Commonwealth ministries with potential relevance to the music sector

Part of briefing paper for the MCA summit Australian Musical Futures: Towards 2020, held in Sydney on 5 September 2009.

Six years and two governments later, much detail of the specific arrangements in various ministries and of issues awaiting attention is out of date. Some ministries have been renamed or reconfigured. However, the paper gives a good idea of the corners to look in to find partnerships between musical needs and interests and government activities beyond the arts ministry.

Annotated List of Relevant Ministries and Departments

The Commonwealth Ministries/Departments with actual or potential relevance to the music sector are listed and existing or potential relevance noted.


Music therapy is an important resource for the ageing and has special application for instance in the treatment of dementia. There are unresolved issues around government recognition of music therapy and access to medicare or health insurance for music therapy services.

Music also has a valuable role to play in provision of recreational services for older people, with opportunities growing as the ageing population expands. There is potential for government funding of some of these services.

See also Health and Ageing, below.


Perhaps the activity by the Attorney-General of greatest moment for the music sector is the drafting and oversight of intellectual property legislation.

There are some unresolved copyright issues in his charge, notably the 1% cap on broadcast music royalties paid by radio stations to record companies and music performers. The previous government appeared to be ready to change this regulation but then did nothing. The current government has so far not acted. The broadcasters want to retain the cap but in the Music Council of Australia (MCA)’s opinion, have offered no good justification. The reason for it is lost in history. The record industry of course wants it ended. MCA’s position is that there should be no cap and the rate should be negotiated among the parties.

More broadly, the rapidly evolving digital world requires continuing development of the copyright structure. Nathan Shepherd’s contribution to this summit offers a detailed treatment of those issues.

Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

This ministry is responsible for the development of the online environment and for broadcasting: the funding of the public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, and the regulation of the commercial and community broadcast sectors.

A separate summit paper is devoted to the regulations for Australian music on radio.

The public broadcasters are statutory authorities. The government appoints their boards of directors, writes the charters under which they operate, and provides their funding. Through these means it influences their activities but does not have hands-on control of their programs. While it has, for instance, set local content quotas for commercial radio and television in the past (now for radio, the quotas are self-regulated), for public broadcasters it has only given broad direction through the language of the charters.

The Charter of the ABC requires it “to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.”

The SBS Charter is not quite as forthright. It begins:The principal function of SBS is to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society.

There follows quite a complicated list of the methods by which it carries out this function. It perhaps adds up to the same thing as the ABC’s requirement, with multicultural bells and whistles. But if it came to a dispute, there is abundant slither room.

The government’s 2020 summit recommended a review of the charters, without clearly explaining the purpose of such an exercise.

Funds to the ABC have declined in real terms and there is some belief that it is a punishment for airing criticisms of the Commonwealth government. Both parties have made cuts. Ironically, the ABC seems to apply the cuts to cultural production rather than to the offending news and current affairs programs, with a ludicrously small local TV production program last year.

Radio is the main vehicle for music, of course. The funds available for live music production and broadcasts have declined over the years. There would be cause for the music sector to advocate for a reversal of this trend. Radio management has been receptive in the past but can only spend the money it has.

An MCA attempt a few years ago to get SBS Radio to define its commitment to Australian music was met with positive sounding generalities but short of intensive monitoring, actual performance is unknown. Hypothesis: SBS could do a lot more to encourage locally based world music production.

As digital broadcasting is implemented, the digital spectrum is being divided among various interest groups and companies. There is strong pressure from commercial radio to simply divide the available spectrum among the existing broadcasters. The MCA’s position is that commercial radio should be suitably provided for but that there is an opportunity to support much greater musical diversity than is currently provided by commercial radio, by allocating spectrum to community and public radio and perhaps to commercial companies undertaking to present genres now under-represented in its programming.

The Australian government has committed to provision of broadband access throughout the country. The disparities of access between cities and the regions is a handicap for the latter. When musical activity depends on a live audience but the population is small, there is a constraint on development. Broadband access will give new opportunities for regional musical development.


