With wonderful synchronicity, just as I’d been writing about the damaging effects of the last cultural policy “ Creative Nation – introduced by the Keating Government in October 1994, a new national cultural policy has belatedly emerged from the current Government. ‘Creative Australia‘, paying direct tribute to its predecessor, is mainly about modernising the Australia Council to allow for the fact that many artists today don’t work in a single artform medium. This transformation is going to cost $15m; but the artists themselves, and arts companies will get a $60m. boost “ which is munificent.

Elections can have their benefits!

But if you care to look back at my obituary for the admirable Lance Bennett, you will find that he, and the Aboriginal Cultural Foundation which he directed, both disappeared from our view as a result of the Keating decision to prioritise urban Indigenous arts, such as the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association, NAISDA over the tribal arts of the North.

Where does Simon Crean stand on such matters? Well, he’s giving a 30% boost to the elite art schools like NIDA and the Australian Ballet School, and this may or may not include NAISDA, but won’t include the excellent Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts in Brisbane, which was supposed to replace it according to Creative Nation. This is part of an important strand in Creative Australia which prioritises arts education “ now a fixed item on the national curriculum, a new ArtsReady program for kids and a Youth Art Star fund for every constituency in the country.

No clear indicators there. But Crean did seem pretty fond of his $14m. boost for Indigenous languages at his Canberra launch today. This has grown from a Parliamentary Enquiry and its report “ Our Land Our Languages – which made it clear that action was needed to reinvigorate the use and teaching of Australia’s first languages before they disappear.

Another report last year “ the Indigenous Art Centre Plan “ doesn’t seem to have caused such excitement. The current $11.26m. in funding over 4 years will remain unimproved. But one addition has significance. There’s to be a new nationally-accredited training package to assist the flexibility and skills of people working in the ATSI visual arts industries. Whether these people should be Indigenous or not is unclear.

Two current government interventions that have received mixed support will continue unchanged, it would seem. The Resale Royalty that was very much set up to assist Indigenous artists won’t be varied. And, despite the best efforts of the voluntary Indigenous Art Code’s board, it doesn’t look as though Mr Crean is of a mind to make this compulsory. His exact words at the press conference were I think we’ve got to be very careful about jumping straight into that because I think that balance of deterring the genuine industry as distinct from ensuring there isn’t exploitation. Since the two year trial period is almost up and its board are convinced it’s not working, this seems like a contrary judgement by the Minister. I wonder who’s been lobbying him?

Two other big-ticket items look good. The Charles Darwin Uni in Darwin will get $30m. to establish a new Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education, including accommodation for remote students (and elders?). And $12.8m. goes to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to digitise its collections of heritage materials and artefacts.

Finally, an extraordinary sum of $158m. over 5 years will continue to support the establishment of the NITV channel at SBS “ which really needs to tell someone it’s there, with recent Oztam viewing figures at the minimum of 0.1% of the population.

Here’s the official summation – The Australian Government will:
Provide new funding of $13.983 million over four years to develop new community-driven language resources and activities, an extension of the Indigenous Languages Support program in response to the recommendations of House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Inquiry into language learning in Indigenous communities Our Land Our Languages Report. This will build on the significant outcomes already achieved by communities to reinvigorate the use and teaching of language.

Continue to provide additional funding of $11.26 million over four years to continue the successful Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program.

Update the National Indigenous Languages Policy, as part of the response to Our Land Our Languages Report.

Use the 2012  new Indigenous Art Centre Plan to provide a framework for art centres, industry organisations and the Australian Government to work co-operatively to strengthen the visual arts industry.

Develop a new nationally-accredited training package, to enhance the knowledge, flexibility and skills-base of people working in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts industries. This builds on the Government’s existing investment through the Indigenous Employment Initiative and the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program.

Support the $1.1 million Screen Australia Media RING Indigenous Employment Strategy, through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, to create 40 new jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the media and screen industries over two years.

Continue the support for the Resale Royalty for Visual Artists Scheme, with the provision of $0.7 million in 2012. This will ensure Australian visual artists continue to benefit from the commercial sale of their works on the secondary art market. Almost 70 per cent of artists benefiting from the scheme are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Develop a policy framework to respect and protect Traditional Cultural Expressions. This will ensure opportunities to innovate are grounded in practices that respect and protect the creation, transference and use of Traditional Cultural Expressions.

Support the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ free-to-air television channel NITV. The 2012 commitment to new and refocussed  funding of $158.1 million over five years for the Special Broadcasting Service will ensure that it remains a vibrant and dynamic broadcaster. NITV will expand the voice and presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and cultures across the country and provide new opportunities for their transmission and expression.

Provide the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies with additional funding of $12.8 million for further digital preservation of collections at risk of permanent loss in the near future. Digitisation has been occurring to preserve Australian Government cultural heritage materials in the face of identified deadlines for the integration of analogue magnetic tape collections and some manuscript collections.

Provide $30 million for the new Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education at Charles Darwin University, including a new gallery space. The new facilities will include an information technology-enabled literacy laboratory, teaching and office spaces, a gallery space and a 30-bed accommodation facility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other remote students on the university’s Casuarina campus.

URL: creativeAustralia.arts.gov.au