February 28, 2017
I am extremely disappointed to learn that the Australia Council for the Arts has quietly suffered another cut to its funding. This time the government has ripped $9.2 million out of Australia’s peak arts funding body, compounding the $100 million in funding that was cut as part of the infamously toxic 2014 budget. This further cripples an institution that has given the breath of life to so many films, songs, books, paintings and other creative endeavours that so many Australians have grown to love, and it silences unique Australian voices that so many have grown proud of.
I said in my first speech to the parliament that a thriving arts sector is at the heart and soul of any society, and it is true that the arts matter. I am also reminded of a quote from former Prime Minister Keating, known for his strong support and love of the arts:
I always thought the arts were central to a country, central to a society, holding up a mirror to itself, celebrating itself.
The Australia Council has been so vital for so many great Australian artists, bringing their ideas to life. Many of them live in my electorate of Wills. We are at a time when technology exposes uniquely Australian creative works to a global marketplace. We should be proud that our government can give a leg-up to those who would define our national identity through their work.
More than promoting our unique Australian talents, many artists often go on to become prolific and commercially viable. Some of you have heard of Courtney Barnett. She is a solo singer-songwriter from my home town of Melbourne. The Australia Council supported her financially to tour outside Australia for the first time, and last year she had an album debut at No. 4 on the Australian charts and No. 15 on the UK charts and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the US.
Further, Australian artists who become successful on the global stage are proven to drive and support tourism. The 2015 Arts nation report highlighted the growing importance of arts tourism. It found that nearly 40 per cent of international visitors undertake an arts activity while visiting Australia, and one in four visit a museum or a gallery in our country.
Some here may have read Meanjin, an Australian literary journal published as an imprint of the Melbourne University Press. Its first edition was published in 1940, and some of Australia’s best known essayists have appeared in its pages. Meanjin was informed in 2016 that its Australia Council funding was not to continue. Not only will this mean job losses but it may mean the end of Meanjin’s long and storied history.
This is just one example. More than one-third of the 147 organisations who previously received funding have no operational funding from this federal government. Labor took a strong policy on the arts to the last election because we believe that the creative industries are central to our lives.