Culture, arts squeezed from budget with no spare change

Jacqueline Maley
brisbane times

THE Gillard government’s long-awaited national cultural policy has been postponed because of a lack of funds, a casualty of the tight fiscal environment before the budget.

Delayed … Arts Minister Simon Crean had hoped to release the long-awaited national cultural policy in conjunction with the budget. Photo: Penny Stephens

The cultural policy, the first such document for nearly 20 years, is still expected to be released this year, but hopes it would be published to coincide with the budget have been dashed, given the government’s pledge to return to surplus.

The Herald understands that while the Arts Minister, Simon Crean, originally hoped to announce the policy in conjunction with the budget, its release has been shelved because there are no spare funds to allocate to a new arts policy.

Mr Crean has made the development of a national cultural policy the centrepiece of his portfolio. He has also commissioned the Mitchell review, which recommended ways the government could encourage arts philanthropy, and a review into the Arts Council, which is close to completion.

Both reviews are intended to form part of the policy, which will set out the Labor government’s 10-year ”strategic vision” for the arts, although it is unclear how much money, if any, will eventually be allocated to it.

There has been no cultural policy since the former prime minister Paul Keating’s ”Creative Nation” was unveiled in 1994.

Consultation for the policy began in 2009, and interest from the sector has been enormous, with Mr Crean’s office receiving more than 400 formal submissions to its discussion paper. But members of a 22-person steering committee, who have been advising Mr Crean’s office on the policy, have not heard anything about its contents since their last meeting on March 8, despite expectations the policy would be released for the budget.

The committee had been told it would be briefed on ”talking points” to use to respond to questions about the policy but that has not happened yet.

A committee member, Steve Pozer, who is the director of the Object Gallery in Surry Hills, said he was ”very disappointed” at news the policy was postponed.

”We knew they were going to have a challenging deadline in terms of the budget,” he said.

”I guess a number of key initiatives for new funding in this budget didn’t come through.”

Louise Herron, another committee member and chair of the Major Performing Arts Board, said she thought Mr Crean ”was hoping for some money” for the policy. ”The Minister really believes the arts are important, but the difficulty is money.”

Kevin Brennan, a cultural policy expert who is on the steering committee, said: ”The days of bolstering up the arts budget are over. It’s very difficult for politicians to find money and justify it.”

The Gillard government has repeatedly staked its economic credibility on returning to surplus in 2012-13. Tuesday’s budget will be the fifth the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has handed down, but it will be his first one with a surplus.

A spokeswoman for Mr Crean’s office said she could not comment on cultural issues in the budget.

Jacqueline Maley 

Parliamentary Sketch Writer

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