Arts funding needs doubling to $3 billion a year to protect and enhance the national narrative – crucial for Australia’s future together

Australia has regularly styled itself as a creative nation. Yet it ironically turns to a well-worn sporting metaphor to make the point that as a country it “punches above its weight” in film, visual arts, literature, any number of musical genres including rock and roll, opera and even country.

Australia spends precious little on the arts: less than $1.5 billion per year. It’s a pittance and is the result of poor government, poor finance and poor business. Together believes the arts must play a leading role in our society and not be an underfunded policy extra.

Australia’s artists shine on the world stage thanks to the likes of Bangarra Dance and Back to Back Theatre. We have a growing role call of Hollywood royalty both in front of and behind the camera. Our opera singers perform at the world’s most storied opera houses. Several Australians are nominated for this year’s Tony (Broadway) awards. Our rock and pop artists top charts and sell out stadia Then there is ­­­Circus Oz, Circa and their soaring offshoots, multiple Booker Prize winners. It continues…

Most of these artists benefited from public funding for development, production, touring, education and support. Arts funding is an investment in the health of our society, in our culture and a national sanity check.

Together welcomes and supports Labor’s new arts policy. Its aims are laudable, especially in supporting indigenous art, companies and artists, diversity in the arts and by restoring much needed funding to the Australia Council after thoughtless, or even deliberately damaging cuts.

But Labor’s answers are too pat with too little extra funding and muted, timid ambition. Together believes that in the context of responsible budgeting Australia can and must be bold by doubling the annual allocation to the budget to $3 billion per year. Anything less is tinkering around the edges of a worn and outdated model.

Our key investments would include:

$500m per year in small arts organisations and individual artists, to overcome the bias towards funding established institutions and artists

$250m per year in touring capacity so Australian artists can connect with audiences here and overseas

$250m in infrastructure for indigenous visual artists and indigenous arts administration

Reinvestment of $250m in film for kids because that is where culture and identity take root – we must tell our own stories to our children.

$250m to support our music industry and festivals. We need to keep not just our cities and venues open, but our music culture in the regions

Significant investment in the brave new world of digital arts both for digital creation techniques and emerging art forms, and using technology to enable distribution for audience expansion.

Together’s initiatives are not unfunded pipe dreams. They can be fully funded by trimming our expenditure on submarines and other major defence contracts that has seen this country’s military spend go close to doubling the GSP percentage outlaid by Japan, Germany and New Zealand, as well as an overdue audit of massive outsourcing contracts for consultants in the public sector. An additional $1.5 billion per annum is more than manageable in a federal budget of $500 billion.

It has never been more important to support the arts as our social fabric is tearing, yet it has never been harder for artists to establish a career. The debate around arts policy and funding must be informed by an understanding of how little we invest in the arts, how narrow the spectrum of arts and artist we fund and how much we have to gain by being much more ambitious to promote and engender a collective celebration of who we actually are as a nation – who lives here, how they live and dream and the industries they work in. The rewards will be almost immediate and resonate for generations.

Listening to the current Prime Minister speak, landing on our shores for the first time or watching our election campaign, you would assess that sport in fact is culture. Sport is a big business and pulls in the big bucks in Australia.

Together loves its sport, we admire talented people pushing themselves and their teammates to impressive heights and it is very much part of the complex fabric of our young nation.

The creative arts are also big business and big bucks and most of those benefitting were once small companies or unknown performers who received a boost from the Whitlam government onwards. The arts are terrific for business generally, because the arts create jobs, supports families and communities of artists and there is further economic benefit for businesses that support them.

Yet the context and conversations around the arts has matured and so we say again, its time for the government to step up and meet the challenge that so many of Australia’s competitor nations in the west have been doing for some time now.

The arts collectively provide a pitiless mirror into which a nation can gaze – it helps us understand whether we are heading on the right road or have become lost on a byway to nowhere or worse; whether we are compassionate and encompassing of who we are collectively or whether we have left some of us out of the national narrative.

This is done, as it has been through the course of human history, through theatre of many kinds, film, television, painting, an ever-growing collection of musical genres, sculpture, multimedia performances, games etc. It’s time Australia recognised this history and stepped up to make the arts an integral and non-negotiable part of our journey to a better Australia.

A final observation is worthwhile: nations which are on a solid core of metrics above or at least slightly better than average have a collective tendency to have a vibrant, challenging and throbbing arts sector. This is no coincidence. It’s time for government in Australia to recognise that and act with speed and purpose.

Together is a new party but not a niche party and has a comprehensive policy manifesto https://thetogetherparty.org.au/manifesto.

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