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

4.3 Other relevant issues and debates

Rural and Regional Arts 

In 1996 the Keating Labor Government, which had introduced Creative Nation, lost government in favour of John Howard’s Coalition, comprising the largely metropolitan-based Liberal Party and regionally based National Party.  Given the composition of the new government, it is not surprising that one of their first policy moves in terms of culture and arts was to establish, within the Australia Council, a Regional Arts Fund, which would provide financial support for regional arts centres, museums, artists and arts organisations and seek to encourage a degree of community engagement with arts and culture in regional and remote communities.  Given that many such communities may be situated several hundred or, in some states, more than a thousand, kilometres from the state capital or from other centres, such support was an extremely important attempt to engage communities that often felt alienated from their metropolitan counterparts. While the Commonwealth Government, through the Office for the Arts, maintained accountability for the fund, it was devolved to Regional Arts Australia to make key decisions about funding allocations.  In 2006 funding for this program was increased so that more regional arts development officers could be employed to work with artists and communities, to enhance skills, and also to work with the armies of volunteers whose work in regional and remote communities is vital to the maintenance and functioning of those communities. 

 Further recognition of the needs of regional and remote communities came with the establishment, arising from Creative Nation, of three key touring programs

Playing Australia

Playing Australia is the Commonwealth government's national touring program for the performing arts.  It is designed to assist the touring of performing arts across state and territory boundaries where this is currently not commercially viable and there is a demonstrated public demand.  A principal objective of Playing Australia is to support tours to regional and remote Australia.  This includes theatre, music and opera, dance, puppetry and circus. The Australia Council now runs this program, as part of changes introduced through Creative Australia

Visions of Australia

Visions of Australia provides funding to eligible organisations to develop and tour exhibitions of Australian cultural material across Australia.  Exhibitions are expected to have a predominantly Australian source or theme, as opposed to the touring of internationally sourced exhibitions.  In addition to Visions of Australia there is also a Contemporary Touring Initiative that assists collecting institutions and other organisations with the costs of developing and touring major exhibitions of contemporary Australian visual arts and craft across Australia. The Australia Council now runs this program, as part of changes introduced through Creative Australia

Festivals Australia

Festivals Australia provides funding for regional and community festivals to present quality cultural projects that come under the general rubric of ‘festivals’.  Eligible projects are required to present programs or activities that are have not been previously presented and that could not be afforded without the funding. The Australia Council now runs this program, as part of changes introduced through Creative Australia

Parallel importation of books

In July 2008 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), comprising the Prime Minister, the state Premiers, territory Chief Ministers, and staff, asked the Australian Productivity Commission to look into the section of Australia’s Copyright Act 1968 that restricted what is known as the parallel importation of books into Australia.  Under Australia's copyright law there have been provisions that allowed Australian publishers 30 days to publish an Australian version of any book that has been released anywhere in the world.  If the book was published within 30 days, all booksellers were obliged to purchase the publication from the Australian publisher and were not permitted to import the book from an overseas publisher.  The commission was also asked whether the restrictions furthered the objectives of the Copyright Act (see section 5.1 below) and whether they provided a net benefit to Australians. 

After many months of research, public discussion and reading of submissions, the commission released its final report in July 2009, recommending that the parallel importation restrictions be removed.  The commission’s report is available at

However, after a heated public debate over the issue, the Commonwealth government decided not to change the Australian regulatory regime for books.  The government argued that the strong competitive pressure from international online booksellers meant that any removal of restrictions would add further pressure to the Australian book printing and publishing industries.  The responsible minister’s press statement stated that ‘The Productivity Commission report acknowledged that removing these restrictions would adversely affect Australian authors, publishers and culture.  The Commission recommended extra budgetary funding of authors and publishers to compensate them for this loss.  The government has decided not to commit to a new spending program for Australian authors and publishers’.  The minister also expressed the view that

‘If books cannot be made available in a timely fashion and at a competitive price, customers will opt for online sales and e-books’. And he warned the Australian book printing and publishing industries that they would need to respond to the increasing competition from imports without relying on additional government assistance.

 Children in Art Protocols

In May 2008 one of Australia’s leading photographers, Bill Henson, became involved in [RS1] a major controversy when the opening night of an exhibition of his work at a commercial gallery in Sydney was cancelled after eight individual complaints were made to police voicing concerns about an invitation from the gallery to a ‘Private View’ that depicted photographs of a nude 13-year old girl.  In the process of removing the images from the gallery, police found more photographs of naked children on exhibition among various large format photographs of nonfigurative subjects, which they later sought to examine for the purposes of determining their legal status under the New South Wales Crimes Act 1900 and child protection legislation.  Following discussions with the gallery and a decision by Henson, the gallery cancelled the opening and postponed the show, while the police announced their intention of charging either Henson or the gallery or both with ‘publishing an indecent article’ under the Crimes Act.  This then led to a major debate on censorship, and the role of children in art.

