Hooray For The New Federal Government Arts Policy

The arts policy launched on January 30 by Prime Minister Albanese and the Minister for the Arts, Tony Burke, is aimed at revitalising the performing arts in Australia.  It refers to it as Revive: a place for every story, a story for every place — Australia’s cultural policy for the next Five years. 

The policy is accompanied by an injection of $286 million, putting their money where their mouth is.  Not something you see every day in the arts world.

Of significant interest to the local area is an increase to the regional arts fund of $8.5 million, and $11.8 million to support loans from The National Gallery of Australia’s collection to regional galleries and museums.

There is significant support for indigenous arts, and assistance to improve the Resale Royalty Scheme for visual artists.

What sounds like big changes are afoot for the national arts funding and advisory organisation, the Australia Council, which after fifty years is to become a body called Creative Australia, with newly named satellite bodies such as Music Australia, and Writing Australia, and a new First Nations Board.  

One hopes that this move from The Australia Council to Creative Australia will not be an exercise in moving the deck chairs, but will provide real energy and enhancement to support for the Arts.

Not covered in the announcement was desperately needed repairs to the National Gallery and the National Library, which we’re told will be included in the May budget.  Hopefully adequate funding for Trove, the NLA’s amazing digital research resource, currently under threat of being lost due to lack of funding, will also be included. 

Also not covered in this announcement were Film and Television but there is a lot happening in the background there.

Most significant is the move for requirement for Australian content on the streaming services.  The previous government chipped away at content regulations for the free to air networks, most notably reducing the requirement for Australian childrens’ television material.  The streaming services, naturally, do not want regulation on what they spend on Australian programmes, saying that they are already investing in significant Australian production.

To some extent this is true.  Television drama is busy, with series such as The Twelve on Foxtel, The Secret She Keeps and the upcoming One Night for Paramount Plus, Bali 2002 and The Tourist on Stan, and Boy Swallows Universe for Netflix.  But Australian feature films struggle, badly affected by the change in cinema-going since lockdown.

The government has said that it will introduce legislation on Australian content requirements for the streamers in the third quarter of 2023, to come into effect in July 2024.  Deciding on how these requirements will work will be the subject of vexed negotiations in the meantime. 

International productions, such as Thor, Love and Thunder, Ticket to Paradise, Shantaram and the currently shooting The Fall Guy, are providing work and income for film crews and some Australian cast.  The Australian-generated Elvis and the Mad Maxes fall into this category also.  These films are valuable foreign currency earners, to the tune of hundreds of millions of US dollars.  But the location incentive fund which was established to attract them here is largely spent, and it is not certain what if any subsidy will replace it.  The industry would like a flat 30% tax rebate, open ended, but it is more likely to be another finite cash fund.

On the one hand the offshore mega films suck the oxygen out of the local industry by raising rates and employing the top crew, on the other hand in a properly regulated environment, there should be room for both.  Time to grow the pool of experienced technicians and expand infrastructure – ie studios –  would probably see, as exists in Britain, local and international film industries existing productively alongside each other.

While the government is under pressure to continue the subsidy to attract offshore film productions, most importantly it needs to ensure that Australians are able to compete with stories that reflect ourselves and our culture, for Australian audiences and the rest of the world.  

The Federal Government has a busy year in front of it across all the performing arts.

Sue Milliken

Sue Milliken is a film producer (Ladies In Black) who grew up in Wingham.

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