Australia has three levels of government and all offer support to music in some measure.

There is some division of responsibilities. The national government takes greater responsibility for large music organisations such as Opera Australia, the national opera, and the concert orchestras. There have been agreements in the past that it would take primary responsibility for funding composers, on the grounds that this particular talent should be supported regardless of its place of residence, since that can be fortuitous, and that the compositions themselves can be performed anywhere without transporting artists.

The Commonwealth has also taken responsibility for a national performing arts touring program and supports international touring. The state governments gradually have broadened the scope to give support in some areas they previously were happy to leave to the Commonwealth, such as international touring. On the other hand, they support activity at the community level more than does the national government.

Local government has taken much of the responsibility for the provision of physical facilities. Many local governments employ arts or events officers who encourage and assist local arts activities.

Musical activity is supported through government agencies outside the cultural sphere. This paper will not comment in detail but here is a quick round-up.

Obviously, there is music in schools and detailed information is available elsewhere in the Knowledge Base. Government schools are the responsibility of state and territory governments and each has its own policies and practices. There is some national collaboration, for instance in the recent development of national curricula for each subject including music but the implementation is in the hands of the states.

The Commonwealth is the financial source for tertiary education but universities are autonomous and each on makes decisions on whether and how to offer the education of musicians, composers, music teachers and other music professionals.

The accreditation and employment of music therapists takes place at state level, with much of the employment provided by state-run or private hospitals and aged care facilities. The use of music in social welfare contexts is primarily a state or local government concern.

Music copyright is a national affair (Attorney-General’s Department) and is affected by the terms of international trade agreements (Foreign Affairs and Trade). International commercial promotion of music has been supported by Austrade although the conditions for that currently are less clear than they have been, after closure of the Australian Music Office in Los Angeles.

Broadcasting is both provided and regulated by the Commonwealth. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation includes radio, television and online dissemination. Its radio services include national networks for art music (Classic FM) and contemporary music (Triple J) and these are also broadcast online, as are all the radio services. As well, there are online-only music services: Classic 2, Triple J, Triple J Unearthed, Double J, Jazz and Country. AM service Radio National has some important music and arts commentary programs.

The Commonwealth gives funds to the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia to assist with community radio broadcasting; this includes funding for a national music support program, AMRAP. It regulates commercial radio and television broadcasting and the regulations under the Broadcasting Act include minimum requirements for assignment of broadcast time to Australian music and television productions.

There is detailed information about many of these matters elsewhere in the Knowledge Base. You could search under BROWSE > CATEGORIES.

Commonwealth Government Support to Music

The Australia Council is the main national arts funding and policy organisation. It operates at arm’s length from government – i.e. government may impose policy directions but it may not instruct the Council on individual funding decisions – and most of its funding decisions are made by decisions of artist-peers.

The Council has historically been structured according to art forms, and the Music Board has been responsible for most of the policy and funding decisions for music other than for the large orchestras, opera companies and Musica Viva. Their support has come through the Major Performing Arts Board which has also overseen funding to large theatre and dance companies. Music funding to orchestras and opera companies is about six times the amount provided to all other music activities and more than is provided to any art form, major organisations included, other than music. This is a political problem.

However, in 2014 a new Australia Council Act has been passed by Parliament and the entire structure and operation of the Council has been changed. There is now a Board of Directors comprised mostly of art specialists, but the art form boards have been terminated. Funding decisions will be made by artist peers, supervised not by the members of the artform boards, but by permanent staff. Policy will be decided by the single Board of Directors, presumably on the recommendations of staff. The new system is still being introduced and some details of operation and outcomes have yet to be seen.

It is now the responsibility of the Board to produce a strategic plan. In August 2014 the first plan was published, under the title A Culturally Ambitious Nation. Among the changes is a much greater emphasis on the international projection of Australian culture. Traditionally, this has been supported also, independently, by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and there can be a reasonable expectation that the arts will continue to be used to enhance Australia’s diplomatic and trade prospects abroad.

As with all government funding entities, there are firm procedures to follow in applying for funding assistance. These can be found on the Australia Council for the Arts website.

The Australia Council reports to the Minister for the Arts, currently (2014) also the Attorney-General. The Minister is served by a personal staff and by a Department for the Arts, often nested with some other departments depending upon the responsibilities of the Minister and the variable value placed on the arts by successive governments.

The Ministry directly funds a number of high level institutions and some programs, which may include from time to time grants programs. For instance, it has directly administered programs supporting festivals, performing arts touring, and insurance for major international exhibitions.

There has been controversy about the Ministry’s funding of grant programs or grant funding to particular programs or organisations and there seems to be continuing competition between the Ministry and the Australia Council. That is the topic for a separate “issues” paper (not yet written!). Here, we just note that there are such programs funded by the Ministry (as described on its website in September 2014). They appear to be the result of direct approaches to the Ministry by organisations from the commercial music industry.

