Opinion: Where are Australia’s National Arts Ministers?
The story starts here: (allow 4 minutes)
Paul Keating the other night, during his third interview, and in the interview above, talked about the role the arts in his life and how they are important for the nation. This started a line of thought about Australia’s arts ministers, or to be more exact, those who carried the title usually amongst other ministerial titles.
My reference for this, is the Wikipedia version online.
It came as a surprise that Australia’s first Minister for the Arts was in 1971. Or maybe I had not really thought about it seriously.
Australia is yet to think the arts are important enough to have a stand alone portfolio such as the Minister for Culture. The two Prime Ministers who created a positive aura for the arts in Australia were Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating.
Paul Keating was not a Minister for the Arts, but because of his often stated commitment to the arts, the arts were talked about nationally and there was a lift in the profile of all forms of arts and artists. Then came the Howard years!
Both Bob McMullan (Keating) and Barry Cohen (Howard) were two ministers who demonstrated an interest in and commitments to the arts. But I did extract from one of them that the Arts were not really a priority and to prove this one had to only look at the miniscule size of the monetary commitments within the budgets.
The reality was that while Richard Alston seemed to have had some interest in the arts, the real commitments from his department programs were more to do with the ‘digital economy’. Poor Richard Alston also ended up gathering evidence against the ABC to prove its bias against the government. Sadly in retrospect he was right, but for the wrong reasons. They were not necessarily biased against the Howard government, it was more that this was the beginning of that woeful style of journalism whereby the national broadcaster commenced to adopt the uncivilized, disrespectful, and ‘gotcha’ styles of the mainstream media. This has worsened and continues today.
I think one of the biggest disappointment as Arts Minister was Peter Garrett. His portfolios were always complex, but given his previous employment as front person for the Oils, we really had hopes that he would direct lots of emphasis to the arts. Didn’t happen. Things did happen thanks to some dedicated staffers, but nowhere near to extent that one had hoped.
More recently, till Simon Crean decided to commit political suicide in early 2013, there were signs of life in the Arts Ministry and programs were bubbling to the surface. Again this was because of dedicated staff plus, believe it or not, Simon actually spent quite a bit of his youth with noted arts communities. Sadly while Simon was Arts Minister, there was a complete lack of interest from the Prime Ministers of the era, being both Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. And I mean, a complete lack of interest. The arts were right out of their sphere of interest.
And now we have George Brandis for the second time. In short, not much happened the first time and I do not know anyone who expects much this time with dear George as the Arts Minister for this Rabbott government. The current Prime Minister would only take an interest if there were popular political and personal immediate gains for him. Then again, I expect most arts people who be very happy if Rabbott did not develop an interest in the arts. I pity the directors of our national cultural institutions who have to deal with this government.
Across all the states and territories, the arts happen when there is a champion within the government. It has been known that sparks have flown but usually short-lived.
When our conservative government hit town they always cut into the arts funding. It simply does snot make sense as these budgets are already so small and yet they deliver so much. But that is a logical line of thought! As for what is happening in Queensland right now? No do not get me started as I will save that for another time.
Maybe there is a lone fox (an independent thinker) within our political parties who will soon surface with a real passion for the arts.
How long before we see a Prime Minister and a Commonwealth Government believe in and is prepared to invest in the culture of the country by appointing a Minister for Culture?
Let’s keep hoping.