Australian National Arts Policy

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Introduction

This paper bring together current thinking about public policy and the policymaking process and applies this thinking to Australian national arts policy. It includes analysis and commentary on national arts policy in relation to normative models of arts and cultural policy and some of the challenges and opportunities facing those wishing to influence this policy. It also describes some of the dynamics evident in the mobilisation of Australian arts advocacy coalitions in the aftermath of Senator Brandis’ reallocation of the Australia Council funds in 2015. This paper focuses on Australian national arts policy, not policy related to music specifically, and makes only limited references to the considerable impact of the activities of State, Territory and local governments in the arts – the latter covered admirably by Scott O’Hara in his SWOT Analysis for The Music Trust of Local Government and Music (October 2017).

What is policy?

Policy can be understood as “a particular way of making sense of governing” (Colebatch & Hoppe, 2018). Some policy theorists have identified what they refer to as the ‘markers’ of policy: it emerges from government; it exists in written form; it is a response to problems; it is a clear form of ‘standard practice; and it reflects a body of accrued specialised knowledge. They acknowledge that the extent to which these markers are evident in a particular policy will vary depending on the context (Colebatch & Hoppe, 2018). In the Australian context I would argue that government arts policy is often best discerned by what governments do not just what they say or what they write down that they will do.

What is the policy process?

The policy process is the activity associated with policy making. There was a time when public policy was seen as a rational process which followed a linear cycle which began with the recognition of a policy problem and then moved on to framing the problem, defining the policy’s objectives, considering various options for solving the problem and coming up with what was judged to be the most efficient and effective policy response to the problem. These ‘rational’ processes were supported at times by the introduction of various tools such as Planning Programming Budget Systems (PPBS) viewed as “over-ambitious and technocratic” in some quarters (Colebatch & Hoppe, 2018 citing Wildavsky, 1969). This understanding of public policymaking perhaps represents an ideal rather than what happens in reality and the concept of an orderly progression through a logical process governed by sound chaps has been supplanted by the view that policy is more about how governments mobilise in order to govern a society’s problems (Colebatch & Hoppe, 2018). This view argues that it is not just government ministers and their personal and departmental staff who are involved in policymaking and that policy activity extends beyond the boundaries of parliamentary processes to include specialists who “regularly seek to influence policy” including politicians, agency officials, interest groups, researchers and journalists (Sabatier & Weible, 2007) each of whom are aligned with one or a number of policy networks competing for influence (op cit.) This approach to policymaking has intensified over the last three decades: lobbying by special interest groups has increased (Keating and Weller, 2000; Christensen & Laegreid, 2011) and, as the esteemed senior public servant and diplomat John Menadue has written, these influences have hijacked the possibility of any debate between a minister and the public on public policy as the minister’s energy becomes focussed on managing “the vested interests” (Menadue, 2015; see also Considine, 2005). So the policy process can be loud and public, as it was, for instance, with the arts sector’s response to Senator Brandis’ decision in 2015 to reallocate $110 million from the Australia Council’s budget to establish a new fund for the arts under his jurisdiction. Without wanting to overlook the impact that this unheralded action had on the Council and its clients, this mobilisation of the arts sector did trigger a Senate Inquiry, the appointment of a new Federal arts minister and the return of $80 million to the Australia Council. Sometimes the policy process can be quiet and private, for example some of the discussions leading up to the establishment of the Major Performing Arts Framework in 2000. Either way public policymaking involves a large cast of players from within and without government agencies and parliaments.

What do normative values suggest arts/cultural policy should look like?

While it is not unusual for the terms arts and culture to be used synonymously in cultural policy documents in Australia they do in fact refer to distinctly different things. The UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics is a useful way of illustrating the difference and how an arts policy may relate to the broader cultural policy context (UNESCO, 2009).   UNESCO defines culture as:

  • ‘’.. the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, that encompasses, not only art and literature, but lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs (UNESCO, 2001). Whereas it is not always possible to measure such beliefs and values directly, it is possible to measure associated behaviours and practices. As such, the UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics defines culture through the identification and measurement of the behaviours and practices resulting from the beliefs and values of a society or a social group (UNESCO, 2009).

UNESCO’s cultural framework includes the following guiding principles:

  • A conceptual foundation which captures the full range of cultural expression, irrespective of the particular economic and social mode of its production; 
  • Addresses the breadth of cultural expression (cultural forms, practices, products and processes), including their new forms of production and consumption (cultural industries and the cultural component of intellectual property) and cultural practices not associated to cultural industries (intangible heritage) (UNESCO, 2009)

UNESCO has identified the following cultural domains: A: Cultural and Natural Heritage; B: Performance and Celebration; C: Visual Arts and Crafts; D: Books and Press; E: Audio-visual and Interactive Media; F: Design and Creative Services; and G: Intangible Cultural Heritage (transversal domain) Each cultural domain represents:

“...a common set of economic (such as the production of goods and services) and social (such as participation in culture activities) activities that traditionally have been regarded as being “cultural” (UNESCO, 2009, pp. 9-10).

