Australia/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.3 European / international actors and programmes

International Conventions

Australia is signatory to 97 international treaties dealing with intellectual and industrial property, a number of which pertain to arts and cultural objectives.  A further 108 treaties involve some form of cultural agreement.  The complete list may be found at

Like the majority of other countries who signed the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) with the foundation of the WTO, Australia has made no multilateral commitments to liberalise in the area of culture.  However, over the past decade Australia has engaged in a range of negotiations for bilateral and regional free trade agreements.  In some of these negotiations culture has been an issue, most prominently in the bilateral agreement with the United States.  In this agreement Australia agreed not to extend local content rules for television and to limit some of its flexibility to make similar rules in relation to new media.  Australia also agreed to largely harmonise its intellectual property law with that of the USA.  Like many other countries Australia is a net importer of audiovisual, the majority of which comes from the USA.

In the cultural sector, one of the most significant is the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.  Australia became a signatory to this convention in September 2009 and, in so doing, the Commonwealth Government committed the nation to affirmation of

 … the right of state parties to protect and promote a diversity of cultural expressions…[The Convention]  recognises the value of cultural goods, services and activities as carriers of meaning and identity and their integral role in sustainable cultural and economic development.

The Convention also promotes international dialogue and cooperation in protecting cultural expressions, particularly those in immediate danger or at risk of extinction.

The Minister for the Arts at the time, Peter Garrett, in announcing the ratification, noted that this was ‘…an important step in support of our diverse cultural heritage and a vital artistic life for our citizens and fulfills a key Labor election commitment.”

Under the Convention, Australia is required to report every four years to the Intergovernmental Committee on measures taken to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions in its territory and at the international level.  The first of these reports will be due in 2013.  The Minister for the Arts has responsibility for Australia’s commitment to the Convention.

Of particular relevance for Australia has been the issue of the export of significant cultural heritage, and the Australian Government is a signatory to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the Illegal Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.  

In terms of heritage management, Australia became a signatory to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention in 1974, committing to the protection of the world’s cultural and natural heritage places.  See also section 4.2.2 and

The Australian National Commission for UNESCO is the Australian Government entity for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The National Commission provides expert analysis and policy advice to the Australian Government on UNESCO matters and acts as a point of liaison between government, the community and UNESCO in Australia.  Its activities cover the wide remit of UNESCO, including education, the natural and social sciences, culture, communications and youth affairs. 

For the Australian National Commission for UNESCO’s Charter and responsibilities, see

Another international agreement of relevance to the arts and cultural sectors in Australia has been the so-called Lisbon Agreement on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education, which Australia adopted in 2003.  The move to a new qualifications framework, in part reflective of this agreement, has had some repercussions for some of the arts departments and schools in Australian universities, particularly architecture and design, which is now only a postgraduate qualification.

Chapter published: 26-12-2013