34 Cultural policy in an Australian setting

Josephine Caust

Key terms/names

arts, cultural heritage, culture, diversity, ideology, inclusion, policy


A conventional definition of a government cultural policy is that it represents government policy in respect to all aspects of the arts, cultural heritage and broader cultural issues such as diversity and inclusion.[1] The Norwegian scholar Geir Vestheim expresses this as ‘a relationship between a political system and a cultural field’.[2] Vestheim’s definition recognises the political system that is behind the policy. Thus, the political system in place will dictate both the content of a policy and how the policy is enacted. A policy, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary, is a plan or set of principles that governs how a government may apply its laws, procedures and other actions. But a government’s ideology or belief system is going to be at the core of its cultural policy, possibly more than any of its other policies, given the contested nature of culture. For this reason, a government’s cultural policy can sometimes be seen as more divisive or provocative than its other policies. Further, because of its breadth, a cultural policy can have a major policy impact across several fields, aside from that of culture.

All levels of government are involved in the support of cultural and arts activity. In this chapter, the focus will be on the federal level, but a cultural policy can be developed and applied at any level of government. Historically, the development of a formal cultural policy has been more common in nations in northern Europe and less common in countries such as the UK, the USA and Australia. The need for a national cultural policy has become increasingly argued in Australia, given the role of culture in many different domains.[3] Further, as Craik notes, while arts and culture may seem minor players politically, they are often the focus of much public debate and media attention.[4]

The Australian Labor Party (ALP), when in federal government, has twice tried to deliver a cultural policy in the past 30 years, but each time has lost government shortly afterwards, so the impact of the policy has been limited. The first attempt was in 1994 and called Creative Nation,[5] and the second attempt was in 2013 with Creative Australia.[6] The present federal Labor government has announced that it is resurrecting Creative Australia. After further community consultation and minor adjustments, it has said it will release it as the country’s cultural policy at the end of 2022.[7]

The Coalition Parties when in national government have never tried to deliver a formal cultural policy. However, while they may not have had a prescribed or overt policy, it is important to realise that actions by governments reflect their ideologies and values and thus are their policies, reflecting Dye’s notion of public policy.[8] During the prime ministership of John Howard, the noted cultural economist David Throsby described the Coalition approach to arts and culture as ‘policy by review’ given that during their time in government they undertook many different reviews of arts and cultural activity.[9] Thus, while not having a stated policy, the actions by federal Coalition parties, have reflected their views and approaches to cultural policy during their various periods in government. To begin this discussion though, we need first to explore understandings of ‘culture’.

What do we mean by culture?

The cultural theorist Raymond Williams asserted that ‘culture’ was one of the most complex terms in the English language.[10] The term continues to be challenging in contemporary settings given its multiple meanings. How it is understood differs, depending on its context and framing. Avruch[11] cites varied meanings associated with the term arising from different disciplines. One is an aesthetic definition relating to the high arts, thus making ‘culture’ an acquired knowledge or skill. When the term is used in this context, someone might be known as a ‘cultured’ person because they are well educated, or knowledgeable, or highly skilled in an aspect of arts practice. Another meaning is an anthropological or scientific framing, in which ‘culture’ is seen as the social practices of a group. In this meaning, it can describe, say, the preferences of people who identify with a particular religion, or it can refer to the preferences of a particular group, such as a motorcycle gang, or it can refer to the preferences of a small unit, such as a family. The term ‘culture’ can be associated with a specific ethnic or tribal identity, such as the practices of people from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. In this meaning, there is reference to a whole group that follows a particular belief system that is different from the belief system of its neighbours and people from other parts of the same country. There is a further expansion of the anthropological approach, where one culture is seen as having no superior value over another. Thus, just because one group has a particular belief system, this does not mean that its members are superior to another group of people who believe something different. It is noted by researchers that ‘culture is complex, ambivalent, and contested’.[12] The way we understand the term ‘culture’ then can be influenced by our own values, social position, education, gender, race and identity. ‘Culture’ thus does not have an absolute meaning. Its meaning depends on the context in which it is being used.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions in 2005 asserted that ‘culture’ was a critical indicator for a nation’s wellbeing. Indeed, in its objectives, the Convention saw the expression of one’s ‘culture’ as a fundamental right that needed to be adhered to by all nations. Some of the key objectives of this Convention are:

(a) to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions;

(b) to create the conditions for cultures to flourish and to freely interact in a mutually beneficial manner; …

(e) to promote respect for the diversity of cultural expressions and raise awareness of its value at the local, national and international levels; […]

(g) to give recognition to the distinctive nature of cultural activities, goods and services as vehicles of identity, values and meaning;[13]

From UNESCO’s perspective then, a nation that acknowledges and celebrates the diversity of cultures within its midst is demonstrating that it is sophisticated, healthy and tolerant. ‘Culture’, as framed by UNESCO, is further seen as a vital indicator of both a nation’s positive values and the presence of a healthy political system. Australia ratified the 2005 Convention in 2009.[14] A significant aspect of the UNESCO Convention is its connection with a citizen’s cultural rights. Cultural rights are an aspect of human rights acknowledging that a citizen has the right to participate in their culture. This aspect of human rights has been slow to be recognised in Australia.[15]

An aspect of cultural rights that has not been adequately explored is the way governments support some arts practices and not others. For example, Tony Moore talks about the tensions between arts practices from different social groups, particularly in relation to class representation and political ideology.[16] The political framing of arts practice is recognised well in the contrast, for example, between the social realism approaches of the old Soviet Union in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, and the sponsorship of abstract art by the CIA in the 1950s.[17] Each government was promoting arts practices that it believed suited its ideology. This political difference was played out in Australia too, through various art movements from the 1930s to the 1970s as well as by government interventions that preferenced certain individuals and groups.[18] Class differences in arts and cultural practices can also be illustrated by, say, the downplaying of community arts practices and the preferencing of highbrow arts practices by governments.[19] Gay Hawkins describes it well when she talks about government arts support ‘as a system of inclusion and exclusion’.[20] Thus government involvement in the arts has its own agenda and is not an objective exercise.

These differences also relate to how we frame culture. Although we may live in the same country, our cultural mores may differ depending on our ethnic background, our gender, our class and even where we live.[21] For example, the idealised Australian culture is often represented by the great outdoors, the sun-bronzed surfer, the notion of the ‘fair go’ and the idea of mateship. But these tropes are limited by gender, location, class and race. Thus, acknowledging Bourdieu,[22] the ‘idealised’ Australian culture is not the culture of everyone: for example, Indigenous Australians, the unemployed, recent immigrants or women. Yet despite these realities, politicians and the mass media continue to assert that if someone comes to this country, they must adopt the ‘culture’ of the country (based on these false tropes) if they are going to be ‘real Australians’.[23] How one describes one’s culture is therefore influenced by many factors, but the popular stereotype of what a national culture is may only apply to a distinct or privileged minority of that population.

Further in the context of Australia, the question of ‘culture’ has been, and continues to be, quite contested. When Australia became a federation in 1901, it adopted a constitution. As part of this process, there was specific reference to the culture of the white settlers as being superior to the cultures of others. Australia’s first prime minister, Edmund Barton said, ‘There is no racial equality … Nothing we can do by cultivation, by refinement, or by anything else will make some races equal to others’.[24] In this statement Barton asserts that Europeans, who were at that time primarily Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Celtic, were superior culturally by birth, and no amount of education or other influences could change that situation. This racial, cultural and hierarchic view was the basis of many of the actions of Australian governments and institutions through the 19th and into the late 20th century.

An amazing feature of Australia is that it is the home of the oldest continuous culture on Earth. The Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived here for at least 65,000 years.[25] Throughout that time, they have recorded their histories and their cultures in their traditional practices and artwork.[26] Their cultures are reflected in visual images on the walls of caves, in artefacts, in storytelling, dancing and in songlines. The significance of the artwork and their cultural practices is greater than the images themselves. With the publication of the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart, Australia is now at a historical crossroads where the diminishment and erasure of Indigenous culture is being challenged.[27] The present federal Labor government has committed itself to implementing the Uluru Statement by holding a national referendum that, if passed, would give a Voice to the Australian Indigenous peoples and acknowledge them appropriately in the Australian Constitution.[28]