UNESCO also identifies four transversal domains which stand alone and can be applied across the above cultural domains. In addition to Intangible Cultural Heritage included above (the “practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage”) these transversal domains include Archiving and Preserving, Education and Training and Equipment and Supporting Materials. UNESCO also identifies the two related cultural domains of Sports and Recreation and Tourism as they represent activities that may have a cultural character but their main component is not cultural. From an operational perspective Mercer identifies three dimensions to culture: socially constructed realities; “the mediums used to express culture”; and “the artefacts produced by a culture” (Grogan & Mercer, 1995). I think that this is very useful as it clearly shows where the arts fit into the bigger cultural picture. Cultural economist David Throsby operationalises his normative definition of Australian cultural policy in two ways: firstly by suggesting that arts and heritage policy should form the ‘core’ of such a policy and secondly by suggesting linkages between cultural and other policies (Throsby, 2006). These include economic policy (particularly relevant to cultural industries and the media), cultural and social policy (multiculturalism and Indigenous affairs) and cultural and foreign policy (direct engagement through cultural exchange and discussion of the cultural values informing Australian foreign policy). Bemoaning the lack of a broader cultural framework within which to locate the arts, Julianne Schultz is also critical of the conflation of arts and culture evident in government policy documents and asserts the need for autonomous domains for both cultural and arts policy (Schultz, 2015).

How does Australia’s national arts policy measure up?

The parameters of national Australian so called cultural policy exhibit a predominant and enduring emphasis on government subsidised arts activity to the exclusion of popular, commercial and some community based genres (Connell, 1983; Rowse, 1985; Frow, 1986; Watt, 1991; Hawkes, 1992; Cunningham, 1992; Hawkins, 1993; Hawkes, 2002; Cunningham, 2003; Throsby, 2009; Upchurch, 2011; Tabrett, 2013; Schultz, 2015; O’Connor, 2016). This emphasis can be explained in part by one of the dualitities in Australian arts policy: the distinction made between subsidised (non-commercial) and commercial arts and cultural activity. This distinction was significant in the establishment of the British Arts Council in 1945 and the Australia Council in the 1970s (Rowse, 1985; Cunningham, 1992; and Upchurch 2011) and is evident in the most recent National Opera Review’s: “...emphatic ‘no’ to Opera Australia directing government funds to “significant commercial activities, such as [its] long-run musicals” (Strahle, 2017). A second duality emerged during the 1980s and 1990s, when a distinction between cultural, later referred to as creative, industries and subsidised arts activities became significant (Garnham, 2005), with the former seen as “worthwhile and wealth generating” and the latter as “worthy and welfare dependent” (Tabrett, 2013). Each of the Labor Government’s two national arts and cultural policy documents Creative Nation (Commonwealth of Australia, 1994) and Creative Australia (Australian Government, 2013) focus on the arts to a large extent whilst acknowledging them as a subset of culture and, more significantly in view of the long standing policy duality referred to above, locating these policies within the broader context of broadcasting, communications and the knowledge economies.  Both policies include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ art, languages and cultures; cultural heritage; design; music; performance; screen arts; broadcasting and interactive media; visual arts and crafts; writing and publishing. Creative Australia does try and ‘join the policy dots’ through its rhetoric of a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to its policy. The difficulty with each of these policies is that they were short lived, with the Labor governments that spawned them ousted by the Coalition soon after their development. But the threat to a sustainable national arts policy does not only lie with competing political parties. Labor’s policy statement made during the 2016 Federal election campaign (Australian Labor Party, 2016) is far more narrowly focused that either of Labor’s national arts policies: essentially restricted to the subsidised arts and paying only lip service to the much broader scope evident in Creative Nation and Creative Australia. In 2016 the Labor party did promise to:

“strengthen Australia’s contemporary live music industry by bringing the Live Music Office and the Australian Music Centre under the umbrella of an expanded Sounds Australia to deliver export, domestic and content management strategies...to provide $2 million a year to expand successful school music programs such as Music: Count Us In, Musica Viva in Schools and the Song Room...and also invest $350,000 a year to continue the SongMakers program beyond 2017” (ALP, 2016).

