A culturally ambitious nation? / Meanjin Winter 2017

In the history of Australia’s cultural understanding of itself, the past five years have been some of the most turbulent and interesting. A federal government in a holding pattern of self-interest, unable to cope with climate change, infrastructure investment or human rights as the great cultural challenges of our time. A National Cultural Policy focused on the arts, created from rigorous national discussions and then lost to political change. An Australia Council evolving to the point of leading a comprehensive approach to the nation’s creative future, one able to invest long term in small-to-medium organisations as well as in artistic pathways and practice development. An arts minister so afraid of the prospect of a culturally ambitious nation that he slashed its budget without warning, on the very day he told the crowds at the Venice Pavilion opening that this was ‘a very important day in Australia’s national story … yet another step in the emergence of Australia as a culturally accomplished nation … an emphatic statement of Australia’s cultural confidence’.

Why is the Australian Government so afraid of public policy expertise? Why have two experts recently been forced to resign from the Climate Change Authority, with one lamenting that ‘the vital issues of climate change and energy security [had become] an opportunity for political point-scoring and culture war rhetoric’? Why have Gillian Triggs and Tim Soutphommasane been subjected to personal attack by politicians while carrying out their Human Rights Commission duties? Why has the future of Australian creativity been jeopardised by cuts to the Australia Council made without expert examination and indeed without notice? And if even Australia’s climate change inaction is being identified by experts as a culture war, what are the cultural assumptions behind these actions?

Read on in Meanjin Winter 2017

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