Australia/ 4. Current issues in cultural policy development and debate  

4.1 Main cultural policy issues and priorities

In September 2007 the then-Federal Opposition released its election arts policy entitled New Directions for the Arts.  After assuming government in October 2007, the Rudd Labor Government used this document as the basis for decision-making about arts and culture during their first term of government.

The key provisions of New Directions for the Arts are summarised below:

A Resale royalty scheme for visual artists, with particular emphasis upon support such a scheme would provide for Indigenous artists. 

Establishment of a scheme entitled ArtStart to provide start-up assistance for professional artists. 

An independent and transparent Australia Council, as previously outlined.

A strong commitment to Indigenous arts, in particular a response to the Senate Committee Report Indigenous Art – Securing the Future to address issues of sustainability and unscrupulous conduct.

Arts and music education for all students in schools.

Development of the creative industries

Establishment of a National Broadband Network in partnership with the private sector.

By the time of the next Federal election, August 2010, most of these objectives had been achieved, or were close to being so.  The Resale Royalty Scheme was implemented in June 2010 after passage of the relevant legislation in parliament (see section 5.3.1).  ArtStart was implemented in 2010 by the Australia Council (for further details, see section 8.1.1).  A national artists in residence in schools program entitled Creative Education Partnership: Artist in Residence Initiativewas launched in 2009 to provide for professional artists working in schools with students and teachers.

In the area of Indigenous art and culture the government increased its overall support, including significant additional funding for Aboriginal Art Centres that the minister had described as ‘the backbone of the industry’. A major initiative was the introduction of an Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct in mid-2010 after extensive consultation with Indigenous communities.  Further details on programs to support Indigenous arts and culture, and on the Code of Conductmay be found in section 4.2.4. 

The Commonwealth government also announced in 2009–10 an investment of $17 million for a Creative Industries Innovation Centre (CIIC) to provide hands-on assistance to small and medium businesses in the creative sector to help boost productivity and enhance the potential for wealth and job creation.  For further details on CIIC see section 4.2.3.

Subsequent to the 2010 election, another major plank of the Labor Policy, the National Broadband Network (NBN) has commenced implementation.  This has been an area of some contention, with the Federal Opposition highly critical of the Government’s financial commitment to this initiative, and proposing their own slower-speed but cheaper alternative.  The future of the NBN after the forthcoming 2013 Federal election, should the Opposition Coalition parties assume government, is not yet clear.

Also subsequent to the 2010 election the Commonwealth government released, in 2013, the National Cultural Policy, Creative Australia, with a revised set of priorities.   As described in section 2.1 Creative Australia has a set of five goals, supported by five themes, each of which has a set of pathways to achievement of those themes.  These are as follows:

 Theme 1

Modernise funding and support

This policy delivers a new funding and support framework responsive to evolving artistic and cultural practice. This framework will provide a landscape for philanthropists and businesses to work in partnership with well-coordinated support across all levels of government.

Pathways to theme one

  • The Australia Council for the Arts —review and structural reform
  • A culture of giving, partnership and investment, mentorship and entrepreneurship
  • Cooperation, partnership and support between all levels of government

A primary component of this theme has been the revision of the Australia Council Act (see section 2.1 above) following extensive public review.  In addition the Government has provided an additional $75m over four years, commencing in 2012–13, with which the Council is expected to boost funding for artists and arts organisations, establish an Excellence fund for major performing arts organisations (based on an agreement with the states and territories for matching contributions), another $4m for professional capacity building in the sector, and $4m for data collection to inform research about and for the sector.  The Council is also expected to streamline its grants management schemes to achieve greater flexibility, in response to concerns from the arts sector about problems accessing Council schemes for cross-disciplinary arts and new innovations.  The Government has also transferred a range of touring programs from the Office for the Arts to the Australia Council, to allow for greater flexibility and for an alignment of priority setting.

The document states that ‘Through this additional investment, the Australian Government will support the development of a new body of 21st century art, recognising the importance of fostering a new generation of artists renowned for their excellence and innovation both nationally and internationally.’

In terms of a culture of giving and partnership, the Government has merged the functions of the Australian Business Arts Foundation that, as its name suggests, has had a primary role in engaging business and the arts, with Art Support Australia, which was more focussed upon individual philanthropy for the arts.  The two have become Creative Partnerships Australia, with the functions embracing all aspects of corporate and private philanthropy and engagement and to explore new models of investment in arts and culture.  As part of this endeavour, the Federal government will provide an additional $8.595 million to Creative Partnerships Australia to establish a funding program for the cultural sector based on new models of funding so that programs for micro-loans, crowd sourcing and matched funding, can be developed.

As mentioned in section 3.3 a new National Arts and Culture Accord has been established to support the third action pathway under Theme 1.

Theme 2

Creative expression and the role of the artist

Creative expression defines our nation.

For creative expression to thrive, three building blocks need to be in place: career pathways; government funding and support; and a strong and growing creative economy.

Pathways to theme two

    * Career pathways, cultural leadership skills and expertise

    * A universal arts education for lifelong learning and to drive creativity and innovation

    * Innovative Australian stories and content in digital and emerging platforms

 As part of these pathways, the Government has announced new funding for the country’s so-called elite training organisations (see section, amounting to a 30 per cent increase in base funding, and has committed to continue the ArtStart program for another year (see section 8.1.1), enabling graduating artists to hone their business skills and apply their craft across a range of career pathways.  There is also new funding to establish the ArtsReady program, which will support job seekers, school leavers and at-risk students to find arts careers through on-the-job training through partnerships with employers who will provide the training.  Interestingly, this initiative will be managed through the Australian Football League (AFL) SportsReady program which has an existing, successful program of engaging students through sport.