The Armed Services have been major employers of musicians through the various armed forces bands. This came into focus last year when Air Force authorities disbanded the band at Richmond air base near Sydney. MCA wrote some letters but it was one small instance where a better-resourced national music council could perhaps have had greater influence on a decision.

Education/Employment and Workplace Relations/Social Inclusion

These are three separate Ministries but all are under the control of one Minister, Julia Gillard. She is also the Deputy Prime Minister. While we have the greatest respect for Ms Gillard’s abilities, it is not surprising that she so far does not appear to have considered issues around music education.

There are of course important links between the areas represented by these three portfolios. The creation of a Ministry for Social Inclusion reveals an ideological interest and leads to the expectation that for instance equity of access to education will be an important objective. With the great inequity of access to an effective music education as between students at public vs independent schools (23% vs 88%!), equity must be an important aspect of music sector advocacy to the Education Minister.

Issues of social inclusion also arise in other areas in which provision of music and music-related services can be factors – e.g. in regional and remote areas, or for migrants and refugees. Music can reinforce separateness but more importantly, it can be an instrument of social cohesion. This is an area in which music has a special power but it is not one that we advocate nor exert very effectively.

The state governments have the main responsibility for provision of music education in schools, both through direct funding and control of public schools and through the definition of curriculum requirements for all schools public and private. The Commonwealth provides additional funding to all school sectors with, at present, disproportionate support to non-public schools relative to population. It places conditions on some of this funding to realise particular policy objectives. So far as the public schools are concerned, the states can accept the conditions or possibly lose the funding.

The Commonwealth has responsibility for funding and regulating the tertiary sector and state support is optional. Training of professional musicians, music teachers and experts in some activities in the music sector thus is strongly dependent upon Commonwealth interventions.

Educational matters are dealt with by another interest group in this summit and participants are referred to its briefing paper.

Musicians are more likely to be independent contractors than employees, excepting in the professional orchestras, armed forces bands and some limited private sector employment. There have long been special awards governing such positions. Other job categories in the sector are predominantly offered as regular employment and at the least, are covered by regulations covering all employees.

There is a more detailed summary of regulations governing employment of musicians.

Environment, Heritage and the Arts

This grouping of portfolios makes little sense except that they combine the interests of the current minister. We are often told that the arts should take a page from the environmentalists’ book in planning its advocacy, but that is another matter. Heritage is usually about material rather than intangible heritage and so far music seems not to be included under that heading, except possibly for Indigenous traditional music.

Commonwealth support to the arts is administered directly by this Department or through statutory authorities such as the Australia Council and Screen Australia.

The Australia Council is the official advisor to the Commonwealth on arts policy and is officially the main conduit through which it funds the arts. In fact, more funds go to film which was once also under the Australia Council but long ago was moved out. The Australia Council is a statutory authority at arm’s length from government, which is to say that the government cannot dictate its funding decisions, and operates on a principle of peer assessment in deciding grants. It is structured basically into art form boards. The government influences its decisions by appointing the Council itself, and the members of the Boards, and may dictate its policies. There is a more detailed treatment in the summit article on government arts subsidies.

Music is supported by the Australia Council via:

  • The Music Board.
  • The Major Performing Arts Board, which is responsible for the major companies in dance, theatre, and the symphony orchestras, opera companies and Musica Viva Australia.
  • The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board, responsible for artistic activities of all types by Indigenous Australians.
  • The Community Partnerships Committee could include support to music activity in the community but probably would first consider whether funding could be provided by the Music Board. (This is consistent with statistics showing a modest amount for music through the Committee in 2006-07.ED).
  • Inter-Arts Office supports “creative processes such as interdisciplinary and hybrid arts, and crossdisciplinary projects involving artists and practitioners from other fields.”