These amounts are very small and these election promises fall far short of suggesting any structural improvements in musical education within the primary and secondary school education systems. Crean’s vision for ‘joining the dots’ by developing a whole-of-government approach to arts and cultural policy appears to have been forgotten by his own Party. This is only marginally rectified in their 2018 ALP National Platform which states that it will build on and extend Creative Australia without, judging from the other statements made in this document, advancing any evidence that they have understood that document’s scope or intent (ALP 2018).   The Liberal Party does not have a record in developing or promulgating overall arts policy statements in the same way as the Labor Party. It prefers to segment the problem, focus on arts institutions rather than the arts, commission an inquiry or review and find the money: or not. David Throsby refers to this policy approach favoured by the Howard Government as “policy by review’’ (Throsby, 2006) and it ushered in the Major Performing Arts Review (1999) chaired by Helen Nugent which resulted in a new funding model for these companies (the Major Performing Arts Framework). In September 2000, it was announced that Canberra would give an extra $45 million and the states an extra $25 million to the major performing arts companies over the following four years. It was the biggest single boost in arts funding since the Whitlam years (Marr, 2005). This was quickly followed by the Contemporary Visual Arts and Craft Inquiry (2002) chaired by Rupert Myer which resulted in a joint initiative of the federal, state and territory governments to increase funding to this sector which is now around $14 million a year. The Orchestras Review (2005) foundered on the author James Strong’s recommendation that orchestras in Queensland, Adelaide and Tasmania be reduced in size: a recommendation which attracted the ire of Coalition politicians (Marr, 2005) and prompted additional funding to maintain the status quo. Most recently there has been the National Opera Review (2016) which investigated ways to enhance the viability, artistic vibrancy and accessibility of four of Australia’s opera companies, namely Opera Australia, Opera Queensland, State Opera of South Australia, and the West Australian Opera (Commonwealth of Australia 2016). The title of this review is a misnomer as it did not include the Victorian Opera, which was however recommended for inclusion in the ranks of the ‘major opera companies’, nor a number of smaller professional opera companies. Accessibility seems to have become sacrificed in the interests of affordability as Opera Australia is now absolved from having to tour to Brisbane Adelaide or Perth and apparently will perform in Melbourne and Sydney only. The Liberal Party is less specific and somewhat narrower than the ALP in what it includes in its rare policy statements. In its 2004 Election Party Policy: Strengthening Australian Arts (Australian Liberal Party, 2004) it focussed on a narrow range of arts initiatives with no connection to the broader communications sector. This narrow focus was reiterated when the then Shadow Minister for the Arts, Senator Brandis, gave his pre-election speech in 2013 and focused on a set of principles and policy priorities in arts funding(excellence, integrity, artistic freedom, self-confidence, sustainability and accessibility) and cautions against:

“...making cultural policy – and, therefore, the arts sector – mendicant to other public sector priorities. The Coalition, on the other hand, sees the work of artists and arts professionals as something which is intrinsically worthwhile, one of the essential elements of a confident and sophisticated society, which is to be judged on its own merits – not by whether it serves some other political or public policy agenda.” (Brandis, 2013).

Senator Fifield, who replaced Brandis as Federal arts minister, declined to issue a Liberal Party arts policy statement in the lead up to the 2016 Federal election. The Greens’ arts policy, issued throughout the election campaign, focussed almost entirely on promises to increase funding for the subsidised arts apart from a reference to restoring funding for digital games development (The Greens, 2016). I reproduce here a journalist’s interpretation of Party positions on the following key issues highlighted in the arts sector-led 2016 election campaign (Cuthbertson, 2016):

Table 1: Party Positions on Arts Policy in lead up to 2016 National Federal Election

Issue Coalition ALP Greens
Commit to returning funding to the Australia Council that was diverted to the Catalyst Fund no yes yes
Support the future funding of Catalyst yes no no
New funding for the arts yes yes yes
Increase funding to Screen Australia which has suffered  three cuts in two years N/A  ? yes
Support industry calls for an increase to the location offset to attract major movie productions to Australia no  ? yes
Support the retention of Australian content quotas on free-to-air television yes yes yes
Support the Productivity Commission recommendation to lift parallel import restrictions yes no no
Support the removal of efficiency dividends for national cultural institutions no  ? yes
Support the future funding of Trove, the National Library’s on-line data base no yes yes
Have a creative industries strategy no yes yes

Distinctions in the parties’ platforms are clear as are their points of agreement. The promise to find new funding for the arts is not one that has been honoured by today’s Coalition government, but then with the exception of Garrett and Crean, new money for the arts is a rarity for Labor – and Crean’s additional $235 million in new investment (O’Neil, 2013) was cut by the incoming Coalition government in the 2014 and 2015 budgets. There is no mention of a creative industries strategy in the 2018 ALP National Platform (ALP 2018) and the Catalyst fund has ceased to operate.

How does the Federal Government perceive its remit for arts and cultural development?

Discretionary Patronage

Leigh Tabrett is a former Deputy-Director General of the Queensland Department of Premier and Cabinet and Head of Arts Queensland and in 2012 she was one of the team in Canberra developing Creative Australia.  She interprets Federal governments’ remit for arts and cultural development this way:

“In the first fifteen years of Federation, the new national Government found it appropriate to establish both the Commonwealth Literary Fund (1908) and the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board (1912), arguably setting in train what has become our tradition: governments fund arts and culture as a discretionary item, as and when they see fit and in response to prevailing trends, conditions and lobbying, but without any enduring philosophical basis, clearly articulated strategic intent, or agreement about the roles of different levels of government” (Tabrett, 2013).

The Australian Federal Government supports national arts and cultural agencies working in film and television, collecting institutions and the funding programs delivered by the Australia Council for the Arts. In the 2017-18 financial year the Australian Government spent an estimated $481.497 million on Arts Agencies, of which $209.4 million went to the Australia Council.  In addition the Department of Communications and the Arts is estimated to spend  during the same period $216.520 million on funding programs which support national arts and cultural institutions such as the National Portrait Gallery of Australia and the National Museum of Australia, facilitate private sector support for the arts, support national arts training institutions, support lending rights, support First Nations’ languages, arts and culture and give relatively smaller amounts to regional arts and collections (see Attachment 1). The extent to which this level of financial commitment can be seen as a policy strength depends on the extent to which the provision of these resources can be judged to be substantial, dependable and democratic - in the sense of the range of Australian citizens who engage with these agencies and activities. It also depends on how aligned these activities are with national arts needs and priorities and the news here is not good. Leigh Tabrett’s considered opinion is that:

“...we do not have a system of arts and cultural funding in Australia – rather we have `a series of programs and interventions that lack a coherent logic and lack resonance and acceptance across government, the sector itself and in the broad Australian Community” (Tabrett, 2013).