Since the invasion of Australia by the British in the late 18th century, the existing residents of the country have experienced many forms of ethnic cleansing. They were driven from their land, incarcerated and killed, and assimilation policies were instituted that served to systematically destroy their cultures and languages.[29] It was not until 1962, with a change in the Electoral Act, that Australian Indigenous peoples were allowed to vote in an Australian election.[30] It was not until 1971, after a referendum in 1967 that supported changes in the Australian Constitution, that Australian Indigenous peoples were counted in any national census.[31] Australia as a newly federated nation in 1901 began its existence as a land for only white people. Everyone else was excluded or made invisible.[32] This has made the questions of culture, race and identity quite fundamental issues in the development of Australia as a democratic and civilised country. Arguing that a nation is a democracy, when a whole sector of the population is made invisible, not counted in any census and not allowed to have even the basic rights of other citizens, is clearly indefensible. Further Australia is in the global south, and none of its near geographical neighbours are ‘white’ (aside from New Zealand, which was also a British colony). The adoption of a ‘White Australia’ policy by successive Australian governments since federation was always based on racist cultural attitudes.

A key aspect of the question of ‘culture’ then is the assumption that one’s own culture is superior to another’s. This assumption can mean that aspects of another person’s culture are given no value. In Australia, not only did we denigrate and deny the culture of the Indigenous peoples in this country when the European settlers first arrived in the late 18th century, we then excluded them from any civic participation for the next two hundred years. Recently we have seen further wanton destruction of Indigenous cultural heritage. In May 2020, mining company Rio Tinto blew up the Juukan Gorge rock shelters, thereby destroying cultural sites that were more than 46,000 years old and were of immense cultural and archaeological significance.[33] Despite knowing that the sites existed, the mining company ignored their significance and destroyed them.

Great harm can be caused if a culture is not valued or respected. Respecting another’s culture is an important aspect of living in a democratic state. This is at the heart of the UNESCO declaration. Culture should not take on a hierarchical value but be seen as an important aspect of cultural diversity to be tolerated and understood rather than judged and criticised. Some nations though regard their national culture as relatively homogenous and strongly connected to their national identity. This can mean that, unless you have a particular appearance or believe in the same religion, you are not seen as truly of that nationality, even if your family has been in that country for hundreds of years and you identify as a national of that country.[34] When there is immigration of new settlers from another country or the resettlement of refugees to an established country or nation, this can cause tension in the existing national population, as they see the immigrants as outsiders who have a different belief system, look different and behave differently. While resident in the newly adopted country, the newcomers are regarded by some as therefore not truly of that country. This tension can then cause resistance to new immigration by sectors of the population.[35]

In 2021 it was determined the four countries most welcoming of immigrants and refugees were ranked in this order: Canada, Iceland, New Zealand and then Australia.[36] Aside perhaps from Iceland, the three countries in this top four are all countries that have deliberately grown their countries by immigration. Nevertheless, while Australia is seen as welcoming to immigrants, there has been prolonged political opposition to political refugees, particularly those who come to Australia by boat, and have therefore not been officially sanctioned.[37]

Australia, as a land that built its population by immigration, has embraced a policy of ‘multiculturalism’ for the past 40 years. In the Australian model, ‘multiculturalism means there is public endorsement and recognition of cultural diversity’.[38] The concept of ‘multiculturalism’ was seen as a means of describing a society that was culturally diverse, but without any further intent.[39] The Australian model of multiculturalism:

has never sanctioned a form of cultural relativism. Any right to express one’s cultural identity and heritage has been accompanied by responsibilities. There must be a commitment to liberal democratic values – to parliamentary democracy, to the rule of law, to equality of the sexes, to freedom of speech.[40]

Multiculturalism in the Australian context encourages different expressions of cultural practices but, at the same time, insists that everyone immigrating also conforms to the national democratic values. In several surveys since the adoption of multiculturalism as the way forward in the 1970s, most of the Australian population has continued to support the reality of a multicultural society and believe that it has been good for the country.[41] Commentators have argued that the official approach to embracing a ‘multicultural’ policy is too simplistic and does not embrace the complexity and diversity of different cultures, or the continued framing of all cultures, aside from Anglo culture, as the ‘other’.[42] In this context, developing a cultural policy that is representative of the diversity of cultural interests is not a straightforward task.

