Responding to the big questions that shape Australia’s future

Right now, some big questions are being asked of artists, colleagues and audiences. Questions about our worth, our expertise and our future. Questions about the viability of our practice, the resilience of our organisations, and the outlook for our industry. Questions about our role in leading Australia out of this crisis, into recovery, and well beyond. Very big questions indeed.

With the Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions having recently launched, and the Australia Council’s Re-imagine What’s Next work underway, it’s tempting to consider both sets of questions together.

However, this is two very different projects with two very different purposes and audiences.

While one invites us to envision the arts and cultural industries of the future, the other asks us to offer specific information that can guide policy-making within the current political context.

That means articulating value in quite targeted ways.

For the Australia Council, the opportunity is to harness our courage and our vision at a time when it can be very difficult to see beyond our immediate challenges to broaden our horizons, reinvent our language, and be buoyed by one another’s energy. In doing so, we’re speaking an industry language that’s collegiate, intricate, and connected to practice.

For the Inquiry, the opportunity is to address the national priorities of a pandemic-stricken Australia: priorities around nurturing the unconventional thinking, creative ecologies and inspirational work that will lead us through this next period and beyond. In doing so, we’re speaking a public language that’s straightforward, evidenced, and politically engaged.

1. Where to begin?
2. Preparing for industry visioning
3. Preparing an inquiry submission
4. Who are the Standing Committee?
5. Reviewing those big questions

Let’s do this.

1. Where to begin?

To contribute to the Inquiry, we can fill out a survey (noting that it will only let you complete it once, and plenty of us have already offered suggestions for its improvement), or submit a more detailed document. To Re-imagine What’s Next, we can read a discussion paper, start some conversations, and then attend a ‘town hall’ meeting or join the online portal in coming weeks.

There are plenty of helpful starting points for research, stats and key arguments:

That’s a lot of starting points! And for both the Inquiry and Re-imagine, we can also pose our own questions, contributing in the ways that are most meaningful for us.

2. Preparing for industry visioning

How can we approach that thinking? The Australia Council’s discussion paper offers a helpful overview of the state of the arts as well as sets of questions to stimulate our responses. Trying them as a group could be a great way to prepare – especially if that group includes people who you wouldn’t ordinarily brainstorm with. And especially if we’re coming to realise just how exhausting the year has been and still is… If we’re keen to take part in these processes, then the very best way is together.

To begin with, let’s zoom out. What if we’d known in early 2019 that 2020 would be a pandemic year of global cultural disruption and economic crisis? What would we have put in place one year ago?

What if we’d known around the time of the 2015 Senate Inquiry when, together, we broke the record for numbers of submissions to a parliamentary inquiry? What would we have proposed five years ago?

What if we’d known all the way back at the time of the Australia 2020 Summit? What would we have started to change twelve years ago?

How has the year’s Zoomtopia of meetings made new connections and new relationships possible? What new national collaborations have been valuable? How has our national outlook evolved? How can we keep building on all this?

And, apart from more public investment – which is clearly needed, but in this era of massive government debt, increasingly difficult to secure – what will be the gamechangers? What are the public and political perceptions of Australia’s arts, culture and creative industries that support or detract from that work? And how can great policy lead to great outcomes?

3. Preparing an inquiry submission

Speaking of those policy game-changers. A parliamentary inquiry is an opportunity to feed into the policy process by offering a specialist contribution. The Australian Government’s advice on how to do this emphasises the need for clarity in submissions that “address the terms of reference directly, avoid unnecessary repetition and include recommendations that stand out clearly from the surrounding text.”

To encourage honest and helpful contributions, submissions to government inquiries are protected under the Parliamentary Privileges Act, which protects their authors from “legal action in respect of lodging the submission or any statements contained in it.” While some industry bodies will publish draft submissions and invite collegiate and member input, the final submission can’t previously have been published, or it won’t be able to be protected. Once the Committee publishes a submission, its author is notified and the submission can then be shared.

In coming weeks, look out for draft submissions by key sector bodies as a starting point for your own.

One way to consider what you might contribute is to look at your role as an artist, artsworker, audience member, stakeholder or organisation, and imagine what would be lost to this important work if your perspective were missing. Without your voice, how would the Committee develop an understanding of the value and benefit of your work? Or the key government and non-government institutions that are vital to that work?

4. Who are the Standing Committee?

Who are the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts? What are their key interests and involvements? What might they be looking for in submissions to their Inquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions?