Cultural policy commentator and editor of the Griffith Review Julianne Schultz adds:

“Limiting cultural policy to an arts policy, the arts are regarded as baubles, areas of patronage, which can be dispensed at `whim... This is deeply entrenched in Australian public policy...there is a default that seems to reassert itself when funding decisions are being made; that these soft areas are therefore best dispensed as favours, favours which provide attractive ‘announceables’ for politicians” (Schultz, 2015, p. 211).

Support for arts institutions rather than the arts

If we examine what used to be described as the Commonwealth Government’s policy advisory and funding body for the arts, the Australia Council, we can see that although they are required to fund both the development of excellence in the arts and access by Australian citizens to the arts the fact that a substantial percentage of its resources are dedicated to the major performing arts companies (62%) does compromise their ability to fulfil this requirement.  In addition they are subject to crippling efficiency dividends (introduced by Paul Keating and continued with enthusiastic bi-partisan support). Other initiatives which are eroding its discretionary funding include the reallocation by the Federal Arts Minister of $1.8 million a year over three years – a total of $5.4 million – from the Australia Council to Creative Partnerships Australia following the six-month update to the 2017-2018 budget (Watts, May 2017).

The arts are what we fund

Attachment 1 illustrates the extent of Commonwealth involvement in the arts. Missing from this picture are the activities of the Territories and States and local government. The following data is contained in Cultural Funding by Government 2015–16: Report prepared by a consultant from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on behalf of the Meeting of Cultural Ministers (Commonwealth of Australia, 2017). In 2015–16 the estimate of total expenditure funded by the three tiers of government was $5,841.2m for cultural activities: $2,289.8m (39.2% of total) from the Australian Government; $1,973.1m (33.8%) from state and territory governments; and $1,578.3m (27.0%) from local government. Eighty-seven percent of the total expenditure was recurrent. Leigh Tabrett comments on her experience with the state and federal government funding systems:

“The approach and the policy goals of the two funding systems are different, resulting in multiple uncertainties for companies, for state agencies, and for a whole range of individuals and services within a local system. The level of uncertainty can only have a negative impact on organisational planning and business development. A fitting funding system would emphasise nurturing, rather than competition, and patience, rather than short-termism. Could we think of something better? (Tabrett, 2013).

There does not appear to be any forum in which a complete national overview of arts policy and activity can be achieved. The Commonwealth, State and Territory Arts and Cultural Ministers meet intermittently and the National Local Government Forum works to increase the capacity of local government to strengthen arts and cultural development in their communities, but the development of a national strategic overview of arts policy does not appear to be within the remit of either of these forums. Simon Crean as the Arts Minister under Gillard initiated regular meetings of the CEOs of Commonwealth arts and cultural agencies (see Attachment 1) but there are conflicting opinions about whether these meetings have continued. A coherent national arts and cultural policy framework to inform and guide government funding priorities is not evident. A classic managerialist attempt to clarify the respective responsibilities of the Department for the Arts and the Australia Council was recommended by the authors of the Australia Council Review (Trainor & James, 2012) in the form of a joint program audit by the Australia Council and the Office for the Arts. This suggested that one body, the Council, should deal with excellence in the arts and the other, the Department, with access to the arts. The Labor Government’s response to this was to transfer six programs from the Office of the Arts to the Australia Council[1]. By 2015 under a Coalition government Visions Australia, Festivals Australia and the National Regional Program were transferred to the Department of Communications and the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy, Playing Australia, the Contemporary Music Touring Program and the Contemporary Touring Initiative were put back with the Australia Council. Sounds Australia remains with the Council with an uncertain future due to a lack of funds.  This process has not resulted in any greater clarity or rationale for the Department’s role in relation to the Australia Council.  Recent events referred to above suggest that the Australia Council continues to be seen as a source of ready cash for the Department’s programs. Without any coherent and transparent rationale for who does what, together with the difficulty for any one agency to have an accurate national overview of what other agencies are doing, and with attempts to grapple with the place of digital media’s impact on the consumption of creative product falling between the gaps the overall policy default position has become that the arts are what government’s fund: a self referential and self perpetuating set of circumstances. This situation is not helped by the apparent failure of governments to have either the appetite or the leadership qualities to develop “a clearly articulated strategic intent, or agreement about the roles of different levels of government” (Tabrett, 2013).

The low status of arts policy

The status of Australian arts policy can be inferred from its reference in key political speeches, such as campaign launches and the proportion of the GDP spent on the arts.

