A Chinese philosopher once said that the “wheels of justice grind slow”. For every person in the Australian music industry who has ever been assaulted, bullied, sexually harassed, or discriminated against, the slow pace of justice has been excruciating.
However, last week, the hope of a safer, more just, and equitable working environment has moved significantly closer.
Last week’s announcement of a sweeping new cultural policy, “Revive”, features a Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces to “provide advice on issues of pay, safety, codes of conduct and welfare”.
Make no mistake, “Revive” is a historic initiative.
Never before has Federal Government cultural policy stated that creative talent should be “nurtured through fair remuneration, industry standards and safe and inclusive work cultures”.
Historic too is the specific intention to foreground First Nations people working in the arts.
The new policy, called “Revive”, also highlighted inclusion, representation, and a place for every story – offering the hope of equity and justice for the LGBTQIA+ community who work in the arts. There was the promise of significant funding. Finally, the popular music industry has been recognised and validated as a significant cultural voice and important economic engine room.
It was a monumental week.
However, my thoughts last week were of the countless women who over the years have courageously spoken out about abuse and toxic work cultures in the music industry. Some of them have been speaking out for decades. My thoughts were also of all those women who were silenced, or who couldn’t speak out because of the fear of retribution. My thoughts were also with the women whose careers were destroyed by gender discrimination, or who (because of the extent of the harassment) had to leave the industry to find safety. I have spoken with many of them. Even though this new policy represents a breakthrough, in no small measure the breakthrough has occurred because of the price all these women have paid.
Personally, it is deeply satisfying to see government propose major policy so in line with research findings – not only my own research but also findings from the wider Music Industry Review which was able to gather many interviews from people in the industry. It is also incredibly gratifying to know that senior industry figures were strongly lobbying government to push for the changes that were announced last week.
If you think I’m seeing things through rose-coloured glasses, I’m not.
“Revive” represents a new beginning – and I believe it will bring positive change, but it is not a silver bullet.
People sexually harass and bully because they can get away with it. Misogyny and discrimination don’t just evaporate in the face of a new policy statement. Abuses of power occur whenever there are no consequences. At least there will be a place to report toxic behaviour and I am hopeful that the Centre for Arts and Entertainment Workplaces will have real teeth and will be well equipped to do something substantive. Independent accountability is essential to offset the power imbalances that allow abuse to flourish.
We also need to remember that those who have experienced discrimination, bullying and harassment bear the scars of that ill treatment. Numerous studies point to the long-term emotional damage and mental health consequences of being on the receiving end of toxic behaviour.
“Revive” sets the tone for the future, but for many of us there is a long road to healing and recovery, and there is no magic wand that can be waved to fix it. As we collectively start to create a healthier industry, let us remember that inevitably some of our colleagues will have been the targets of toxic behaviour. Not only will they need time to heal but also, they will be easily triggered by behaviour that reminds them of past abuse. As an industry, we need to recognise that any pathway forward must embrace ways of helping people recover.
The music industry should lead culture, not follow it. We need to show that it is possible to run successful and robust businesses while being fundamentally kind, compassionate and aware.
Finally, we need to remember that the music industry is thousands of small businesses – an economic environment where is very difficult to bring change no matter how good government policy is. This week, lots of musos will be gigging in bars and small venues for poor money. Fixing that problem alone is a huge ask. But no matter where we work in music, if we truly want a better industry, it’s on all of us, every single time we work together, to personally accept the responsibility of creating a safe, healthy, inclusive, and non-discriminatory environment. It’s not just up to government or the major labels. We all must step up and consciously work towards a safer, healthier and inclusive industry culture.
TMN will join Adrian Collette AM (CEO, Australia Council) and Dr Stephen Arnott (deputy secretary, creative economy and the arts) in conversation on Thursday, 9 February at 2:15pm (AEDT) to discuss the implications of the National Cultural Policy for the music industry, including the development of Music Australia. Click here to register.
Dr Jeff Crabtree is a researcher, consultant and develops workplace training for the music industry. He conducted the first academic study into workplace harassment in the music industry. He is also the subject co-ordinator of Music Business and Professional Practice at University of Technology Sydney, and teaches in the Masters of Creative Industries at JMC Academy.
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