The Department is directly responsible for some arts programs. These include competitive grants programs: Contemporary Music Touring Program, Festivals Australia, Regional Arts Fund, Playing Australia (for national touring), Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records (not a music program but for instance MCA has made an award to a school music program designed to sustain a local language).

Some national music organizations receive direct funding from the Minister via the Department – i.e. the funding is not routed through the Australia Council nor through competitive grants programs. There are arts training organizations, which interestingly are not funded through the Education Department: Australian Youth Orchestra, Australian National Academy of Music. Other training institutions that include music in the curriculum are the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) and National Institute of Dramatic Arts NIDA. Also relevant is the little known Australian Roundtable for Arts Training Excellence: “members are considered the elite training institute in their field – offering intensive professional training with close links to the sector, exceptional facilities and high-quality student intake.”

Non-training institutions receiving direct funding and in which music is a program component include the National Film and Sound Archive, the National Library of Australia (which has a music collection and curator), and programs of some relevance are the Australia Business Arts Foundation and Screen Australia (film production etc.).

Screen Australia is the Commonwealth Agency that on July 1 this year took over the activities of the Film Finance Corporation, Film Australia and the Australian Film Commission. It invests in or otherwise supports film production, skills development and other relevant activities.

In order to win Screen Australia investments or funding, films have to tick a number of boxes for Australian-ness. There is no mandatory box for music soundtrack nor, so far as we know, does an Australian soundtrack lend weight to a funding application. Perhaps more importance could be attached to music here, as in the film industry generally.

The present government is considering initiation of these programs of consequence to artists in all categories. We quote:

  • An ArtStart program to give better employment opportunities in their field to artists who are on welfare.
  • Consideration of adding arts activities to the criteria for employment and community participation in Work for the Dole programs.
  • A Social Security and the Arts policy to harmonise rules across Australian Government agencies and ensure earnings and royalty payments are treated equitably.

It is moving to take the following special initiatives for music:

The Australian Government is also working with state and territory governments through the Cultural Ministers Council’s Contemporary Music Development Working Group to:

  • Fund a pilot business skills training and mentoring program for music managers.
  • Boost music industry exports through a more coordinated and consistent approach to international marketing.
  • Address barriers to live music performance and encourage the growth of live music precincts in cities throughout Australia.
  • Develop an Indigenous contemporary music strategy to provide coordinated support for Indigenous artists and music industry professionals.

Creative Industries is a concept that has captured government attention (also, see special section towards the end of this article). The Commonwealth Arts Ministry has these initiatives underway (direct quote):

Creative industries development

  • Strategic Digital Industry Plan

The Government has committed to develop a Strategic Digital Industry Plan in response to the Digital Content Industry Action Agenda.

  • Creative Industries Innovation Centre

The Government has committed to provide $17 million over four years for business guidance to emerging creative enterprises nationally.

  • Creative Digital Industries National Mapping Project

A three-year study that determined the size and growth of the creative industries in Australia, both by the number of creative businesses and the size of the creative workforce.

Cultural sector engagement in the digital environment

  • Cultural Ministers Council Creative Innovation Economy Roundtable

In February 2008 the Roundtable reported on opportunities for the creative sector’s engagement in the online, broadband and mobile digital environment.

  • Culture and Recreation Portal

The Culture and Recreation Portal encourages and provides online access to over 4000 websites about Australian cultural activities and events.

The government is considering moving arts funding programs now administered by the Department to the Australia Council.

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

There are programs that support indigenous arts, mostly visual arts but in principle, they probably can include music. As noted, the Australia Council has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board and the Department for the Arts a number of programs directed to indigenous arts practice. Music and the arts presumably can also find support within this department if projects are suitably designed.

Finance and Deregulation

The Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance) plays an important role in assisting government across a wide range of policy areas to ensure its outcomes are met, particularly with regard to expenditure and financial management, deregulation reform and the operations of government.

It assists in preparation of the budget and oversees expenditures and the efficient operation of government. Residence of the razor gang.

Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs and Trade are separate ministries but share a single department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There are two Parliamentary Secretaries in Foreign Affairs, each with distinct portfolios: Pacific Island Affairs, and International Development Assistance. (See below for the latter.)

The present government has terminated a program which funded touring by Australian musicians to perform at trade fairs and diplomatic posts. The purpose was more to show the flag, demonstrate Australian accomplishments, than to provide cultural subsidy or industry assistance. Perhaps it should be regarded as fee for service. And perhaps it will be restored in future. Other countries have much more active international promotion programs of this character – e.g. the British Council, Alliance Francaise, Goethe Institute.

The Department offers grant programs through a number of councils that foster bilateral relations between Australia and other countries or regions – e.g. the Australia-China Council.

Health and Ageing

We have not explored the difference between the Ministries of Health and Ageing, and Ageing, but suspect that the second is a section of the first. See Ageing, above.

Music is recognised as a contributor to public health by some government agencies. Vic Health (Victoria) has a long record of grant support to projects in which music is used therapeutically.

There are basically two types of health issues specifically involving music: 1) occupational disorders of musicians, in particular the physical issues that grow up around instrumental or vocal performance and 2) the use of music as an aspect of treatment for various conditions through the various forms of music therapy. There is a good summary of these issues, indeed of music therapy in general, found in the in the MCA Knowledge Base.

There are issues around official recognition of, and health insurance support for music therapy, in which the Commonwealth is a player.

Human Services

Department of Human Services administers the Child Support Agency and CRS Australia (employment agency) -and the Human Services agencies, Centrelink, Medicare Australia, Australian Hearing and the HSA Group, the latter covering occupational health.

At this point, we have not special insights into the possibilities here except that it could assist with occupational health issues for musicians.

Immigration and Citizenship

“The purpose of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is to ‘enrich Australia through the well managed entry and settlement of people’.” Obviously, it manages immigration, refugees, illegal immigrants and detention centres. It is not so famous for well managed settlement of people. But its description of activities includes the statement “We also contribute to a society that values Australian citizenship and social cohesion and enables migrants and refugees to participate equitably.”1

Since music is such a strong instrument to support social cohesion, it would be a natural for use by this Department.

A section of the Department deals with multiculturalism through the following four programs, three of them offering grant funding. Since these are not widely known, here are brief descriptions.Harmony Day is celebrated on 21 March each year and is about bringing people together to celebrate Australia’s community harmony, participation and cultural diversity. No funding mentioned here, but it appears to have survived from the previous government in these three progams: Community relations funding is available to help incorporated not for profit organisations address issues of cultural, racial and religious intolerance. Projects should target all people living in a community or local government area and promote respect, fairness, inclusion and a sense of belonging for everyone. Through the Living in Harmony Partnerships program the Australian Government establishes partnerships with peak bodies and national organisations to work together to address issues on a regional or national scale, to promote Australian values, mutual respect and participation. The Emerging Priorities Program enables the Australian Government to support community responses to emerging issues. Under the program project based responses are developed with the support of the relevant community and government organisations.

Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government

With Richard Florida’s theories of the creative class and its contribution to urban vitality and growth so much in favour, there should be an opportunity to engage some regions and local governments in the concept that a strong arts life will have benefits for the local economy and attractiveness for new residents. However, it is not immediately apparent from the programs of this Department that direct approaches have anywhere to go. It funds local government to the tune of nearly half a billion a year, but it is the local councils that decide upon the allocation of funds. There is an associated grant-giving foundation, which is to be approached directly. There ought to be opportunities here, but it may take some ingenuity to discover or more probably, create them.

Note the comments under Communications above, about the importance for musical development of broadband access in the regions.

Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

An important Ministry for music development.

Through its industry face, it is a potential source of advice and support on industry development. There is an array of industry assistance programs including, for instance, one to encourage venture capital investments.

The Contemporary Music Working Group has been working for several years to get the support of this department in a top-to-toe analysis of the ‘industry’. It appears that this is now likely to happen through a collaboration between a number of departments.