Developing a cultural policy

A national cultural policy within an Australian framework demands a recognition of both cultural complexity and diversity. Firstly, there is a tendency to think of a cultural policy as essentially an arts policy. But given the complexity of meanings of culture, a cultural policy has much broader and deeper meanings than just an arts policy. Of course, arts practices are reflections of cultures, and arts practices are an essential aspect of a cultural policy. But, as some arts practices receive more public support than others, especially in relation to government funding distributions, there needs to be an integration of cultural rights embedded in such a policy.[43] As the Australian scholar Rimi Khan notes, ‘Understanding cultural policy-making as a messy and lively process opens up a space in which engaged research can also become intellectually interesting’.[44]

UNESCO describes government cultural policies as referring:

to those policies and measures relating to culture, whether at the local, national, regional or international level that are either focused on culture as such or are designed to have a direct effect on cultural expressions of individuals, groups or societies, including on the creation, production, dissemination, distribution of and access to cultural activities, goods and services.[45]

Thus, as UNESCO notes, a cultural policy can also affect issues around broadcasting, intellectual property, copyright, education and then other issues such as trade. Like a definition of culture, a definition of cultural policy is affected by the context in which it is used, and it can have a broad applicability. Cultural policy scholars note too that, ‘how culture is articulated and operating operationalized within policy is historically loaded with socio-political and economic meanings, beliefs, traditions, and values that find both similarity and difference when considered on a global scale’.[46]

Understandings of cultural policy can thus depend on which discipline it is being used within, as well as the intent or scope of the policy. For example, if you are talking about cultural policy within an economic framework, then obviously it has a particular impact on issues around costs and outcomes. Within a political framework, it may play a different role where it is representing an ideology in relation to culture. Within cultural studies, it may be more nuanced and depend on where someone is located, or how it will affect their understanding of culture or what their framing of culture might be. Within a sociological framework, it may have meanings around how a society functions and what is meant by interactions between different cultures. Within an arts context, it may want to support a range of artistic activity as well as providing better conditions for artists. Throsby has argued that a cultural policy is not a statement handed down from on high but ‘the opening up of a broad ranging discussion of the role of arts and culture in our society, and the forging of a new cultural accord between government and people’.[47] Throsby’s approach to developing a cultural policy is inclusive, framing a cultural policy as a positive and mutually beneficial action for everyone involved. It is also not reflective of a prescriptive approach by government to its citizens about culture.

While one definition of ‘cultural policy’ may seem adequate at first, it may have different meanings to both the user and the writer. For example, when governments say that they are developing a cultural policy, they also need to clarify what fields they are including in that policy. Are they really talking about an arts policy, or are they talking about a policy that is going to be inclusive of all cultures and their art practices that exist within a nation? If it is the latter, how does the policy process engage with different sectors of the community? In the case of Australia, you have a country with a large culturally diverse population whose original culture may be quite different from that of another immigrant group. In addition, you have existing Indigenous cultures that are themselves also highly complex, with different groups and different practices.[48]

It has been further observed over the past 30 years and more that the delivery of a cultural policy has also been directly connected with the objectives of a government. This has been described by several commentators as the ‘instrumentalisation’ of cultural policy.[49] What this means is that cultural policy is framed within what it can do for other sectors of society, and in particular the realisation of government objectives, rather than be seen as dealing with arts and cultural practices on their own. This might mean, for example, that government funding of arts practice enhances social objectives, such as improving mental health or provides alternative career pathways to those who are disenfranchised. In this case cultural policy is interconnected and interdependent with political, economic and social goals. This instrumentalisation of culture and arts practice means that every cultural goal is accompanied by alternative goals relating to other aspects of society.[50]

Within an arts context, a cultural policy is likely to refer to arts practices such as the performing arts or visual arts or literature, but it may also affect areas around intellectual property and copyright. This connection can then also have an effect in areas around trade and of course in the field of cultural diplomacy. When we talk about cultural diplomacy, we usually see it as an aspect of ‘soft power’,[51] which involves a nation’s cultural and artistic practices being used to further relationships and understandings between different countries. Australian Asian Arts scholar, Alison Carroll, describes it as nations “… promoting their international political and economic agendas through cultural activities overseas”.[52] Thus it can also be seen as a space where cultural relationships have been conflated with government policies.[53]

An arts focus in policy can also include cultural heritage and approaches to collecting and caring for historical objects.[54] This can be a broad framing as it can include heritage that is physical or tangible, old buildings or wall murals, or cultural heritage that is intangible that may relate say to the food that is eaten, or dances that are performed. Australian cultural commentators Ben Eltham and Marcus Westbury argue that:

cultural policy cuts across many government portfolios and encompasses a vast swathe of everyday life. It’s as much about the rock band at your local pub as it is about the Sydney Opera House, as much about popcorn during the movie as chardonnay after the ballet. Cultural policy is about what you can and can’t watch on free-to-air TV or view on the internet, whether you can exhibit photos of naked children in an art gallery, or when and where a band is allowed to play.[55]

Thus, in their definition, the breadth of cultural policy is extensive, and influences many different spheres of daily life. It is not just about supporting the high arts, but it may be about enabling popular culture, or determining what regulations or censorship should occur.

