Respected South Australian academic and consultant Jo Caust has a new paper out in the International Journal of Cultural Policy. Entitled “Cultural wars in an Australian context: challenges in developing a national cultural policy,” it’s the first detailed academic examination of Australia’s tortuous journey towards a national cultural policy during the six years of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government of 2007-13.
Regular readers of this blog and of my arts journalism will know what a rocky road that was. Labor originally promised a new cultural policy in opposition, under charismatic arts spokesman and later Arts minister, Peter Garrett. By the time that the eventual policy, Creative Australia, was finally announced, it was 2013. Garrett had come and gone as Arts minister, and Labor had also replaced Kevin Rudd as prime minister with Julia Gillard. Creative Australia ended up being the policy of the land for only seven months, with Labor losing the 2013 election.
Caust’s paper covers this history, and analyses the development of Creative Australia and the legislative reforms to the Australia Council that passed the Australian Parliament in 2013. Perhaps her single most salient insight is the degree to which the Canadian model of arts funding has influenced the current reforms. For those who covered the issues on a daily basis for the last six years, there is much that rings true. Although there is nothing particularly new in what she observes, she has done everyone a service by putting it all together in one place. As a result, her paper is a fine summary of the troubled and turbulent political environment under which cultural policy was made during the last government. For international readers in particular, this is a useful ‘first draft of history’ with which to begin the discussion of Labor’s cultural policy legacy. (Disclosure: Caust cites my work frequently in the paper, so I may be biased).
Caust concludes her paper with the following remarks:
From the early part of this millennium there has been much public discussion about the framing and delivery of cultural policy and arts funding in Australia. When a Labor government was elected in 2007 this resulted in a conversation with a select group about the concept of a ‘Creative Australia’ followed by a series of government initiated reviews on aspects of arts and cultural delivery, culminating in the publication of a Creative Australia in March 2013. This document shifted the conversation about cultural policy to embrace a broader deﬁnition of culture as well as update, to a limited extent, current approaches to arts funding. At the same time another government initiated review recommended signiﬁcant changes to the national major arts funding body, the Australia Council. In this process, there was a shift towards more government inﬂuence over the workings of the Council while at the same time there was a recommendation for increased funding. However, a change in government 6 months later made the implementation of all of the recommendations unlikely.
In fact in the new Coalition government there is already evidence that there may be signiﬁcant cuts in funding, and in this likelihood, the high arts would be given preference. In addition a broader embrace of cultural policy issues is unlikely under a Coalition government given their stated resistance to this paradigm. So in the short term any perceived shifts in understanding and valuing of arts and cultural issues in the Australian context, as an outcome of the latest approach to developing an Australian Cultural Policy, may have a limited tenure. Certainly the framing and content of national arts and cultural policies continue to be a political issue in Australia as they are elsewhere. Even so there is also a possibility that the present Coalition Government, while publicly rejecting the framework of Creative Australia, may still embrace aspects of it, if it should suit their political agenda.