When the Goalposts Move by Ben Eltham. Currency House Platform Paper No 48.
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Commentary by Frank McKone
August 9, 2016.
There is an aching need for symbolic belonging in the hearts of all of us. This is Ben Eltham’s foundation observation concluding his argument for the arts to be enthusiastically supported by governments.
Using Australian Bureau of Statistics information on attendance and involvement in arts activities, and the key example of the Centenary of Anzac project as a “long-running cultural program of events…[which] was an explicit government policy, endorsed and re-endorsed by successive federal governments, planned for several years, and supported to the tune of more than half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money…with no expectation of economic outcome”, Eltham backs up his major point:
The fact that the majority of the citizens of the Australian State share a vivid and rich cultural involvement, means that culture is not some way-station on the road to the good life. It is the good life, a vision of a modern society where much of the meaning and value derived by individuals and families is expressed through cultural and artistic participation and creation.
I read this looking around my lounge room. We are not a wealthy family, retired on a part-aged pension. But the room is full of art – photos, paintings, pottery, statuettes, books and even the furniture – each piece with a story to tell from our past of family, hobbies, work and travels. Each is a symbol, full of meaning to us beyond what it may have meant to the painter, potter, sculptor, writer or furniture maker. (The photos are ours, except for the one of us at the Taj Mahal, one of the greatest artworks in the world.)
So I am sure that Ben Eltham is right. But how do we deal with the political history which he has written up so clearly, under the headings
False Dawn: March 2013,
‘The capacity of the Minister to give directions…’: September 2013,
The power of ministers: May 2015,
The long shadow of neoliberalism,
How to fight taxes and change prime ministers,
The silence of the Australia Council, and
Getting political: Free the Arts and the anti-Brandis resistance.
Just before the election, Eltham wrote: In the run-up to the 2016 election, the Australia Council now finds itself in a dangerous place. There is little love on the Coalition backbench for the organisation, and the election of a second-term Turnbull Government could well signal the beginning of the end for the agency. It is not a good sign that so many of the arts administrators I regularly talk to appear to be convinced that the Australia Council will be abolished altogether should Turnbull win.
Well, he has won, even if only just. So it’s time to take action.
One political move which was not mentioned in Eltham’s Platform Paper was the rise of the Arts Party. Although no electorate, House or Senate, yet has an Arts Party member of Parliament, the first preference count on July 2 showed a substantial vote for the Arts Party across the country. Go to www.artsparty.org/ to find information and to join. The Arts Party makes the specific point that it is independent of any other party, sending its policy platform to all of them “in the hope they will consider new creative ideas to improving the future of Australia.”
Their policy summaries are headed:
ARTS & HERITAGE
FILM, TV & RADIO INDUSTRY
VENUES & LIVE PERFORMANCE
DIGITAL ARTS & VIDEO GAME INDUSTRY
and anyone is invited to make new suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
To give more of an idea of where The Arts Party might go now that it has become more than an almost one-person-band led by PJ Collins (The Arts Party · PO Box 114, Kingsford, New South Wales 2032, Australia):
ACCESS TO ARTS & CULTURE
ABC & SBS Funding
Australia Council & Arts Sector Support
AMPAG Funding and SM Funding
Demand Not Supply
National Arts Week
National Ensemble of Theatre Actors (NETA)
Regional Cultural Support
Public Museums, Galleries and Community Centres
Digital Cultural Access
SUPPORT OUR CREATIVE INDUSTRY
Expanding The R&D Tax Incentive
Supporting The Film & TV Industry
Supporting The Book Publishing Industry
Supporting The Games Industry
Supporting The Music Industry
Creating a Space Industry
EDUCATION ACCESS FOR EVERYONE
STEAM not STEM
We Give A Gonski
Visual Arts and Music in Primary Schools
Drama and Dance Education in Schools
National School Cultural Engagement Program (NSCEP)
HECS & Lifelong Learning
IMPROVE OUR COMMUNITY
Corporate Community Tax
Reform Negative Gearing
Superannuation Tax Concessions
Super Profits Tax on Banks
I suggest you read Ben Eltham’s detailed history and discussion of the meaning of ‘culture’, and as a result you may conclude as I have that The Arts needs its own political presence rather than supinely relying on the whim of the Minister of the Day in the Government of the Day. We were lucky in the days of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam when the Australia Council was set up at some degree of arm’s length from political interference, but terribly unlucky to have Arts Minister George Brandis show how his arm was more than long enough to stick his finger up the pie.
Next election let’s aim to do at least a Xenophon, if not a Hanson, a Bob Day, or a Derryn Hinch. Vote 1 in the Senate for The Arts Party, and let’s have a ball!