It certainly seems like Australians aren’t interested in this election. There is a sense of malaise; even commentators on political podcasts sound slightly frustrated. And when we look at the over 2.2 million pre-poll votes cast at the time of writing, it just seems like everyone wants this whole thing to be over – as if early voting could become a kind of forcefield against the dull blade of the news, not unlike wearing ‘I voted’ stickers at university to ward off student politicians.
In light of an election campaign in which an uncracked egg gets more airtime than the story of over one million species being at risk of extinction from climate change, and the current Minister of the Environment Melissa Price is AWOL, it feels slightly churlish to go trawling through policy statements for mention of arts and culture.
I frame this as a serious question: what is the use of investment in the arts if climate change is continually ignored? Can we, should we, make art on a dying planet? Or, to put it another way: if politicians won’t even face the looming catastrophe that is global extinction, how low must the arts then rate on their interest scale?
But, as an arts journalist, I must consider: what is there in this election for the arts?
For the most part, there isn’t a lot.
The big policy winner in the election will be contemporary music, where most of the arts conversation from the major parties has been directed.
Labor, perhaps, wins the ‘most specific policy announcement of 2019’ award, with three new ARIA awards for music teachers. Among other music policies, they have promised $28 million over three years for investment in live music and music hubs, new rules on ticket scalping, and mental health support for artists and crew.
The Coalition will provide $22.5 million for the Live Music Australia Grant program, supporting venues that program Australian artists.
Taking a different approach, the fringe Citizens Electoral Council is running on a platform of popular music being too ‘banal’. Their ‘Culture & The Arts’ policy video is a trip – Can’t imagine why they have it as unlisted.
The ABC and SBS
For better or worse, the ABC and SBS aren’t mentioned in the Liberal Party’s policy statements, although the Nationals do make mention of the $43.7 million for the ABC and SBS allocated in the 2019 Budget, with a focus on regional areas.
If politicians won’t face the looming catastrophe that is global extinction, how low must the arts then rate on their interest scale?
Labor has pledged to return $83.7 million to the ABC, plus an extra $60 million across the ABC and SBS for new Australian content, $15 million for regional and emergency broadcasting, $4 million for audio description, reinstating shortwave radio in the Northern Territory, and ‘a news literacy program to fight disinformation and fake news’.
While the Australian Conservatives note they ‘recognise the importance of the National Broadcaster’, they support merging the ABC and SBS, and limiting this new entity to two TV stations, two radio stations, and limit online offerings to on-demand viewing of local television content.
The clearest policy in relation to television comes from Seniors United, a minor party running in the NSW Senate, who support the establishment of a ‘Seniors TV Chanel’ with ‘specific programming from seniors’ which includes such things never broadcast on the ABC or SBS such as documentaries, cooking shows, and lifestyle programs.
On the final weekend of the campaign, the Labor Party announced their arts platform, ‘Renewing Creative Australia’ – their arts policy launched in 2013 and subsequently scrapped with the change in government. This large-scale and ambitious arts policy includes: restoring Australia Council funding with an additional $37.5 million over the forward estimates; $3 million to existing First Nations performance companies and $8 million over four years for a new Indigenous Theatre Company; $4 million for ‘learning and recognition of First Nations languages’; and focuses on accessibility, cultural diversity, regional arts, and education.
The Greens are the one other party to have released a detailed arts policy. Their proposal, A Creative Australia, dedicates $100 million to a Games Investment & Enterprise Fund (compare with Labor’s $25 million commitment to the Australian Interactive Games Fund), will expand the Producer Tax Offset (currently used for film productions) to video game developers, and give $15 million towards creative co-working spaces. The Greens also have policies around better pay for artists, improving Australia Council funding, content quotas, and will advocate for a ‘transition from STEM thinking to STEAM thinking’ – because apparently the well-established and not cringeworthy phrase ‘arts and sciences’ isn’t cool anymore.
There is little in the way of culture policies from the other parties – indeed, the election pledges arguably most pertinent to artists in 2019 are not around cultural policy but employment and workers’ rights. The dire state of arts and culture forward thinking as told through policy documents is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that, if you ignore the racism of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (don’t ignore the racism; preference One Nation last), the party actually has one of the more transformative policy platforms for thousands of artists around Australia.
Aimed at small businesses rather than artists directly, One Nation’s ‘timely payment’ policy would see the enforcement of payment of invoices at 30 days, with late payment fines of ‘8 per cent plus the base rate of interest set by the Reserve Bank of Australia.’
This has been developed from the Payment Times and Practices Inquiry, which was handed down to the Turnbull Government in April 2017. The Government’s response, in November of that year, was they ‘should not intervene in markets unless it is absolutely necessary.’
Most of the election pledges pertinent to artists in 2019 are not around cultural policy but employment and workers’ rights.
As part of their tourism and jobs packages, the Coalition have announced $5 million for the Rottnest Island Museum, $10.1 million for the Sovereign Hill Museum; and in South Australia $85 million for an Aboriginal Art and Cultures Gallery in Adelaide – matched by Labor in their policy announcement – and support for the Heysen Gallery and Carrick Hill House.
The Arts Party no longer stand candidates for election and instead describe themselves as an ‘political movement.’ The Pirate Party supports a basic income guarantee, and replacement of the Copyright Act 1968 with a ‘Creative Works Act’ which will limit creative rights to 15 years from publication or death, whichever comes first. The Together Party’s arts policy is light on detail, but they have published a blog post against the Australian Major Performing Arts Group and in support of better funding for small-to-medium organisations.
On the final Saturday before the election, the Labor Party’s announcement of their arts policy finally brought culture and the arts into the spotlight. While the Greens had released their arts policy previously, it didn’t come into the election race with the same impact as afforded the two major parties. Labor’s policy matched several Coalition announcements, including a live music focus and $85 million for an Aboriginal gallery in Adelaide, although not the remaining $15-plus million in the Liberal Party’s ‘Adelaide City deal’.
If this election serves to remind artists and arts workers of anything, it may be that culture polices cannot exist in a bubble.
If this will have any impact on the final week of campaigning remains to be seen. In the 2019 election, it seems clear culture is a minor player: but so, it seems, are many other policies.
If this election serves to remind artists and arts workers of anything, though, it may be that culture polices cannot exist in a bubble. The arts industry is made of workers; of single parents; of migrants; those who work day jobs in minimum wage industries; receive Newstart and those who receive the Disability Support Pension. Artists need education, dental care, and healthcare, for themselves and their families. This election will be – should be – fought on a much bigger scale than the arts themselves, because where do the arts exist if they are not part of the fabric of society?
You can find more details about all parties’ arts-related policies (or lack thereof) here. (Editor’s note: this document will be kept updated from time of publication until election day.)
And remember: don’t vote for racists.
Update (17 May): Amended to reflect current Greens policy on ABC and SBS funding.