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Liberals slammed for lack of vision at arts election debate

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Shadow Arts Minister Mark Dreyfus and Australian Greens Arts spokesperson Adam Bandt today slammed the Coalition for its lack of a clearly articulated arts policy in an arts election debate at the Wheeler Centre, Melbourne.

Arts Minister Mitch Fifield defended the government’s position on the arts, and repeatedly emphasised his intention to consult with the sector. He said that the arts is not a luxury or an add-on, but core to who we are as individuals.

“I believe, and the government believes, in art for arts sake,” he said. “We believe in the inherent virtue of the creative process and creativity,”

But after formal arts policies were launched by Labor and the Greens within the last week, Fifield was unable to articulate a concrete plan to “bring the arts and creative industries to the centre of the government’s innovation agenda”.

The surprisingly friendly debate, chaired by Radio National’s Patricia Karvelas, saw all three speakers keep to the relatively short time allocated.

“The reason that the debate has gone to time is that the Minister has had very little to say,” Dreyfus said. “The Coalition has provided nothing to the arts community in Australia.” He repeatedly hammered Fifield throughout the debate on the government’s lack of an actual arts policy.

At one point Fifield responded to a specific question about the government’s arts apprach by pointing to the its “trickle down” economic plan. He said that strong growth across the whole economy would be a good thing for the arts industry. He added more philanthropists would be able to support the arts and more audiences could put their money towards the arts.

The basis of both the Green and Labor arts policies is now clear: a return of the funds ripped from the Australia Council under former Arts Minister George Brandis, with Dreyfus stating the importance of restoring and repairing the damage done to the arts over the last two years and nine months.

Most of Dreyfus and Bandt’s responses began with the importance of returning funding to the Australia Council from the controversial ministerial funding body Catalyst.

Fifield offered no indication that the Coalition might follow suit, but offered a small glimmer of hope when he said, of Catalyst and its relationship to the Australia Council, that he was “open to adjusting and refining the program and arrangements” and that “none of us should be immune from learning how things work in practice”.

Fifield said that the arts sector should take note of the disability sector, which was unified and advocated for a strong National Disability Insurance Schemed while he was the government’s representative in that area.

“The best ideas come from the sector itself, rather than from government,” he said.

He also seemed to suggest that the arts industry had benefited from the government’s cuts in one way over the last two years: “The sector has spoken with a more common voice than it has in the past. The sector has built bridges amongst itself,” he said.

But there was loud laughter from a significant chunk of the audience when Fifield said: “I’m a little wary of the government dictating from on high where the arts should go to”.

Both Dreyfus and Bandt called their respective parties the “party for the arts”, with Dreyfus saying the very existence of the Australia Council was threatened by the Abbott-Turnbull governments.

Bandt spoke about the additional funding promised by the Greens, as well as their “create for the dole” program, which will allow artists to be eligible for the dole while they’re creating unpaid work.

The conversation also turned to the proposed changes to the book industry and the much-criticised proposal to remove Parallel Import Restrictions (PIRs). Fifield again stated the government’s intention to remove PIRs, but not within a specific timeframe, while pointing out that Labor may yet do the same, having only said they would approach such changes “with caution”.

If a debate is about a “winner” then Dreyfus was the victor in his frequent and articulate reminders of the government’s failures. But Bandt, representing the Greens who can only hope to influence the arts policy of whichever major party wins government, might have won the hearts of the crowd of about 300 with his passionate closing statement about the importance of the arts.

Bandt said that he hoped the Greens will help affect a change so that no future government of any persuasion will dare attempt to attack the Australia Council and its arms length funding methods again.

[box]Featured image: by Esther Anatolitis/Twitter[/box]

12 responses to “Liberals slammed for lack of vision at arts election debate

  1. “Liberals slammed for lack of vision”, well, the Liberals not only have a shocking lack of interest and vision in the Arts, but lack of vision about everything. They have no imagination, no culture, no humanity, they are but a bunch of shallow, arrogant, selfish, destructive people.

  2. Actually Fiflield is right here. The Arts Community must change how it thinks BUT it is impossible as the same people who run it are in their jobs (or rotate) for decades and just favor their artist supporters. Sack all art bureaucrats now!

    “The best ideas come from the sector itself, rather than from government,” he said.

    He also seemed to suggest that the arts industry had benefited from the government’s cuts in one way over the last two years: “The sector has spoken with a more common voice than it has in the past. The sector has built bridges amongst itself,” he said.

