Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Creative Australia Bill

8 March 2023



I rise to speak on the Australia Council Amendment (Creative Australia) Bill 2023. I support and welcome the amendments that the government has proposed in this bill, which are long overdue. The arts are integral for our wellbeing and critical for a flourishing society. They tell our stories, propagate our culture and inspire us to be the best that we can be. The arts and creative industry in Australia is worth some $17 billion.

Launched on 30 January 2023 the national cultural policy Revive is a comprehensive policy to revive the arts, entertainment and cultural sector after COVID caused its most difficult period in decades for so many in that sector and I know many in my community in Warringah. Between 2013 and 2022 we saw the federal arts portfolio contract and funding stagnate. Then we saw the COVID-19 pandemic further devastate so many in the arts. The previous government offered temporary crisis support but it was distributed in an inequitable manner. Ultimately, the arts did not get the same support that other sectors did.

But let's get real. It was the artists and their content and the culture that sustained us through the COVID pandemic. It was the Australian TV shows, comedies, arts, music, films and documentaries that entertained us and kept us sane during those long days in lockdown. When creatives couldn't work and had no source of income during the pandemic it really highlighted how tough it is to work in the arts in Australia. The pandemic saw the live entertainment industry decline by 69 per cent in 2020, losing some $1.4 billion in revenue.

This bill proposes changes and provides much-needed funding to boost and revive Australia's arts, entertainment and cultural sector. It's the first in a series of bills supporting the implementation of the national cultural policy. This bill will allow the Australia Council for the Arts to operate under the name Creative Australia. Four new entities will be rolled out over the next four years from 1 July 2023: the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces, Music Australia, Writers Australia and the First Nations body.

Music Australia will grow our music industry and help secure global audiences. We have such a rich tradition. Think of some of our iconic rock bands that really led the way overseas—from Midnight Oil to INXS. I remember growing up with such Australian artists. It was so exciting.

Writers Australia will provide funding, research and advocacy for writers, because we need to tell our stories. We need to ensure that future generations have the benefit of those hard-learned experiences and also the inspiration that can really help them set their sights on what they can achieve.

Appropriately, one of the first changes is the establishment of a First Nations led board to make decisions about investment in First Nations art and culture. This is an area that has just grown in recognition. It is so incredibly symbolic of Australia. It will recognise the crucial place of First Nations stories and the importance of self-determination. Legislation will protect the copyright of Indigenous artists, including blocking the sale of fake Indigenous art. It's quite eye opening when you start to appreciate the statistics of what goes on there. I have previously supported this issue in this place, by seconding a bill introduced by the member for Kennedy in relation to the sale of fake Indigenous art and how abusive that is.

There'll be a First Nations languages policy partnership, supporting 60 primary schools to teach local First Nations language. That's exciting. It's something that I've seen develop recently in acknowledgements of country, where we're starting to hear more First Nations language spoken. I hope that one day we will have a verse of the Australian anthem in Indigenous language, like New Zealand has. I think it really would be exciting, from the point of view of reconciliation, to acknowledge that, in Australia, we have the longest living culture in the world. We should be proud of that and celebrate it. There will also be an undertaking to pursue the repatriation to Australia of First Nations ancestors and artefacts from overseas, as well as the formation of a national resting place, which, I think, is incredibly important and overdue.

The Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces will stimulate new employment and training opportunities and ensure access to fair remuneration and safe work environments. This is a big step forward; it's acknowledging arts workers as legitimate workers. The centre will address complaints about fair pay, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination in the industry. Government funding will be withdrawn from organisations if they fail to adhere to new workplace safety standards. These are good things. We have to remember that the Me Too movement started in the arts sector and industry, because of the acknowledgement of the harassment, bullying and assaults that were occurring in that industry.

Under the bill, the intellectual property rights of our creators will be protected. The bill will ensure that funding decisions will continue to be made on the basis of artistic merit and at arm's length from government. I know this bill is very much welcomed by the production industry, as is the introduction—and I note the minister is here, and I thank him—of local content quotas for streaming services, which I've previously spoken about in this place. However, the exact percentage has not been announced, and I will be following up with the minister about those issues.

I've received many emails from Warringah constituents calling for streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, and Prime Video to have a fixed percentage of local content. Quotas are vital, and industry would like to see the government make a firm commitment to a quota of 20 per cent or 30 per cent local content. In Warringah, we have a number of great local content producers, including Cheeky Little Media, Kapow Pictures and Sticks among others, and they're under threat and constantly challenged by international streaming services that are crowding them out. It's important to remember that companies like these employ the creatives and the programmers, and give birth to so much in that industry, so we need to ensure that streaming services do respect local content and that the quotas are in place.

