TheFourthWall

All things Arts. All things Brisbane.

Federal Arts Department – Exit Stage Left

It’s now been a week since, in a move that surprised absolutely no one, Scott Morrison announced that the Federal Department for Communication and the Arts will be dismantled. Disappearing into the creation of a new Super Department for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, and Communications. 


To which, I for one say, it’s about time, because nothing says capable management of a growing, robust arts industry like putting it on the same desk as the person who handles big rigs and road building.

For those playing at home or hiding under a rock, no- you didn’t miss it. The Arts no longer features in the title of a Department. This has, understandably, sent shock waves through the arts community. A community that has come together in the days since, and given multiple, well reasoned responses. Most notably from the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance who have taken the opportunity to make their feelings known.

Of course this is nothing new for an already embattled sector.

In 2014, the then Abbott Government (remember when we were sure it couldn’t get any worse, then we had Turnbull and now ScoMo…) made a staggering cut of $68 million to Screen Australia and the Australia Council. In addition the budget proposed they cut a further $60 million over the next four years from arts and cultural development funding. 

Thank goodness really – as too many artists have said; “there’s just too much money floating around in the industry. Too many well funded opportunities, and who can forget the governments fantastic initiative to turn ‘exposure credits’ into ‘actual money’.” Ground breaking. Definitely time for a cut to the sector. 

In a speech given at the 2014 Australian Book Industry Awards, Tony Abbott PM implied that we should all be somehow grateful for his restraint. That it was only interference by George Brandis who stopped him from cutting deeper into the bedrock of an industry that can scarcely fund the handful of major companies, let alone any new and vibrant smaller projects.

In spite of this, in 2016, a government funded report undertaken by The Bureau of Communications and Arts Research (I wonder where they found the money…) showed that arts and culture had contributed a whopping $111.7 billion dollars to the economy through 2016-2017. You didn’t read that wrong. That’s billions with a b. The report further showed an industry growth of more than 30% when compared with similar figures in 2008-2009.

Bizarrely, Communication and the Arts was only one of four Departments to be pulled apart and ‘merged’. With 5 Department Secretaries to be laid off come 1 February 2020, and with the PM offering no guarantees that there won’t be significant layoffs as ‘the great combining of 2020’ begins, it must be feeling a lot like Christmas in the public sector at the moment.

It should also be noted that this “shake up” of the public sector, comes with the PM’s self proclaimed reasoning that, “having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion, improve decision making, and ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people.” Although of course he’s a little vague on how that’s actually going to work, especially considering that the Department shakeup will not be reflected in the Ministry Portfolios or the shape of his Cabinet. It’s also reassuring to see that Federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety, and the Arts (and don’t they go together like wine and cheese) Paul Fletcher has said… absolutely nothing about the shakeup. 

All of this is to say that this newfound assault on Arts and Culture is… not newfound. It is a consistent, unrelenting attack on something that is in no way valued by our leadership. Not just today – but ever. We, as artists have been at war for years – although the assaults come so infrequently, and so insidiously, that it can be hard to keep track. 

But we have to.

We must keep track of the minutiae. We must find a way to maintain the rage – because even as the week comes to a close, the anger is dying off. The interest is waning and that cannot be allowed to happen. It must be maintained at all costs.

Our political system is built to diffuse the noise made by minority classes and smaller ‘insignificant’ groups. To ignore it and to obfuscate until it is lost in the machine, and the consistent, practised ignorance of politicians who are trained in empathy and how not to answer questions.

Arts Hub have a list of five ways you can protest the axing of the Arts Department. It’s a fantastic snapshot into some political activism and deals with everything from letters to your local member, to capitalising on our not insignificant social media reach. But the best, most important thing that we can do, is to educate our audiences. To reach out to our families and friends, to our followers and to the strangers we’ll meet on the bus. 

 

There has to be an education at the grassroots level about how the Arts impacts our society and what happens to a world where the Arts are suppressed and defunded. We have to use our art, and our voices, and our networks and as tiring as it is – we can’t take a backwards step. We can’t lose steam after a single week. We need to dig our heels in, and when the arguments become meaningless and we feel that we can’t scream about about a world without books, paintings, Netflix, phones, designer anything, houses, cars, music, poetry, sculpture … then focus on the economics. Focus on the billions with a b. On the jobs, on the impacts across multiple sectors. About our standing on the world stage and how good it will make them look. Appeal to their vanity and then to their hip pocket. Then remind them that the writers and the painters and the playwrights and the sculptors and the storytellers are the ones who will be in charge of their legacies long after they’re gone. See if that catches their attention. 

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