A STRANGE DISQUIET stalks the Australian arts and cultural community. It’s not just the very real effects of COVID-19 – it’s a deeper anxiety, a sense that something is happening here, but we don’t know what it is.
That the Coalition government’s response to the impact of the pandemic on this community in Australia has been woeful is generally recognised. But why? Given the repeated failings in private aged care, the vaccine rollout and the delivery of bushfire relief, incompetence cannot be ruled out. That incompetence is rooted in thirty years of hollowing out the public sector and a self-image among public administrators that only the private sector works efficiently. There’s also systemic corruption, the degradation of the ethos of public service, the symbiotic relationship between powerful lobby groups and politicians, and the assertion of ministerial sovereignty (‘they voted for us’) over the checks and balances of democracy (courts, parliamentary tradition, public administration, media, civil society). In an age of political capitalism – ‘a form of profit-oriented activity in which returns are largely the result of the direct use of political power’, according to sociologist Dylan Riley – the arts and culture sector certainly lacks a powerful lobby. There are simply fewer opportunities for politicians to engage in lucrative revolving-door arrangements than there are in fossil fuels, finance, defence, aged care, employment services and pharmaceuticals. As other countries have found, it’s a difficult sector for public administration to grapple with, not fitting the standard statistical profiles of ‘employed’ or ‘self-employed’.
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