The federal budget: it just doesn’t add up

The federal budget will be tabled on Tuesday 2 April – which makes right now the perfect time to grab your Advocacy Toolkit and contact your local/state/fave MPs about the urgent need to invest in artistic courage.

What do you think should be a priority for the federal budget? (We’ve given this some thought.) With the Australian Government hell bent on calling the election date as soon as possible after announcing a budget surplus at whatever cost, what will that cost be? How will a confident, diverse culture thrive without a cultural policy, without ambitious arts funding, and without responsible cultural leadership from our political leadership? It just doesn’t add up.

Even at this late stage, at this unsettling time, when too many politicians seem to have lost the ability to connect policy decisions with the public good, even now it’s not too late to advocate for what matters most.

The arts have already become hot issues this election year – but for all the wrong reasons. The NSW state election was overdominated by continued political interference in arts funding decisions, the unexplained billion-dollar relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, the destabilising approach to festivals and live music, and the stalled Arts 2025 policy development process.

This damaging approach motivated the Balnaves Foundation to take action, buying up adspace in The Australian to present three full-page ads on three consecutive days during the week before the election.

Why did  Balnaves choose The Australian and not the Sydney Morning Herald nor the Daily Telegraph? Because arts issues are national concerns. The Foundation’s appeal is that voters “consider our cultural future” and they’re explicit in identifying key issues to consider.

There’s national interest too in South Australia’s Arts Plan 2019-2024, the state’s first comprehensive approach to arts policy in two decades. With written submissions due on Friday 12 April, here’s everything you need to know. Strategy consultants Graeme Gherashe and Tony Grybowski are holding town hall meetings across the state, and the Arts Industry Council of SA are making the sector’s expectations known. There’s also an online discussion forum that’s open to everyone, starting us off with some key provocations.

And there’s strong national interest in strengthening regional arts. Regional Arts Australia have launched an important campaign that we all need to get behind. Vote 1 Regional Arts calls for a $2m annual increase to the Regional Arts Fund, the nation’s dedicated fund for artists living and working regionally. Given the Fund was reduced significantly a decade ago, that extra $2m per year is a minimum; all parties are invited to be ambitious for our regions. NAVA strongly endorses this campaign. Here’s everything that Regional Arts Australia has prepared to guide us all in advocating for the Regional Arts Fund.

Just as with last year’s federal budget, this year NAVA’s responses will be published in a range of publications the following day, providing much-needed analysis on the cultural, industry and ethical implications of what’s been presented. 

You can watch the Treasurer present the budget to Parliament on Tuesday 2 April at 7:30pm AEDT. The Leader of the Opposition then presents his Budget Reply speech at 7:30pm AEDT on Thursday 4 April. To get prepared, here’s our piece last year on reading the Budget as a cultural text, and here’s the handy guide written by Dr Ben Eltham on how to read government budget documents.

Speaking of. The following week, let’s put all that in context, and look to the future. On Monday 8 April, NAVA is collaborating with Monash University’s Monash University Masters of Cultural & Creative Industries program to present Australian Cultural Policy: The Next Decade and Ben and I will co-facilitate the day. Gubbi Gubbi and Waradjuri artist Bianca Beetson will present our keynote provocations, and the line-up of expert speakers is looking amazing. It’s free so be sure to book!

To keep that policy conversation going at an expert level, NAVA has recently launched Arts Agenda as a monthly focus on national issues in the Australia’s contemporary arts. Arts Agenda is designed for journalists, academics, policy-makers, philanthropists and advocates, orienting research and data to current artist and sector issues.

And to strengthen our capacity as an organisation, this month we welcome Bek Conroy as Campaigns Coordinator, and Georgia Mokak as First Nations Coordinator. We’ve also farewelled Celia Bradshaw and Claudia Roosen who’ve been with NAVA for years and are now heading off to other projects and/or teaching degree! (We need great teachers!) Here’s the full team update.

This is a big year for our resilience and our national impact in the arts. Let’s be ready to respond and ready to support one another when policy and funding decisions are announced – and even better, let’s make best use of all of our voices in influencing those decisions right now.