Interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast


LISA MILLAR, HOST: Welcome back on this Monday morning. You’re watching News Breakfast. It’s great to have your company.

Australia’s arts and entertainment sector is set for a massive cash injection under a new national policy being unveiled today. The Federal Government will be putting close to $300 million into the sector over the next five years.

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: The new policy will establish a funding body called Creative Australia. It will include support for First Nations artists and a workplace agency to focus on fair pay and, importantly, harassment. There are also plans to include streaming services in local content rules from next year.

We’re joined now by the Federal Arts Minister Tony Burke in Melbourne. Minister, very good morning to you.


ROWLAND: Very well, thank you. I want to start with this looming requirement the Government is going to impose on the international streaming services to devote time and money to local content. I was reading just this morning that Disney’s local operation, their profit quadrupled – quadrupled – last financial year. So, isn’t there a strong case to be made for at least a 20 per cent local production quota for all of the streaming services?

BURKE: There’s no doubt a lot more can be done – a lot more. In terms of the exact number and how you cut it, that’s something we’ll be working through in the first six months of this year. Legislation in the second half of the year and then as of the 1st of July next year streaming quotas will exist in Australia. There’ll be Australian content obligations.

We’re still working through the exact percentages for all of that. It will be done jointly by myself and Michelle Rowland. But, you know, the days have to end where you’re sitting there with a remote control going through show after show and everything appears to be from either the United States or the UK. You know, if you’re watching the TV and it’s free to air, you’re getting Australian content. But if you’re watching through the internet you’re not guaranteed getting anything at all, and that just needs to change.

ROWLAND: You’re outside the Espy in Melbourne, the scene of some of –

BURKE: My sort of posh to be here!

ROWLAND: I mean, it’s a great gig scene for Melbourne. In fact, one of Australia’s best known live music sites. Let’s talk about Music Australia, a body being set up as part of this policy. Practically, Minister – practically – how will that help musos and support crew who have been doing it tough for the last few years.

BURKE: It allows there to be a dedicated group within Creative Australia – this will be Music Australia - where they can make strategic decisions for the industry. They can work on what’s the workforce plan, they can work on what needs to be done on artist development. There’s funding there as well for Sounds Australia, which is sort of like Austrade, like an export body but for musicians, making sure that our musicians are getting on to festival lineups around the world.

One of the things that’s happening as people shifted from buying albums and CDs to streaming is international competition is just seamless now. And, you know, you can’t – it’s really hard to make a living just off local streaming revenue. So to be able to reach an international audience is critically part of that. To work in artist development, really important.

But, like, if you just take one critical figure – so I know we’re all – you know, a lot of us, myself included, were glued to the ABC over the weekend for the Hottest 100 countdown. But if you look at the ARIA album chart at the moment, there are only two Australian albums in the top 50. Only two. They’re in the bottom half. One is Spacey Jane, who did really well in the countdown on the weekend, but the other is INXS. We’re just not translating great music that Australians are loving into viable incomes for people. Music Australia will be designed to do exactly that.

ROWLAND: So when you talk about getting greater access for Australian acts for international festivals, will there be some subsidy for certain bands to tour, to go overseas? How will it work in practice?

BURKE: Sounds Australia will have additional people effectively to go out. They go out and they lobby, and they build the relationships, festival by festival by festival. They’ve already been helping with a series, you know, Coachella, and there’s other festivals, where you’re starting to see increased Australian names there. So, there’s improvements that have been happening. But basically we want to press the accelerator on that because it’s essential to make sure we can get viable incomes for working artists and musicians.

ROWLAND: A crackdown on, sadly, a large amount of harassment, sexual assault in the industry over the years. Tell us about this new body and how it will crack down on bad behaviour in the arts sector.

BURKE: Yeah, the normally industrial relations systems which obviously I’m in charge of for the Government don’t always work for this sector the same way. People often don’t have a normal employment relationship. They may be working at a different venue one night to the next. They may find themselves working, you know, short term, often it’s not an employment relationship at all. But you can get these cultural challenges where people are being told ‘you kick up a fuss, you’ll never work again’. With some of the reports that have come out, particularly the Raising our Voices report that came out for the music industry, it was just horrific the bullying and harassment stories that were being told there.

This body, what it will be able to do is not only hear the complaints and refer to the different services but it will work on establishing codes of conduct with industry, both government funded and commercial, but then, importantly, will feed the information through when the breaches are occurring so that if you are a repeat offender and you’re not providing a safe workplace, don’t think you can then come knocking on the door for government money.

ROWLAND: Minister, we talk about cultural institutions and there are no more important ones than, say, the National Gallery, the National Library in Canberra. They could all do with more money. Can they be assured, those institutions and others like them, assured of extra funding in the May Budget?

BURKE: Yeah, there’s some more decisions coming on that, and the Prime Minister has made some pretty strong comments on exactly the lines that your question says. The reason they’re not in today’s announcement is effectively they go to core functions of government in terms of whether or not the buildings – like, you’ve got leaky buildings and things like that. That doesn’t form part of cultural policy. So, it’s important; it’s just not today’s announcement.

There are issues relevant to the National Gallery today, though. For example, a lot of people won’t know at any point in time for the National Gallery 99 per cent of the works that we hold are in storage. And we didn’t, you know, purchase those works so that they could be kept in darkness; we want them on walls and being seen to stop Australians in their tracks. So, there’ll be a sharing of the collection now, and a whole lot of that national collection will also be finding its way to regional and suburban galleries.

ROWLAND: And, finally, Minister, you are sharing this hour on News Breakfast with Flume himself. He gets your vote. You endorse that decision by Triple J?

BURKE: I accept – I congratulate Flume. It’s a great song. My money was with No 9. Gang of Youths, came in at No 9 with In the Wake of Your Leave. That was the one I was hoping to get to No 1. They came in at No 2 a couple of years ago. But, yeah, congratulations to Flume. I’ll just wait for Gang of Youths’ next album, and we’ll get to No 1 then.

ROWLAND: Maybe next year. Hey, Minister, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

BURKE: Always a pleasure. Thank you.