Arts, Education and Lifestyle Choices

Legislative Council
Wednesday 2nd of November 2016

Matter of interest

Arts, Education and Lifestyle Choices

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 15:36 :01 ): I rise today to talk about the arts, education and lifestyle choices—three things that are very dear to my heart. Creative industry is integral to society, diversity, tourism, mental health, entertainment, education and so many other factors that keep us functioning. But, the Minister for Education and Training at a federal level, Mr Simon Birmingham, last week showed that he does not agree. He believes that people studying jewellery design, mass communication, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts industry work, and professional writing and editing, among many other courses, do not deserve VET student loans to help pay for these courses. The minister said, and I quote:

There are far too many courses that are being subsidised that are used simply to boost enrolments or provide lifestyle choices but that don't lead to work.

I realise that not every single person who studies an Advanced Diploma of Performing Arts will end up earning money directly from that work, but many will. I ask the minister: who is he to determine who should and should not take that chance? Almost 60 arts diplomas will no longer be eligible for student loans. Instead, the priority is on training more gasfitters, diesel motor mechanics, bakers and other trades and professions where industry has already identified a skills shortage. I note on that, however, that the minister's words in announcing this policy was that no state had identified creative industries and arts industries as a skill that they were prioritising.

That is something where the South Australian government needs to step up, and I hope that they will. It is, of course, important for all of these other trades to have more skilled workers, but it is just as important for those tradies to be able to access the arts, to read the musings of a journalist who completed a course with the help of a student loan, to buy flowers from a florist who might not have been able to complete their course without the help of that student loan, or to improve their business marketing strategy with the help of a social media professional who could only afford to do that because there was a VET course loan available.

Yet again, however, after so many great cuts to the arts in recent times, the Abbott-Turnbull government is telling Australia that they do not value the creative industries, and they are showing us that education, in their view, is only for the well-off. Creative industries are a vital part of our world and for Minister Birmingham to say that VET student loans will only support legitimate students to undertake worthwhile and value for money courses at quality training providers is to not understand that these creative students are, of course, legitimate students, and the arts and the creative industries are legitimate industries worthy of our investment.

Last week, the Adelaide Festival launched, offering a diverse program of theatre, dance, film, music, literature and visual arts. Among the program is a dance company showcasing the work of people with disabilities: Restless Theatre, right here from Adelaide; a performance concept from France, featuring ordinary South Australians; indigenous art and music; and a strong focus on giving young people under 18 and schoolchildren an opportunity to get to the theatre, many of whom, without the new program offerings by the festival, would not be able to do so, without that financial assistance. They would never experience this snapshot of the world that Adelaide gets to enjoy and experience each year through the Adelaide Festival.

Closing the door on funding to creatives who simply want to study their craft is closing the door on an industry that benefits not only society but, of course, the economy and our community in so many more ways. Choosing which restaurant to go to for dinner is a lifestyle choice; playing Pokémon GO is a lifestyle choice; studying animation because you have the talent and desire to create and perhaps even go on to develop the next Pokémon GO phenomenon is not a lifestyle choice: that is a career and that is a vocation.

Wanting to be an actor to perform great works to inspire and educate is not a lifestyle choice: it is a vocation. Yes, of course these industries can be tough to crack but there is so much potential here. The courage to hone and perfect a craft at a tertiary level shows commitment and demands talent. Such commitment should not be punished by withdrawing fee help because a minister does not value it and thinks that it is a lifestyle choice.

The arts give back in spades, so much more than they need in the fee help that we provide in this funding. Creative industries help us to see things differently, they teach us empathy, they make the world brighter and they help to explain things more clearly. These qualities are not lifestyle choices. I think the minister needs to have this explained to him.

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