Government agencies involved in the delivery of arts and culture

Australian governments at all levels have been involved in the support and delivery of arts and culture since the establishment of the colony. After Federation, the new federal government initiated two funding schemes to support writers and artists: the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1908 and the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board in 1912. But it took till the 1970s before large-scale federal government arts funding occurred with the establishment of the Australia Council as a statutory authority in 1975. The Australia Council was seen as an arts funding body at a distance (known as arm’s length) from the political machinations of politicians and parliament. The Australia Council has generally defined what is to be funded and how it is funded. But what and how gets funded are ongoing contentious issues. For example, issues around the imbalance of funding allocations to the ‘high’ arts, the inclusion or exclusion of community arts, the exclusion of funding for arts practices from different ethnic communities and the ratio of funding between inner-city and rural communities continue to be in dispute.[56] Since the 1980s, the federal government’s Office for the Arts has increasingly taken on more arts and cultural funding programs and policy responsibilities. In 2022, the Office for the Arts describes its mission on its website as ‘We develop policies and deliver programs that encourage excellence in the arts, help to protect our cultural heritage and support public access to and participation in, arts and culture in Australia’.[57]

The Office for the Arts thus has a broad remit across the whole field of arts and culture. While government agencies relating to arts and culture, such as the Australia Council, maybe separated or at a distance from government as either statutory authorities or government corporations, they are often seen by observers as still part of government. In fact, governments and ministers have direct influence on these agencies, particularly through their appointments to either the governing council or individual committees and boards within the agency.

There are two major kinds of government agencies and institutions involved in the support of arts and culture at the national level. There are the collecting institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, the Australian National Maritime Museum and the Australian War Memorial. In addition, there are the agencies that support or produce arts and culture at the national level. These are the Australia Council (arts funding), Creative Partnerships Australia (encouraging private sector support of the arts), Screen Australia (screen funding), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) (television and radio broadcasting) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) (television and radio broadcasting that addresses the different communities and languages present in Australia) and the National Indigenous Television, News and Programs (NITV) (television and radio broadcasting that addresses issues within Indigenous communities). All these agencies and institutions support a complex cultural infrastructure at the national level, while having different but intersecting responsibilities.

Recent government actions affecting arts and cultural policy

Over the past decade and longer, arts funding in Australia has continued to reduce, particularly at the federal level.[58] This has been due to neglect by both major political parties, as well as other factors. It has been recorded, for example, that federal government expenditure on the arts fell by 18.9 per cent from 2008 to 2018.[59] This occurred despite evidence from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) that the ‘cultural and creative sector’ contributed $115.2 billion to Australia’s economy in 2018, or around 6.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and employed more than 600,000 people.[60] Indeed, the amount spent on arts and culture in Australia is quite limited comparably, given the nation’s acknowledged wealth, and in 2017 Australia was ranked 27 out of 33 OECD countries for its cultural expenditure.[61]

One incident over the past decade dramatically influenced the relationship between the then federal Coalition government and the arts. In the May 2015 federal budget, the arts minister, George Brandis, created his own ‘National Program for Excellence’ Arts Fund by removing $104.7 million of the Australia Council’s forward budget.[62] This new fund was under the direct control of the minister so that he could fund projects and organisations that he believed were undertaking ‘excellence’.[63] One of Minister Brandis’ justifications for setting up his own fund was that he believed the Australia Council’s funding decisions were subject to political interference whereas he defined his own ministerial arts fund as being politically ‘neutral’.[64] In addition, Minister Brandis maintained that his fund would only be funding ‘excellence’.[65] He appeared to define ‘excellence’ as represented by ‘size’ with a focus on traditional Western art forms such as the ballet and opera. Arguments around the nature of ‘excellence’ have plagued government provision of arts funding in Australia since the 1970s. The debate usually centres on seeing ‘high European arts’ as ‘excellent’ with a particular bias towards the larger organisations.[66] The cultural historian Tim Rowse describes it well, when he says, ‘Excellence could be the badge worn by those whose social and political standing has given them that power’.[67]

