In a media release on Monday 16 May 2022, the then Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke announced that Creative Australia would be used as the starting point for Labor’s cultural policy. In a recent article for ArtsHub, Burke emphasised said it would be used to kickstart the incoming government’s arts policy, saying ‘… 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.’
An initiative by the Gillard Government on 13 March 2013, Creative Australia was labelled ‘a national cultural policy for the decade’ by then Arts Minister Simon Crean. A label it would never realise.
On 7 September 2013, Tony Abbott became the 28th Prime Minister of Australia, bringing with him a Coalition Government that reigned for almost a decade. Within days of its instatement, all 150 pages of Creative Australia hit the shredder, signalling what was to be three terms of successive cuts to the Australian arts and cultural sector.
Saturday night’s Labor victory was poignant for Australia’s forgotten workers. Artists who, for nine years, have suffered blow after blow. Artists who, during a global pandemic, received little to no compensation for lost work. Artists who gave, and who continue to give, so much to so many. A sense of renewed faith, of hope, and of optimism is palpable.
So. What is Creative Australia?
Creative Australia was Australia’s second National Cultural Policy, preceded by ‘Creative Nation’ released in 1994 by then Prime Minister Paul Keating. Among other things, Creative Nation argued for the elevation of culture onto the political agenda, recognising importance in social and economic life. Almost 20 years later, Creative Australia recognised the significance of creativity to the national identity, across all of society and government, and it identified numerous pathways to sustain Australia as what Gillard described as a ‘richly creative society’.
Creative Australia had five core goals:
1. Recognise, respect, and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity.
2. Ensure that government support reflects the diversity of Australia and that all citizens, wherever they live, whatever their background or circumstances, have a right to shape our cultural identity and its expression.
3. Support excellence and the special role of artists and their creative collaborators as the source of original work and ideas, including telling Australian stories.
4. Strengthen the capacity of the cultural sector to contribute to national life, community wellbeing and the economy.
5. Ensure Australian creativity thrives in the digitally enabled 21st century, by supporting innovation, the development of new creative content, knowledge and creative industries.
These goals formulated myriad policies to safeguard culture and creativity as mainstream elements of Australia’s national fabric. It was to bolster the Australia Council, with additional funding, a modernised governance structure and a redesigned arts grants program. It was to facilitate cooperation between three levels of government in a National Arts and Culture Accord.
It was to provide holistic funding to inspire careers in the arts: ArtStart for graduating practitioners to hone their business skills; ArtsReady for arts training of job seekers and school leavers; and Creative Youth Stars to encourage engagement with the arts for young people. It was to overhaul the curriculum to ensure all students study arts in a ‘rigorous and sequential’ process. It established Creative Partnerships Australia in a government-facilitated connection between artists and philanthropic donors. It brought $235million of specific funding policies.
It is a promising starting point for a new comprehensive arts policy by a new government. It is a signal of hope for hundreds of thousands of neglected arts workers. It is, at last, recognition of the significant contribution to Australia’s cultural and economic fabric brought by the arts industry.
As Simon Crean stated at the launch of the policy: ‘A creative nation is a productive nation.’
Long may it be so.