The Australian Labor Party is having a fourth go at establishing a national cultural policy – something the Liberals have never even attempted. Gough Whitlam, of course, started it all off, creating institutions like the Australia Council. Paul Keating gave us ‘Creative Nation’ in the 90’s with his usual cool charisma. Simon Crean gave us an update without charisma. And now, ten lean years down the track, Anthony Albanese and Tony Burke have jointly shared their perky enthusiasm for the arts and artists with the line: “You touch our hearts and you are a $17 billion contributor to the economy”.

BTW, the word “perky” came to the fore courtesy of the subtitles that accompanied today’s on-line coverage of the launch of ‘Revive’ at a St Kilda venue in Melbourne, the Espy or Esplanade Hotel, where both ALP pop music tragics would have been right at home. The written words had a quirkyness all of their own. Albo became “elbow”, and Albo’s chummy appreciation of “Burkey” became the absolutely appropriate “perky”!

As was well-prepared in advance, Revive is structured around five interconnected pillars which set out the Government’s strategic objectives:
First Nations First: Recognising and respecting the crucial place of First Nations stories at the centre of Australia’s arts and culture.
A Place for Every Story, A Story for Every Place : Reflecting the breadth of our stories and the contribution of all Australians as the creators of culture.
Centrality of the Artist: Supporting the artist as worker and celebrating artists as creators.
Strong Cultural Infrastructure: Providing support across the spectrum of institutions which sustain our arts, culture and heritage.
Engaging the Audience: Making sure our stories connect with people at home and abroad.

And the cement for building those pillars will be the establishment of Creative Australia, intended “to restore and modernise” the Australia Council. It will cost an additional $199 million out of total funding over 4 years from 2023-24 of $286 million. For, within Creative Australia, four new bodies will be established : a dedicated First Nations-led Board (budgetted at $35.5 million); Music Australia (the big one at $69.4 million) and Writers Australia ($19.3 million); and an Arts & Entertainment Workplace Centre (just $8.1 million) to ensure pay, employment and workplace safety issues are as good for artists as they are for the rest of the community (and reminding us that Tony Burke is Employment Relations Minister as well as Arts Minister).

Now, many of us thought that there’d been “a dedicated First Nations-led Board” since at least 1984 when Gary Foley became the Aboriginal Arts Board’s first Aboriginal Director – though all Board members had been Indigenous from the get-go in 1973. But could this be the long-sought National Indigenous Arts & Cultural Authority (NIACA), which has been the subject of First Nations-only consultations since 2018? As those consultations were lead by everywhere-man, Wesley Enoch, who was also on the Cultural Policy’s First Nations First Advisory Panel with Rachel Maza and Claire G Coleman, the result would be logical.

The argument for the ‘new’ Board is that it’s “critical to self-determination, supporting the telling of First Nations histories and stories, and to strengthening the capacity of First Nations creative workers. For First Nations arts and culture is the voice to the people and a tool for truth-telling in the same way that the Voice to Parliament will be a centrally organised voice to government”.

The policy continues: “Revive sets out to change the level of autonomy for First Nations artists and arts organisations. Autonomy and increased investment will support more First Nations-led companies and independent artists at all stages of their careers to advance agency, financial and creative autonomy and provide professional opportunities for First Nations work. This will ensure that new works – across all art forms – appropriately represent and reflect traditional and contemporary cultural expressions”.

Since the document then adds that government will “support a wide range of First Nations projects, prioritising performing arts projects of scale and ambition in the first instance and broadening to other art forms as investment matures”, we have to assume that little will change in remote art centres. This is an urban project, as it has been since Keating’s ‘Creative Nation’.

Let’s hope that the new First Nations Board can find room for remote artists and community leaders, as the current Australia Council board does not.

But there is an intention following the Productivity Commission’s slim report to “Introduce stand-alone legislation to protect First Nations knowledge and cultural expressions (ie Intellectural Property), including to address the harm caused by fake art, merchandise and souvenirs”. They also plan to review the Indigenous Art Code to strengthen the protections for First Nations artists and consumers across the country, and to continue investing in First Nations art centres, as well as pivotal sector organisations, through the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program.

And, of potential relevance to remote artists where languages are still central to life, to “Establish a First Nations Languages Policy Partnership between First Nations representatives and Australian governments to improve outcomes for First Nations peoples”. Specifically they will support sixty primary schools around Australia to teach local First Nations languages and cultural knowledge in schools.

All artists will be pleased by plans to “Enhance the Resale Royalty Scheme to provide royalty payments to visual artists, (especially) First Nations artists, from the commercial sale of eligible works internationally”.

You may remember the international disquiet after Rio Tinto blew up the ancient Jukan Gorge caves. In response, “Through a partnership with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, the Government is engaging with First Nations peoples, state and territory governments and industry to reform the national cultural heritage protection framework and develop stand-alone legislation on the protection of First Nations cultural heritage sites. The Government is also considering ratifying the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the ‘Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage’ as part of its response to the Inquiry.

Not before time, you might say.