Last week Crikey reported that the chair of the Australia Council was up for grabs, and we pondered whether the Abbott government might install a culture warrior to the position. Janet Albrechtsen was just one of the names doing the rounds.
Our fears were not realised — but there are other questions that arise from yesterday’s reappointment of sitting chair Rupert Myer to a three-year term.
Right now, more so than at any time in its 40-year history, the Australia Council’s independence is under attack. Since Arts Minister George Brandis launched his raid on the council’s funding in the May budget, the OzCo board has been strangely silent, refusing to publicly defend the principle of arm’s-length funding and peer review.
By announcing he is staying on, Myer has made himself a party to this. He will now preside over the gutting of the small-to-medium arts sector in order to fund Brandis’ delusions of personal ministerial patronage.
The Abbott government still has no formal cultural policy after junking Creative Australia when it took office. An activist chair of the Australia Council would ask, publicly if necessary, for the government to come up with a formal policy covering the agency. A responsible chair of the Australia Council would seek to protect the most vulnerable parts of the arts industry from the brunt of the austerity imposed by Brandis. So far, Myer has done neither.
One Australia Council board member has spoken up for the sector. In a wide-ranging speech last month, deputy OzCo chair Robyn Archer said: “If we don’t support artists and companies to take risks in form and content then we go nowhere, and the widespread rhetoric about innovation is empty”. Unlike Myer, Archer has not been reappointed.
Now that he has his new three-year statutory term, it’s time Rupert Myer stood up for artists too. As the great chairs of OzCo have before him, Myer has a public responsibility to defend the social and intellectual value of the arts.