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

4.2.4 Cultural diversity and inclusion policies

One of the first actions taken by the Rudd Government on assuming office was to offer a formal Apology to the Indigenous people of Australia for past injustices, particularly as relates to the people who were removed from their families – the so-called ‘Stolen Generation’.  The text of the Prime Minister’s formal apology in the Federal Parliament on the thirteenth of February 2008 reads as follows:

… today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. 

We reflect on their past mistreatment. 

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation’s history. 

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. 

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. 

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. 

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. 

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry. 

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. 

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written. 

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. 

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. 

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. 

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. 

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. 

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia. 

The apology set the tone for the first Rudd Government and saw the establishment of a range of further programs supporting Indigenous people and dealing with issues in a range of portfolios, including the Arts portfolio.  Included among the latter are:

The Indigenous Culture Support program

The Indigenous Culture Support (ICS) program operates out of the Office for the Arts and supports the maintenance and continued development of Indigenous culture at the community level.  The program supports activities that:

  • support the maintenance of Indigenous culture
  • support new forms of Indigenous cultural expression
  • support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ engagement in cultural activities
  • promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing by strengthening pride in identity and culture.

The Indigenous Heritage Program 

The Indigenous Heritage Program (IHP) supports the identification, conservation, and promotion (where appropriate) of Indigenous heritage.  The program will provide funding both for organisations and for individuals.  To be eligible, a project must relate to one or more of the following five activities: 

  • conserve Indigenous heritage places
  • identify Indigenous heritage places
  • undertake planning for Indigenous heritage places
  • interpret or explain Indigenous heritage places, or
  •    construct keeping places to house ancestral remains and/or secret sacred objects that require restricted access.

This program is administered by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

The Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program

The Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program (IVAIS) program provides direct funding support to Indigenous art centres and arts support and advocacy organisations.  The program's overall objectives are to assist art centres to become stronger and to build a more sustainable Indigenous visual arts industry.  To achieve these objectives, NACIS funding assists organisations to:

  • supports the operations of Indigenous art centres, and organisations involved in the production, promotion and marketing of Indigenous visual art
  • provides opportunities for Indigenous artists to maintain, develop and extend their professional art practice
  • provides opportunities for art centre staff, artists and Board members to develop professional skills and experience
  • facilitates the delivery of services to the Indigenous visual arts industry by allied industry support organisations.

The program is administered by the Office for the Arts.

The Indigenous Broadcasting Program

The Indigenous Broadcasting Program (IBP) supports Indigenous community radio broadcasting and provides funding support to address the broadcasting needs of Indigenous people living in remote, regional and urban areas of Australia.  Following a review in 2010, the IBP was relocated to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, to be aligned with the other public broadcasting organisations.  The IBP aims to:

  • support the operations of Indigenous owned and controlled community radio broadcasting services, including Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Services (RIBS);
  • support the development and broadcast of programming that focuses on the promotion of local Indigenous culture and languages;
  • enhance Indigenous broadcasting services by supporting national representation that serves and develops the sector's capacity;
  • support broadcasting services that are able to inform and educate Indigenous Australians on accessing the range of health, legal, education and housing services available to them; and
  • assist in developing an Indigenous broadcasting sector that meets all governance and regulatory requirements. 

The Indigenous Languages Support program

The Indigenous Languages Support (ILS) program addresses the steady erosion and loss of Australia’s original Indigenous languages by providing support for the maintenance and revival of these languages.  The most recent report on Indigenous languages in Australia, the National Indigenous Languages Survey (NILS) Report 2005, found that the situation of Australia’s Indigenous languages is grave and requires urgent action.  All of Australia’s Indigenous languages face an uncertain future if immediate action and care are not taken.

