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‘Where’s Abbott’s cultural policy?’

Julian Meyrick, Professor of Strategic Arts at Flinders University, ‘OzCo has a new strategic plan – where’s Abbott’s cultural policy?’ The Conversation, 28 August 2014


As with other emissions of choice opacity – horoscopes, Bible stories, RBA economic forecasts – cultural policy announcements invite construal of their mystical meaning. Nothing is quite as it seems. On the other hand, no false claims are made either.

Rather, cultural policies lead an extra-veridical existence where aspiration and Realpolitik meet in Zen-like balance. You have to savour the nuances, appreciate the fine distinctions. That’s culture for you. Tricky. Why should the policies supporting them be simple?

Last week’s double launch of the Australia Council’s Strategic Plan 2014-2019 and its new suite of grant programs contained plenty of buried significance.

On the face of it the announcement was straightforward, if, as some complained, light on detail:

  1. The Council, with its streamlined, post-2013-Act-structure, is putting into place simplified funding categories and application procedures.
  2. The federal government, to which the Council is now by legislative edict more responsive, has thought up some priorities it quite likes. Why not roll them out together?

No reason, really, but they are separate things.

The Council’s program changes are the result of the May 2012 Trainor Review of its internal structure; which was one of the tributary reports feeding into Creative Australia, announced in March 2013. That led on from the December 2011 National Cultural Policy Discussion Paper which itself harked back to the September 2006 Framework for National Cooperation in the Arts and Culture by the Cultural Ministers Council.

Unwisely, I disinterred these documents from my filing cabinet the other night. A tsunami of goals, purposes, aims and targets that would flatten even the keenest policy wonk.

This arc of reform was largely Labor-led. It started under the Rudd government (the first one) and toiled up survey hill and down consultancy vale, before coming to an important, though commonsense conclusion: that the Council’s role was vital but needed some new adjectives attached to it, and a different understanding of two key operating principles – the agency’s “arms length” independence from the Minister, and its “peer assessment” of all individual grant submissions.

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