Cultural Policy key to thriving arts industries

Published on Tue 6 September 2022 7:45pm

It’s awful that for the last nine years Australia did not have an energy policy. It is no more acceptable that for the last nine years we’ve not had a national cultural policy. It has denied Australia a different kind of energy. It has meant that some of the most important energy producers have been forced, even more than usual, to struggle when they deserve to thrive.

Mr Wilson (7:45pm) – A couple of weeks ago I was very glad to attend the Western Australian instalment of the National Cultural Policy consultation at the Rosemount Hotel. There are a number of things that already distinguish this government from its predecessor, one of them is that it features a Minister for the Arts in the member for Watson, not to mention the Special Envoy for the Arts in my friend the member for Macquarie. Another point of difference is that the Albanese Labor government has committed to creating a national cultural policy as a matter of high priority.

It’s awful that for the last nine years Australia did not have an energy policy. It is no more acceptable that for the last nine years we’ve not had a national cultural policy. It has denied Australia a different kind of energy. It has meant that some of the most important energy producers have been forced, even more than usual, to struggle when they deserve to thrive. The member for Watson, the Minister for the Arts, is absolutely spot on when he says that arts and culture shouldn’t need to justify themselves in terms of economic value. The Minister for the Arts has been clear in setting out the five pillars of the policy-building process: First Nations first, a place for every story, the centrality of the artist, strong institutions and reaching the audience.

I know with respect to the third pillar—the centrality of the artist—that Labor has always recognised that artists are workers. If you want to have a future made in Australia, as this Labor government does, then you have to support Australian manufacturing in the form of filmmaking, songwriting, choreography, set creation, storytelling, game design and all of the visual, physical and musical arts. If you believe that our national character and identity are important, if you believe that open-eyed reflections on our past and creative rigorous thinking about our future are important, or even if you simply find it restorative, inspiring or fun to be lifted out of the day after dayness of life through song, dance, film or poetry, then you will know that we must have a strong, diverse and distinctive Australian arts and cultural sector.

I can tell you that’s well known in the Fremantle community I represent. It’s a place that is happily thick with artists. It’s a place that holds culture and creativity very dear, and I’ve been shaped by those people, many of whom are family and friends, and I’ve been shaped by those values. It’s not inaccurate to say that some of my preparation for being a representative was first falling short in my ambition to be a novelist, and I don’t think that was bad preparation. I was an unremarkable freelance travel writer for 10 years and I published a few short stories, but it was typing away on those unsuccessful manuscripts that really taught me a few things. Clearly, I was not good enough, but I can honestly say that those days of imaginative and technical effort amounted to some of the best and most productive work that I’ve ever done or been capable of doing.

Like the vast majority of people engaged in creative manufacturing, I wrote novel manuscripts while working at various part-time jobs. We should welcome the fact that, in many areas of working life, it is possible to be a run-of-the-mill practitioner and make a reasonable living. Stock-standard stockbrokers can still bring home a good wage. Middle-of-the-road road engineers can do okay, and that’s good. But for workers in the cultural and creative industries that is very, very, very rarely the case. Only those at the very top of their art can expect to earn a fair and stable living, and it is the same for most arts organisations.

That’s not the case because of some physical law of the universe; it’s a characteristic of the economy and society that we’ve created. And we shouldn’t fall into the habit of believing that artists are meant to be struggling artists. Just as we shouldn’t keep thinking that cumulative environmental decline is an example of balance between economic activity and the natural world. Indeed, when our economic system produces these outcomes, our economic system is failing. When our society produces these outcomes, we should have a hard look at our society because we’re failing to insist on and failing to create a sensible and sustainable approach.

I welcome, through this Albanese Labor government, the long-awaited process to again create an Australian cultural policy. On the five pillars outlined by the Minister for the Arts, it is possible to build a policy that will allow arts, cultural industries and creative industries in Australia to thrive. That is what we should aim for and achieve. It’s what all of the arts, artists and other cultural and creative industry practitioners deserve, and, needless to say, it is long overdue.

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