Minister Brandis argued that another justification for taking the money and setting up a separate government arts funding mechanism was that he believed that there should be a form of ‘competition’ policy for the sector.[68] While Minister Brandis may not have framed his actions as ‘a government cultural policy’, essentially it was, as he wanted to determine government policy more directly in relation to arts funding distribution.[69] His actions led to a Senate inquiry in 2015.[70]

An indirect impact of the Brandis action was the defunding of nearly one hundred arts organisations by the Australia Council from 2016 to 2020.[71] While this action reflected a policy change at the Australia Council, it also reflected a much-reduced funding pool available to the Council. This defunding had a broad effect across the sector, given the range of organisations and activities that could no longer proceed. This was compounded by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector from March 2020 and the subsequent closure of most of the sector.[72] It is argued that the impact of the pandemic coupled with the gradual reduction in funding to the arts and cultural sector over the past decade and more has left the sector in a dispirited and economically challenged position.[73]

The latest attempt to develop an Australian cultural policy

In 2013 the then federal Labor government published what it described as its cultural policy. This was called Creative Australia.[74] In the executive summary of the document, it is noted that ‘Creative Australia reflects the diversity of modern Australia and outlines a vision for the arts, cultural heritage and creative industries that draws from the past with an ambition for the future’.[75] In this statement, it says that the intent of the document is to reflect the cultural diversity within the country. The fields of the arts, cultural heritage and the creative industries are isolated as components that will be affected and included in the policy. The document also notes that ‘Culture is more than the arts, but the arts play a unique and central role in its development and expression’.[76] Thus, while they are acknowledging that a cultural policy should reflect more than the arts, the government sees the arts playing a central role in its development. It is then explained what fields will be included in the policy: ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ arts, languages and cultures; cultural heritage; design; music; performance and celebration, including community cultural development; screen arts, broadcasting and interactive media; visual arts and crafts; writing and publishing’.[77]

While isolating Indigenous arts, languages and cultures, the document does not detail any other specific cultural group’s practices but instead refers to all other arts and cultural practices in generic terms. Further the document does not specifically refer to multiculturalism or multicultural arts.[78] But the government’s policy document does note that the government is including in its spectrum of policy influence both cultural heritage and community cultural development. Creative Australia notes the inclusion of design, screen arts, broadcasting and interactive media that may be grouped as the creative industries. Thus arguably, the span of the policy is broad and not just focused on arts practice.

As noted earlier, the lifetime of this policy was short, given that it was published in March 2013 and the Labor government lost the next federal election in September of that same year. But the ALP was returned as the federal government in May 2022. It announced during the 2022 election campaign, that it would be developing a new national cultural policy using the previous 2013 policy as a template. At the beginning of July 2022, the new arts minister, Tony Burke, announced that a consultative process would begin to develop the national cultural policy.[79] In announcing the various processes of national consultation, Minister Burke said that ‘A National Cultural Policy should draw on as many voices as possible’.[80]

The central core to the new policy is the establishment of what are framed as five pillars[81] (these have been adapted from the original goals of the Creative Australia documents):

  1. First Nations
  2. A Place for Every Story
  3. The Centrality of the Artist
  4. Strong Institutions
  5. Reaching the Audience

Minister Burke has said that he would like to see the policy in place by the end of 2022. The government adopted a consultative process with two main approaches. One was a series of public ‘town hall’ meetings attended by the minister across the country and the other was to make a personal submission using a submission template by the end of August. There has been a response of more than 1,000 submissions from individuals and organisations.[82] There is now considerable interest in seeing the announcement of a new Australian cultural policy.


The connection between culture and policy has many facets and can be approached from different ideological and political perspectives. Culture itself is a complex term and, when applied to a policy framing, can become quite contested. Some countries have developed overt cultural policies more frequently than others. There has been a reluctance within countries such as the UK and Australia to have a stated cultural policy but governments in both countries have engaged with the arts and cultural sector in many different ways. Therefore, while they may not have an overt cultural policy, governments in these countries have tended to enact cultural policies indirectly through their actions.