The arts in political speeches

Of the 45 Australian national elections since Federation up to and including the 2016 Federal Election the arts were mentioned in 13 of the speeches launching Federal Labor and/or Liberal Party/Coalition campaigns: 9 campaign launch speeches in the case of Labor and 4 in the case of the Liberals. In the 2016 election campaign launch speech by Bill Shorten the only reference to the arts was made in the context of Labor’s education policy: “Teaching children to read and write and count. Offering them a chance to take part in music and drama and sport’’. Despite this perfunctory mention it was Labor Leader Bill Shorten, not Shadow Arts Minister Mark Dreyfus, who launched Labor’s arts policy platform for the 2016 election (Shorten, B. 2016). Of the 8 other Labor campaign launch speeches the arts were mentioned in two election launch speeches by Keating, three by Hawke and three by Whitlam. The most substantial references to the arts in the Liberal Party’s campaign launches were those by Gorton during the 1969 campaign and Fraser during the 1977, ’80 and ’83 campaigns. Howard’s only reference was during the 1987 campaign when he made a disparaging comment on the Australia Council’s funding for trade union arts programs. These results should not be over-interpreted.  Lacklustre government leadership in arts policy can be counteracted by committed and agile Arts Ministers (Kemp and Alston for example, both Arts Ministers in the Howard Government) particularly when they are adept at the workings of Cabinet and the Party Room floor and successful at garnering increased funding in a number of areas of the arts.

The relative allocation of government resources

The Australian Federal Government’s funding for the arts as a percentage of GDP when compared with other countries that operate a similar funding mechanism to that of Australia is as follows (Trainor, G. & James, A. 2012, pp. 21-23):

Table 2: national arts expenditure and a percentage of GDP

Country Amount % of GDP
Australia $740 million 0.84%[2]
Canada $2.079 million 1.54%
New Zealand $235 million 1.98%

Australia’s arts advocacy networks

A snapshot: a mobilisation of arts advocacy networks

The number and range of arts advocacy organisations in Australia was illuminated in the response to the 2015 budget decisions in relation to the arts. My research indicates that the responses to Senator Brandis’ decisions were large in number and diverse in origin. The Senate Inquiry received 2,219 submissions and 188 organisations (including four government agencies) and 32 individuals appeared before the Senate Inquiry hearings during 2015. Added to the voices of the peak arts advocacy organisations were many other voices of community based and amateur arts organisations, individuals and community based social welfare organisations. The response is consistently described as the largest and most broadly based protest in response to arts funding that peak arts advocacy organisations can remember. The arts sector interpret this response as indicating the widespread and strong support for arts funding decisions to be at arm’s length from government. Many of those joining the protest had reservations about the operation of the Australia Council at the time and yet the principle of this core policy preference caused many to put aside those reservations in order to argue the case for the Australia Council’s continued operation as a body making funding decisions independently of government. While in no way definitive, my research to date indicates 64 active national arts policy advocacy organisations during this period whose activities range from collective policy advocacy to coordination, professional development, networking and creative production. The majority of these have been operating for more than 20 years. Complementing these are scores of state-based organisations undertaking similar activities. A number of First Nations arts advocacy organisations have emerged in recent years joining the well established Aboriginal arts centre alliances. These new organisations cover communications, writing, dance and theatre. Music is highly represented with 19 state and federal organisations identified by the sector as operating as arts policy advocates along with their work in coordination, professional development, networking and creative production.  Government agencies are included in the literature’s definition of policy networks and coalitions and this is born out by the observations of Australian arts policy advocates who include some Federal and State government arts agencies in their identification of arts policy advocacy organisations. Recently new arts advocacy coalitions have emerged and with them policy venues other than the Australia Council and the Department for Communication and the Arts are being targeted by arts coalitions and I discuss these developments below.

First Nations: an international human rights policy venue

A new arts advocacy coalition Arts Front has been established in the wake of the disappointment felt by Australia’s arts coalitions following the dismissal of Australia’s second national arts policy Creative Australia (Australian Government, 2013) just six months after the policy was launched following the election of the Coalition government in 2013.  On the first day of Arts Front’s Summit at Melbourne’s Footscray Community Arts Centre in November 2016 it became clear that Art Front’s task of developing a shared, multi-lateral vision for Australian arts and cultural development was not going to proceed without an acknowledgement of First Nations’ culture. The work leading up to this Summit undertaken by Arts Front’s First Peoples Steering Committee laid the foundations for a deeper consideration of how a framework based on First Nations’ cultural rights could inform and shape a shared vision for Australian arts and cultural development.

“First People’s culture and arts is the foundation of culture and the arts in Australia. The active involvement of First People’s artists and organisations and prioritising their vision for the future are fundamental starting points for the Arts Front movement.” (http://artsfront.com/)

In March 2018 Arts Front continued this conversation in Brisbane at the Arts Front Rights Symposium which brought together thirty leading arts practitioners, policy makers, academics and rights advocates from across the country to work on the development of the Arts Front 2030 visioning framework. Out of the disenchantment of Australian governments’ commitment to a national arts policy and the lack of leadership demonstrated by its national arts agencies in this regard a new policy venue for Australian arts policy has emerged: international declarations on human and cultural rights. There are a number of core policy values associated with this approach: the centrality of sovereignty and a treaty between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal nation states which acknowledges that sovereignty; relationship to country and the right to cultural self determination. Implicit in all of this is a redefinition of art and culture which moves beyond eighteenth century aestheticism and nineteenth century art form constructs, each of which informed, and still inform, the framing of Australia’s national arts and cultural policy. As with the adoption of any new policy venue, this initiative will require policy learning by the established and emerging Australian arts advocacy coalitions and a reconceptualisation of arts policy objectives.

