Noni Hazlehurst.

Despite the fact that every study on the subject ever undertaken overwhelmingly demonstrates the value and importance of exposure to and/or participation in the arts in enriching and improving the lives of children and adults alike, it seems that arguing for the support of culture doesn’t cut it in this country right now.

Somehow the artistic and cultural sectors have been officially dismissed as unnecessary and elitist, which is blatantly untrue and utterly without foundation. The reverse is true.There is very little about being an artist or arts worker in this country that could be described as elitist.

It’s interesting to note the difference in approach to the hardships being experienced by our creative industries between our Government and the New Zealand Government.

Jacinda Ardern is not only the Prime Minister – she is also Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Imagine! There is a detailed and supportive program to rescue and sustain the creative sector in ongoing, active development and expansion there, under the title Creative NZ, and the NZ Government was quick to recognise the consequences of this situation and to act.

Paul Fletcher, our Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, in that order, voted against extending JobKeeper to the members of the industries for which he is responsible. That lack of support is already having a devastating impact from which many individuals and companies can never recover.

It feels like the only argument that will gain traction or attention in the prevailing climate is an economic one. The figures speak for themselves.

In 2017, 43 per cent of production business in our industry was exported, compared to 7.6 per cent in the wider economy.

In 2018, 26 million Australians attended live performance events – more than those who attended AFL, NRL, Soccer, Super Rugby, Cricket and NBL combined, with a revenue of $2.2 billion.

Our industry contributes $111.7 billion to GDP, not counting the flow-on benefits to tourism and hospitality. The aviation industry contributes $18.6 billion – that industry, one sixth the size of ours, has received a $750 million rescue package.

The creative industry contributes 6.5 per cent of the economy. Mining contributes about 8 per cent.

More than 90 per cent of our artists, creators and associated businesses are not in receipt of public funding and are ineligible for relief measures.

There are 50,000 professional artists and 600,000 workers in the creative industries. The vast majority are not employed full-time, and therefore have little, if any, resources to fall back on.

Our industry was one of the first casualties of the crisis and will be one of the last to be able to start up again.

And rather than regulating digital and streaming services so that they have to abide by local content quotas, as occurs in many European countries, the Government has decided to give FTA networks what they have been lobbying for for a long time – the suspension of many of the quotas, described by the Minister as “red tape.”

There is a very good chance that those quotas will not be reinstated. The one bright spot on the horizon for the screen industry – that we could spend this time in development of future projects, has been dealt a huge blow.

The top 100 programs on FTA television in 2018 were locally produced. Cutting local production will give audiences more reasons to look elsewhere for their entertainment. The money spent on sports coverage has not provided the ROI that was expected – and currently it cannot.

This is not so much about my “friends and colleagues.” This is about the waging of a culture war in which there are no winners.

I am particularly concerned about the effect of the hitherto gradual, and now accelerated, diminishing of creative and artistic practice in curricula and in our communities, on our children and young people, who were suffering from unprecedented mental health problems before any of this happened.

Without exposure to and participation in the creative arts, we know that children suffer and educational outcomes are diminished. Just as a diet of junk food makes you sick, so does a diet of junk culture.

Therefore, I am particularly impressed by the proposal to provide funding to place creative artists and practitioners in schools. The ROI would be far greater than that of the School Chaplain program, which has a budget of $247 million over four years, despite overwhelming numbers of objections to much of its content and practice.

If the Government’s stated argument for providing these funds – to improve the social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of students – is serious, students would be far better served by the schools program proposed in the Create Australia package. Huge amounts of research done in this area exists, providing incontrovertible evidence of the benefits of arts and creative programs at all levels of education.

Leaving our creative industry and its workers to founder makes absolutely no sense, culturally, emotionally or economically.

Our product is valued not only by Australians but all over the world. Our artists and creative workers are highly respected and sought after, and our output has played a crucial role in raising Australia’s profile internationally, and in attracting people to come here.

Far more so than sport. Yet come election times, the majority of promises made are about sporting facilities, not creative endeavours or opportunities.

Contrary to what many would have you believe, the people who work in our industry are not airy-fairy, not hobbyists, not hysterical divas, nor whinging egomaniacs.

There are no more examples of this in our industry than in any other workplace. Probably fewer – we can’t afford to be. The overwhelming majority are talented, incredibly dedicated, hard-working individuals striving to add value to the sum of human experience and existence, and to tell stories that unite, rather than divide us.

In spite of the value and quality of their contributions being officially ignored and minimized, derided and jeopardized, they continue to strive to ameliorate the obvious outcomes of current policy settings – falling education standards, increased mental health problems, social isolation and a general dumbing-down of the populace.

Our industry practitioners are always on the frontline when it comes to providing solace and support in times of need. The first to step up to raise funds and provide their services, to lift spirits and unify and comfort shattered communities. To remind people that they are not alone. We are not trying to argue that we are special, but our contribution is unique. We just hope to survive and to work, to continue to contribute.

If “jobs and growth” are the mantra, I can think of no better guaranteed ROI than the Create Australia proposal, both in the short- and long-term, not only for workers in the sector, but also for the benefit of the population as a whole and for Australia’s international reputation as a creative and vibrant country.

Germany’s Culture Minister, in announcing a 50 billion Euro fund, specifically for small businesses and freelancers, including those from the cultural, creative and media sectors, said: “Artists are not only indispensable, but also vital, especially now”.

Hope you can find something in all of this. Thanks for the opportunity to make a case, not just for artists and performers, but for the hundreds of thousands of workers in the sector who work behind the scenes.

Actor, director, writer, presenter and broadcaster Noni Hazlehurst has appeared on stage and screen since the early 1970s. She has won four AFI awards and was nominated for the AACTA award for best supporting actress for Ladies in Black. This article was originally posted on Facebook.

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