The Minister has for the last six months been conducting a Review of the National Innovation System. It is headed by Terry Cutler, a former Chair of the Australia Council. It sought submissions and these can be read on the Department’s website.

The Department administers the Australian Research Council (ARC) which provides research grants to applicants from the tertiary education sector. These projects often involve industry partners (MCA is such a partner, for instance, and the possibility is there also for private businesses).

There are current issues around the inclusion of ‘creative practice’ in the arts as activity eligible for ARC funding. These seem to be headed towards satisfactory resolution. The major sectoral advocate has been CHASS, the Council for Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

This Department administers support to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, a long-time actor in the collection and study of traditional ATSI music and culture, and to the Cooperative Research Centres, CSIRO and IP Australia. The latter is a website to assist in the use of IP rights such as patents (e.g. in new music instruments, hardware) and trademarks but not copyright.


The Department operates the promotional agency, Tourism Australia. It has long been a complaint of the arts sector that Tourism Australia presents Australia as barbies, sport, nature, the outback, and does not include arts/culture. My data are out of date and I have not had time to do new research. A few years ago, the average stay of tourists was rather short and the percentage making a second or subsequent visit was low. The length of stay and level of expenditure was higher for Western visitors than Asian visitors, but the promotion was concentrated on Asia. The rate of cultural attendances for Asians was comparatively low; this was not necessarily because they saw Australian culture as inferior – the Japanese, for instance, also had low attendance rates at home.

So as things stood at that time, there were good arguments for attracting more Western tourists – stayed longer, spent more, and are more interested in the arts.

The Victorians tourist campaign has brought many more tourists and includes culture.


As noted, the Ministries of Trade and Foreign Affairs are closely linked through a shared department.

The Department of Trade might be renamed the Department of International Trade since international trade, in various aspects, is its main concern.

An important aspect of its work is the negotiation of international trade agreements. A few years ago it negotiated a “free trade agreement” with the USA with negative consequences for Australian music. It is engaged currently in negotiation of agreements with ASEAN, China, Japan and other countries. Basically, the issue of concern in these agreements is that they can reduce our government’s “cultural sovereignty” – its prerogatives to support Australian culture by, especially, regulations that ensure that it has some presence in the market, possibly at the cost to foreign suppliers that their access to the Australian market is not totally uninhibited.

The music sector is very interested in building music exports, and this aspiration has easy in principle support from both sides of politics. The Department of Trade’s agency Austrade supports international promotion of Australian musicians, mostly in the popular field. It maintains a music office in Los Angeles. Matching grants are available for export promotion and the office itself assists with promotions e.g. at music trade fairs such as MIDEM and SXSW.

The Minister is participating in negotiations around the creation of an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), initiated by the USA and intended ” to establish a new standard of intellectual property (IP) enforcement to combat the high levels of commercial scale trade in counterfeit and pirated goods worldwide. These participants intend that the ACTA improves intellectual property enforcement by: 1) improving enforcement international cooperation; 2) establishing enforcement best practice; and 3) enhancing the enforcement legal framework. The participants in ACTA negotiations do not intend for the ACTA to target individuals, the privacy of individuals or the property of individuals where those individuals are not engaged in commercial scale trade in counterfeit and pirate goods.

There are problems experienced by Australian musicians in getting visas for touring in the USA in particular and to a lesser extent in Europe. Other countries’ visa arrangements have been negotiated by the Minister for Trade in agreements such as that with the USA. Whether in all cases it is a Trade responsibility or whether it also can be influenced by Foreign Affairs or even Immigration, there apparently is a need for action.


Treasury is concerned mainly with economic policy. This distinguishes it from the Department of Finance, which deals with financial management of government programs.

The department is divided into four groups, Fiscal, Macroeconomic, Revenue and Markets with support coming from the Corporate Services Group. These groups were established to meet four policy outcomes (quote):

  • Sound macroeconomic environment

The Treasury monitors and assesses economic conditions and prospects, both in Australia and overseas, and provides advice on the formulation and implementation of effective macroeconomic policy, including monetary and fiscal policy, and labour market issues.

