Australia/ 3. Competence, decision-making and administration  

3.2 Overall description of the system

At the national level, responsibility for arts and culture has sat in various government departments, according to the decision of the Prime Minister of the day.  Originally situated in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or the Department of Home Affairs, the positioning of the Arts Division was, for a time, more driven by synergies between portfolios, such as occurred during the Keating (1991–96) and Howard Governments (1996–2007), where communications, broadcasting, IT and the arts were brought together in a single portfolio or, as in the past, when the Arts Division was included within the Department of Education.  At other times culture and arts appear in less synergistic relationships that are driven largely by the interests of the particular Minister.  Thus, for example, in the first Rudd/Gillard Government (2007–10) the Arts Division was to be found in the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, with the Minister, Peter Garrett, being a former member of the rock music group Midnight Oil and a former chair of the Australian Conservation Council, these twin interests being reflected in his portfolios.  This marks the first time the term ‘heritage’ has been used in a portfolio title in Australia: a situation that has not prevailed past the 2010 election.  After the Federal Election of August 2010, Simon Crean became Minister for the Arts, alongside responsibilities for regional and local government.  The Office for the Arts was initially within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet but more recently, as mentioned above (section 2.1.2), is part of the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport, and also has a new Minister, Tony Burke.   It is highly likely that after the election this situation will change again.

Typically the Arts portfolio within the Commonwealth government includes:

  • The Department itself, with a prime role in policy setting, in coordinating the arts portfolio, in inter-governmental relations, and in advising the minister, while also running some service programs;
  • The Australia Council, as the government’s principal arts funding advisory body;
  • The film funding agencies;
  • The national collecting institutions
  •  The elite training institutions (see section

Beyond the Arts portfolio sits the Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy portfolio, which is responsible for the public broadcasting services.  During the Keating and Howard Governments, the inclusion of broadcasting within the same department as arts offered the possibility of greater synergies between the arts and culture institutions and the national broadcasters, synergies which were exploited to varying degrees over the next decade or so.

Within the states and territories, the arts and culture portfolios appear in a diversity of forms, as follows:

New South Wales (NSW)

The Arts and Culture cluster in New South Wales currently sits within a broader department, NSW Trade and Investment, where overall responsibility lies with a director-general who is in turn responsible to the minister for implementing state government’s policies and priorities for arts and culture, and for monitoring the management of the states’ cultural institutions. The minister is, in turn, responsible to the State Parliament of New South Wales.  The principal NSW Government agencies for the arts include Arts NSW (the state government’s arts policy and funding body), Screen NSW, and the major state statutory bodies (Art Gallery of NSW, Australian Museum, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Sydney Opera House, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences – Powerhouse Museum, and State Library of NSW).   The alignment with Trade and Investment also encourages an emphasis upon the creative industries.

For further information see


Arts Victoria is the Victorian State Government body that advises on, and implements arts policy.  Arts Victoria is part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet of Victoria and reports to the Minister for the Arts.  The Arts Victoria Act 1972 requires that the agency should:

  • Develop and improve the knowledge, understanding, appreciation and practice of the arts
  • Increase the availability and accessibility of the arts to the public
  • Encourage and assist in the provision of facilities to enable the arts to be performed or displayed
  • Continually survey and assess the arts and report to Parliament on potential improvements
  • Administer the Act and cooperate with other parts of Government and the arts industry.

The fact that it was established by Act of Parliament has meant that the continuity of structure and reporting lines at Arts Victoria has been probably the most consistent of all state agencies.

For further information see


Arts Queensland is currently a part of the Department of Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts within the Queensland Government, with a Deputy Director-General reporting to the Director-General of the Department.  Arts Queensland has a role in both advising the premier and government on the development of the arts in that state, administering funding programs for the arts and cultural sectors, providing corporate services for the state’s key cultural statutory authorities, and providing a conduit between the arts and cultural sectors and the state government. 