In Australia, over the past 50 years, there have been two attempts to develop a written national cultural policy, both by federal Labor governments. There is now a third attempt, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2022. Developing a national cultural policy in a democratic state is a complicated process. The field of culture covers a broad area and needs to reflect the cultural diversity of the country, as well as deal with specific arts and cultural practices. The success or otherwise of the current approach may be a subject for further consideration and research in the future.


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About the author

Associate Professor Josephine Caust PhD is Principal Fellow (Hon) at the University of Melbourne. She has published several books and monographs including Governments and the Arts in Australia (Routledge forthcoming, 2023), Arts, Culture, Country (Currency Press, 2022), Arts Leadership in Contemporary Contexts (Routledge, 2018), Arts and Cultural Leadership in Asia (Routledge, 2015) and Arts Leadership: International Case Studies (Tilde University Press, 2013). She is also the author of numerous journal articles, book chapters and online commentary about the arts. Dr Caust previously worked in the arts sector as a theatre practitioner, manager, consultant and senior bureaucrat.

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  2. Vestheim 2015, 5.
  3. Throsby 2006, 32–3.
  4. Craik 2007, xiv.
  5. Department of Communications and the Arts 1994.
  6. Office for the Arts 2013.
  7. Burke 2022a.
  8. Dye 2005, 3.
  9. Throsby 2006.
  10. Williams 1981.
  11. Avruch 1998.
  12. Hesmondhalgh and Saha 2013, 188.
  13. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2005, 3.
  14. Galla and Gershevitch 2010, 35.
  15. Caust 2020.
  16. Moore 2020.
  17. Vulliamy 2020.
  18. Moore 2020, 83–6.
  19. Hawkins 1993.
  20. Hawkins 1993, 4.
  21. Bennett, Emmison and Frow, 1999.
  22. Bourdieu 1984.
  23. Dziedzic and Belot 2017.
  24. Barton in Cooper 2012.
  25. Clarkson et al. 2017.
  26. Cameron 2015.
  27. First Nations Constitutional Convention 2017.
  28. See National Indigenous Australian Agency n.d.
  29. Rademaker 2019.
  30. National Museum of Australia 2022.
  31. See Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018.
  32. Cooper 2012.
  33. Kemp, Owen and Barnes 2020.
  34. Schober 2018.
  35. Schober 2018.
  36. McCarthy 2020.
  37. Ware 2012.
  38. Soutphommasane 2016.
  39. Castles et al. 1990.
  40. Soutphommasane 2016.
  41. Rajadurai 2018.
  42. Khan, Wyatt and Yue 2015.
  43. Caust 2020.
  44. Khan 2019, 538.
  45. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2005, 5.
  46. Durrer, Miller and O’Brien 2018, 3.
  47. Throsby 2006, 32–3.
  48. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 2022.
  49. Belfiore 2004; Vestheim 1994; Gray 2007.
  50. Belfiore 2004; Vestheim 1994; Gray 2007.
  51. Nye 1990.
  52. Carroll 2022.
  53. Ang, Isar and Mar 2015.
  54. Arrow and Bongiorno 2022.
  55. Eltham and Westbury 2010.
  56. See Gardiner-Garden 2009.
  57. Office for the Arts n.d.
  58. Trembath and Fielding 2020, vol. 1.
  59. Trembath and Fielding 2020, vol. 1.
  60. See https://bit.ly/3TcbbEo
  61. Trembath and Fielding 2020, vol. 1.
  62. McKenzie Murray 2015.
  63. Cuthbertson and Meares 2015.
  64. Caust 2017, 5.
  65. Caust 2017, 5.
  66. Rowse 1985.
  67. Rowse 1985, 36.
  68. McKenzie Murray, 2015.
  69. Caust 2017, 5.
  70. Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee 2015.
  71. Eltham 2020.
  72. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020.
  73. Pennington and Eltham 2021.
  74. Office for the Arts 2013.
  75. See Office for the Arts 2013, 6.
  76. Office for the Arts 2013, 8.
  77. Office for the Arts 2013, 8–9.
  78. Khan, Wyatt and Yue 2015.
  79. Burke 2022a.
  80. Burke 2022b.
  81. Burke 2022a.
  82. Office for the Arts 2022.


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