  • Effective government spending and taxation arrangements

The Treasury provides advice on budget policy issues, trends in Commonwealth revenue and major fiscal and financial aggregates, major expenditure programmes, taxation policy, retirement income, Commonwealth-State financial policy and actuarial services.

  • Effective taxation and retirement income arrangements
  • Well functioning markets

The Treasury provides advice on policy processes and reforms that promote a secure financial system and sound corporate practices, remove impediments to competition in product and services markets and safeguard the public interest in matters such as consumer protection and foreign investment.

The Treasurer is responsible for the preparation of the budget, which is to say, responsible for the decisions about what funds are raised and where they are spent. By and large, one does not expect to present a case for music directly to the Treasurer although no harm would be done, especially for arguments focused around economic outcomes such as offered by the creative industries agenda.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is responsible to the Assistant Treasurer. The ABS runs the national census and conducts various other surveys.

Veterans’ Affairs

A possible location of interest in services of the genres provided to the ageing, for instance.

There is a grants program.

Parliamentary Secretaries

Assist Ministers in particular aspects of their portfolios. They are essentially junior ministers and manage the following portfolios of relevance to music.

Disabilities and Children’s Services

Music plays an important role in support to and treatment of children with disabilities. There is scope in this program for development of those services.

Early Childhood Education and Child Care

The fact that there is a special Secretary for Early Childhood Education is an indication that it tends to slip off the radar in the education portfolio. Music education in the early childhood years is extremely important. Most early childhood practitioners have had no training in music or its use and in the MCA’s view, such music preparation should be a mandatory requirement in courses leading to qualification to practice. If the teachers have the necessary skills, it seems a foregone conclusion that they would find them valuable and enjoyable in their work and no other special provision would be necessary.

International Development Assistance

The Australian sector could give assistance to the development of music sectors in developing countries. In fact, APRA already does so, for instance assisting the implementation of copyright law in Papua New Guinea. In order to get financial involvement by this section of the Department of Foreign Affairs, a request must be received from the country in question. It cannot come about simply because an Australian entity wishes to initiate a program.

Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services

Under the auspices of the Minister for Immigration and Settlement Services.

Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector

The Secretary assists the Minister for Social Inclusion. This issue is given high status: the PM formed a Social Inclusion Committee of Cabinet, with as members the PM, Deputy PM and Parliamentary Secretary. A Social Inclusion Board has been formed, with a membership of distinguished citizens. The portfolio deals with such things as how to measure disadvantage and social exclusion, how to increase economic and social participation, and how communities can be engaged with social inclusion matters. It deals with homelessness, issues of health and disability.

There are existing projects in which music contributes to rehabilitation of prisoners, diversion of at-risk youth, and building community cohesion/social inclusion/social integration. ACMF, for instance, runs government-funded programs in prisons. Hip hop seems much favoured in such programs. There are wonderfully successful music programs for the disabled, such as the Tutti Ensemble in Adelaide, which assists disabled people to achieve professional status as performers.

Whole of Government and the Creative Sector

Both governments and industry show high interest in concepts of the “creative economy”, of which the “creative industries” are a part. Music is a creative industry. Generally when music is discussed as a creative industry the focus is upon its economic contribution. However, the Creative Economy Report 2008 (published as a collaboration between the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UN Development Programme, UNESCO, WIPO and ITC) observes that the creative economy is not one-dimensionally about economic issues. From the Executive Summary:

