There has been an immediate outcry from artists and cultural workers at the federal Coalition government’s December 5 announcement that it was merging the Department of Communications and the Arts into a newly-created Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
The disappearance of the word “arts” is far from symbolic. Mike Mrdak, the outgoing department head, seems not to have been consulted nor allowed to give advice on the change.
The consequences of this sudden move are difficult to foresee in the short term. There are fears that the arts are being erased from federal support, and those fears are not completely unfounded. A more moderate outcome would still have a devastating effect on the arts.
The government successfully got its Medevac repeal bill through parliament the day before PM Scott Morrison announced he was abolishing four public service departments. It raises suspicion about their timing: we’re getting used to seeing cruelty against asylum seekers used to divert attention from cuts and attacks on our social institutions.
A December 5 report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research has also just revealed that, last year, the federal government cut $325 million in funding from TAFE budgets. The peak body representing Indigenous survivors of domestic violence has also had its funding cut.
Arts and cultural workers reject being reduced to a “sector” of the economy that has to play by the market’s savage rules. Maintaining our cultural resistance is more important than ever.
We need to keep making critically meaningful art to uphold the intrinsic value of the arts as well as to think new ways forward and to resist the stale corporatism that pervades the field.
The Morrison government has launched a political attack on the arts and artists can no longer afford to be apolitical.