I'm pleased to see other key measures within Revive, including, from July, a digital lending rights scheme, through which authors, illustrators and editors will be able to earn money when their ebooks and audiobooks are borrowed from a library. This could add thousands of dollars to their income. I've spoken with Pantera Press in my electorate about the issue, and they very much welcome this. The creation of a works of scale fund to commission new Australian works is of course very welcome. There's $11.8 million of extra funding for the National Gallery of Australia for a pilot program to tour its collection to galleries around Australia, which is incredibly exciting.

In February I had the chance to tour the National Gallery of Australia and see, and be inspired by, the works of Cressida Campbell, as part of the program of the Know My Name campaign, which is designed to elevate the knowledge, recognition and understanding of female artists in Australia. So many of Cressida's works take into account beautiful Sydney foreshores—there were some sites, in fact, from Warringah—and it was just incredibly serene and inspiring to go and see that exhibit. It's incredibly wonderful to know that it will have the opportunity to tour.

I do look forward to future events, and I hope that there will be a continuation of the Know My Name campaign. For too long, women's contribution to our cultural and social fabric has not been properly recognised. In particular today, on International Women's Day, it is incredibly important to acknowledge that.

An arts and disability plan will be developed under Australia's Disability Strategy 2021-31 to enable people with disability to access and participate fully in the cultural and creative life of Australia. The Australian Interactive Games Fund, which was abolished by the coalition government, will be restored under Screen Australia to support local video game development. The package will also include an increase in funding to the Regional Arts Fund and pilot funding for an art and music therapy program. There is a lot to celebrate in this package. I think that many around Australia will take heart in knowing that creative industries in Australia, both in our urban centres and in our regions, will be supported.

There are always a few things that can be done better. Some criticisms in the media have been that there wasn't sufficient consultation with the GLAM sector—that is, galleries, libraries, archives and museums. I received correspondence from concerned professors that the minister's panel did not include any historians and that funding is desperately needed for the National Gallery of Australia and some of our other institutions, like the National Library of Australia, for infrastructure repairs and collections maintenance, including for the free online research portal Trove. I've received dozens of emails from Warringah constituents requesting further funding to save Trove. Trove, for those who don't know, has more than six billion digital items. With the Australian public at a cultural crossroad, it's more important than ever to secure Trove's place in Australian storytelling. On 20 February 2023, I wrote to the minister, requesting funding. I acknowledge that he has indicated that it is front of mind and being considered by the government.

There is still work to be done in the sector around wages. I know this is a sector with very strong casual employment; there is a lot of insecure work. There tend to be rolling contracts. I've strongly advocated for the literary and visual arts communities, which need more recognition as well. It's easy to grasp onto the high-profile industries while some of the others struggle a little. The literary and visual arts communities have proposed a universal basic income program for artists, in line with international models, as well as tax-free prizes. The bill makes a limited commitment to include consideration of minimum wages for the sector as part of the broader review of modern awards, and I think that is something that really should be considered. The National Association for the Visual Arts has concerns about support for individual artists and arts workers in the proposal and wants to see payment standards that are enforceable.

In Warringah, our community is highly engaged in the arts, with almost one in 10 of Warringah's workforce employed in cultural or creative occupations. There are over 450 businesses in Warringah in the arts and recreation sector. Across the Northern Beaches, the number of people working the arts sector is expected to double by 2025. Live music in Warringah is seeing a revitalisation, particularly in Brookvale, through the creation and integration and with the emergence of many microbreweries in the area. It's just nearly cool to be in Brookvale! As council completes its consultation on the Brookvale structure plan, I urge them to ensure that the arts are front and centre of the design and that live music can be blended within the new environment. The Brookvale Arts District is a consortium of local individuals, companies and institutions who have come together to maintain and enhance the existing creative and industrial fabric of Brookvale. They've done this so successfully to integrate it with future development in the area, creating a valuable and flourishing Brookvale as much as possible. There's so much potential and creativity already brimming out of Brookvale, so I really look forward to seeing what this group can achieve and develop further.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the highly successful activation of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust lands at North Head Sanctuary. This was a Live at the Barracks night—and it will be coming again this year, so I'll invite the minister to come and attend. We will have great Australian acts. It's a concert series bringing national musical talent to North Head at Manly. So you're standing in these iconic locations listening to great Australian music—the live music, the unique natural environment of the trust lands and the surrounding national park.

In the wake of years of funding cuts to the arts and creative industries, this bill is incredibly welcome. It's been welcomed by the industry. It's a major step forward. I congratulate the government for acknowledging the importance of the arts in Australian life by introducing the Creative Australia bill, and I commend the bill to the House.