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New Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is still enjoying that much-loved 100-day period bestowed upon new leaders. There’s been plenty of activity and no real blunders just yet. Most are still learning how to spell her name. Yet, for all this, the Arts portfolio looks a little like a vacant lot, tangled with weeds with the sound of crickets as the backdrop. Roundly ignored in an election campaign which was one of the shortest in history, the sector seems to be in a holding pattern until the Premier — who is also, notably — the Arts Minister, turns her busy gaze in its direction.
Daily Review spoke to local arts body leaders to gauge their views on the new Labor government in Queensland.
We sought the views of the Premier/Arts Minister on Arts policy, but despite frequent attempts, there was no response from her office. Arts Queensland, the government department administering the Arts sector was also asked to offer its views. But they also did not respond.
This reluctance may be understandable given the shock win and the short time span since. But this information vacuum may be suggestive of a government which hasn’t quite drilled own into the Arts portfolio yet to unearth some ideas, directions and policies of its own. Without an Arts policy announcement during the campaign and with zero output in the 10 weeks since election day, does this suggest the government has no real arts ideas, or is in search of a sense of definition?
While no-one in the local arts community seems clear about where things are heading, all agree that the Newman years were not great for the arts. The cutting of the well-supported Premier’s Literary Awards in 2012 was very poorly received across the sector and has led to a direct and high profile backlash from those in the publishing industry at least.
Moreover, the willingness of the Newman Government to rope in artists to provide entertainment during last year’s G20 summit, which one arts figure noted was “to distract people to have some ‘fun over the G20 weekend,’” and then to return to the austere approach to arts funding and support that had previously existed was, for some hypocritical. It seems to sum up the previous government’s approach.
Looking ahead, many find positives. For instance, the placing of the Arts portfolio in the Premier’s office, the historically more positive approach of Labor governments to the arts and, rumours some funding cuts may be over-turned, all offer hopeful signs to those working in the sector.
But, without a clear way forward, that’s pretty much all there is: hope.
A few arts groups we sought comment from, demurred, citing a wish not to pop their heads above the parapets just yet. It’s easy to feel there’s some wariness here after the previous government’s hatchet work.
Andrew Cory, ran the Youth Performing Arts Company until last year, when funding dried up and the organisation closed it doors. He now runs youth programs at the La Boite theatre company.
“I didn’t find the LNP to be engaging,” he recalls, referring to the merged entity of Liberal and National parties which Campbell Newman led.
Cory notes that so far, of the new government,“there hasn’t been any engagement,” and that “we’re waiting for the first announcement.”
Notwithstanding some reluctance to table their cards, some groups were happy to outline future hopes under the Palaszczuk government.
Funding, as always, is a central issue and aspirations that funding cuts under the previous government would be reversed were raised. The evisceration of the youth sector was a particular concern for Cory. “(Youth arts groups) were so savaged with cuts that there’s not many left standing,” he says of the Newman reign.
QMusic’s Joel Edmondson offered a more nuanced wish list, and is looking for more cross-portfolio engagement with the state’s music industry.
“For example”, he says, “it would be counter-productive to provide funding for emerging musicians and also create liquor licensing laws that make it difficult for publicans to stage live music at their venues.”
This may find solid ground in the Palaszczuk government as the close relationship between the Arts and Premier’s offices may allow a more holistic approach.
Others sought a reversal of Newman’s funding cuts, and new infrastructure and built venues.
But, while the Queensland government stays silent on its arts agenda, the sector is obliged to sit tight. That none of these issues was mentioned in the election campaign only adds to the murkiness. While hopes and aspirations may well be launched, no-one really knows into what context they are heading.
David Stavanger, co-director of the Queensland Poetry festival argued, in literary form, that hopes for new governments are perhaps playing a dangerous game. When asked about his hopes under Labor, he sought refuge in Arthur Miller’s, Death of a Salesman: “Will you let me go for Christ’s sake? Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?”
In the absence of anything else, that may be the wisest course to take.
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