Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC AM

SABRA LANE, HOST: Revive is the name of the Albanese Government’s National Cultural Policy which is being unveiled today. There’ll be $286 million over four years to overhaul the existing Australia Council, which will now be known as Creative Australia. Four new bodies will be set up under it to guide the direction of First Nations artists, writers and musicians, and to look at issues like fair wages and bullying.

Tony Burke is the Arts Minister, as well as the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Tony Burke, you’re a musician, you love the arts – paint a picture what Australia’s cultural and arts scene will look like in five years because of this new policy?

THE HON TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Everything that comes from today goes back to the artists. Government doesn’t make movies, we don’t write the music. But what we are doing is providing, I guess, a bigger canvas, a brighter spotlight, cranking up the volume to 11 and giving our artists the opportunity that we’ve now got a much better chance of in Australia becoming a country again where the shows you’re watching are Australian shows, the music you’re listening to is the soundtrack to your life and is our own music, the books that you’re reading are more likely to be our novels.

Effectively what we want is to be able to have a situation where, you know, you can go through a menu on a streaming service, not everything’s from the UK and the United States. That’s the end point that we’re trying to reach here – to make sure that life in Australia is filled with our own stories.

LANE: Let’s just pick up on that point. The Australian film and TV sector wants you to make streaming services like Netflix and Disney and Amazon put 20 per cent of their local revenue they earn into making Australian content. Is that the figure you will adopt?

BURKE: What we’re doing now, the decision that we’re making and we’ve announced today are the deadlines. So first – six months consultation, we will work through exactly issues like the one you’ve just raised. There’ll be legislation in the second half of this year in the Parliament, and that legislation will have a start date no later than the 1st of July next year.

There’s a few different ways of doing this, there’s different ways of ramping it up. There’s sensible consultation that we’ll have with industry. But the end point needs to be that the situation we have now where if you’re watching free to air TV through your aerial you’ve got Australian content guaranteed, but if you’re watching it through the internet, there is zero guarantees at all. Those days have to come to an end, and 1st of July next year that will have been addressed.

LANE: You’re also setting up a new Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces. Why is that needed. Why can’t, say, Fair Work Australia oversee what the workers are paid, what they’re actually owed, and ensure that workplace standards are upheld?

BURKE: One of the things that’s really different for arts and entertainment workers is very often you don’t have an employment relationship. Very often it might be that you, in fact, have booked the venue for the gig. It might be that you have a contractual relationship. It might be that you’re moving from workplace to workplace, from festival to festival, and one of the things that happens is the challenges you might have in not having a safe workplace are not, in fact, from a permanent employer but from a concept of “if you’re known to step out of line, you’ll never work again”, those sorts of threats.

We saw with that Raising Our Voices report that came out a few months ago in the music industry that, you know, for an industry that often tells the stories of people being treated unfairly, for so many people it just hasn’t been a safe workplace.

We need to have something that’s very much tailored to this industry but that also then has the capacity to say if there’s a business that’s constantly stepping out of line here and they then want to come knocking on the door for money from the Government, well, the fact that they haven’t been providing a safe workplace is going to follow them.

LANE: Extra funding for institutions like the National Gallery and the National Library aren’t included in today’s policy. Can they expect a big boost in May’s budget?

BURKE: The Prime Minister’s given some pretty strong indications that, you know, for those institutions they’ve been run down, run down badly. The reason that it wasn’t part of the cultural policy announcement is very much that whether or not a roof is leaking is a core government responsibility, not actually part of cultural policy of itself. So it didn’t fit neatly into cultural policy. The decision will still be made soon; it will be made in this budget.

There are some things relevant to those institutions, though, that are part of cultural policy. We will be announcing today a program for the National Gallery where they’ll now be able to share their collection with suburban and regional galleries. A lot of people, you know, sort of think everything we’ve got is on show all the time. At any point in time for the National Gallery 99 per cent of the collection is in storage.

Now there are reasons why you want to be able to cycle through and have the gallery looking a little bit different each time, but 99 per cent is just extraordinary. And we didn’t buy those works so they could be kept in darkness. It will now be the situation where the national collection will be shared on a national basis again.

LANE: Governments are often tempted to cut back funding to the arts sector when financial circumstances change or apply so-called efficiency dividends which severely limit what they can do. The funding that you’re announcing today, is that guaranteed for the next four years? You’re not going to chop it back at any stage?

BURKE: The funding is locked in and the funding is ongoing. And, you know, we’ve put a lot of work into this, and we are very much – you know, part of – a lot of people talk about with the arts and cultural policy about how hard people were hit in the pandemic. The truth is before the pandemic started the sector was already vulnerable. You know, ever since those George Brandis cuts back in 2014, you know, ripped millions and millions of dollars out of the sector, people have always been just in that state of vulnerability. While the previous government will say they spent a whole lot of money during the lockdown periods, it’s also true, you know, some of that money went to a Guns ‘n Roses tour at the same time that a whole lot of Australian artists were absolutely struggling.

So we’re making really deliberate strategic decisions here, and the reason it’s called Revive as well, this is five years for the industry to get back on to its feet, to get back to where it should be and then hopefully in five years’ time we’re looking at taking another pretty exciting step forward.

LANE: Tony Burke, that is for your time this morning.

BURKE: Great to talk to you.