In 2009, the Commonwealth Government announced its National Indigenous Languages Policy.  The policy confirmed the Government’s commitment to keeping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages alive and helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples connect with their language and culture.  The ILS program aims to:

  • support the maintenance revival, and development of Indigenous languages
  • increase the use of Indigenous languages in a range of fields and media
  • support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' engagement with their languages
  • promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing by strengthening pride in identity and culture through languages
  • promote public appreciation of Indigenous languages

The Indigenous Art Centre Strategy

The Indigenous Art Centre Strategy and action plan is a coordinated government approach aimed at building a strong and sustainable Indigenous visual arts sector, characterised by a stable and profitable base of Indigenous art centres, producing and distributing works of artistic excellence.  Key goals of the strategy are to stabilise funding, provide employment and training leading to professional arts practice, provide training in business management, develop community capacity and maintenance of culture, and ensure data collection and research.

Indigenous Contemporary Music Action Plan

Australian and New Zealand Cultural Ministers have adopted an Indigenous Contemporary Music Action Plan to encourage all levels of government to assist the Indigenous Contemporary Music sector to achieve its full potential.

The plan focuses support on Indigenous musicians and producers in both northern and southern Australia and in urban, regional and remote areas.  It encourages all levels of government to assist the sector to help it achieve its full potential. 

The Indigenous Repatriation Policy

For more than 150 years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and secret sacred objects were removed to museums, universities and private collections in Australia and overseas. During the 19th and 20th centuries, ancestral remains were collected by medical officers, anatomists, ethnologists, anthropologists, and pastoralists, in some cases for the purposes of scientific research linked to explaining human biological differences.

The Australian Government Indigenous Repatriation Policy is targeted at the following key areas:

  • inventory and provenance research
  • community visits within Australia by museum staff
  • consultants to assist communities in coordinating returns
  • museum visits by community representatives to identify ancestral remains and secret sacred objects
  • travel for community representatives to collect ancestral remains and secret sacred objects (in Australia only)
  • travel for community representatives to collect ancestral remains from overseas, and
  • preparation, packing, transportation and freight of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects for return.

The Program has two major components—international repatriation and domestic repatriation. The program aims to return Indigenous ancestral remains and secret sacred objects held in major government-funded museums to their communities of origin where possible and when requested.

Australia's major museums hold large collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and objects of secret and/or sacred significance (secret sacred objects).

Most museums also have policies and programs that acknowledge and support the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to decide what will happen to their community's cultural property.

Over the past 20 years, museums and Indigenous communities have worked together to develop arrangements for the repatriation of Indigenous ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to their communities of origin.  The return of this cultural property is a key part of the reconciliation process.

Through the program Commonwealth, state and territory governments and the museums sector collaborate to resolve issues relating to Australian collections of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects.

The Commonwealth Government has been actively repatriating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains since 1990.  Since that time over 1,000 ancestral remains have been returned.

Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct

In March 2010 the Commonwealth Government announced that registration was now open for art dealers looking to become signatories to a new Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of ConductThe Code was developed after extensive consultation with Indigenous communities, art galleries and dealers, and with the state and territory governments.  Its stated purpose is to:

  • establish a set of standards for commercial dealing with Indigenous visual artists;
  • provide a benchmark for ethical behaviour; and
  • build greater certainty for consumers that the artworks they buy come through ethical processes 

The Code was developed against a background of concern about the exploitation of Indigenous culture by a few rogue players in the art and tourism industries, going back over many years.  Not only were Indigenous cultures and Indigenous artists being exploited, the individuals from all over the world who purchased Indigenous art or artefacts were occasionally the victims of unscrupulous operators.  While such behaviour went largely unchecked for much of the twentieth century, in the last two decades of the century some Indigenous people were either in a position to take a stand on the issue, or were able to enlist other high-profile individuals to support them in fighting against exploitation and unethical behaviour.  The Code is the end result of this agitation, with its intention being to set highly ethical standards for the industry; to ensure no artists or communities are subject to exploitation; and to ensure that purchasers of art works are not unwittingly buying into an ethically dubious practice.

The Code has been implemented through the establishment of a public company, Indigenous Art Code Limited into which art dealers, galleries and centres can buy.  Membership is voluntary, and it is hoped that interest of consumers in whether or not they are purchasing from dealers, galleries or centres that are members of the company will be the biggest incentive for individuals to join.

The code is complemented by the Indigenous Art Charter of Principles for Publicly Funded Collection Institutions.  For further details see

For further details on programs of support for Indigenous arts and culture see

Chapter published: 26-12-2013