Chapter 2. Historical phases in arts and cultural policy-making in Australia

Table of Contents

Competing Models of Australian Cultural Policy
Colonial Cultural Policies
Post-Federation Cultural Policies
Post World War II Developments
The Golden Years?
Winds of Change
Casting a ‘Creative Nation’
An Alternative Vision for the Arts
Cultural Policy for the New Millennium
The Major Performing Arts Sector Spearhead Policy About-Face
From Incremental Creep to Interventionary Strategies

Competing Models of Australian Cultural Policy

Australia has often been depicted as a cultural desert that only recently emerged from a bleak landscape and embraced cultural and creative practice as an important aspect of nation building. David Throsby, writing an overview for the Australian Year Book’s 2000 edition (2001), for example, characterises three periods of Australian cultural policy:

  • 1900-1967 when explicit policy was virtually non-existent;

  • 1968-1990 when there was a period of rapid expansion of arts and cultural organisations and initiatives; and

  • 1990-2000 witnessing further moderate expansion of the sector combined with the articulation of a broad cultural policy framework.

According to Throsby, the third period also coincided with an increasing interest in and availability of cultural statistics and the monitoring of cultural trends in the light of policy shifts. Throsby’s focus, however, is essentially confined to the last few decades.

By contrast, Radbourne (1993) characterises Australian arts/cultural policy as a five-stage evolutionary process:

  1. pre-war concern about the lack of cultural provision;

  2. 1945-55 community intolerance about the lack of national theatre;

  3. establishment of an ‘inspectorate’, a specialist bureaucratic organisation (Australia Council 1968–);

  4. dynamic reform of cultural administration (1975–); and

  5. directive management of cultural policy (1990–).

This is similar to Rowse’s (1985) identification of distinctive support funding strategies that roughly equate to historical time periods: Voluntary Entrepreneurship, Statutory Patronage, Decentralised Patronage, and Dualism (see also Radbourne and Fraser 1996; Batterbsy 1980; Macdonnell 1992; Withers 1982).

It is argued here that a more nuanced chronology of Australian cultural policy may be more informative and appropriate (see Appendix B.1 and B.2). This chronology would encompass the following developments:

  • pre-1900 settler culture emphasising nostalgia and a new beginning;

  • 1900-39 state cultural entrepreneurship;

  • 1940-54 the era of national cultural organisations;

  • 1955-67 organisational patronage (through specialist bodies funded by government);

  • 1967-74 policies of growth and facilitation;

  • 1975-90 access and equity and community cultural development;

  • 1991-95 diversity, excellence, cultural policy and cultural industries; and

  • 1996- the review cycle and a return to neo-patronage.

In some cases, it is quite clear that governments pursued contradictory and competing agendas, not only from phase to phase but within phases. Moreover, similar policies have been adopted irrespective of which party was in power or what broad economic and ideological framework they operated within. Although there is a widespread view that Labor governments have been more sympathetic to the arts and culture, the evidence contradicts that view and reveals a much more complex and dynamic policy climate. While, broadly speaking, these depictions of distinct historical phases may be true and indicate a mounting interest, it is arguable that, in fact, Australian governments had from the earliest days a keen interest in arts and culture because this domain was associated with the development of a cultivated people and a national culture. However, in these early days, arts and cultural initiatives were not framed in specific cultural policy terms. Rather, policy interventions were ad hoc and episodic. To some degree, this situation persists in much of arts and cultural policy-making (cf. Rowse 1985).