While the New South Wales Department of Public Prosecutions ultimately declared that they would not pursue the issue, the controversy triggered the Commonwealth government to request that the Australia Council develop a set of protocols for artists working with children.  The resulting protocols address the depiction and employment of children in artworks, exhibitions and publications that receive Australia Council funding, and include an overview of applicable state and territory laws that form the basis for a set of reasonable minimum standards to help artists and organisations who work with children to do so with proper care and responsibility.  Adherence to the protocols is now a condition of receiving an Australia Council grant.

The protocols came into effect on 1 January 2009 and were reviewed in early 2010.  The review found that the protocols were generally well received and assisted artists and organisations to understand their responsibilities, rights and obligations when working with children.  Following the review, some amendments have been made to clarify the intent of the protocols and make it easier for people to understand their responsibilities and comply with the requirements.  Some artists indicated, through the review, that the protocols would assist them in protecting the rights of children, and in understanding the regulatory framework for their particular state, while others said the protocols would either have no impact on their practice, or would make them less inclined to work with children in certain contexts.  The Arts Law Centre voiced the concern that the protocols would increase the pressure for compliance, and also argued strongly against retrospectivity, on the basis that it would be almost unworkable.  Concerns were also voiced about the cost, in time and money, of getting work classified through the Classification Board.

Changes were then made to the protocols to ameliorate these issues as far as possible.  In particular, in terms of the time and costs involved with submission to the Classification Board, the revised protocols instead set in place a requirement that:

Australia Council funded organisations exhibiting contemporary images of naked or semi naked children or distributing contemporary images of children who are not naked must:

  • comply with all relevant laws and regulations in the state or territory in which the project takes place; 
  • give thoughtful consideration to the rights of the child; and 
  • take all reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that the artist complied with relevant laws when creating the image. 

At the end of the funded activity the Australia Council may request evidence that this requirement has been followed. 

Arts and Disability

In 1992 the Commonwealth introduced the Disability Discrimination Act, which was explicit about barriers faced by people with disability, and set out to protect the rights of individuals with disability.  The introduction of the Act gave increased focus to issues such as physical barriers in public buildings and spaces, including arts venues and cultural institutions; barriers for individuals with visual impairment, which had particular implications for the publishing industry and for collecting institutions; and for the hearing impaired, with significant implications for broadcasting, and for performing arts institutions among others.  The advocacy group, Arts Access Australia, as the national peak body for a network of state and territory arts and disability organisations, has worked with both the government and private sectors to enhance awareness of these issues and to ensure that they are included in future planning for arts and culture.  In 2009 the Commonwealth and state/territory ministers agreed on a National Arts and Disability Strategy, to guide future thinking and planning in this area. This strategy is currently being reviewed and a review document will be published by the end of 2013.  The Australia Council for the Arts recognises the area of disability within its Cultural Engagement Framework and delivers a range of outcomes through its Disability Action Plan, as well as requiring funded organisations to develop disability action plans.

Screen funding

That its emphasis is not solely upon film is demonstrated by the fact that in June 2010, Screen Australia (see section 1) announced that it will review its funding of television production to ensure that the organisation is supporting the television production industry and Australian programming in an optimum way, across the spectrum from quality drama, children’s television and documentaries on matters of national significance. 

This is the latest of several reviews of the film industry convened by various Commonwealth governments over the years, and all have addressed the issue of the desirable level of funding for an industry that operates in a very small marketplace and with a highly competitive international industry.  This ongoing interest in achieving an optimum policy setting for film is indicative of successive government policy settings, whereby Australian film are seen as a vital part of the nation’s cultural life. 

For further information on Screen Australia and the Australian screen industries see

Screen Australia also has a close relationship with the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF), which was established in 1982 as a national not-for-profit organisation committed to providing Australian children with high quality television programs that are both innovative and educational.  As well as its own productions, the ACTF acts as an Australian and international distributor of programs made specifically for children, and also provides both script development funding and production investment funding for other children’s television producers.  The ACTF receives its own funding from the Commonwealth and all state and territory governments.  For further information see

Chapter published: 27-12-2013