Labor announced its arts policy ahead of the federal election, with a launch event at The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda, Melbourne, on Saturday and a pledge from Labor Spokesperson for the Arts Tony Burke that a Bill Shorten government will put “cultural policy back in the centre of decision making.”

The party announced a refreshed take on the Creative Australia policy – launched under Julia Gillard in 2013 and scrapped by the Coalition – which includes an $8 million investment over four years for a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre company and support for existing First Nations companies to become major performing arts companies, $1 million of annual funding for regional arts initiatives, a restoration of Australia Council for the Arts funding to pre-2014 levels and a fairer distribution of funding to support the small to medium and independent sectors, as well as literature and visual arts, and investment in video games development.

Image © jannoon028, freepik.com

“Arts is a whole ecology, from the majors, the small to medium companies and independent artists and if you break that ecology it hurts the whole sector,” Burke said, taking aim at what he described as six years of “cuts and chaos”.

“Arts policy is not an add-on for a Labor government. If we get elected we will put the story of our arts at the centre of what we do as a nation,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said at the Launch. “The arts deserve attention and support.”

The announcement has been greeted positively by the industry, which has spent the last few years navigating a shifting landscape that saw Senator George Brandis remove $105 from the Australia Council for the Arts in 2014 to create a National Program for Excellence in the Arts, later renamed Catalyst (with some funding returned to the Australia Council) by his successor in the Arts portfolio, Mitch Fifield, who then scrapped it in 2017.

“Policy certainty is critical for the entire cultural sector, and the announcement today provides an important framework for our industry,” APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Ormston said.

“We welcome this commitment to the centrality of the Arts in our society and are hopeful that this sentiment will also inform the implementation of Labor’s Arts policy if elected – delivering to the sector ‘a rising tide that lifts all boats’,” AMPAG Chair John Irving said.

AMPAG also described Labor’s $3 million commitment to existing First Nations’ theatre and dance companies with the potential to grow and become major performing arts companies, as “highly commendable”.

The National Association for the Visual Arts has also welcomed the announcement. “Today Australian Labor has launched a comprehensive set of commitments that reconnect cultural policy to the rigorous national consultations that grounded 2013’s Creative Australia in industry expertise,” said NAVA Executive Director, Esther Anatolitis.

“Six years ago,” Anatolitis said, “the Australian Government brought the nation together to envision an arts sector that’s ambitious and fair. Sadly, that policy did not survive political change. Labor’s renewed commitment to build on a policy that’s already been industry-tested is a valuable way to redress our current crisis, as well as charting a way forward.”

NAVA has also issued an election report card ahead of the election, comparing the policies of the Greens, Labor and the Coalition.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union has also welcomed the announcement. ““Labor has consulted and listened to the arts sector, and its policy reflects the concerns and aspirations of artists,” MEAA Chief Executive Paul Murphy said. “Through the restoration of funding to the Australia Council, new funding for drama, comedy and children’s content on the ABC and SBS, and support for live music, and the commitment to new content obligations and incentives for streaming services like Netflix, Labor has been thoughtful and consultative.”

The Greens have also published its arts policy, though with less fanfare, also promising to restore Australia Council funding as well as flagging the establishment of a Creativity Commission to help Australia transition from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) thinking to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Maths) thinking, a program for artists working with teachers in schools and a fund to provide a living wage for creatives. They will also push for Australian content quotas across broadcast, radio, subscription and streaming services, Netflix and Stan, as well as a fund for video game development.

The arts hasn’t yet featured on the Liberal Party’s list of policy announcements – they didn’t release a formal arts policy for the 2013 and 2016 elections – and they are yet to articulate an arts and culture policy, but the budget announcement in May included $30.9 million in funding for contemporary music and $22 million over three years for The Bundanon Trust to upgrade facilities, including building a new art gallery.

They have also committed funding of $498 million for an expansion of the Australian War Memorial and $85 million for a new Aboriginal Art and Cultures Gallery in Adelaide. Limelight has contacted Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield for comment but has not yet heard back.

It’s not just Labor’s high-profile policy launch which is pushing the arts up the agenda at this year’s election, however, The Balnaves Foundation has partnered with NAVA to publish three full-page advertisements in the Australian, asking voters to “Consider our cultural future when you vote.”

“The Arts and Creative Industries are vital to our economy,” said Balnaves CEO Hamish Balnaves. “According to the Government’s own reckoning contributing $111.7 billion or 6.4% of GDP, and employing more people than the IT, mining and energy sectors.” The first ad was published on Monday, with more a second today and another on Thursday.


Update: Live Performance Australia has since released its own election report card.