Advocacy 101 – A National Cultural Plan

A National Cultural Plan

The plan to make a plan

Australia does not have a national policy or plan for arts and culture. We have had two policies in the past, both by Labor; Creative Nation in 1994 under Paul Keating, and Creative Australia in 2013 under Julia Gillard. Both were short lived.

According to arts and culture think tank, A New Approach (ANA), having a national arts and culture plan would:

  • Use our rich culture in the recovery from COVID-19, the economic downturn, and recent natural disasters

  • Ensure Australia’s unique stories are heard nation-wide as well as internationally

  • Build confidence in our creative and cultural industries, allowing for growth and necessary change

  • Help ensure every single person in this country has the opportunity for happiness, togetherness and the connectedness offered by cultural participation and contribution

In August 2020 the Federal Government launched a Parliamentary Inquiry into Cultural and Creative Industries and Institutions. In this inquiry the Committee considered the following points in regards to creative and cultural industries, which were provided by Minister Paul Fletcher:

  1. How to recognise, measure and grow economic benefits and employment opportunities

  2. How to recognise, measure and grow non-economic benefits that enhance community, social wellbeing and promoting Australia's national identity

  3. Cooperation and delivery of policy between layers of government

  4. The impact of COVID-19

  5. Increasing access and opportunities through innovation and the digital environment

The Inquiry collected 352 submissions, conducted a survey, and held a number of hearings, which informed the Committee to write a report and a set of recommendations.

A 205-page report titled Sculpting a National Cultural Plan; Igniting a post-COVID economy for the arts was published in October 2021, and is broken into six sections. They cover the composition of the cultural sector, approaches to evaluating it, the impact of COVID-19 on artists and organisations, and the problem of arts education in schools.

The report makes 22 recommendations, which can be divided into three categories: restorations, bespoke suggestions, and calls for further action. Importantly, the first recommendation is:

"The Committee recommends that, noting the significant short and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency on the arts sector, the Commonwealth Government develop a national cultural plan to assess the medium and long term needs of the sector."

Essentially this report is a plan to make a plan.

Importantly, unlike the previous two Labor policies which were lost in changes of government, this report essentially has bipartisan support, with the Committee comprised of Liberal, National and Labor MPs. Although there are additional comments added to the report by Labor, there is no dissenting report. The creation of a national plan as suggested in the report has the potential to be supported by both major parties, and therefore be more likely to survive changes in government. For a long-term strategy, this is vital.

It is worth noting that is currently unclear if Labor will be supporting the creation of such a plan, or pushing ahead with their own policy if elected. You can read Federal Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke’s address to the Arts Industry Council of South Australia where he speaks about the principles that will guide Labor, and the need for a cultural policy.

So, what now?

The Committee recommended that the relevant Commonwealth minister(s) report on the progress of the Committee’s recommendations by December 2022. The Government is under no obligation to implement any of the recommendations from the report, although keep in mind that they are the ones that instigated the inquiry.

In their submission to the Inquiry, ANA said: “Following the Inquiries’ report, ANA recommends the Federal Government establish an independent process to draft a NACC Plan, drawing on both evidence presented to the Inquiry and the formidable body of current data and research that is publicly available.”

The work from here is to advocate for the Government and the Opposition to commit to the development and resourcing of a national plan in their election campaigns, as we head to an election before May 2022. Within this should be a call support the Australia Council for the Arts as a key driver for the development and implementation of the plan.

Some ideas on how to do that

ANA is the most most frequently cited organisation in the report, and they have prepared a paper on just this.

Founded in 2021 (but around in a different form since 2018), ANA is Australia’s leading arts and culture think tank, and publishes independent research and analysis. ANA’s first Analysis paper, Imagining 2030, published in May 2021, unpacks what a National Arts, Culture and Creativity Plan could look like, and how it could be developed, by exploring a number of existing Australian 2030 plans.

Essentially the primary step is to develop an independent process, which would involve appointing an Inquiry Chair, as well as a Secretariat with relevant expertise drawn from the relevant government departments. Any process would need to involve wide consultation, not only with creators, but with all the stakeholders along the arts and cultural value chain.

ANA then looked at what a national plan could include. They looked at several of the Australian Government’s existing 2030 plans, including Sport 2030: National Sport Plan, and Delivering Ag2030: National Agriculture Plan.” A national plan for arts and culture could including the following elements:

  • A bold vision: ideally, a set target that could be worked towards that is ambitious and achievable.

  • Context: the reason a plan is needed.

  • An outline of multiple possible futures, with and without action: economic modelling that shows the financial cost to Australia of not enacting a Plan for a rich cultural life for the nation, and the financial benefits if we do.

  • A framework for how stakeholders will work together: stating role for governments in partnership with each other, and with businesses, philanthropists and not-for-profits.

  • Multiple focus areas for change: providing a break-down into focus areas, the reasons each focal point was necessary, and what 2030 would look like if that specific focal area was operating at its best.

  • Evaluation methods: a plan for how success can be measured: a series of achievable, measurable, evidence-based targets, with an explanation for what mechanisms will be used to monitor and evaluate the progress towards those targets over the period to 2030.

Play your part

The development of a bipartisan national plan that can endure changes in government will benefit the entire creative and culture industry, as well as everyone who engages with it. While every part of the sector has its own unique needs that need attention, advocating for a national plan will help improve things for everyone.

There are a couple of things everyone can do to help push for a plan:

  • Contact your MP and tell them you want their party to commit to the the development of a national arts and culture plan, as recommended in the Sculpting a National Cultural Plan report. You could outline the benefits of a plan, how it will positively impact the creative assets (people, organisations, venues etc.) in your community, and how you would like to see the plan developed and what should be in it (such as what ANA outlined above).

  • Engage your community. An effective national plan will require broad consultation with diverse communities, and it is to our advantage if they are informed and inspired to contribute. Also, the more people we can get to advocate for the creation of a plan in a united way, the more likely we will be successful.

What is our vision?

One of the most exciting opportunities in developing a plan is the opportunity to create a vision for the entire industry. As an interesting though exercise, you could challenge yourself and the people around you to think of what our vision could be!

A bold vision for a national plan would need to engage the imaginations of a wide range of stakeholders, from creators to governments to potential cultural participants — that is, everyday Australians.

Ideally, it would set a target that could be worked towards in different ways by this wide range of stakeholders, so that everyone could feel that they were doing their part. It would need to be obvious why this target would benefit Australia and Australians. And it would need to be both ambitious and achievable.

A bold vision for Australian arts and culture does not have to be an economic vision, although it is best for it to be easily quantifiable. For example, the core of Sport 2030’s vision is to make Australia the world’s most active and healthy nation. Although this vision does not contain numbers, it is measurable.

What could be our vision for our national cultural plan?