An introduction to Australian cultural policy

John Howard an the Cronulla riotsConstantly in flux, passing between portfolios and ministers, and rarely featuring high on government agendas, cultural policy in Australia has been a constant battle against disorganisation and disinterest. But all that could change if the current government follows through on its commitment to develop a national cultural policy. We may be at a rare turning point in Australian cultural policy – a point as critical as the birth of cultural policy in 1908, the establishment of the Australia Council in 1975, and the release of Creative Nation in 1994.

An introduction to Australian cultural policy is a potted history and a cursory survey of Australian cultural policy. The first of three articles I have written for Culture360, it aims to introduce Australian cultural policy to readers in Europe and Asia.

It was hard to work out what to include and what to exclude in such a short article.[1] After a very brief description of historical milestones, the article sketches the institutions that oversee Australia’s cultural policies and the levels of funding across the three layers of government. Something to note in the data is the miniscule proportion of cultural funding made up by the Australia Council (about 3 percent) – a reminder that the Council receives an inordinate amount of flak from those disgruntled with current policies.

We may be at a rare turning point in Australian cultural policy

Then, following a quick survey of recent debates and issues, I outline the things I see as critical to improving Australian Federal Government cultural policy:

  • The Federal Government needs to develop an explicit cultural policy, built on consultation and containing a mechanism for periodic review and evaluation.
  • Indigenous culture should hold a special place at the heart of this cultural policy.
  • Broader concepts of culture need to be adopted in Australian cultural policy debate and discourse.
  • The Federal Government’s main cultural department needs to have a well-resourced policy research and advisory capacity (This equivalent to the 2020 Summit’s call for a ‘dedicated ministry of culture’).
  • A debate needs to take place on the erosion of the arm’s length principle on which contemporary Australian cultural policy was founded – or, more realistically, on how to ensure departments and arm’s length agencies are doing what they do best.
  • There needs to be more analysis and interpretation of existing data on Australian culture.
  • More demand-side cultural policies are needed to rebalance Australia’s predominantly supply-side policy mix.

These ideas are a conglomeration of my recent publications Monolithic cultural policyA poverty of inquiryEncouraging the academyAustralia’s creative revolutionIn defence of the Australia CouncilPolicies for boosting arts demand and Modelling the economic impacts of cultural policies.

The article finishes with a list of references and resources on Australian cultural policy.

Read the full article:
An introduction to Australian cultural policy Culture
Culture360, 5 July 2011


[1] I am reminded of, and somewhat comforted by David Lowenthal’s argument in Memory and Oblivion that heritage is as much about deciding what to forget as about what to remember.

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One thought on “An introduction to Australian cultural policy

  1. ‘cultural policy’ is intrinsically authoritarian interference in culture.
    “ministries of culture” = authoritarian states ( be they right or left , no difference under the bonnet)

    As for “demand-side cultural policies” they have been trying to ‘develop’ audiences – I.e pay people to supply “appreciation” to artists – for nearly thirty years, it has not worked and it won’t work.

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