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Supporting Australia's arts, culture and heritage: speech to 2007 ALP National Conference, Sydney.

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Speech to 2007 ALP National Conference Introduction to Chapter 16: Supporting Australia’s Arts, Culture and Heritage 28 April 2007


Delegates, colleagues, friends; Labor’s support for Australia’s arts, culture

and heritage has been a consistent feature of this Party’s approach to the

arts, and as this platform affirms, it will be in the years ahead.

We recognise that this is indeed a time for fresh thinking, for under the

Howard Government, our artistic and cultural landscape has been levelled

and worn away; the arts has been seen as an optional extra, on the periphery

of cultural life. And as a consequence, the natural vibrancy and creativity of

our actors, painters, designers and performers has not flourished as we know

it can.

Delegates, it’s timely for us to recognise and celebrate Labor’s long and proud

tradition of support for Australian arts, culture and heritage, and to reaffirm

that Labor will give our artists every opportunity to create, inspire and inform.

The imminent bestowal of Life Membership on Gough and Margaret Whitlam

at this conference is a reminder that amongst the Whitlam Government’s


many achievements, substantial support and encouragement of our arts

community, in particular for the film industry, remains a significant legacy.

What Gough said then is just as relevant to us now, and he said, “In any

civilised community the arts and associated amenities must occupy a central

place. Their enjoyment should not be seen as something remote from

everyday life.”

Labor’s platform recognises this, as it does the capacity of artists to enrich our

lives, tell our stories and give us a deeper understanding of who we are and

where we are heading.

Our political opponents have spent their eleven years in office treading water,

indifferent to the vivacious creative spirit of Australians. The Australian film

industry has tremendous potential but it’s in urgent need of financial policy

reform; small and medium sized performing arts companies are constantly

struggling, the latest sector in need of life support; the Government’s

willingness to fight ideological turf wars is no place for challenging ideas to

take root.

When the Howard Government does turn its attention to the arts, it comes in

the form of political opportunism; the politicisation of board appointments and

a lack of accountability in ministerial decisions.


This platform expressly affirms the principles of access, equity, education,

excellence and innovation. This is a platform primed to enlarge the creative

endeavour across the landscape of visual arts, theatre, film and dance, and

extending to new and exciting mediums, woven through the wonders of the


Central to these new art forms, and to the relationship between creativity and

innovation, is creative industries policy.

This week, delegates, as you know, Labor identified innovation as a critical

economic ingredient to support long-term jobs and growth in Australia. This is

reflected in our approach to the creative industries, where we believe artists, if

given the opportunity, can create the new work which fuels the knowledge

economy - indeed, they can become the new cultural entrepreneurs.

Labor’s platform recognises the inherent value of the arts to society - this is

our starting point, and it is from here that the economic and employment

benefits of arts and culture flow. By identifying the need for increased

research and development investment, for the research of markets both here

and overseas, and through our commitment to delivering world-class

broadband, Labor will equip artists with the information and infrastructure they

need to surf the digital wave.


Importantly, this platform reinforces Labor’s commitment to supporting

Australian artists, and recognises the need to do so through independent and

transparent processes.

This platform underscores Labor’s support for the principles of merit-based

funding, peer assessment, and arms’ length board appointments.

Labor especially recognises the role of Indigenous arts and craft. This

dynamic cultural expression not only contributes to Indigenous communities,

but evokes a deeper sense of this country, and defines Australia’s image on

the world stage. Through this platform, Labor commits to strengthening

support for Indigenous arts and craft.

As well we recognise the ongoing struggle that many artists face; that

historically, our writers and painters have been poorly rewarded. The average

artist’s remuneration remains appallingly low, notwithstanding individual (and

well-deserved) successes. Labor believes this community needs to be treated

fairly by the social welfare and taxation systems.

Expanding on Labor’s Education Revolution theme, there is a critical role for

arts education to nourish and harness the deep reservoir of creative talent

which resides in our young. The platform recognises the benefits of arts

education, including better engagement at school, promoting co-operative

learning and social skills and helping young Australians develop self-esteem.


And whilst we look to the talents of creative Australians and the role they will

play, it is important not to lose sight of what is best in our history, tradition and


This platform commits Labor to identifying, preserving and making accessible

our nation’s rich heritage for all Australians. We recognise the importance of

promoting world heritage sites, and ensuring the National Trust and other

government and community organisations are properly supported.

And we note with great concern there is no longer a Federal Minister for

Heritage - this essential recognition of the importance of preserving our

nation’s rich past is gone.

This platform recognises the rapid digitisation of the communications industry

and electronic media, the convergence of technologies and the globalisation

of news gathering and broadcasting. Delegates, if Australia is to benefit from

these changes, we must rise to the challenge, one that has been so much

greater following this government’s changes to media laws.

Delegates, we have a responsibility to this nation to ensure every Australian

can access a diverse range of opinions and information, to ensure the

adequate representation of the content we, as Australians, create, and clearly,

to ensure adequate funding of the ABC and SBS.


Our responsibility to the arts is a responsibility to ourselves and to each other,

and one national governments must exercise bravely. From the poetry of

Banjo Patterson to the films of Bruce Beresford, from the novels of Christina

Stead to the paintings of Emily Kngwarreye; the great works of imagination

feed a nation’s soul, enrich our existence, and define us as Australians.

So, delegates, I commend to you this platform, with the recognition that few

endeavours are more central to the life of this nation than the creativity of its