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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

Federal arts inquiry ‘ignores regional voices’

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The northern rivers’ major presenter of arts and cultural performances has made an unprecedented attack on the  federal government, saying its inquiry on broadcasting and the arts in the northern rivers ignored regional voices.

Not-for-profit organisation NORPA (Northern Rivers Performing Arts) says the process of the inquiry, chaired by controversial coalition ex MP Bronwyn Bishop, was ‘flawed from the outset’ as it only held public meetings in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.

The Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Broadcasting, Online Content and Live Production to Rural and Regional Australia report was tabled in parliament last week (5 May).

NORPA general manager Patrick Healey, appointed to his position a year ago, said public hearings for the inquiry were held ‘exclusively in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne’.

‘The committee had intended to travel to regional areas to hear from stakeholders however this was cancelled to push through the completion of its report,’ Mr Healy said.

‘It is difficult to imagine that any kind of inquiry about regional Australia thought to only hold public meetings in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. As a result, the inquiry’s report is flawed and lacking in any regional perspective.

‘The inquiry made the improbable assumption that rural and regional Australia is only ever the recipient of metropolitan theatre work and is void of performance companies that generate new or significant work in live performance.

‘It failed to realise that companies like NORPA develop and engage audiences, drive marketing and subscription programs, and are already delivering education programs.

‘Those assumptions of the inquiry are mistaken. A visit to any number of regional cities would have revealed that to the inquiry.

‘Nine recommendations relate to live performance in regional Australia.

‘All of these recommendations relate to enabling major city-based performing arts companies to tour their works to regional centres, rather than supporting regional arts companies to create and produce their own stories.

‘Original work created by NORPA is of an equal calibre as any produced by comparable metropolitan theatre companies.

‘Our work has travelled nationally and internationally.

‘Our highest selling shows in Lismore are locally created shows like Railway Wonderland, The Cars That Ate Paris, and Dreamland.

‘This inquiry didn’t even consider what regional audiences attend or prefer and relied on poor assumptions about regional communities.

‘Australia’s cultural landscape has changed significantly in the last several decades and there exists new opportunities to promote employment and regional development.

‘This Inquiry missed the idea that it is possible to invigorate national artistic outcomes through investment in regional Australia,’ Mr Healey said.

Submissions made to the inquiry by organisations such as the Australian Major Performing Arts Group, also came under attack from NORPA.

The submissions completely omitted any reference to the existing creative capacity in regional Australia,’ Mr Healy said.

‘We are assumed to be a blank page on which to deliver products that they prescribe will be to our benefit.

‘Touring companies rely on the staff and the deep connections regional companies have fostered with local communities to deliver their touring programs.

‘While we welcome initiatives that increase regional audience access to works created in the cities by major performing arts companies, it should be a two way street.

‘Original works being made in regional Australia should likewise be supported, nurtured and recognised as an important.

‘City audiences also want to hear the stories of regional Australia,’ he said.

Mr Healey urged for the inquiry to be re-opened ‘with a broader scope, that regional performance companies are invited to make submissions and that the Inquiry actually visit regional Australia’.

‘I also recommend the inquiry recognise that a relatively small investment into regional centres would produce much greater results in terms of economic yield, but more importantly in terms of artistic and cultural outcomes,’ he said.

‘I am certain of the potential to stimulate artistic outcomes from regional areas that would benefit and delight all of Australia while also generating economic benefits to regional communities.’


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