News & Commentary Liberals slammed for lack of vision at arts election debate By Ben Neutze | June 8, 2016 | 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] Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Ben Neutze Ben Neutze is Deputy Editor of Daily Review. He has previously written for Time Out Sydney, The Guardian Australia and Limelight Magazine.