Meet the Small Parties: The Arts Party

With Eurovision upon us (not to mention the grand final of the all-important Museum Dance Off), and yesterday’s news about funding cuts to the arts, the time is clearly ripe to review the policies of The Arts Party!

Their front page is pretty active right now, what with the aforementioned cuts, but their mission statement is front and centre:

The Arts Party exists to encourage a more creative, cultural, educated and prosperous life for every Australian.

I am in favour of this.

The first thing that strikes me about the Arts Party policy page is that in addition to a brief blurb about what they are about, they tell us that they have forwarded their policy ideas to all the major parties ‘in the hope they will consider new creative ideas to improving the future of Australia’. This is an approach that I have never seen before from a minor party, and I think it’s a very good idea.  The Arts Party is, by and large, a single-issue party, and single-issue parties traditionally exist to raise awareness and give voters a chance to show the government what issues they would like to focus on.  There is nothing wrong with this, but if a party has formulated good policies in an area they care about, wagering them all on the lottery that is our Senate voting system is not the best way to get them implemented – encouraging larger parties, with more chance of forming government, to consider adopting these policies is a pragmatic approach, and turns the party into both a party in its own right and a well-organised lobby group.

They also invite suggestions and critiques (because of course they do, they’re the Arts party).

The Arts Party has four guiding principles – advocating for the arts, supporting our creative industries, education access for everyone, and improving community.  These are my kind of people (and not just in the obvious ways – for one thing, there is the excellent magenta colour scheme, and for another their writing style is freakishly similar to my own in places).

Under advocating for the Arts they start by explaining “It’s about recognising that artistic and cultural events are an enormously powerful tool to bring people together and expose them to new ideas and ways of thinking. These activities should be as accessible as possible to every Australian.”

They then go on to explain the different ways in which art benefits the community – from attracting tourists, to changing perceptions, and bringing communities together.  They are keen to make an economic case for funding the arts:

And if we’re talking dollars and cents, there’s also the tangible benefits. For example in 2012 The Live Performance Industry (which covers music, musical theatre, opera and dance) generated revenues of over $2.5bn in Australia. Total profits and wages (for performing and support staff) amounted to $1.53bn, while also employing thousands of Australians. Read more here. This was done with extremely limited federal support, which is continuing to fall. We want to turn this around. 

Under Supporting the Arts, they continue to make the economic argument for arts funding, pointing out that “Australia cannot rely on mineral resources to create the future wealth we demand.  It is essential we find that future prosperity through investing in our minds, not our mines”.  It’s another version of the Clever Economy argument, and a good one.  They also point out that creativity is what drives innovation, and this is something we need to encourage in our education system – through the arts.

(I’m not doing a lot of commentary here, because basically I agree with everything I’m reading.  Sorry.)

They also want to support creative industries in a variety of ways, including expanding the Research and Development Tax Incentive for businesses to include arts and creative practice.  They also want to support Australian television, books, games and music, removing parallel book importation (which makes it harder for small publishers to function, and thus fewer opportunities for Australian writers), and a possible tariff on imported books, to subsidise the local market.  I’m not sure how that would work in a world with the Book Depository, however.  But essentially, they want a level of protection for locally-produced creative works, so that fewer of our artists have to go overseas to find work.  This is, I think, a good idea – but it’s going to be difficult to make this work at the same time as providing access to the arts for all, because cost is often a barrier to people accessing the arts in the first place…

They also want to create an Australian Space Industry.  This comes completely out of left field, and fills me with joy.

Nothing inspires the imagination of children and adults than the challenge of space research. It is also an industry that is on the verge of evolving into the mainstream. It is expected that within 50 years, domestic private space travel will have become a reality for 1st world travellers. Now is the time to invest in this future industry.

We propose creating a $1bn space research fund, to be used for both research and commercial projects. The priority would be developing low cost solutions for delivering unmanned payloads into low and high earth orbit and beyond, both for Australian companies, and international clients. Lunar research would be a key area.

While $1bn is a high price, to put this into perspective, Australia spends over $1bn a week on military spending and well over a billion dollars last year on running the Manus and Nauru detention facilities, which detained less than 1600 people. The last annual federal budget added up to over $450bn. It is achievable if we are brave enough to dream.

I have no idea whether this works in the real world, but I WANT TO FIND OUT.  Also, it’s nice to see that being an Artist with a capital A does not mean that one cannot have a secret love of science fiction…

This leads to Education Access for Everyone, where we are encouraged to embrace lifelong learning and provide teachers with better pay and conditions.  Their policies in this area include endorsing the findings of the Gonski report, and providing decent art and music education in primary schools. They would like – and I find this mildly hilarious – to create a National School Cultural Engagement Program, which would use the funding from the school chaplaincy program to give schools the choice of chaplains, psychologists, experts in secular ethics, or artists in residence.  I’d love to see this one happen, but I think it’s their least practical one so far.  They would like to reduce HECS rates, and delink them from inflation, and encourage more online courses from Universities, as these cost less to run and increase accessibility.  I think that last one is actually a pretty smart idea, though there are many areas – notably the arts – in which I don’t think such courses would be practical.  But for foundational / theory stuff?  Definitely.

My absolute favourite of their education policies, though, is that “every high school student in Australia should, at a minimum, be able to attend dance, drama, media arts, music or visual arts classes taught at least weekly by a trained teacher as part of their curriculum”.

I can’t tell you how much I would have loved this when I was at school.  I’ve always wanted to do things like music, drama, art, and writing, but we make kids choose between academic and artistic or vocational subjects so early now, and one thing I really regret is not being able to do the sort of creative subjects I loved at this foundational level.  It’s so much harder to fit artistic studies around your life as an adult – usually if one has time, then one doesn’t have money, and vice versa.

