There is a lot of discussion in the media and online about the Morrison Government’s decision to merge the Department of Communications, Cyber Security and the Arts with it into a super department called the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. So what does this actually mean for the arts and creative sector?

The Government response:

‘There is no change to the Morrison Government’s strong commitment to the Arts following the Departmental restructures announced this week. The dedicated and committed officials working on arts policy will move across from the former Department to the new Department and they continue to have the same responsibilities and the same resources.

‘They will continue to be accountable to the Commonwealth Minister for the Arts Paul Fletcher – there has been no change to his Ministerial title or responsibilities and arts policy continues to be the responsibility of a Cabinet Minister. There is no change in the funding committed to the arts portfolio – some $749 million in 2019-20. There is no change to the role and funding of the Australia Council, Screen Australia or other important arts and cultural institutions.’

A spokesperson for the Minister for Communications, Cyber Security and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP

The Opposition response:

It’s hard to see this as anything other than a downgrade to arts policy. Australia’s artists, actors, filmmakers, writers, musicians and broader creative community has every right to be concerned by this decision – apparently made without any consultation with the sector.

The general public, not just those who make their living from the creative industries, should also be concerned, Burke continued. ‘It’s every member of the public who enjoys seeing Australian stories on the screen or stage, enjoys reading Australian stories on the page, or enjoys hearing live or recorded Australian music.

The Prime Minister must explain how rolling arts policy into the department responsible for roads and railways can possibly be a good thing. And he must reveal how many arts employees will be culled in this merger. Even the outgoing head of the soon-to-be-former Department of Communications and the Arts, Mike Mrdak, says he and his team were not consulted about this shocking and short-sighted change.

The government of Australia should back Australian culture. This lot doesn’t.

Shadow Minister for the Arts, the Hon Tony Burke MP

Sector Responses
Arts and culture is a $111.7bn industry according to the government’s own figures. It employs more people than mining, IT or essential services. It’s also among the fastest-growing. Policies that propel the arts propel the entire economy, with flow-on effects in education and health as well as infrastructure and urban and regional development.
The places where we make and experience art are the heart and soul of every place, every town, every city – and every home.

At a time where social cohesion needed to redress the most perilous problems of our times, we need to invest strategically in the creative thinking that will create our future.
Making the arts invisible is retrograde, dangerous, and so disappointingly unimaginative. Let’s get truly creative about the contemporary Australian culture – and the future Australia we want for our children.

Executive Director National Association of Visual Artists, Esther Anatolitis (read the whole article)

Our view
At a time when the creative sector is living through a huge period of uncertainty, this decision just adds another layer of uncertainty about the future and sustainability of creative practitioners. The sector already has higher rates of anxiety, suicide, depression than the Australian average.

While all we can do is take on face value the Government’s statement that this is not about cutting funding, we agree with Esther’s analysis that the more arts and its contribution to society is made invisible, the harder it will be for the case for the arts to be argued for. Until we know more about the restructure, we will just wait to see how many artists will take up positions in traffic management, maybe wearing a bespoke, artist designed, high-vis jacket.

Has the Government Axed the Department of the Arts? Not really – just hidden it – for the moment

Further reading
Arts community mobilises against Scott Morrison after federal arts department axed (link)

Remember the arts? Departments and budgets disappear as politics backs culture into a dead end by Dr Julian Meyrick (link)