Labor starts national culture policy talks

A performance of Phantom of the Opera in Sydney.
The arts minister has pledged a new Australian cultural policy by the end of 2022. -AAP Image

Arts Minister Tony Burke is to begin consulting on Australia's national approach to culture, with government policy in place by the end of 2022.

Labor's last effort at an overarching culture plan, Creative Australia, took six years to develop and was scrapped by the coalition within six months of the 2013 election.

Mr Burke told AAP the government will move faster this time around, with consultation starting on Friday.

The plan will include consideration of pay and entitlements for arts workers, many of whom lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic and were excluded from the $90 billion JobKeeper program.

Following recent revelations of abuse and bullying in the theatre and music industries, safe workplace guidelines will also be a focus, Mr Burke said.

Most of Labor's election promises for the arts sector did not come with dollar signs - its biggest pledges were $80 million for a national Aboriginal art gallery, and $84 million for the ABC.

That followed the coalition's last budget which cut arts funding by about $190 million, or 20 per cent.

So is there a need for funded promises faster, if only to give the sector confidence, especially in live performance?

It is too early to make big commitments for live shows, Mr Burke said, because venues face starkly different situations on the east and west coasts.

"There'll be some which have survived the pandemic but because of capital are still in a really fragile state," he said. 

"So we need to get a proper sense of where that's at across the country before we're really able to make sure we land the policy correctly."

The minister will look closely at implementing minimum pay for musicians in performances and programs funded by taxpayers, a system already in place in some states.

But he would not be drawn on whether the government should fund large-scale imported shows, such as Come from Away - which starts its Australian run on the Gold Coast in July, before visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra - rather than local productions, saying these decisions should lie with the Australia Council.

The Council faced repeated funding cuts under the coalition and Mr Burke said the restoration of that money would come down to policy consultations and the next budget.

In a possible sign that reinstating the same level of funding is not a certainty, Mr Burke flagged closer ties between the Council and outside philanthropists through an expanded partnerships program.

The streaming giants will need to be on the lookout too.

Mr Burke declined to state a figure for local streaming content quotas, but said the likes of Netflix should not be surprised that he expects a significant advancement in Australian content.

"The longer we leave it the harder it becomes, we need to to act and the cultural policy review is a critical moment where I want us to be making decisions on it," he said.

In 2019/20 Netflix spent more than $100 million on original and co-commissioned Australian content, but the streaming giant has opposed a quota system.

Submissions on the cultural policy are open until late August.