A New Approach: a philanthropic auspice for arts advocacy

In 2016 the leaders of three philanthropic organisations, the Myer, Tim Fairfax and Keir Foundations were prompted to fund an ‘independent and fearless’ policy voice for the arts calling it A New Approach. The article in The Australian (Westwood, 2016, December 6) announcing this initiative quotes the Myer Foundation chief executive Leonard Vary, but it does so under the photograph of the then Chairman of the Australia Council Rupert Myer. This amounts to at least a tacit public admission by the Council Chair at that time on the need for an independent voice. The Meyer Foundation announced in 2017 that the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Newgate Communications had been appointed to deliver the $1.65 million project over three years (Eltham, 2017, September 6).  In September 2017 Kate Fielding was appointed by The Myer, Tim Fairfax Family and Keir Foundations as Program Director for A New Approach (Meyer Foundation, 2017, November 13). The Australian Academy of the Humanities and Newgate Communications will report to the Program Director who will in turn report to the funders (Eltham, ibid). The Australian Government has encouraged private support to the arts for many years through its taxation concessions and more recently through its direct support to organisations charged with soliciting private financial support for the arts (Mitchell, 2011). It has also actively encouraged the arts organisations it funds to recruit philanthropists and corporate leaders to their boards and the Australia Council’s own governing body is well populated with the same. Philanthropists are deeply embedded in the current arts policy subsystem and this may position them for effective advocacy on behalf of the arts sector, or at least on behalf of those parts of the sector with which they are familiar.

Local Government: a local policy venue

Local government’s involvement in the arts and cultural development is as old as local government itself. However, what is new is the Federal Government’s formal recognition of this significant player in the form of the National Local Government Cultural Forum which was established in 2013 as an initiative of the Creative Australia national cultural policy. Offering a national perspective, it is a network of capital city councils, local government associations and partners with the objective of increasing the capacity of local government to strengthen the arts and cultural development in their communities. The Cultural Forum’s membership consists of: the seven state and territory local government associations; the eight Australian capital cities and the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA).  Other members include the Australia Council for the Arts and the Department for Communication and the Arts. The Forum meets twice a year and is managed by the Cultural Development Network (CDN) in cooperation with the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA). In 2015, the Forum received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts for a further three year program. This Forum could prove a useful ally to the music advocacy networks in leveraging the overwhelming engagement of Australian citizens with music in all of its forms and a force for changing government policy.

Strategies of mobilisation

Insider and outsider tactics

As mentioned above the 2015 budget decisions in relation to the arts mobilised hundreds of organisations and individuals. Sector leadership was provided by many organisations and this leadership was effective, for the most part, in presenting a united front by arts organisations with diverse constituencies and at times divergent interests.   The strategies employed by the sector leadership included a call for a Senate Inquiry; culture jamming (flash mobs and the satirical conceptual art project – The George Brandis Live Arts Experience, for example) and quiet diplomacy. That these strategies were effective is evident to the extent that a new arts minister was appointed and the balance of Catalyst funds returned to the Australia Council, albeit with ministerial caveats on how these funds should be spent.  However the strength in the diversity of these tactics was not always recognised or appreciated by the various arts policy coalitions operating at this time. The arts sector’s narratives around policy leadership are in one sense the accounts of the events surrounding key upheavals in the arts policy subsystem, including the development of Creative Nation, Creative Australia and Senator Brandis’ actions and their focus on the key conflicts between the dominant and less dominant arts advocacy coalitions. In another sense these narratives refer to the constructions that are placed on how things are, for example the use of the term ecology to describe the arts sector with all of its implications for fragility, non-sustainability, diversity, interconnectedness, competition and cooperation for survival and distribution (in this instance of money as well as of art).   The complexity of these narratives is sometimes overlooked in the heat of repeated struggles by arts advocacy coalitions to stabilise an increasingly volatile arts funding scene in an unstable political context.  The different interests of the various arts policy advocacy coalitions and the tough competition for funding become highlighted. Cooperation and collaboration become more difficult across this divide and the actions and motivations of the dominant coalitions are demonised by the less powerful coalitions and the actions of the less powerful coalitions dismissed as naive and politically inept by those more powerful coalitions.   In this context the virtue of a broad repertoire of political strategies is often overlooked. The complexity of these issues and responses was evident, for example, in the voice of two members of AMPAG (Australian Major Performing Arts Group) expressing satisfaction that their companies had escaped the cuts, the voices of three State Theatre companies and Circus Oz speaking out in support of individual artists and the small to medium arts sector which bore the brunt of the cuts, the 22 other members of AMPAG that remained silent on this issue and AMPAG’s official press release stating that they “draw strength from diverse sources, in particular a healthy and productive small to medium sector” (Eltham, 2015).

