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editorial rt81

labor party arts policy

Download it. Read it now. It could be your future. It’s election season and the Labor Party’s policy paper New Directions for the Arts has been released. It’s an intriguing document and an excitingly comprehensive one from Shadow Arts Minister, Peter Garrett. There are many promises, although ‘could’ and ‘will consider’ recur a little too often, making this a sometimes tentative policy document, but at least some very important issues have been put on the agenda. Hopefully costing will be forthcoming once the election campaign commences in earnest. The proposals are a mix of business as usual, if much improved, the regaining of ground lost in the Howard decade and in Australia Council restructurings, some new initiatives and a partial reorganisation of the arts funding chain of command. Given the Howard government’s failure to position Australia in global digital culture, new media art—“some of the most innovative and exciting work produced by artists”—is prominent in the document. It’s expressed in terms of a new generation audience of participant consumers, creative industries and Australian digital content issues.

The Australia Council for the Arts appears frequently in the document, with a commitment from Labor to maintaining the peer review process, making council and artform board appointments transparent, getting the artform board mix right (“practising artists, young people and arts entrepreneurs”), speeding up the grant process (“simplified and faster application processes”), increasing support for R&D and for risk in new work, and supporting artists “through the course of their careers” (including a new approach to the artist and social security). The Australia Council is also seen as a new home for the conservative Australian Business and Arts Foundation and “all suitable existing programs” run by the Department of Communications, Information Technology & the Arts (DCITA), doubtless including Playing Australia, a natural fit for the Council’s Market Development division.

Among other Council-related promises are the development of an Arts and Disability Strategy, a commitment “to dance and to small to medium theatre organisations”, involving a fresh look at Dance and Theatre Board reviews of recent years, and increased attention to regional arts. Council might get to police this one: “Labor will implement a program of mandatory presentations by major performing companies of work created by and featuring young and emerging Australian artists.” Under a Labor government the Australia Council looks set to grow and grow (although the wisdom of monolith-making needs some reflection). Likewise Labor approves of the current government’s AFC-FFC-Film Australia merger, although it will review the associated reforms in terms of their impact on independents. The odd exception is the promised “de-merger of the National Film and Sound Archive from the AFC.”

As well there’s the much publicised Labor Party commitment to music education; Indigenous artists, including the introduction of the resale royalty scheme; reduction of “barriers to live music performance”; a review of the effects of free trade agreements on Australian content; and the establishment of a charter requiring minimal levels of Australian content on the ABC. There’s much in the policy statement to inspire hope in the hearts of artists, producers and audiences. Mention of artists and their needs to Arts Minister Senator George Brandis and Treasurer Peter Costello, however, seems to yield only elitist dismissiveness. Under the Coalition it will be business as usual, and bad business for many artists. If Labor’s arts policy can be made fact and its vision of art as “an integral part of culture and economy” realised, then the impact of many years of neglect by successive federal governments might at last be diminished. RT

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 1

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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