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EDITORIAL: a vote for the Coalition is a vote against the arts

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For the last two years artists, audiences and long-standing arts companies have been fighting to reverse the damage inflicted upon the sector by the Abbott-Turnbull governments.

Initially the arts sector had to contend with a government that showed open disdain towards artists, headed by the then arts minister George Brandis; now the sector is up against a government that is patently neglectful of its needs under replacement Arts Minister Mitch Fifield.

Fifield has not announced an arts policy for this election so voters can only judge the Coalition by its previous term of government. That’s not a promising proposition.

Brandis’s removal of $105 million from the Australia Council for the Arts to fund his own “National Program for Excellence in the Arts” has proven to be a disaster, only slightly eased by Fifield’s decision to return a chunk of funding and a rejig of the program as the $73 million ministerial body “Catalyst”.

More than 60 small-to-medium arts companies lost their Australia Council funding this year and Catalyst has done very little to repair the damage done to those bodies. Catalyst has had its own series of problems, being inconsistent in its administration, even ignoring its own funding guidelines in one instance.

Beyond the Catalyst debacle, the Coalition has cut funding to the ABC, Screen Australia and other vital cultural bodies. But these attacks on the arts do not only affect those who work in the arts. They affect every Australian who watches television, visits a library, buys a ticket to a musical or an opera and believes that Australian stories and arts are part of our collective identity.

While an arts policy will never win or lose an election — and the Coalition is probably working under an assumption that the majority of arts workers and arts lovers are always unlikely to support a conservative government — there are votes to be won with a policy which supports a valuable sector and gives artists the resources they need to create a rich and profitable cultural landscape.

Most voters will make their decision on the basis of “big issues” like economic management, health, education and the environment, but there’s a stark difference between the Coalition and other major parties on arts policy.

In contrast to the Coalition, both Labor and the Greens have promised additional funding for the arts and, most importantly, both parties have pledged to return the $73 million removed from the Australia Council’s budget.

Labor has also pledged $60 million to the ABC for new Australian drama, while the Greens would double the funding available to small-to-medium companies through the Australia Council. The newly formed Arts Party has proposed funding boosts across a range of areas. (If anything positive has come out of the Age of Brandis, it’s that artists have organised themselves into a political party which will hopefully endure beyond this crisis.)

Arts policy is an election issue because we’ve reached a critical juncture in Australia’s cultural life. There are many small-to-medium companies which are hanging on by a thread after being defunded. These are companies which punch well above their weight and provide Australia with a voice and a sense of identity which resonates all around the world, as well as developing our great artists and most profitable cultural exports. But many are unable to take the leaps of faith required of great art without federal support.

If funding is returned to the small-to-medium sector within the next 24 months, the affected companies should be able to weather the financial storm and land on their feet. If they’re unable to access federal funding, some will inevitably close and won’t be able to spring back into action if they happen to secure funding from another source. As many artists and administrators have pointed out: once a structure is dismantled, it generally will not reform.

In the context of more than $400 billion of federal spending each year, the $175 million of additional arts funding over four years promised by Labor and the $270 million promised by the Greens is a drop in the ocean. Plenty of attempts have been made to contextualise how little money the arts sector is fighting for (often in comparison to the $12 to $24 billion being spent on a new fleet of fighter jets), but the cultural impact is potentially massive.

Unfortunately, consistent calls from audiences and artists for the Coalition to restore a very small but important portion of arts funding have fallen on deaf ears. The Coalition could have easily provided stability and confidence to a valuable industry by pledging less than $50 million of new funding a year, or simply reallocating funding back to the Australia Council. Instead they’ve chosen to ignore the wisdom and unity of almost the entire sector on this critical issue (even Coalition-friendly arts organisations have joined the #istandwiththearts movement).

Labor and the Greens have simple but credible plans to support the arts and encourage Australia’s creative and innovative potential. With only a few days until the election, voters are completely in the dark as to the Coalition’s arts plan. If the last three years are anything to go on, there’s not much cause for optimism.

If one were to vote on arts and cultural issues alone this Saturday then there’s only one choice — and that is not to vote for the Coaltion.

15 responses to “EDITORIAL: a vote for the Coalition is a vote against the arts

  1. I love “The Arts” – Opera, Theatre, Classical Ballet, and Musicals – but I don’t understand why The Arts are more deserving of subsidy than companies such as Ford and GMH. The Arts, like Industry and Agriculture has to survive on its own, even if we are the only country in the world with a level playing field. Stop whinging, and perform shows with greater appeal.

  2. So true! Please – if you care about the arts and/or believe that a strong, independent, public broadcaster is essential to our democracy, then vote Greens or ALP on Saturday. Alternatively, find an independent who supports these essential areas of conribution to our society.

    If you are a Queenslander, vote 1 for Michael Kaff, in the Senate. Michael is an independent who is not a career politician, just an average guy such as you or I but one who is passionate about the Arts and bringing a fairer go to all Australians.

  3. Hi Jrapqq,

    GMH and Ford get ENORMOUS government subsidies and tax breaks to operate in Australia. I suggest you do some research. The support to the arts is much less than the support given to business. For those interested in the Arts I suggest Vote 1 for the Arts Party!