In addition to Arts Queensland, five key statutory authorities with their own boards – the Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland Museum, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Queensland Theatre Company, and the State Library of Queensland – comprise the arts portfolio.  As stated above, Arts Queensland provides corporate service support to the statutory authorities.

For further information see

South Australia (SA)

In the South Australian model, Arts SA is part of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet and its role is to

  • manage the Government’s funding assistance to artists and arts organisations
  • develop, facilitate and administer the Government’s vision and strategy for the arts and cultural sector
  • recognise and promote the strengths and needs of the State’s makers, presenters and  collectors of art and cultural heritage.
  • support the development and maintenance of the State’s cultural heritage collections.
  • advise and support the Minister for the Arts.

The directors of the state’s three major collecting agencies, the Art Gallery of SA, the SA Museum, and the State Library of SA, report to the Executive Director of Arts SA who is then responsible to the Director-General of the Department of Premier and Cabinet.  Each of the agencies has its own board that assists in setting policy and strategy for the agency.  There is a wider range of statutory authorities including the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust, Country Arts SA, the History Trust of SA, the SA Film Corporation, the State Opera of SA, and the State Theatre Company. 

For further information see


Arts Tasmania is part of the Tasmanian Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts.  It encompasses the departmental functions of the state arts agency and also provides the secretariat for the Tasmanian Arts Advisory Board that undertakes peer assessment and policy development roles on behalf of the government.

The key statutory authority in the portfolio is the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, a combined museum, art gallery and herbarium that houses the State Collection of Tasmania.  The gallery is administered by the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts, with a Board of Trustees having responsibility for the maintenance, care and development of the collections.

For further information see

Western Australia (WA)

Western Australia is the only state in which the arts and culture portfolio forms a discrete department with its own director-general (also see Northern Territory below).  In addition to administering the government’s arts policy development and funding programs, the department is also responsible for the maintenance and overall line management of the State Records Office, and coordinates the corporate services for the statutory authorities within the portfolio – the Art Gallery of WA, the Western Australian Museum, the State Library of Western Australia, the Perth Theatre Trust, and an incorporated association about to become a statutory authority, ScreenWest The director-general is responsible for liaison between the portfolio and the office of the Minister for the Arts.

For further information see

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

The ACT is a small federal territory excised from the State of New South Wales in which the national capital, Canberra, is situated.  The Territory Government’s agency, artsACT, develops and implements territory policies on the arts, funds and delivers arts programs, and maintains a range of key arts organisations including the Canberra Glassworks and the Belconnen Arts Centre.

For further information see

Northern Territory (NT)

The Northern Territory is another federal territory which occupies the northern centre of the Australian continent, and is large in size but sparse in population, with a significant percentage (49 per cent) of the land owned by Indigenous communities, a number of which have made names for themselves as visual artists and designers.  The Department of Arts and Museums comprises the Territory’s cultural and collecting institutions, together with the Territory’s film office and the arts funding and development branch. 

The Territory’s cultural and collecting institutions include the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT (MAGNT), Fannie Bay Gaol, the Australian Pearling Exhibition and Lyons Cottage (in Darwin) and Museums Central Australia, Connellan Hangar and the Kookaburra Memorial (in Alice Springs).  Arts NT is responsible for supporting and developing the arts and culture in the Territory through policy and financial programs.

For further information see

The above-mentioned Commonwealth and state/territory agencies are the key players in implementing cultural policy in Australia.  However, there is a range of not-for-profit organisations, often funded by Commonwealth and/or state bodies that play a strong advocacy role, usually on behalf of a particular sector within the cultural sphere. The National Association of Visual Arts, Ausdance, the Music Council of Australia, the Screenwriters Guild, and Arts Law are just some of the many such groups that play a significant role in providing feedback to governments over policy formation.  To date, only one State, Western Australia, has an advocacy group that has brought all components of the arts and cultural sectors together under one banner, to constitute the Chamber for Arts & Culture, whose role is to provide a single voice to governments, media, and business on matters of major significance for arts and culture.  Membership of the Chamber is open to organisations and individuals, from all sectors of the community.

Chapter published: 26-12-2013