Hon Dr David Gillespie MP

Chair
Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
The Nationals
Lyne NSW

  • Co Chair of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Bushfire Recovery
  • In his First Speech, Dr Gillespie championed the need for First Nations recognition in the constitution, and the cultural infrastructure and tourism of his region
  • In his regional electorate, arts participation and employment are lower than the national averages, while arts ticket-buying is slightly higher
Hon Ed Husic MP

Deputy Chair
Hon Ed Husic MP
Australian Labor Party
Chifley NSW

Dr Katie Allen MP

Dr Katie Allen MP
Liberal Party of Australia
Higgins VIC

  • Co Chair of the Parliamentary Friendship Groups for UNICEF, Cancer Care & Cure, Child & Adolescent Health, and Preventative Health
  • In her First Speech, Dr Allen championed the LGBTI community, women in the workforce and redressing the gender pay gap
  • In her inner-city electorate, arts participation is close to the national average, arts employment is much higher, and arts ticket-buying is also much higher than the national average
Ms Angie Bell MP

Ms Angie Bell MP
Liberal National Party of Queensland
Moncrieff QLD

  • Member of the Parliamentary Friendship Groups for Contemporary Arts & Culture, Small & Family Business (Co Chair), and Women & Work (Co Convenor)
  • Participated in Arts Day on the Hill 2019
  • In her First Speech, Ms Bell championed the Yugambeh people; artists, arts and culture; arts education and her own education at Adelaide Conservatorium of Music, studying jazz, saxophone and voice; and the LGBTIQ community
  • In her regional electorate, arts participation is lower than the national average, arts employment is close to the national average, and arts ticket-buying is lower than the national average
Hon Damian Drum MP

Hon Damian Drum MP
The Nationals
Nicholls VIC

  • In his First Speech, Mr Drum championed sport, mateship, education and community
  • In his regional electorate, arts participation is close to the national average, children are highly engaged, arts employment is lower than the national average, and arts ticket-buying is also higher than the national average
Mr Patrick Gorman MP

Mr Patrick Gorman MP
Australian Labor Party
Perth WA

  • Co Chair of the Parliamentary Friendship Groups for Early Childhood and for Infrastructure
  • In his First Speech, Mr Gorman championed the Ngunnawal and Noongar people, the arts, women in politics, anti-racism, education, an Indigenous voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, and a future republic
  • In his inner-city electorate, arts participation is around the national average, arts employment is higher than the national average, and arts ticket-buying is also higher than the national average
Ms Emma McBride MP

Ms Emma McBride MP
Australian Labor Party
Dobell NSW

  • Convenor of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Carers
  • In her First Speech, Ms McBride championed the the Ngunawal, Ngambri, Darkinjung and Guringai people, health and community
  • In her regional electorate, arts participation is around the national average, arts employment is lower, and arts ticket-buying is a little lower than the national average
Mr Trent Zimmerman MP

Mr Trent Zimmerman MP
Liberal Party of Australia
North Sydney NSW

  • Co Convenor of the Parliamentary Friendship Groups for the Screen Industry and for ACU, Co Chair of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for SBS
  • Participated in Arts Day on the Hill 2020
  • In his First Speech, Mr Zimmerman championed the Cammeraygal and the Wallumettagal people, the environment, the gay and lesbian community, public transport, and cultural diversity
  • In his inner-city electorate, arts participation is around the national average, arts employment is more than double the national average, and arts ticket-buying is also higher than the national average

5. Reviewing those big questions

The Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts invite submissions to an Inquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions including, but not limited to, Indigenous, regional, rural and community based organisations. Terms of reference:

  • The direct and indirect economic benefits and employment opportunities of creative and cultural industries and how to recognise, measure and grow them
  • The non-economic benefits that enhance community, social wellbeing and promoting Australia’s national identity, and how to recognise, measure and grow them
  • The best mechanism for ensuring cooperation and delivery of policy between layers of government
  • The impact of COVID-19 on the creative and cultural industries; and
  • Avenues for increasing access and opportunities for Australia’s creative and cultural industries through innovation and the digital environment.
  • Submissions close on 22 October 2020.

The Australia Council’s Re-imagine What’s Next asks:

For now, let’s start some conversations. We’ve got til 22 October to contribute to the Parliamentary Inquiry, and the Australia Council work is also scheduled for this period. Let’s draw on all of our good thinking and dedicated collegiality to build something that lasts.

Read on: 20 Recommendations for the Inquiry into Australia’s creative and cultural industries and institutions 

IMAGE: Test patterns demonstrate the formal, technical and imaginative capacities of projects or programs currently in development.