.

ArtsHub has previously published opinion pieces outlining arts policies for The Greens and Liberals.

The Hon Tony Burke MP is the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Shadow Minister for the Arts and Manager of Opposition Business in the 46th Australian Parliament.