Australia/ 2. General objectives and principles of cultural policy  

2.2 National definition of culture

In the early 1990s the notion of a ‘cultural policy’, as opposed to an ‘arts policy’ became a key part of the national political discourse for the first time.  The then-Minister for the Arts within the Keating Labor Government, Senator Bob McMullan, spoke in August 1993 of a proposed cultural policy statement that would provide a ten-year framework for cultural development in Australia, and one which would clarify ‘the Commonwealth’s role and responsibilities vis-à-vis those of other levels of government, cultural organisations, the business community and, of course, individual practitioners, performers and consumers’. This cultural policy, entitled Creative Nation, was not, in fact, released until October 1994 by the Keating Labor Government, hot on the heels of a statement from the Federal opposition entitled The Cultural Frontier, Coalition Priorities for the Arts.  These two documents were the most comprehensive cultural policy statements seen in Australia to that time and, given the amount of public debate that preceded their appearance, it is not surprising that there was a considerable degree of convergence about them.  Both emphasised the need to make Australian culture more accessible to the community; both focused attention on the need to support a new culture of private giving to the arts, by both business and individual philanthropists; both promised to find ways to support Australian artists in breaking in to overseas markets; and both recognised the important of seizing on the potential of new technologies in broadening both the experience of artists and the engagement with the community.

A decade later, the Commonwealth government has released (2013) a new cultural policy entitled Creative Australia, following some years of discussion and consultation with the community.   This document comes closest to giving a national definition of culture when it states:

Culture is created by us and defines us. It is the embodiment of the distinctive values, traditions and beliefs that make being Australian in the 21st century unique—democratic, diverse, adaptive and grounded in one of the world’s oldest living civilisations.

Given the size and scale of Australia, place, landscape and country play an important role in shaping cultural heritage and identity. Each part of the nation has a distinctive identity that reflects geography, history and population. The sum is a shared national identity.

Australian identity now embraces its unique origins as the home of one of the world’s oldest living cultures and the enduring legacy of the robust institutions and values built over two centuries. Our identity is also enriched by millions of people from diverse cultures around the world.

Culture is more than the arts, but the arts play a unique and central role in its development and expression.

The domains covered by Creative Australia include: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ arts, languages and cultures; cultural heritage; design; music; performance and celebration, including community cultural development; screen arts, broadcasting and interactive media; visual arts and crafts; writing and publishing. It is here you find the genius of artists, the pleasure of participation and the substance to our identity. 

Of particular significance in the Creative Australia document is the fundamental place given to Indigenous Australians (see 2.3 below).  For this reason it was surprising to many in the community that the first iteration of the Australia Council Bill (2013) referred to in 2.1 above, did not include reference to the nation’s first peoples in its Functions.  As has been seen, this situation was rectified prior to the Third Reading of the Bill, following the expression of strong community concern.

Chapter published: 26-12-2013