    Alex Broun

  4. JRAPQQ : I don’t think you understand the fact that as you write “The Arts” are comprised of more than the big four performance companies as sited in how you love opera, theatre, classical ballet and musicals. FYI, artistic endeavour involves a range of artistic pursuits across a raft of equally demanding disciplines. For example, if children are not provided with the opportunity to visit and engage in local galleries, libraries – yes, writers are artists – theatrical companies and the like, then it is hardly difficult to realise that they will miss out on terrific influences to add to their formal education which is, in this country, already sliding down the world-wide bannister of credibility. If you really think that the arts are measured by commercial appeal, then you may like some of the arts, but have nil knowledge of them.

  5. Are we talking about so-called “high art” or are we talking about the areas in general?
    Probably two different things. I’ve been a musician all of my life. I’m now 66 and have around $350 in the bank.
    The only subsidy I’ve ever had in the dole. So much for blues, funk, R&B and soul music, I suppose…

  6. Christ, is the opera and symphony orchestra the same as growing spuds, in terms of subsidy ? That’s the saddest thing I have read this year.

    And Holdens and Ford USED to get subsidies but they don’t anymore so that’s why them and Toyota are packing up and going home. They will just be importing companies. That’s going to put about 80,000 people out of work.

    As I said before, a bunch of schmoks who the price of everything and the value of nothing !!

  7. There is a lot more at stake for Australia in this election than ‘The Arts’. I won’t list what is at stake as, being reasonably intelligent types, most of ‘the art’s’ community would know very well what they are.

    Remember, if big business gets some tax breaks further down the track, not only would there be more investment in business infrastructure and, dare I say it, jobs but also continued, and probably more, funding of the arts through sponsorship. (You might have to wear a logo or two though).

    I say more power to Mr Turnbull and the Coalition in their quest to bring stability and economic wisdom to Australia after a chaotic few years of Labor, Greens and assorted independents mischief. The arts will always survive. Some of the wannabe’s on the fringes might need realise they ain’t got it and have to go get a real job though.

    1. The trickle down effect which underpins Turnbull’s big tax cuts and his jobs and growth ideas has been shown to be completely wrong. Big business is not going to employ more workers –They will probably use the money to develop more robots.
      Capitalism depends on people spending –without jobs capitalism is immobilised.
      But big business is not the answer. Small companies and arts companies are the biggest employers . More people are interested in the Arts than in sport.

  8. “Arts”, not including the administration of arts, requires a funding stream not dependent on the whim of Goverments of the day or Ministers. Both major parties have sold off the possibility of acheiving this. Examples in overseas jurisdictions such as Arts Lotteries and so on have gone. One suggestion to consider is the use of art not subject to copyright, whereby a levy (not a tax) is paid into a fund only to be used for arts funding. So art when the art used is not subject to copyright and is used in commercials or big budget productions pays for the use of art. The threshhold could be set by regulation and attached to the CPI. The Legislation would need to provide that the levy is used for the purpose of Art of which an appropiated meaning can be provided for in the Legislation…. Art funding art…
    A bit like mining royalties what is in the ground or out there should not be exploited for free. The user pays…. I’ve heard that before….Why should art be free to make profits from whilst art is financially impoverished? After all art is created for the enrichment of minds and civilization ….Its worth a thought…. The Arts Funding Act 2018….

  9. I grew up in pretty grim times in Scotland. The only real pleasure I had all to myself as a child was going to my very small local Scottish library and completely losing myself in all the children’s books I was able to take out. These books took me to a different place, and mitigated some of the misery I felt as a child. As I grew up a little, I still read and read and read. Stuff they didn’t teach you or didn’t care for in school. My first job at fifteen was in a bookshop in Edinburgh. It was heaven to me, and I worked hard to make sure I kept my job. In those days you had to start at the bottom and work up which meant sweeping the floors before opening and making the bosses tea and coffee. I got transferred from the fiction section to the university section. Here I discovered philosophers and devoured their books using my staff discount. I discovered sociology, and also taught myself to read the Maigret books in French from my schoolgirl French and a French dictionary.I was not eighteen yet. I really worked on it and in truth spent the portion of my wages left after rent and food. on staff-discounted books. Nothing much has changed as I near 62. I voted for the Arts Party in pre-polling because the arts have enriched my life to an unbelievable degree.

    1. Dear Isobel, this is a story everybody who cares about the Arts loves to hear. The Arts in all its’ forms provides us all with access to the wider world that physical and economic forces often constrain. It democratises knowledge and also empathy. We would be much poorer in all ways if it was limited by the short sightedness of our leaders. That the current Govt has seen fit to inflict such wilful damage on that which makes life bearable for many is a good reason not to vote for them. Thanks for your vote
      Sally Baillieu
      The Arts Party

  10. I have been an artist (writer) all my life, and at the same time have almost always held down a nine to five job in Aboriginal organisations, public service and statutory authorities. There is not always a clear dichotomy between practising artists and “workers”.
    I would dare say that a large percentage of artists hold down nine to five or casual jobs in Oz which most would have to just to exist.
    Any commissions I have received as a writer (I have written 10 staged or produced productions which has employed around 100 people)) have easily been more than covered by the taxes I have paid over the last thirty years.
    My strategy as an activist would have been to approach the Labor Party and provided strategic advice to their arts policy voluntarily, and stand with them publicly. By standing apart as an Arts Party the arts is seen as a single issue, separate from the “real world” issues all Australians face each day, including artists like me. We cant separate arts from education, or health, but we could support a party that advocates for all three.Art for arts sake, we haven’t got the numbers or profile.

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