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Parties gamble on creative fortunes

FOUR days before the election, the Coalition has finally released an arts policy, albeit in a foyer of Jupiter's Casino on the Gold Coast.

Gambling houses usually don't figure highly in debates about the arts, not least because they compete directly with the nation's artists and arts companies for discretionary spending. But there was method in Coalition arts spokesman Steven Ciobo's strategy.

The annual Australian International Movie Convention has brought more than 900 movie exhibitors, distributors, producers and allied trades to Ciobo's Gold Coast electorate for a week-long conference. The film industry stands to be a major beneficiary if the Coalition is elected.

The Coalition has promised a $60 million loan fund over three years to enable local filmmakers to better exploit the Producer Offset. It is $30m less than what the Screen Producers' Association of Australia requested, but SPAA councillor Brian Rosen says "$60m is a great start". Rosen credits Liberal policies going back 40 years with creating the Australian film industry. Animal Logic's animated feature Legend of the Guardians "would not have been made without policies implemented by the previous [Coalition] government", he says.

Rosen was withering about Labor's arts policy released on Sunday. Labor has asked filmmakers to wait for the outcome of a review now under way, the third extensive examination of the industry in five years.

SPAA president Antony Ginnane describes the review as "a procrastinating device".

Arts Minister Peter Garrett's policy launch on Sunday was more traditional, held in the foyer of Melbourne's historic Athenaeum Theatre, which had benefited from $877,000 in federal funding for refurbishment.

Funds for the completed project, however, came via the federal government's Jobs Fund, not from the arts.

The arts constituency is still waiting for Labor to produce a national cultural policy, an idea first floated at the 2020 Summit and confirmed as a government strategy last year.

Despite this, the Australian Major Performing Arts Group says Labor's arts policy is more comprehensive than that of the Coalition.

"Which is not surprising, because they are in government," says AMPAG executive director Sue Donnelly. By contrast, Ciobo's policy has "zeroed in on particular things without putting them in context".

Labor's policy mines traditional ground for the party in that it favours individual artists who have been promised a $10m boost for new works and fellowships over five years.

There is also an expanded role for the Australia Council, which would assume control of programs administered by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Playing Australia, Visions of Australia, Festivals Australia, the Contemporary Music Touring program, the Regional Arts Fund and the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy would expand the role of the Australia Council.

Some observers have praised the greater transparency and reduced service duplication this change would deliver, but Regional Arts Australia says the existing system works well.

RAA works with the federal department and state agencies to determine which programs, individuals and organisations are eligible for funds.

"Given the success we've enjoyed over the last nine years, we want the status quo to remain," says RAA acting president Lee Cole.

Donnelly says the change could eventually result in less money for artists.

"By transferring touring programs to the Australia Council, they [would be] subject to the efficiency dividend which they would not be subject to if they stayed in DEWHA," she says.

Labor and the Coalition have ruled out the Cooper review advice that art be excluded from self-managed superannuation funds, the biggest concern for the visual arts sector in the months preceding the campaign. It was the only arts policy Tony Abbott managed to cite when quizzed on the ABC's Q&A on Monday about the Coalition's commitment to the arts.

Donnelly says the Greens paper on performing arts is her preferred policy, with its proposed $5m arts research and development fund, an international touring fund and changes to copyright laws.

The Coalition promises a loan scheme for students purchasing musical instruments, and $24.35m for regional arts that would include $100,000 each for regional art galleries to purchase more local art.

The HECS-type scheme for students of specified learning institutions, such as the Australian National Academy of Music, would allow up to 360 loans of up to 50 per cent of the purchase price of instruments, a scheme costing $14.4m over four years.

Labor's $10m fillip would be dispersed via grants of up to $80,000 a year for new artistic works, including visual art, performing arts, literature, new media and music.

Annual grants of $50,000 would go towards additional presentations to Australian audiences, including to communities outside the major metropolitan areas; and grants of $60,000 would see more fellowships for young, emerging artists and mid-career artists.

Michaela Boland, Michael Bodey
From: The Australian
August 18, 2010 12:00AM