Leadership

There have been many private and public expressions of dismay, including media reports, at the Australia Council’s silence during these events. If the beliefs of the arts sector are accurate, that the reportedly unprecedented mobilisation of resistance to Senator Brandis’ decisions was motivated by widespread commitment to the principle of an independent Australia Council whose job it is to provide policy advice to the government of the day, then it is not surprising that the Council’s silence on this issue caused such bitter disappointment. A prominent philanthropist and a former CEO of the Australia Council were each prompted to call for leadership changes at the Council (Boland, M, 2017) with the former CEO also critical of the relative silence of the major performing arts organisations during the long campaign to restore funding to the Council. In their submission to the Senate Inquiry (Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s Inquiry into the impact of the 2014 and 2015 Commonwealth budget decisions on the arts) the Australia Council broke their silence stating in the letter from the Council’s Chair accompanying their submission and again in the body of the submission that:

“As a statutory authority of the Commonwealth Government it would not be appropriate for the Australia Council to comment on matters of policy. In light of this we have not addressed the terms of reference as a whole, but hope to inform the Inquiry by providing a factual overview of the Australia Council’s annual budget and expenditure over a four year period, for the financial years 2012-13 to 2015-16 (Australia Council, July 2015).   

There is another perspective on these events: namely that the Council’s approach was governed by what Darren Halpin characterises as the “strategies of policy influence’’ favoured by “insiders’’ a term found along with its corollary “outsiders” in the literature on pressure groups (Halpin, 2012). These insider tactics favour the long view and will trade off short term wins for long term gains. These tactics are characterised by discrete behind the scenes lobbying rather than public embarrassment of the government of the day.  Or as the Australia Council’s CEO puts it:

“The minister would not have returned $80 million to this organisation had he not had confidence in the leadership of this board or our executive team … We don’t do advocacy by standing on the steps of the Opera House, demanding money. It’s about the continued conversation and insights to give the minister the trust that taxpayers’ funds will be so well managed through this organisation” (Westwood 2017).

This statement drew an immediate response from artist David Pledger (Pledger, 2017), in which he refers to the Australian media’s disappointment with the lack of advocacy by the Council and the CEO’s failure to acknowledge the vigorous campaigns mounted by the arts policy advocacy coalitions, singling out #freethearts and ArtsPeak’s work in particular. Pledger, who was a member of the #freethearts national strategy group states:

“I was keenly aware of the Australia Council’s deafening silence and, worse, its reluctance to release statistics favourably comparing the small-medium sector to the Majors before the Senate Inquiry into the Arts” (Pledger, 2017).
Halpin suggests that the strategies favoured by ‘outsiders’ are designed to change the policy agenda and embarrass governments (Halpin, 2012) and culture jamming and public demonstrations were indeed favoured by the less dominant arts advocacy coalitions in the periods immediately following the Brandis 2015 budget decision and leading up to the 2016 election. These campaigns caused tension within and between the arts policy advocacy coalitions over the tactics used to register protest. These campaigns used both insider and outsider tactics and both individual and collective forms of political engagement depending on the relationship that organisations and individuals had with the government of the day and/or with the Senators on the cross benches whose support was critical to the establishment of the Senate Inquiry. In other words, sometimes outsiders behave like insiders if the tactics require it and sometimes insiders collude with outsiders in order to change the policy agenda and/or embarrass a government. The extent to which insider or outsider tactics achieved the campaign objectives for a new arts minister and restored funds to the Australia Council is obviously a vexed issue, but I suspect that both kinds of tactics were effective in their own way. The apparent lack of understanding or respect for a diversity of approaches and tactics used by different parts of the arts advocacy network could detract from effective leadership in arts policy advocacy.

Resourcing the coalitions

The lack of resources experienced by many of Australia’s arts advocacy coalitions raises the vexed issue of whether arts advocacy bodies should receive government funding. Some argue that there are precedents in the commercial world for advocacy organisations to receive government funds and others are vehemently opposed to this as a matter of principal believing that this inevitably compromises advocates. Following the Australia Council funding decisions in May 2016 when three key national arts advocacy peak bodies – NAVA, Ausdance and The Music Council were defunded - this was interpreted by some in the arts sector as punishment for their strident criticism of the Government.  There has been no clear statement from the Council on their position on providing funds to these kinds of peak advocacy organisations, although they continue to do so in the case of Arts Front and the National Local Government Cultural Forum, for example. The Australia Council has a long history of encouraging the development of peak advocacy organisations and then de-funding them when they feel they have exhausted their remit. AMPAG, the Chamber of Arts and Culture WA and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) are examples of effective arts policy advocacy organisations in Australia that receive no core funding from government (the Australia Council has contributed to AMPAG’s research on salaries in the major performing arts sector).   ArtsPeak has argued that its membership cannot afford membership fees.  England’s Creative Industries Federation, a body established in 2015 to advocate on behalf of England’s creative industries, has over 1,000 members. The group is funded through membership subscriptions and receives no government funding.  Its members include “companies, arts organisations, universities, trade bodies and individual practitioners and supporters” and the overall sense is of an advocacy organisation which represents both the subsidised and commercial creative sectors (Creative Industries Federation 2017). ArtsPeak had 37 member organisations and they included trade bodies, peak arts organisations, service organisations and organisations representing individual practitioners. The overall flavour was of a membership representing organisations which receive government subsidy and creative or cultural industry and/or commercial organisations are not as strongly represented. In late October 2017 ArtsPeak announced that it was going into recess. The reasons given included the establishment of The New Approach arts advocacy organisation by the Myer, Tim Fairfax and Keir Foundations and the members’ need to refocus on the needs of their own organisations after a very intense 18 months campaign in response to the 2015 budget decisions by Senator Brandis and in the lead up to the 2016 Federal election (Watts, 2017). The issue of the right of non-government organisations in receipt of government funds to apply those funds to advocating on behalf of their clients or members became prominent during the Howard government when the outsourcing of service provision to the non-government sector intensified. Funding contracts between government and the voluntary sector ‘preclude policy advocacy’ and Halpin suggests that successive challenges during the Howard years to the definitions and scope of activity permitted by those organisations wishing to retain their charitable status are another strategy by government to put pressure on these groups (Halpin, 2012).  There is a view that these provisions in funding contracts have had a significant impact on ethnically based welfare and cultural groups whose advocacy activities have been silenced and advocacy skills lost. More recently the Australian Electoral Commission has initiated inquiries on whether a prominent activist group GetUp is an associated entity: that is, a group controlled by one or more political parties. GetUp has been investigated twice before and in each case there was insufficient evidence to determine whether it was an associated entity. There is also a move by the Federal Government to review the eligibility and reporting requirements of Tax Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status to require all organisations with that status to also become registered as charities and including a sunset clause every 5 years which could provide an opportunity for governments to review the DGR status of registered organisations (Fairley, 2017).

