Interview with Dave Marchese, Triple J Hack


DAVE MARCHESE, HOST: We've got the Arts Minister, Tony Burke, with us now. Hey, Minister, thanks for joining us on Hack.


MARCHESE: Huge day for you. Big announcements, big promises, a big star-studded event to launch this new policy. It's called Revive. And clearly a lot of money, a lot of effort’s gone into putting this together. I'm wondering, though, when you think about how much has been lost already in the arts sector, do you think that this package is actually enough to bring the arts back from the brink?

BURKE: Look, I think it's enough to turn the corner. What we're doing - there's a mixture of the funding, but also some structural changes we're making, where up until now - before the pandemic hit, if you looked at what did the Federal Government do, there were three different ways that arts gets funded; you get the direct government funding, you get philanthropist funding, you get the commercial sector. Effectively, we had one body that dealt with the government funding, another one that dealt with philanthropy and if you're in the commercial sector, you're on your own.

What has become really clear is for some sections of the arts, particularly contemporary music and writers as well, there's a whole lot of changes going on out there that unless we get some government policy and some strategic direction, people are just going to be smothered.

If you look at the ARIA charts that came out over the weekend, the top 50 albums, there's only two Australian albums there. One of them is Spacey Jane, but the other's INXS. So if we want our artists to be able to have a livelihood that's going to see them through where this is a career, a profession, a job that they can work through for their life, then we need Government to change direction on how it supports music and writing in particular.

MARCHESE: Well, in this policy, there does seem to be this big push to focus on bolstering mainstream commercial content, as you say. Is that because you think the arts in Australia has been a bit elitist in the past?

BURKE: I do think there was a view that things that are popular will take care of themselves, I think that was a view. But what's been happening is the stuff that's popular for Australian music, say, as an example, it's getting squeezed out by international competition. We need to remember, we are a small population that speaks a language that a whole lot of really big countries speak as well. So we're always going to have a situation where unless you're really helping your local industry along, American content and UK content in particular, has a chance just to really come right over the top.

MARCHESE: If you're a young creative musician and artist. Can you give some real-world examples of what this will mean for you, how these changes are going to directly impact your work and your opportunities going forward?

BURKE: Yeah. Can I give two sorts of examples? One, as a creator and the second as a worker. As a creator, there'll now be a government-funded body that has an interest in trying to foster your career. So whereas previously, governments very much left you on your own and it's been an accident as to whether you got a good manager or whether you had a manager who wasn't all that well trained trying to help your way through, there will now be a government body that's looking through and trying to foster careers of emerging artists and also trying to make sure that we're also fostering the careers of mid-career artists. It's too often the case that once someone hits their mid 30s, particularly for women artists, but not exclusively, work can get a whole lot harder. There needs to be a work plan so that people can stay in the industry. So that's the part as a creator that's really important.

But separate to that, the bit as a worker. I was really affected by a speech that I heard Deena Lynch do - when you play music her artist name's Jaguar Jonze - a speech she gave at the Australian Women in Music Awards a few years ago. Where she just said 'look, I didn't come here to be an activist, I want to be an artist' but just stressed the frustration of not having a safe workplace. So the other thing that we've done, which is really important for artists coming through, is we'll be establishing a Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces within Creative Australia, and it will be dedicated to putting together the codes of conduct with industry, to doing everything we can to make sure that we are, in fact, providing safe workplaces for people as they come through. Then for those companies that knock on the door of government funding from time to time to be able to say to them, well, you're keeping up to date with these codes and delivering a safe workplace free from bullying and free from harassment, that's your entry card. If you're not doing that, don't come knocking on the door for government funding.

MARCHESE: There's this new body Creative Australia. It's basically a bigger, revamped version of the Australia Council for the Arts. I know it's being fleshed out, a lot more money is being put in, there's kind of different components of it now. But are some of these changes, like the name and stuff, just changes for the sake of changes?

BURKE: No, it's completely reimagining the Australia Council. The things the Australia Council used to do, it will still do. But the philanthropic world, big donations that run some sections of the arts that used to be in a separate organisation that'll come under Creative Australia as well. These steps I've been talking in the commercial world, that's something that Creative Australia will do in ways that the Australia Council never did. The other thing that I really should make clear, we've mentioned three of the new bodies that will exist within Creative Australia, I want to mention the fourth, which is there'll also be a dedicated First Nations body. You can't talk about Australian culture without starting with First Nations. One of the challenges that's often happened for First Nations works, if I give a non-music example, let's take a stage play, for example. Someone writes a play, First Nations playwright starts on a small stage where they've got full creative control and they want to take it to a bigger theatre company. The challenge is always that the bigger theatre company often is going to be a non-First Nations theatre company. But the non-First Nations theatre company will hold all the financial power. And often we've found that these works, as they grow, you get a frustration from the person who created it that they've lost their creative control on the way through.

Having this First Nations body with its own board, its own dedicated funding, and its board obviously, would be a First Nations board, means it will now have financial power for those First Nations artists if they have a work that they want to grow the scale of. So when they go to a company saying, this is how I want it to grow, bigger audience, more cast, whatever it might be, they arrive with a level of financial power, and the financial power means creative power.

MARCHESE: Minister just finally, the thing is, there's this real perception out there in the broader community, and people in the arts will understand this, that a job in the arts is not a real job. How are you going to change that? I mean, is this kind of policy announcement really going to help shift that and get young people to get into the arts and want to study the arts? And I mean, like, we need to talk about higher education and also, like, costs of courses and all those things as well. But are we going to see more people want to pursue that career?

BURKE: I hope so, and I thought today's launch was pretty important to hear Anthony Albanese as Prime Minister of Australia standing up, saying, these are real jobs, this is a real industry. I'm not pretending that everything changed today. It didn't. But the direction changed, the trajectory changed, and that's a big step. For a long time, when you talked about this sector from government, there was a culture war waging. Well, we haven't fixed everything, but I can tell you, as of today, there's no culture war going on from government. But there is a cultural policy to start to get things moving again.

MARCHESE: All right. Lots of info out there. There's heaps to pore over. I'm sure people are going to be wanting to look into the details. We'll be following this closely as well in the months ahead. Arts Minister Tony Burke. Thanks for joining us on Hack.

BURKE: Thank you.