‘The stage is yours’: Government unveils $286 million arts strategy

Federal Arts Minister Tony Burke.

Arts Minister Tony Burke was given a hero’s welcome at St Kilda’s Hotel Esplanade on Monday morning as he introduced the government’s long-awaited National Cultural Policy.

Known as Revive, the $286 million, five-year strategy is the result of more than six months of consultation, including town hall meetings in every state and territory and five expert review panels to work through more than 1,200 written submissions.

Of the total, $241 million is new funding, while $45 million is being redirected from a Live Performance Support Fund COVID insurance scheme that is no longer needed.

At the centre of the blueprint is the introduction of Creative Australia, a new principal arts investment and advisory body to be governed by the Australia Council. It will be powered by $200 million over four years in a move designed to restore the money cut by the former Coalition Government.

In introducing the policy, Burke said the success of Revive didn’t rest with the government but with “our artists, creators, painters, poets, and provocateurs”.

“Government helps provide the foundation on which you build,” he said.

“And today we are helping to bring your audience closer to you, to hand you a larger canvas ,to shine a brighter spotlight and the volume cranked up to 11. So it’s now over to you. The typewriters ready with a blank page loaded and waiting for you to write the next chapter.

“The stage is yours to imagine, to create, to revive.”

Within Creative Australia, four new bodies will be established in line with the five key areas identified by the government during the submissions process: First Nations first, a place for every story, the centrality of the artist, strong institutions, and reaching the audience.

They consist of a First Nations-led body that will give First Nations people autonomy over decisions and investments; Music Australia, a dedicated new body to support and invest in the Australian contemporary music industry; Writers Australia, which will support writers and illustrators, including screenwriters, to create new works; and a Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces to ensure creative workers are paid fairly and have safe workplaces free from harassment and discrimination.

Respect in the workplace has been a hot-button issue for the screen industry of late, with last year’s A Wider Lens report released by the Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) indicating that bullying and discrimination on the job and in hiring are reportedly commonplace within Australian camera departments, while sexual harassment is ‘routine’.

Under the Centrality of the Artist pillar, the government will fully implement all 55 recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2020 Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report, including expressly prohibiting sexual harassment, introducing a positive duty for employers to take measures to reduce certain forms of unlawful sex discrimination, and increasing access to justice for those who experience workplace sexual harassment.

Burke said the codes developed by the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces will be taken into account when “any business knocks on the door wanting government funding”.

While Creative Australia will sit outside Screen Australia, the government has pledged $12 million bring back the Australian Interactive Games Fund that was administered by the national screen agency before being terminated as a result of Federal Budget cuts in 2014.

Screen Australia will also be called on to help deliver a triennial State of Australian Culture Survey, which will be developed in conjunction with Creative Australia.

As reported on Sunday, Australia’s production industry will receive a boost in the form of content quotas for the major SVOD services, with the policy confirming some form of revenue obligation will be introduced by July 1, 2024.

Further, the government hinted it may address the declining number of children’s television programs being commissioned in Australia, noting within the policy document that it was a sub-genre that had been placed at serious risk amid rising production costs and stagnation of traditional revenue streams.

‘A refreshing change’

Early reactions to the Revive have been positive, with Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) chief executive Erin Madeley praising the government for listening to stakeholders and showing it was prepared to act to reinvest in the sector.

“Revive provides a solid framework for the arts going forward, and it recognises the central role that the arts and arts workers play in our national story and as a major part of the economy,” she said.

“The policy also places a welcome emphasis on participation in artistic and creative activities at a community level so that all Australians, whatever their background or their age, wherever they live, can benefit from cultural activity.

“And it is a refreshing change to have a government that recognises that cultural and creative work is a professional activity that must be underpinned by enforceable fair pay and conditions, including safe and inclusive workplaces.”

The road to reform has been long for the Make It Australian campaign, which the MEAA spearheads alongside the Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG), Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG), Media, and Screen Producers Australia (SPA).

Having taken to Canberra on multiple occasions to lobby for local content requirements for SVOD and AVOD platforms, SPA CEO Matthew Deaner described the national cultural policy announcement as “an important moment that acknowledges the importance of the government delivering on this commitment to the screen industry”.

“The release of the National Cultural Policy brings this long-awaited regulation one step closer,” he said.

“The hard part now will be in negotiating the detail of this policy to get that right.”

For AWG executive director Claire Pullen, who attended Monday’s announcement Revive carried the potential to do what last year’s Jobs and Skills Summit did in terms of resetting the conversation around arts and the creative industries.

“One of the things that struck me when I was there in the room was how confident the document is, particularly given how short a time frame there was to put it together,” she said.

“There’s a real position in there on the arts and the creative industries as part of diplomacy and soft power, and how we can export Australia to the world in really particular ways, not just to generate jobs here but to actually talk about who we are on the world stage.

“I think that is linked to the confidence with which this policy was expressed.”

Also voicing his approval was Interactive Games and Entertainment Association CEO Ron Curry, who told IF that the re-introduction of the Interactive Games Fund alongside the previously announced Digital Games Tax Offset and Screen Australia Games Expansion Pack would ensure that the whole ecosystem has a level of support.

“We launched a policy document in 2020 that called two things – the return of the interactive games fund and the funding similar to the DGTO,” he said.

“We’ve been pushing for both those [measures] quite hard for a number of years, so we’re really excited that we’ve got some traction now.”

Find the full policy here.