Under Improving Community, the Arts Party talks about fostering community, building beautiful cities, and providing cultural and artistic gatherings, festivals and exhibitions.  But they also get down to a few practical matters.  They want affordable health care, including good preventative medicine and more opportunities for music and other art therapies.

They have a surprisingly detailed policy on disability, too, which starts like this:

People with disability, their families and carers, should be able to actively participate in a fulfilling cultural life alongside every other Australian. We also believe that;

  • People with a disability make significant contributions to arts and culture in Australia
  • People with a disability should be able to live creative lives and their artistic aspirations and achievements should be a valued and visible part of our culture
  • Participation in arts and cultural activities by people with a disability helps to expand creative and social networks and to create more socially inclusive and equitable communities;
  • People with a disability have a valued role in the workplace.

They then talk about the NDIS, better employment opportunities (including a grants system designed to improve employment for adults and youth with disability), and better accessibility to the arts, including audio descriptions on television for the vision impaired, and captioned and audio described options of their programming for theatres, festivals and galleries.  They would offset the cost of this by selling audio-description files online.  They also point out that both captioning and audio description are useful beyond the vision impaired and hearing impaired community.  Someone has put a lot of thought into this policy, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job.

Because this is apparently the party that I need to join, the Arts party is pro-marriage equality, pro-being nice to refugees, and pro-being sensible about climate change by reducing greenhouse gases, implementing a price on carbon, and investing in the development of clean energy.

We’ve covered a lot of policies under their Guiding Principles, but there are a few more to look at.

Under Access to Arts and Culture, they want to Save Our ABC and Our SBS, by reversing the funding cuts, and adding more funding to support new programming.  They want to refund the Australia Council:

We want the actual distributed budget for artists and small/medium sized organisations (the amount of money actually given out in grants and support) TRIPLED, to achieve the true purpose of the Australia Council – making cultural and artistic participation an essential part of the lives of every Australian and encouraging artistic creative output by artists and organisations across the country. This equates to an increase of $124m in annual funding to the Australia Council. MPA funding must remain at existing levels.

They want a national arts week, with local councils being funded to organise performances and workshops for their communities, and a National Ensemble of Theatre Actors, who would actually be paid a salary, rather then going from small contract to small contract (such positions already exist in music and ballet).  They want to get better Arts access for regional centres, including affordable workspaces, arts funding, and better digital access in country areas (with a passing lament for the NBN).  And they want free entry to museums and galleries for children and the elderly, and one free day a week for everyone (excluding special exhibitions).

“This all sounds very nice,” I hear you say, “But how are they going to pay for it?”

The Arts Party has, in fact, thought of that.  They have a five point plan: a corporate community tax, based on annual turnover rather than whatever profit a company can prove it doesn’t have; they want to reform negative gearing , limiting it to 1 existing investment property or 2 new build properties only (I like this, because it gets rid of the incentive to buy up a whole lot of houses, monopoly-wise, but still permits some investment – it’s a good middle ground); they want to follow The Australia Institute’s proposal for progressive super tax rates; and they want to tax banks more.  They have quite a few numbers here – I’m not an economist, so I can’t tell you whether they are good numbers or not.

But wait, that’s only four points – didn’t I say it was a five point plan?

Why yes, yes I did.  There is indeed one more point, and I’m saving the best until last.

They also want to legalise cannabis, and tax it.

Actually, they want to “Legalise Cannabis & Tax it!”.

The exclamation mark is all theirs, in case that wasn’t clear.

They sound very gleeful about this, presumably because one might as well thoroughly embrace the cliché if one is going to go there.  But they do point out that really, cannabis consumption should be viewed as a health rather than a criminal issue.  They don’t want to encourage cannabis consumption, but they figure that since people are using it anyway, they might as well legalise and tax it – and plug a significant proportion of the income from this back into drug and health support, and propose creating similar legislation to existing smoking restrictions.

One thing that I’m noting throughout this site is that while the Arts Party clearly embraces its lefty-idealistic tendencies and passion for creativity, it is also pretty grounded in making sure they know where the money will come from and how things will work.  Now, I don’t know whether the numbers add up – I think this is the sort of thing that is very difficult to tell without lots of government figures – but the fact is, thought has clearly gone into this.  The Arts Party is not a party of starry-eyed, artistic, hippy idealists with no common sense.  It’s a party of starry-eyed, artistic, hippy idealists who probably work in admin jobs all day in order to afford to do their art on the side, and thus have a very, very clear awareness of the need to be practical and set out plans in detail.  (Oh yes, these are my people, alright).

I think, though, the key point that the Arts Party wants you to take away from this website is that art has value, beyond the economic.  More – the arts aren’t just frivolous non-essentials, little things that people can work on in their spare time around their ‘real’ jobs. We need to make it possible for artists to make a living if we want to continue to interesting and creative things to engage with in our leisure time.

It’s really too early to call, but I have to say, the Arts Party is looking at getting a very high place on my ballot paper.  It may even come in at number 1.

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6 thoughts on “Meet the Small Parties: The Arts Party

  1. There is a surprising amount of crossover between science and arts and I would prefer both to be much better funded. The point about a knowledge economy is a good one, unfortunately we seem to be run by people who can’t see past digging crap out of the ground and selling it to China.

  2. They have their own Poet in Residence! This is very exciting (even if his work isn’t to my taste). I’m not sure whether or not we should encourage all political parties to do the same, as this could lead to Terrible Things, but it fulfills the spirit of their philosophy.

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