It would be a brave voter indeed, who would assess the arts policies and probable programs of the major parties, so little has been said in recent months in the leadup to the Federal election. Furthermore, there is no significant document on the table like the Gillard government’s Creative Australia (2013). Admittedly, the Labor Party’s current policy announced this week strong elements of that thinking, particularly again strengthening the Australia Council. As you may know, the Australia Council’s credibility remains strong despite cuts by the Coalition’s George Brandis when the Coalition first came to power.
In fact, regrettably, the Coalition’s history with the arts during this term of government has been one marked by cuts rather than by credits. Brandis was first, but in late 2016, then-Education Minister Simon Birmingham achieved notoriety after his attack on the arts, questioning PhD topics already approved by the University of Melbourne and abolishing student loans for a raft of TAFE courses particularly those which were arts related. In a bid to gain support, he invoked the supposed views of “the hard-working taxpayer” who he said would not want to support these courses because they would not lead to jobs.
This point of view was faulty in several ways.
- It ignored the value of the arts to the economy or, indeed, society.
- It showed a limited view of his own portfolio – education – and the place of arts in the school curriculum.
- In the context of employment, he ignored unemployment and underemployment as features of our labor market for some time. Instead of defending the arts as a purposeful use of leisure time, he failed to suggest them as legitimate and enjoyable pursuits.
- His facts were wrong or at least ill-considered because when one considers the arts in the context of actual paid employment, it soon becomes evident that there are many jobs directly for artists and for a huge cohort of people connected with them – just like many other industries. Most obviously (to take music as an example), there are the jobs directly connected with performance. A large symphony orchestra will account for about 88 instrumentalists in its four sections. Musicians may make a living playing in bands, as rehearsal pianists, as accompanists, and so on. Dancers have a choice of many genres, as do singers. Teaching is a huge area in all the arts; and, while writing and creating new works are a feature of all the arts, they are at the heart of literature.
As for other areas of activity peripheral to the arts, building and construction, of course, open up a plethora of jobs well before the musicians start to play. There are governmental and private decisions made to build or not to build – architects and engineers are involved from the outset. Sydney Opera House constantly wins awards as the most popular destination for tourists in Australia. In Melbourne, the concert halls of modern times have received acclaim for their beauty and acoustic properties, the latest being the performance space in the new conservatorium at the University of Melbourne.
Allied industries are many: in the promotion and management of ensembles and venues; radio, television, and recording; print and online journalism; and many more.
Patrons of the arts are, frankly, fed up with assertions that the arts are for dilettantes who do not pay their way, as studies constantly support the truth—that the arts contribute significantly to government revenue and do not absorb much of it.
But with no single party passionately championing the arts, it is difficult to be confident that the arts get the fair go so often promised by politicians.
However, Classic Melbourne has reason to hope. It is based in the city of Boroondara in the electorate of Kooyong, where there are eight candidates with a range of views (as one would expect). One of them is Julian Burnside, best known for his human rights record and interest in many issues.
There is a side to Greens candidate Burnside which is lesser known. At an impressionable age he heard music by the historical figure he would now most like to have dinner with—Ludwig van Beethoven —and now classical music is one of the passions of his life. So much so, that he puts his money where his eloquent mouth is and supports the creation of new music, commissioning at least 40 new works, according to the Australian Music Foundation.
Burnside is interested in the potential of every human being. The goal in supporting the arts, he suggests, is to “try to see the present generation properly rewarded for their work”. Classic Melbourne, with a website that encourages support for musicians at all levels, could hardly fail to endorse such a candidate. We are not suggesting that a fully developed arts policy is central to the current election campaign for the Greens or Burnside himself. However, we invite you to imagine if you can an Australian parliament full of representatives who believed, as Julian Burnside does, that “Without the law, you cannot have society. But without the arts, you can’t have civilisation.”