The long-awaited and much anticipated National Cultural Policy was expected to be announced by the end of 2022. Instead of revealing the full Policy, however, in a speech at the Woodford Folk Festival just before the year’s end, Minister for the Arts Tony Burke said it will be launched at the end of this month.
‘Today is the 30th of December. On the 30th of January next year, one month from today, Australia will have a national cultural policy again,’ said Burke.
In his address, the Minister began by paying tribute to the seemingly disparate figures of Archie Roach and Blanche d’Alpuget. He talked of seeing Roach perform on the same Woodford stage and referred to the late singer’s talent and generosity as a story-teller.
‘There was no malice, no anger… but it’s exactly what our storytellers can do, exactly what our artists can facilitate, which gets to the heart of why we need a cultural policy in Australia,’ said Burke.
The reference to d’Alpuget, who was in attendance, prefaced Burke’s remarks about meeting her with Bob Hawke, and the latter’s role in the trajectory of an Australian cultural policy. Burke delivered a potted history of the concept, starting with the Whitlam Government in 1975 and tracing its peaks and troughs through the various Labor and Liberal governments that followed.
Stressing its importance, Burke said: ‘This is not just an arts policy. Cultural policy, when you get it right, affects how you run your health policy. It affects how you run your veterans affairs policy, it affects your industrial relations policy, it affects how you conduct your trade and your foreign affairs.
‘Cultural policy, when you get it right, changes the trajectory and the place of culture in Australia, so that we truly again become a country where there is a place for every story and a story for every place.’
A media release reiterated the Federal Government’s aims for the Policy and noted the extent of the consultation process behind it: ‘After a decade of neglect and funding cuts under the Liberals, the Labor Government is determined to revive this vital and vibrant industry for artists and audiences alike.
‘The Government has spent the last six months consulting with creators and arts workers all over the country about the industry’s future. We’ve held town hall meetings in every state and territory – in the cities and in the regions – and assembled expert panels to work through the 1200-plus written submissions we received.’
As previously revealed, the new National Cultural Policy will be built on five pillars:
- First Nations first: recognising and respecting the crucial place of these stories at the centre of our arts and culture.
- A place for every story: reflecting the diversity of our stories and the contribution of all Australians as the creators of culture.
- The centrality of the artist: supporting the artist as worker and celebrating their role as the creators of culture.
- Strong institutions: providing support across the spectrum of institutions – funded, philanthropic and commercial – which sustain our arts and culture.
- Reaching the audience: ensuring our stories reach the people at home and abroad.
In his Woodford address, Burke acknowledged the role Susan Templeman as Special Envoy for the Arts had played in the consultation process, and expanded upon the reasoning behind the five pillars. He talked at length about the decision to begin with ‘First Nations first’.
‘You cannot have cultural policy in Australia without the first pillar being First Nations first,’ said Burke, adding that while there are many First Nations artists now working, there is a shortfall in technically trained practitioners such as lighting, set and sound designers, and producers. He noted a similar issue in museums and galleries.
‘[There are] very, very few people at the moment who are First Nations being trained to be curators. And we run the risk that we end up with these magnificent collections where the entire institution is in fact being run by people who are not of themselves First Nations,’ said Burke.
He also stressed the need for appropriate funding. ‘I want to be able to change the financial power relationship, so that if a work is growing, it grows in the way that the First Nations artist has not simply self-determination of what they [created], but self-determination over the finished work.’
The Policy will also encompass a desire for diverse voices, and attempt to ensure everyone is heard and seen, said Burke. ‘The second pillar of cultural policy is a place for every story, a story for every place, making sure that we have the full representation of modern Australia and of our stories coming through in the stories that are supported, the stories that are told,’ he said.
The third pillar will be strongly informed by the experiences of the arts sector during the height of the pandemic. While acknowledging that ‘the problems for the sector did not begin with the shutdown period of the pandemic’, Burke noted that it was particularly hard hit: ‘I argued for there being wage subsidies, but if you wanted to have a wage subsidy that excluded as many arts workers as possible you would design JobKeeper exactly as it was.’
He added: ‘Artists … have often been training from … children all the way through, working on their craft. They have a right to fair remuneration, and they have a right to safe workplaces.’
The fourth pillar will see the government ‘re-gear’ the Australia Council, explained Burke. ‘Because very few artists themselves live entirely within the so-called funded sector … sometimes they’ll be in what’s viewed as purely commercial, sometimes they’ll be working in an area that’s philanthropic, sometimes it will be Government funded. It’s the same artists and we need to give the Australia Council policy capacity it hasn’t had … as a result of only dealing with the areas that are easier to isolate in terms of government funding.’
For the final pillar, Burke again referenced the pandemic and noted the popularity of streamed content at its height. But with Hollywood largely on hiatus there was a period when the top three films in Australia were all locally made (Penguin Bloom, The Dry and High Ground).
‘It should not take a global pandemic for that to be the case, but we’ll never be able to make sure we get the full support for Australian film in this country unless we tackle the automatic structural disadvantage we have, which is we are a relatively small population and we are predominantly an English speaking country,’ said Burke.
‘So, the competition from overseas will always be cheaper per minute to produce for the available audience. That puts us [at] a disadvantage. And the only way you fix that disadvantage is with Australian content quotas. It’s the only way.’
The full details of the National Cultural Policy will be announced at its launch on 30 January in Melbourne at a location yet to be revealed.