The federal government has released its new National Cultural Policy, with $286 million in new funding. It includes new national bodies for music, literature and First Nations art, local content requirements for streaming services, and some steps towards improved pay and conditions.
The arts sector employs hundreds of thousands of people in Australia. Arts workers earn below-average pay – 20% below the national median wage. Many rely on inconsistent income, while creators often work other jobs because royalty and copyright arrangements leave them with only a small share of profits from their work. On top of this, the arts sector was among the hardest-hit by COVID and has been hit again by the cost of living crisis.
The Federal Government funds art directly via grant bodies like the Australia Council and Screen Australia, and via cultural institutions like the ABC or the National Gallery. It shapes the economic context in which artists operate, for example by funding training courses and setting copyright laws. It is also responsible for cultivating and promoting Australia’s cultural legacy by funding museums, libraries, and archives and by commissioning diverse work.
Today’s announcement is a long-term strategy for arts policy – the first of its kind since 2013 – but it also includes some short-term announcements. There will be several new national bodies, including Music Australia to oversee contemporary music, Writers Australia to oversee literature, and a First-Nations led Board to decide on grant decisions for First Nations art. There will also be new laws, including author payments when library users borrow audiobooks and ebooks and a crackdown on fake First Nations art.
The Government has promised to develop longer-term policies in several areas. This will include a review of copyright laws, measures to support artists with disabilities, financial support for video game developers, and local content requirements for streaming services. The content requirements are intended to be in place by mid-2024. The Government will also consider whether to introduce national minimum award wages and conditions for the arts sector. In the shorter term, it will make government grants conditional on good workplace practices and require minimum wages for arts workers at government events.
In a speech to launch the policy, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the arts “cannot be left simply to those who can afford to do it. Arts jobs are real jobs… It is an important part of our economy, and that is important to recognize that. But it is also important to lift ourselves above the usual economic debate. This is about our soul. This is about our identity.”
Shadow Arts Minister Paul Fletcher welcomed some “sensible” elements of the policy but called the overall document “underwhelming.” Fletcher said the policy was “long on rhetoric but rather thin on specifics” and said the new funding was not “serious” money. “In politics it is a good principle to underpromise and overdeliver… Labor has done the opposite.”
Authors Christos Tsiolkas and Clare Wright agreed to write a foreword to the policy. While they expressed “hope” for improvement in the sector, Tsiolkas and Wright said they shared “scepticism.” They noted the Government needed to “invest in our creative infrastructure” but said it was “not the role of governments to create culture. Let’s leave that to the artists, makers, and storytellers.”