The ALP federal arts policy launched today at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne restated its declaration that it would restore funds the LNP’s former arts minister, Senator George Brandis, took from the Australia Council in May 2015.
The ALP arts policy recognises that the LNP raided the Australia Council so its Arts Ministry and its arts minister could dispense arts grants through their ‘Catalyst’ program as they wished — rather then use the arms length mechanism that Australia Council funding has always provides.
The ALP pledges to remove the Catalyst fund, restore $72 million cut over four years from the Australia Council budget and increase its funding by an $8 million.
It also pledged $60 million over four years to boost local drama on the ABC and commits more funds to regional arts, live music and music education. It (slightly) appeased the nervous book industry with its statement that “Labor will consider any proposals or recommendations to adjust the current territorial copyright regime with caution”.
The ALP’s arts policy with its extra funding of $140 million to the arts was interpreted by its opponents as just another sum to add to the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten’s “spendometer”.
And that’s the problem when arts policy ideas are limited to announcing that some extra dollars will be thrown at the sector.
While extra funding to the arts is always welcome – and the ALP’s proposals definitely are — both it and to an extent the Greens’ arts policy (announced earlier this week) are not particularly strong on creative thinking.
Despite the well-meaning words of both shadow arts minister Mark Dreyfus and Bill Shorten at the Malthouse today about the importance the arts to Australian society and its economy, the policies themselves are mostly about fixing immediate problems with extra cash.
There is not much vision about where the arts might takes us — or where a government could assist the arts — in negotiating a future where arts and entertainment is increasingly borderless and where technology will disrupt traditional artforms sooner than we probably think they will.