Where is Australia’s Arts Policy?

Federal MP Mitch Fifield has been reappointed as Minister for the Arts in the recent government cabinet reshuffle, but without a pre-election arts policy to announce, we may be waiting some time to learn whether the Coalition government will reveal an arts policy or just pursue its previous course of funding cuts.  As The Australian reported just before the election,  the only pre-election promises made by the Coalition were to the Shepparton Art Museum and the Latrobe Performing Arts Centre, and although $10 million each, it does little to offset budget cuts to institutions such as the Australia Council ($27 million) and Screen Australia ($17 million) since 2014.

In contrast, the ALP pre-election platform presented a raft of proposed policies, including removing the Catalyst fund. Certainly Anthony Albanese was vocal in his support for the arts at the recent Save the VCA demonstration:

‘Art is something that you can’t always just put a dollar figure on. . .  the struggle of the students is about more than just them. . . what they’re fighting for is the very nature of the way that we regard society; of the way we regard education, and; of the way that it’s more than something that just benefits the individual. It benefits all of us.’

it is to be hoped that these sentiments will not be forgotten as Tony Burke takes up shadow responsibility for the arts in a portfolio which includes environment, water, citizenship and multicultural Australia.

Writing in The Conversation, Joanna Mendelssohn sees possible advances for the Coalition’s arts policy with the Independents expected to influence regional arts support and the historical precedent set by the Howard government in which ‘the arts budget gradually drifted upwards’ after funding decimation in 1996. But she acknowledges that this may take time:

‘Malcolm Turnbull certainly appreciates the value of the finished product in the arts . . . but he has yet to make the link between this and funding the hard slog of creation and education.’

 Perhaps this is a lobbying job for the PM’s favourite gallery owners?


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