Some Australian arts policy has a short life

My research reveals a profound disappointment by the architects of each of our national arts policies that they were so short lived: 16 months in the case of Keating’s Creative Nation and 4- 5 months for Creative Australia. Throsby (2009) notes that the impact of Creative Nation “did not lead to any dramatic shifts in cultural policy formulation or implementation at the national level”. This behaviour by incoming governments of dismissing the policies of their predecessors (sometimes even it is their own party’s policy) appears to have become systemic:

“Unfortunately, our political system tends to put a very limited life on any policy developed by a single government” (Tabrett).

This is in contrast to what was the bi-partisan support for the arts which saw Whitlam honour Holt’s promise to establish the Australia Council and Fraser’s commitment to promulgate the Australia Council Act drafted under Whitlam – improving on the draft by specifying the Council’s role.  Fraser also passionately pursued his commitment to the establishment of an Australian film industry. However, the disappointment expressed by the architects of Creative Nation and Creative Australia is less about the dumping of these policies by the incoming Coalition Governments than dismay at the failure of arts advocacy coalitions to protest, or even mark their passing. Is this because the status of arts policy in this country is so low, and its life so fleeting that the attitude is why bother? No, because with both the Keating and Crean policies there were significant efforts by the arts advocacy coalitions to engage with the development of these policies to influence their outcomes: so why the silence? Is the advocacy less about a coherent national framework for arts funding and more about securing an advantage for their part of the sector?  Or are the arts advocacy coalitions only able to mobilise in response to a funding crisis? Deborah Mills July 2018  

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Attachment 1: Australian Government Support for the Arts and Culture 2017-18

Arts Agencies Funds Administered by Department of Communications and the Arts
Agency[3] $million Fund Purpose $million
Australia Council[4] 209.4 Private Sector Support[5] 4.4
Australian Film and TV School 22.7 Film and Television[6] 104.6
Australian National Maritime Museum 28.9 Collections[7] 5.9
National Film and Sound Archive 26.1 Arts Training[8] 23
National Gallery of Australia 47.8 Awards[9] 0.65
National Library of Australia 61.4 Lending Rights[10] 22
National Museum of Australia 43.9 Indigenous Arts, Languages and Culture[11] 44
National Portrait Gallery of Australia 11.5 Australian Arts and Culture Fund[12] 3.4
Old Parliament House[13] 18.8 Regional Arts[14] 7
Screen Australia 11.4 Other[15] 0.85
Meeting of Cultural Ministers 0.196
Total Arts Agencies $481.497 million Total Administered Funds $216.520 million
 

REFERENCES

  1. Playing Australia, Visions Australia, Festivals Australia, Contemporary Touring Initiative, Contemporary Music Touring Program and the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy
  2. Note the Department of Communications and the Arts’ figure for 2015/16 for the arts contribution to GDP is 0.2%
  3. All figures rounded up and include capital expenditure
  4. Includes $5,000 million cash reserves
  5. Creative Partnerships Australia
  6. Screen Australia, AusFilm, Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Film Location Grant
  7. Australian Government International Exhibition Insurance National Collection Institutions, Touring and Outreach, National Cultural Heritage Account, Distributed National Collection, Bundanon Trust
  8. Australian Ballet School, Australian National Academy of Music, Australian Youth Orchestra, Flying Fruit Fly Circus, NAISDA Dance College, National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), NIDA Capital – Building, Arts Ready
  9. Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Prime Ministers History Prize
  10. Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, Prime Ministers History Prize
  11. Indigenous Repatriation, VACS - Indigenous Arts Centre Projects, Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support, Indigenous Languages and Arts Program
  12. International Cultural Diplomacy Fund, The Australian Arts and Culture Fund
  13. Museum of Australian Democracy
  14. Regional Arts Fund, Visions of Australia, Festivals Australia
  15. NZAC Centenary Arts and Cultural Fund

Author

Deborah Mills

Date: 24th August 2018

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