The Liberal Party’s arts policy

Well, it’s four days after the Australian election and we still don’t know who will form government.

Over at the ABC’s website, I’ve published my general thoughts about the election wash-up, which I won’t repeat here.

But, given the Liberal Party remains quite likely to form the next Australian government, it might be worth having a look at their arts policy. (I had a look at Labor’s arts policy last week). This post was written in the last week of the campaign, but I didn’t quite get around to posting it.

The Liberal Party of Australia does, finally, have an arts policy. In 2007, it didn’t actually release one, although George Brandis did issue a ringing defence of the Howard Government’s arts policies in a speech to the National Press Club.

The Liberal Party’s arts policy was launched in the last week of the campaign at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast by Stephen Ciobo. It’s narrow and targeted at the screen industry and regional arts, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a significant engagement with those areas.

Regional arts organisations have long been the poor cousins of the big-city cultural institutions (which it must be said, got a very good run from the Howard Government), and cater to audiences that are desperately under-served for the kinds of cultural experiences that those who live in inner-city Sydney or Melbourne enjoy. The policy promises $10 million for regional galleries to buy Australian work, plus $3.85 million for the Regional Art Fund, and nearly $10 million for regional touring and exhibitions.

The Screen Producers Association is delighted with the screen announcements, including a $60 million “temporary” production subsidy that will top up existing commercial investment in mid-tier feature films with budgets in the $7-30 million range. That doesn’t sound like big money in Hollywood terms, but it effectively cuts out most Australian indie features, who have budgets in the $1 to $5 million range. Television apparently misses out.

Ciobo claims that the loans “will be recouped by the Commonwealth in line with the industry’s standard recoupment schedule,” but the dismal history of Australian government film investment suggests that most of this money will never return to Treasury coffers. Similarly, Ciobo’s claims that the new production subsidy will create 18 features and 1100 jobs must be taken with a grain of salt – the figures come from the Screen Producers Association itself.

A proposal to extend HECS-style loans to classical musicians is an innovative proposal that will help aspiring instrumentalists to acquire their very expensive trade tools. Again, however, questions must be asked as to why students of mainly classical music institutions get to benefit from such a scheme, while the practitioners of artforms that enjoy far more support in the free market, such as pop and rock, miss out. Much like the screen subsidy, it sounds a bit like picking winners to me.

None of the arts lobbyists have mentioned it, but the real difference between the major parties’ arts policies may well be Australia’s mooted National Broadband Network. As Marcus Westbury and myself have been trying to point out for some time now, the NBN is in fact a significant piece of cultural infrastructure. As readers here will be well aware, cultural content is already one of the most significant aspects of internet traffic, and this is only likely to grow as bandwidth allows Australians to access much faster video streaming, game playing and other forms of cultural expression and interaction. Labor’s NBN is the largest investment in cultural infrastructure ever announced by an Australian government.

All in all, the Liberals have at least got on the scoreboard in arts and cultural policy, even if they trail by some margin the party with the most comprehensive policy in this sphere: The Greens.


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