The entertainment industries are still searching for answers after the Morrison government announced arts will be dropped into a department that will also oversee roads and rail, with effect from next February.

On Thursday, the prime minister unveiled sweeping changes to the public service that will see a reduction in the number federal departments from 18 to 14, a move he insists will de-clutter red tape, “improve decision-making” and “ultimately deliver better services for the Australian people,” he said.

The new structure,” Scott Morrison insists, “will drive greater collaboration on important policy challenges.”

Not everyone sees it that way.

Speaking to SBS News, executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts Esther Anatolitis said she was “gobsmacked” at the changes. Removing the name of the arts ministry represents “a massive backwards step culturally for Australia,” Anatolitis continued.

“The arts industry over the past few years has been in absolute shock at industry disruption caused by unplanned, unannounced changes to arts policy and funding … The federal government seems intent on the disruption and contraction of the arts industry instead of its flourishing and its growth.”

It’s unclear what the future holds for Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Fletcher, who took on the comms and arts portfolios just a week after Morrison’s Liberal government snatched victory at the 2019 federal election, is expected to retain his title despite his portfolio being bundled into the drably-titled Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC).

It’s worth noting, Fletcher’s department gets last billing.

Paul Fletcher
Paul Fletcher

“The lack of overt acknowledgement of either ‘arts’ or ‘culture’ in the new departmental title is an unfortunate oversight for an industry which provides considerable economic value to the nation and definition to the lives of everyday Australians,” reads a statement from Live Performance Australia.

The trade body’s CEO Evelyn Richardson adds, “We expect that post the departmental restructure, the government will continue to focus on the economic, cultural and artistic contribution of our industry.”

APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Omston called for a “whole of government approach” and admitted the loss of ‘arts’ from the department title was “disappointing.”

“Our current conversations with the Australian Government, particularly with the Department Foreign Affairs and Trade around the future of service exports and the role of the cultural industries is deeply encouraging,” he says.

“A whole of government approach is the only real way for Australian music to really reach its potential. We will continue to prosecute the enormous opportunity of music as a driver of employment, exports, local economic rejuvenation, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, youth development and health across regional, remote and metropolitan Australia, and around the globe.”

In what’s being described in the political press as a pre-Christmas purge, five secretaries enter the holiday season with clouds over their heads. When Feb. 1 rolls around, secretary of the Department of Communications Mike Mrdak will be among those without a job.

According to the Australian Financial Review, Mrdak learned only of the moves on Thursday and claims there was no consultation process.

Australia’s cultural and creative sector isn’t small beer. Our cultural economy generates more than $100 billion each year, according to the Department of Communications and the Arts.

ARIA declined to comment on the development in Canberra.

Read the full APRA statement below.

“A whole-of-government approach to the music industry is the only way that we will fully reflect its cultural, economic and social capacity and turn Australia from a music nation to a music powerhouse,” said APRA AMCOS Chief Executive Dean Ormston.

“It is vital our sector set an ambition and policy agenda with all government departments including education, foreign affairs, tourism and trade, small business, regional development, health, industry and innovation.

“The arts portfolio, although critical to developing good policy, is just one department that is relevant to the future of Australia’s music industry.”

Before the 2019 election the Morrison Government announced $30.9 million investment in Australian music to support more live music venues and provide critical investment for First Nations music, mentorship programs and exports. In particular the package recognised that live music in our cities, regional centres and towns provides them with a competitive advantage, driving jobs, tourism and supporting the night-time economy.

In July APRA AMCOS in partnership with the Australia Council and Newcastle and Monash Universities released the Born Global report into the value of the Australian music industry as an international export.

“The loss of ‘arts’ from the department title is disappointing, however, we look forward to working with the arts unit in the new department on the roll-out of the music industry package and to furthering support for our sector across the whole of government,” Mr Ormston said.

“Governments around the world and some state governments domestically are already realising the broad impact of cultural industries with developing skills, and as an economic and cultural driver.

“Our current conversations with the Australian Government, particularly with the Department Foreign Affairs and Trade around the future of service exports and the role of the cultural industries is deeply encouraging.

“A whole of government approach is the only real way for Australian music to really reach its potential. We will continue to prosecute the enormous opportunity of music as a driver of employment, exports, local economic rejuvenation, tourism, hospitality, entertainment, youth development and health across regional, remote and metropolitan Australia, and around the globe.”

Read the full LPA message below.

“The creative industries are a key driver of jobs and economic activity in an increasingly service focused economy. They also enrich the lives of all Australians in every city and regional area across the nation. Australia has world class talent and skills across a multitude of creative areas.

“We expect that post the departmental restructure, the government will continue to focus on the economic, cultural and artistic contribution of our industry. We are pleased that the Minister for the Arts remains as Cabinet Minister. We have also been advised that the arts function remains in the new structure and that there has been no reduction to funding and resources.

“The lack of overt acknowledgement of either ‘arts’ or ‘culture’ in the new departmental title is an unfortunate oversight for an industry which provides considerable economic value to the nation and definition to the lives of everyday Australians.
“We look forward to working with government to ensure our industry remains front and centre in government policy making and investment in the future”.