Richard Watts | ArtsHub | 

One month out from the federal election the ALP have launched a new arts policy which promises to undo the damage of the Abbott-Turnbull Government.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten; photo by CPSU/CSA via Flickr

The Australian Labor Party has promised an extra $80 million over four years for the Australia Council and $60 million for local drama on the ABC, as part of a new arts policy to be launched today.

Regional arts, live music and arts education are also prioritised in the policy, Labor’s first arts policy since the launch of the short-lived National Cultural Policy – Creative Australia in 2013.

The policy, launched at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre on Saturday 4 June, promises to restore the arts and creative industries ‘to their rightful place in Australia’s cultural and economic life’.

As previously promised by Labor, the new policy features an end to the divisive Catalyst fund, with all remaining Catalyst money to be returned to the Australia Council. It also undoes the $72 million cut over four years from the Australia Council budget, and increases funding by an additional $8 million.

Read: Labor promises to return lost Australia Council funding

The new funds for the ABC, while significant, do not undo cuts made to the public broadcaster in previous budgets. In November 2014, the Coalition government cut $254 million from the ABC over five years, and $25.2 million for SBS.

Labor have also promised an increase of $8 million over four years for the Regional Arts Fund; a $5.4 million investment over four years to expand the Live Music Office; and $2 million a year to expand successful school music programs such as Music: Count Us InMusica Viva in Schools and the Song Room.

In his introduction to the policy announcement by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, the Honourable Mark Dreyfus MP, Shadow Minister for the Arts, referred to the words of a previous Labor Prime Minister, the late Gough Whitlam.

‘I would argue that all the other objectives of a Labor Government – social reform, justice and equity in the provision of welfare services and educational opportunities – have as their goal the creation of a society in which the arts and the appreciation of spiritual and intellectual values can flourish. Our other objectives are all means to an end; the enjoyment of the arts is an end in itself,’ said Dreyfus, quoting Whitlam.

Noting that the arts were how ‘we express ourselves; explain ourselves; how to some extent at least, understand ourselves,’ Dreyfus added: ‘the arts are also a critically important part of our economy, because the arts are the engine that drives our creative industries. So while the arts will always have a cultural value that cannot be quantified in purely economic terms, there can be no doubt that the arts and our creative industries will play an increasingly important role in our economy in the years and decades ahead’.

Labor’s new policy was a response to ‘the arrogance and destructiveness of the Abbott-Turnbull Government,’ Dreyfus added.

At the launch, Shorten promised to lead a government that would celebrate and treasure the contribution that artists make it to Australia.

‘We will be a government which will celebrate and treasure the contribution that all of you make … We are very fortunate with the calibre of our artists, in the passion of their commitment and the scale of their ability. And the Australian arts community deserves a government as brave, as optimistic, as dedicated to enriching the identity the heart and the hinterland of the Australian people,’ he said.

‘We shall be that government if we are elected on July 2. And we will make sure that the arts – whilst it doesn’t necessarily change an election – it will change our nation and change it for the better.’

Responding to the policy, ArtsPeak spokesperson and Director of Theatre Network Australia,Nicole Beyer said, ‘The arts industry welcomes a policy that sets out the essential role that the arts and creative industries play in a strong and prosperous society. We particularly welcome the vision that the arts belong to all Australians, and the plan to rebuild our small and medium arts organisations. The increased investment in regional arts is crucial, and we are pleased to see the acknowledgment of the need for a strong local publishing sector and locally created content for television.

‘Whichever party wins the election, we urge Labor to continue to fight for our local sector – and to support the authors, musicians, performers, artists, dancers, designers and directors that provide truly essential services to all Australians. Our arts and cultural industry is internationally acclaimed in all fields, but it needs investment and government policy that recognises and leverages its value,’ Beyer concluded.

NAVA Executive Director Tamara Winikoff said: ‘There are some very welcome gestures in this policy, most critically, the restoration of funding to the Australia Council to around 2013 levels – before the Coalition government began its savage cutting. It’s also good to see a reaffirmation of commitment to the model demonstrated by the Australia Council, as opposed to the deeply flawed and politicized Catalyst fund.

‘We hope this plan is the beginning of setting a more serious and visionary course for Australia’s cultural development, one that will include the kind of research effort and sector consultation that was put into developing Labor’s sadly short lived Creative Australia policy.’

The release of Labor’s policy follows the release of the Greens’ arts policy in late May.

Read: Greens promise $270.2 million for the arts

The key points of Labor’s arts policy are published below in full:


A Shorten Labor Government will restore the Australia Council’s ability to make independent funding decisions and support the small and medium arts organisations across the country that make the arts accessible to all Australians.

The Abbott-Turnbull Government destroyed the principle of arms-length, independent arts funding in this country by ripping $105 million away from the Australia Council and using it to create a ministerial slush fund, Catalyst. This is wrong – arts funding should never be a political plaything of the government of the day.

A Shorten Labor Government will close the Catalyst fund and return all remaining money to the Australia Council. We will also boost the Australia Council by providing $20 million a year in new funding over four years from 2017.


A Shorten Labor Government will invest in local production so that Australian audiences can grow up watching Australian stories on Australian screens.

Investment in Australian drama makes sense. It fosters local creative skills development for Australian writers, producers and actors and will help to invigorate the local industry. It also provides a boost to the local economy where it is filmed.

A Shorten Labor Government will deliver $60 million for the ABC to produce local drama.

This boost to our ABC will deliver an estimated 30 hours a year of high quality ABC programming. Recent successful examples like Rake, The Code, Janet King, Redfern NowAnzac Girls and The Beautiful Lie have shown how powerful local drama can be in expressing the national character.


Labor will ensure Australians in rural and regional communities have an opportunity to connect with the arts and share the stories of our country towns by boosting the Regional Arts Fund.

We will increase the Regional Arts Fund by $8 million over four years, increasing employment and professional development opportunities for regional and remote artists. The Fund has a particular focus on artistic skills development among disadvantaged communities, including young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and isolated townships.


Australia is the 6th largest music market in the world and has the potential to become a significant global exporter of contemporary music. The talent of contemporary Australian musicians should be shared with the world.

A Shorten Labor Government will strengthen Australia’s contemporary live music industry by bringing the Live Music Office and the Australian Music Centre under the umbrella of an expanded Sounds Australia to support the development of Australia’s live music export industry. The Live Music Office will receive an additional $5.4 million investment over four years to support this process.


Labor believes the benefits of musical education should be available to all Australian students. We will support more schools introducing children to the arts through the joy of music.

A Shorten Labor Government will provide $2 million a year to expand successful school music programs such as Music: Count Us InMusica Viva in Schools and theSong Room. We will also invest $350,000 a year to continue the SongMakers program beyond 2017.


The Australian book publishing industry is competitive and highly innovative. Labor understands that its value goes beyond economic benefits. A strong local publishing industry also fosters emerging Australian authors, often giving them their first publications and the chance to enrich our culture by telling Australian stories to ourselves and to the world.

Labor will consider any proposals or recommendations to adjust the current territorial copyright regime with caution. While there are economic arguments to be made in support of this, such a significant change to our copyright laws could have a serious impact on our publishing industry, our authors and Australia’s cultural life.