They include programs based in the Australasian Performing Right Association, probably the wealthiest music association in Australia: Sounds Australia, which promotes Australian contemporary music artists abroad; and The National Live Music Office, which “works to increase opportunities for the presentation of live music through policy reform, as well as to identify directions to support audience and sector development for the benefit of live music in Australia”. There are professional development programs delivered by industry bodies such as the Association of Artist Managers and the Australian Independent Record Labels Association.

The Ministry directly funds two national music training institutions: the Australian National Academy of Music, established to train music students of exceptional talent, and the Australian Youth Orchestra, the national youth orchestra. The AYO also organises the National Music Camp each January. The Ministry funds major national training institutions in other art forms, such as the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and the Australian Ballet School and schools training in circus arts.

It is the government agency that supports such major national institutions as the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Australia.

Music is a part of the creative industries and the Ministry has these development programs.

Strategic Digital Industry Plan

In August 2011 the Strategic Digital Industry Plan was released. It recognises the significant contribution of our creative industries sector and its importance in the digital age to our economy and culture. Creative Industries, a strategy for 21st Century Australia.

Creative Industries Innovation Centre

In February 2009 the $17 million Creative Industries Innovation Centre was launched. The national centre is hosted by the University of Technology Sydney and will provide emerging creative businesses across the country with access to a world-class business advisory and development network.

The Ministry has the responsibility for Australia’s implementation of its responsibilities under the UNESCO Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, to which it is a signatory.

State Government Support to Music

All state government arts funding bodies are ministries, under the direct control of the Minister. That is to say, unlike the Australia Council, they are not at arm’s length from government. All invite applications for funding support. Grant recommendations (not decisions) are made by advisory bodies of artists.

For the most part, ministers accept the recommendations but occasionally there are instances where they have not, and sometimes those refusals are seen as driven by politics rather than artistic merit – reminders of the value of the arm’s length principle. It is generally accepted among informed Australians that it is a role of artists to reflect our culture without fear or favour and sometimes to point to possible ways forward. To do so, they need to be assured of freedom of artistic expression and therefore, freedom from retaliation for expressing views that oppose those of the government of the day.

The states fund a similar range of activities to those supported by the Commonwealth, albeit with more emphasis on some areas such as community development, major galleries, and some larger performing organisations that are not categorised as “major” by the Australia Council. It could be expected that they bring a better understanding of local needs and possible local benefits and so might make funding choices that differ from those of the national body. However, reports circulate that there seems to be increasing negotiation between state ministries and the Australia Council concerning “co-funding” which can mean that if an applicant is not funded by both, it is not funded by either.

Details of state government support programs can be discovered on the respective websites (click below). Each has its own structure and policies.

The states share with the Commonwealth the funding of the major performing arts companies including the orchestras and opera companies (opera except in Victoria, for historical reasons that are past their use-by). While the Commonwealth is the primary supporter of the major music organisations, it does not support the counterparts in the visual arts, the major art galleries. These are state entities, sometimes literally state owned and managed, sometimes at arm’s length or autonomous, and make big demands on the state cultural budgets with no Commonwealth support. It is this division of responsibilities that causes Australia Council funding to so much favour the performing arts over the visual arts.

Local Government Support to Music

There are 565 local government councils across Australia. (This is a reducing number as state governments bring pressure on councils to amalgamate in the name of efficiency.) Access to addresses and information is available through the Australian Local Government Association. ALGA is the national voice of local government. In recent times, there has been growing interest by some local government associations in the establishment of cultural development policies. A section of the ALGA website gives information on this. As noted already, the most important traditional cultural role of local government is through the provision of facilities. Local governments own and maintain libraries and sporting fields. There is usually a town hall which may be suited to musical events. Many councils in regional or outer metro communities have built and manage art galleries.

In recent decades, local governments, especially those in the larger regional centres, have built performing arts centres. These typically include a multi-purpose theatre designed to present touring professional productions. It can lift the level of cultural life but commonly makes a financial loss which has to be paid from Council funds. The financial problem can become a political problem. Many of these centres are not designed to support art-making by the local people.

The actual policies and practices on the ground are in the hands of each local government and to our knowledge there is no central register. To get local government support for an activity, it is necessary to engage with the local government for the area in which it will take place. It was noted above that many local councils employ arts officers. While it would be very appropriate that they encourage community members to participate in art-making, in many cases the officers’ main responsibility is to manage or otherwise assist the local arts facilities.

In some areas, there are “regional arts officers” who may be of assistance in developing programs that cover a number of contiguous local government areas.

International Organisation

The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA) is the first global network of national arts funding bodies. Inaugurated in December 2000, its mission “is to create an international resource and meeting ground for all those whose public responsibility it is to support excellence and diversity in artistic endeavour”. Its world office is in Australia. It is a forum and policy development organisation serving government agencies, not artists or arts organisations.


Richard Letts. Article first entered in 2007. Latest updated version 1 October 2014.

Dr Richard Letts AM is the founder and Director of The Music Trust, founder and former Executive Director of the Music Council of Australia (now Music Australia) and Past President of the International Music Council. He has held senior positions in music and culture in Australia and the United States, advocated for music and music education, conducted research, written policy documents, edited four periodicals, published four books and hundreds of articles.

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