With next Wednesday (13th March) seeing the release of the Federal Government’s long-awaited National Cultural Policy, the shadow minister for the Arts, George Brandis, has hit back at Labor, noting the extensive wait for the proposal shows the “philistine” members of government are not taking the arts seriously.

The National Cultural Policy is set to announce the Australian government’s support of the arts sector providing a framework for the next ten years of creativity and culture through a nation-wide strategic direction and rationale for current and future investment.

Minster for the Arts Simon Crean who has been spruiking his stance on the importance of the music sector since his keynote address at the Music Connects India conference in Mumbai, insists the policy is the result of extensive consultation. With the release of a discussion paper to community groups and thousands of Australians in August 2011, their suggestions and feedback are apparently included in the brand new policy.

But speaking in an interview with Crikey yesterday, shadow minister Brandis has come out attacking the National Cultural Policy before it has been released, stipulating that the current administration have not lived up to their initial promise of funding for the arts sector.

“The government has been in power for two terms and they announced even before they were elected that a national cultural policy would be the foundational document of their arts policy — the road map if you like — so the delay just goes to show how seriously they take their arts policy,” he claims.“The delay (in rolling out the National Cultural Policy) just goes to show how seriously they take their arts policy.” – George Brandis, Shadow Arts Minister

So what can we expect from the release of the policy next week?  Initial reports on the federal government website claim the policy will stipulate funding for arts and cultural projects, noting that the office has already funded 500 projects and nearly $300 million towards libraries, heritage sites, museums and arts spaces already since 2007.

In the address, Arts Minister Crean also notes the roll out of the National Broadband Network, that will provide a new platform for Australians to be connected locally, nationally and globally to create and collaborate. He also notes the $20 million in funding that’s been provided for the creation of an Australian Interactive Games Fund, to support one of the fastest growing sectors in the media economy.

There is however, little specific mention of the music sector within these guidelines, which is a pertinent note considering Minister Crean’s stance on the future of the music industry.

The policy, which is having its first revision in nearly two decades, is certainly anticipated, having been promoted by Mr Crean and the cabinet since their early appointment. The Arts Minister even spoke of the importance of promoting Aussie music and bands abroad in his Mumbai keynote address on the importance of cultural exchange.

The address covered the importance of strengthening the connection between the emerging Australian and Asian music industries, name-checking the popularity of K-Pop star PSY’s breakthrough hit ‘Gangam Style’ hitting #1 on the Aussie charts.

Coinciding with a revision of the National Cultural Policy, Minister Crean also emphasised the growing financial investment the Federal Government was injecting to develop cultural initiatives including the $3 million the government invested in contemporary music in the year’s budget that will seemingly produce dividends for the nation.

“A creative society is a more productive society – both economically and socially,” he stated at the conference back in November. “Music is at the vanguard of the growing cultural connection between Australia and Asia and our artists will play an important role in the growth of our creative economy and our success in the Asian Century.”

Opposition Arts Minister Brandis however, is critical of the proposed changes to the Australia Council, having worked under the Howard Government as arts minister he states that Simon Crean has “tried his best, but he’s been hamstring by a very indifferent cabinet,” recalling former Coalition arts minister Rod Kemp and himself never having any difficulty gaining funding from former treasurer Peter Costello. He states Crean “has had many difficulties doing that with [current treasurer] Wayne Swan and the philistines in the cabinet.”

The Labor Government’s apparent indifference to the arts comes after strong support from the Howard government in previous years, notes Brandis. “The Howard government made lots of policy announcements during its period in office, most significantly it backed the arts heavily with very strong funding,” namely the funding of small-to-medium performing arts sectors of the Australia Council and the producer offset for film and television, both implemented in 2007.

Stepping out from the Coalition’s shadow, Minister Crean has champion the necessity and strength of the Australian music community recently announcing the appointment for Dr Ianto Ware as National Live Music Coordinator for Sounds Australia. This brand new role sees Dr Ware using his expertise in the music industry to advocate live music and consult on the new National Cultural Policy.

Dr Ware has stated that over the next three years, he aims to identify ways of untangling the complex web of ‘party-killing laws’ that are damaging live music at a local level through legislation and bureaucratic red-tape. Speaking after his induction, Dr Ware calls the improvement of the domestic music scene a ‘critical investment’, particularly for fostering the talent of future musicians both locally and overseas, such as the storming international success of the Grammy Award-winning Gotye.“The Howard government made lots of policy announcements during its period in office, most significantly it backed the arts heavily with very strong funding.” – George Brandis, Shadow Arts Minister

Dr Ware’s role as National Live Music Coordinator is designed to directly inform the changes that will be outlined in the soon-to-be unveiled National Cultural Policy, which will hopefully follow the trajectory of support the Federal Government has laid down for the music sector in the last six months.

Returning home in November, Arts Minister Simon Crean put forward $200,000 towards helping Australian artists tour and deliver workshops nationally and through regional areas. It seems pivotal at this point that Minister Crean delivers a policy which in effect supports his statements on the importance and strength of the Australian music and arts sectors.

Though Senator Brandis claims the Coalition will announce their arts policy closer to the election, he recalls that there “will always be debate about what the arts do, that’s why we have an arms-length and peer-reviewed structure for the allocation for the funding”. The trademark of their policy will be a certain “respect of the integrity of the arts, the sector and of artists” and “regard of the arts as one of the great expressions of Australian excellence”.

A spokesperson for Minister Crean told Crikey their concerns over the delay in the release of the Coalition’s policy, questioning whether a policy has even been developed since 2007. “George Brandis needs to come clean on what the Coalition’s position is on the arts and tell the industry what they would cut from the government’s investment in the arts and cultural sector,” said the spokesperson.

It still remains to be seen however, even after serious consideration of the music industry and consultation from Dr Ianto Ware over the live music sector, if the new National Cultural Policy will be injecting more funding towards the arts sector and a serious boost for the Australian music industry.

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