One of the more controversial initiatives under this pathway is an $8.1 million for the Creative Young Stars Program, ‘to encourage, support and celebrate creative, academic and community achievement and participation of students in primary and secondary schools and post-school young people to 25 years in every community across Australia through Federal electorates’. Widely perceived as something of a ‘funding for local politicians to glad-hand, it remains to be seen how effective such a program can be.  One other key program in this stream is the $1.1m RING Indigenous Employment Strategy that will seek to establish new jobs for Indigenous Australians in the media and screen industries.

In terms of universal arts education, Commonwealth and state/territory governments are working towards the implementation of the Arts stream within the Australian National Curriculum (see section 8.3.2).  In response to criticism that the curriculum, in establishing the arts across five subject areas —dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts— will not allow for any in-depth exposure to any one art form, it is intended that, from the first year of high school, ‘…students will have an opportunity to experience some arts subjects in greater depth and to specialise in one or more arts subjects.’  However, it is not year clear whether this will be universally mandated for all schools.  Nor does the policy address one of the other key issues in relation to the arts in schools, and that is the limited training that generalist primary school teachers receive in the arts, and the impossibility of such a teacher being able to gain any in-depth expertise in any one artform on the basis of current teacher education training models.

In terms of innovative stories and platforms, the policy document refers to earlier-announced initiatives such as the new funding for the Australia Council, new and existing funding for Regional Arts Australia, and existing programs that support the arts moving into digital platforms such as the Australian Interactive Games Fund, and programs that support the national broadcasters with Australian content.

Theme 3

Connect to national life for a social and economic dividend

The policy lays out pathways to reinforce the centrality of arts and culture to the health and prosperity of our national life.

Pathways to theme three

    * The centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in national life

    * Creative industries, commerce and the creative economy

    * Access, interpretation and innovation of national collections

    * Regional development and social dividends through community-based arts and cultural programs

    * Cultural exchange and diplomacy to drive stronger, deeper and broader international engagement

For discussion of initiatives to ensure the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, as set out in the first pathway of Theme 3, see section 4.2.4.

Many of the initiatives to support the creative economy are recognition or continuation of existing programs, such as the Creative Industries Innovation Centre (see section 4.2.3) and making effective use of the Centre of Excellence in Public Sector Design.  A new initiative is the $20 million Australian Screen Production Incentive, a location incentive to make Australia more competitive in attracting film production to the country, with an emphasis on developing Australia’s creative talent and technicians.

One of the major initiatives under the pathway focussed on the collecting institutions is the extension of the legal deposit arrangements for the National Library of Australia, to encompass digital material.  There is also an intention of developing a new legal deposit scheme for the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, which will embrace audio-visual material.  The document notes that ‘This commitment recognises the limitations of the current legal deposit arrangements under the Copyright Act 1968, which do not relate to digital materials.’

In terms of regional arts and culture, the paper proposes continuation of major funding initiatives auspiced by Regional Arts Australia and the Regional Development Australia Fund and also makes reference to other initiatives already canvassed within the policy.

Two key initiatives under the cultural exchange and engagement pathway are the revamping of the Australian International Cultural Council (see section 3.4.1), and new legislation to protect loans to Australia of cultural objects from overseas, so as to reassure international lenders that Australia is a secure destination.  This pathway also makes reference the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper and its Objective 25 which sets out clear pathways for Australia to build on existing cultural ties as integral to strengthening business, political and trade relationships in Asia.

The cultural research initiative established for the Australia Council will support data collection for the benefit of the arts sector as a whole, and to provide information to stakeholders and decision makers. It will enable publication of an annual state of the arts report supported by robust data and research methodologies. 

Reaction to Creative Australia has been generally positive, with some expressing the view that it is a bold statement for the future, while other suggesting that it was not adventurous enough.  Criticisms have emerged, particularly from the non-performing arts areas, that despite the reference to new innovation, to digital arts and new innovate modes of expression, the bulk of the Council’s funding will still be directed to the performing arts and much of that to the large companies that tend to produce more of the traditional repertoire than some of the smaller ones.  (The large companies, however, stress that a scrutiny of their programs will also reveal significant contributions to innovation and new approaches to the arts).  Others have criticised what they see as a division between ‘the arts’ and ‘the creative industries’ emerging from the pages of the policy.  Others again have criticised the packaging up of projects from different government agencies and ‘counting them’, in terms of funding, as part of Creative Australia: for instance, the funding that flowed from the Education Investment Fund (part of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education) to a creative industries initiative from Tasmania that was dealt with quite separately from any national cultural policy debates.  On the plus side, such packaging-up reflects the view of the former Minister for the Arts who had carriage of the policy, Simon Crean, that arts and culture are relevant to, and have importance for, a wide range of government portfolios.

It will be some years before it is possible to measure the impact of the cultural policy with any confidence.  This is to assume that the policy will remain intact, should the Government not win the forthcoming election and the Opposition, with its lukewarm response to the document, take over government in Australia.

State and territory priorities

While the Australian system does not require, in any sense, that state and territory priorities should reflect those of the Commonwealth, the fact that arts and culture priorities tend to be determined in all constituencies in part through public consultation means that there will often be a level of congruence between the stated priorities at both levels of government, regardless of whether all governments are of the same political persuasion.  Thus, the priorities articulated by the current Commonwealth government cited above tend to be reflected, in one way or another, in the priorities for most of the state and territory governments.  Strengthening Indigenous cultures, enhancing access to arts and culture, engaging young people, both in and out of the school system, and greater engagement with on-line and digital technologies, tend to be reflected in all state and territory priorities. 

Chapter published: 26-12-2013