Sunday, August 21, 2022

Another bite of the cherry - revisiting a national cultural policy

When the last national cultural policy was being finalised in 2012, more than 43% of the Australian population or at least one of their parents were born overseas. Now, as its successor is being developed after a cultural policy vacuum of more than nine years, that figure has been superseded, with over half the population or at least one of their parents born overseas. This makes a strong focus on the dynamic promise of our cultural diversity essential for any successful policy. Unfortunately, the main shortcoming of the previous policy was that it didn’t make this focus as strong as it needed to be, which was a pity because the policy was otherwise very good and comprehensive.

Recently I opened the Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend magazine to discover that Australia is now ‘the first English-speaking, migrant-majority nation, the only one on the planet, with 29.2 per cent of our population born overseas and 21.6 per cent born here with at least one migrant parent’. This is based on data from the 2021 census, so it may already have been overtaken. When the last National Cultural Policy, ‘Creative Australia’ was being developed, the available data indicated that more than 43% of the Australian population were either born overseas or had a parent who was. Given the lag in collecting and analysing data, those figures were almost certainly out of date at the time. 

The Aboriginal Memorial at the National Gallery of Australia - one of the great cultural treasures of Australia, now relocated to the heart of the Gallery.

Our cultural diversity, from the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, cultures and languages which underpin Australian culture, bolstered by waves of migration, is an important national asset. The previous Labor attempt at a national arts policy, ‘Creative Australia’, the short-lived National Cultural Policy, finally completed under the Gillard Government with Arts Minister Simon Crean at the helm was very good. It was developed after broad consultation – and that showed.

The new Albanese Government, and its Arts Minister Tony Burke, have been calling for submissions to help update the National Cultural Policy announced way back in 2013. Many organisations and individuals have been preparing submissions, reflecting the importance with which they view this process. The deadline is tomorrow and I've just added my own comments, informed by many decades of involvement across the breadth of the creative and cultural sector around Australia. They are also shaped by my previous role as Director of the National Cultural Policy Task Force which co-ordinated the development of 'Creative Australia', particularly the broad-ranging public and industry consultation. You can read my comments below.