From the Vice President: Political football: a team game

Welcome everyone to the DDCA and to NiTRO for 2019.

While our community of artists, designers, performers, writers and musicians make a major contribution to the fabric of our society here in Australia, we are constantly reminded that our position is tenuous, and that as a community we cannot take our eyes off the ball. In this election year the game will undoubtedly change, we will for sure witness ball tampering, a change of rules and a moving of the goalposts in the rush for votes.

In 2018 Australia overtook Switzerland to become the country with the largest median wealth per adult. Yet in reality we have low wage growth, insufficient affordable housing and an over reliance on a resources economy that takes precedence over creativity and innovation. Our Indigenous communities still fall far short of what we should expect in terms of health, education and living standards. We expect none of these crucial issues to be centre stage in election year. These are not vote winners. The game will probably be played by border security, immigration control and the promise of personal wealth. History tells us that higher education and the arts will be sidelined; the warm up game in 2018 was a stark reminder of what might be to come.

If I was asked to summarise the value of the arts from 2018 in one singular event, one that epitomises our current situation both culturally and educationally, it would be the exposure that the government secretly vetoed ARC funded research projects in the humanities. Imagine this happening in the medical sciences. This cuts at the very core of a democratic and sophisticated society supposedly built on equality and diversity in which the arts should play a central role. It was wonderful to see the response from the science sector in defence of what we all know should be an inclusive and co-dependent relationship toward research that in the end is working to improve life for all.

Short-term gain in our political system is the game tactic that can win a shiny trophy but more often than not defers any long-term big issue commitment to the sidelines. Climate change, ageing populations and the advent of AI are about the now not the future. As we move toward a more automated society, artists, designers and communicators will define humanity in a way that an algorithm can only simulate, but never match. We will offer alternatives that cannot be programmed, solutions that are not data driven but intuitive and deeply profound, and perhaps more important than any of this they will remind us that real intelligence is not artificial, it is built on critical thinking and on empathy for others.

Australia’s big problems are about our value as humans, as individuals and as communities; how we care for people less fortunate; how we excite people with hope; and what we offer as a contribution to balance. All will all be tested in the coming months. Ethical and moral values are not a given and they certainly seem to be missing in politics and the banking sector right now, so the arts and humanities will be relied upon to mark the moral ground on which the political game will be played. At this moment however, we face a problem of fracture, many of our peak bodies are struggling for survival at a time when we most need to speak as one. It is vital that we join together as a community of creative scholars to speak, in fact shout with a single voice to ensure those in the comfort of the corporate box can hear.

In this election year the DDCA seeks to bring together our peak bodies, our international partners, our students, our young academics and early career researchers to broaden the debate beyond our own political or institutional context. We can start by encouraging a broader contribution and readership to NiTRO. We need critical mass, but as Dr. Carmen Lawrence said at a recent ECU forum, what we really need is a mass that is critical.

I would encourage you therefore to engage in the national debate through NiTRO and to help constitute a common voice throughout 2019 in order to reposition the arts in what will be a crucial year for us all.