  3. Good debate, useful format and certainly more inclusive than anything seen before. Great first question from Rachel Mazza about Indigenous arts policy. Minister responsible Fifield reckoning that Arts benefits from funding cuts was it had built bridges (of dissident networks) was lame and he should have been led to the guillotine for that booboo alone. It was important that the ‘debate’ was actually an arts forum with questions being generated primarily by the distinguished arts professionals audience. The 3 portfolio spokespeople were given 90 second slots to respond to the various and varied questioners, and that process quickly delivered a broad spectrum of information as the answer to each particular issue. The very process of such an inclusive and interactive debate format gave audiences a rather immediate image of the strengths and weeakness of each political platform. Dreyfus who I assume is the son of the composer George Dreyfus came across as the statesman of the arts, and the ALP the more natural custodian of the arts for many decades. With that historical dimension in mind the opposition spokesman said the alp needed to do maassive restoration work to right the damage that the Brandis initiatives had inflicted on the industry overall in just 3 years. Adam Bandt was impressive and unrolled some of the Greens innovations that would add greater value and significance to the sector if adopted in the decades to come. Alone Greens this proposal about social security changes sounded practical and would greatly benefit many arts practioners living in poverty today. The Greens certainly have done their homework and appeared very progressive. Poor Fifield looked pretty simplistic repeatedly annunciating that the now impoverished Australia Council has an independent role aka arms length approach to artistic assessment and funding. He was mildly defensive about the general perceptions that the Catalyst find was not independent, going as far to say that the lions share of funding from his dept had been delivered to Bandt electorate of Melbourne as in 10% of his depts total outlay. Thankfully and to Fifield’s his credit did defend the current 70 years copy rights for creators. A proposed limit of 20 year limit is laughable even to discuss, so we can be glad his government haven’t sold out on that important issue as of now.
    I encourage your readers and all arts practitioners to view the debate themselves. Congratulations to artsPeak for organising this event, which if the format was adopted for all present ministry spokespeople and stakeholders, I think would usher in a new age of political maturity to the election process

  4. Bandt and Greens’ policy show a real empathy for the arts and the lack of value afforded those in the ‘industry’ by the current government. Dreyfus was also very convincing. It was pleasing to hear both The Greens and Labor discuss the inclusion of the arts in the much lauded STEM approach to, well, everything. The arts leads in many innovations in Australia and need to be recognised for this. It is also imperative that a STEAM approach to education modifies teaching and learning methodologies with greater vision to accommodate the future needs of students, not with a simplistic focus on society’s current and near-future economic imperatives. There was little discussion of the arts in education, but in this regard in most tertiary institutions and in the bandied definitions of ‘work of the future’ the cart continues to drive the horse.

  5. Let the arty-farties do what struggling groups have done for decades without having to dun government for handouts. Run charity stalls or jumble sales!
    People are sick of seeing their tax dollars being dished out to inept actors and artists, mediocre at best.

    1. Actually, people are far more sick of seeing their tax dollars being dished out to perpetual loss-making would-be real estate barons …

      But yes, continuously subsidising the indulgences of bad artists is also a sore point (because the “inherent good” of bad art is nowhere near as deep and widespread as bad artists like to believe).

  6. Like any individual or Small Business, the Arts sectors must focus on using their immense and varied talents to commence Enterprises that will employ artists and support staff/crew and eventually become self-sufficient. This surely must be a prime goal for the sector. Looking at a holistic approach which includes the Arts (in its many forms), Disabilities and disability enterprises, Education and training, Small and not-so small Businesses, Youth and Entrepreneurship, Baby Boomers and older workers, Rehabilitation and mental health, Charities etc. can and should be connected and aim towards mutual support and the ultimate change to our culture for the better. Let’s lose the the “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) mentality and work towards self-sufficiency through mutual cooperation. Constant reliance on the government of all levels leaves the Arts sector vulnerable and subject to massive fluctuations in funding, which in turn leads to insecurity and reduced confidence. I’d like to see the sector less reliant on handouts and more independent…and yes, there should be government incentives initially to help it to achieve such a worthwhile objective. Like all of us, the future is in the hands of each and every one of us but if the sectors all work together for common goals and independence, what a society and world we could create, in time!

    1. You sir, have no idea about how artists and the arts sector works. An “enterprise’ can be an outcome but it’s not the driving force or primary purpose of most artistic endeavors.

      1. I fully understand that Ivan. An Enterprise is not the driving force behind any endeavour. It is always a tool by which skills and talents are utilised and combined with others for a common goal and as a means of expression…or outcome. My partner is an artist, my son a film maker (with his own business), family members are professional performers and singers and I have been a performing artist myself. I have been involved in various Arts projects and have seen the behind the scenes administration and work involved. To make something of that essential drive, the Arts community must view their endeavours in a light that will attract interest, resources and funds with the ultimately goal of being self-sufficient, as far as it can. Many in the “public” already have a dim view of “artists” and that’s most unfortunate, because they don’t “get it”. I get it! To gain positive support, artists must consider their audiences perspective and for everyone’s sake aim towards making something of their talents that supports the artist and gives back to society. All businesses, enterprises and projects must have this goal, looking outwardly more and inwardly less. Considering yourself of course, but focusing on what you can give, rather than on what you receive. Ironically the more you “give” the more you end up receiving, if you do it right and are not simply taken advantage of.. It’s not easy, I know from personal experience, but it’s damned good when you get there.

  7. My challenge is for the keyboard snipers to name the “bad” artists (and presumably lame organizations) that keep getting funded and to name the civil servants who should be sacked. Even if this could be done without fear of defamation would any one of these armchair warriors have the courage to be specific? I have my list and I’ll show it to you if you show me yours!

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