Cross-Cutting Linkages

The ‘creative economy’ is a multidimensional concept with linkages to a number of different sectors in the overall economy. Different approaches to analysing the creative economy lead to different emphases on its various aspects. For example, a sociological approach has examined the notion of a “creative class” in society, comprising professional, scientific and artistic workers whose presence generates economic, social and cultural dynamism. Other approaches have stressed the role of culture in terms of social empowerment. Even beyond urban planning circles, the concept of the “creative city” has become established, while geographers focus on the locational aspects of creative activity in the form of creative clusters, networks and districts. The multifaceted nature of the creative economy means that it cuts across a wide range of areas of economic and social policy in addition to any intrinsic value. Thus policy-making in relation to the creative economy is not confined to a single ministry or government department; rather, it is likely to implicate a number of different policy fields, including:

  • economic development and regional growth;
  • urban planning;
  • international trade;
  • labour and industrial relations;
  • migration;
  • domestic and foreign investment;
  • technology and communications;
  • art and culture;
  • tourism;
  • social welfare; and
  • education.

Moreover, there is a similar multiplicity of involvement across the public sector, the corporate sector, the non-profit sector and civil society.

Possible Issues

Remember that these issues are treated here only inasmuch as they can be addressed by government funding or regulation. Hopefully, many issues can be dealt with independently by the music sector. The following list makes no attempt at prioritisation.

Whole-of-government. Some thoughts on this currently much-used phrase. At least part of the attraction to this concept from within arts circles is the perception that the arts are always on the fringe of government and so also, therefore, is arts funding. A ‘whole-of-government’ approach could unlock the doors to ministries of greater influence and wealth. (This inevitably leads to justifying arts and artistic activity as instrumental to other non-arts outcomes. In the view of this writer, who actually still believes in art for art’s sake (remember that phrase?), that is a danger as well as an opportunity because we do have a habit of being overcome by our own arguments and forgetting where we came from.)

Clearly, in real life and as can be seen from the above, the implication is not that every part of government collaborates in addressing some issue of (musical) development, but that depending on the issue, relevant parts of government collaborate. So for instance, for ‘new music industry’ issues, there could be a fruitful collaboration between the Ministers/Departments for Attorney-General, Broadband/Communications, Innovation/Industry and of course, Arts. Music as a tool for social cohesion might be taken up by some or all of the Ministries for Social Inclusion, Community Services, Health, Immigration/Multicultural Affairs, Regional Development and Arts. There could be configurations for health, for education and so on. There could also be collaborations between unlike departments: for instance, between Education and Industry to consider how well the outcomes of the education system meet the needs of employers.

The question is perhaps about the agony/benefit ratio of pulling Ministers and departments out of their silos in order to achieve these collaborations. And there might be some issues also around whether there needs to be a similar united effort from the music sector or some parts of it. If the government is to be asked to make these difficult arrangements, then the project would need to be on a relevant scale.

How would these collaborations be brought about? One suspects that unless the arrangements are brokered by some within the government, the game would never really begin. The Australia Council, as noted elsewhere, has seen a role for itself – but is it in the right position to be effective and also, does it envisage taking on a brokering role for sector initiatives or only for its own? Would a Minister be more inclined and better positioned to deal with sectoral initiatives? But we need not prejudge this.

I suggest that it is by far preferable that the sector invents these initiatives than that it depends upon government for them. Under its previous administration, the Australia Council saw itself as taking a ‘leadership role’ in arts development. In my opinion, that is unwelcome and inappropriate. That is not to say that the Australia Council should not come up with good new ideas for testing, but the arts should be led by the artists and by their organisations and the first job of the Australia Council is to reflect and enable, not lead.

The Australia Council at least includes people with a good understanding of the arts. This is rarely the case for Arts Ministers who often get basic on-the-job training after they are appointed. The initiatives should come from the sector. The current work of the Contemporary Music Working Group is a fine exemplar.

The place of the arts in government’s pecking order. As noted, the whole of government notion arises probably from the ongoing concern about the peripheral place of the arts in most Australian governments.

In the report on the government’s 2020 summit, the idea is put forward that the Prime Minister should [always?] be the Minister for the Arts. This could be a good idea, depending upon the PM’s view of the arts. PM Howard showed no interest whatever, and the arts would have been officially ignored at the highest level.

More commonly, it is proposed that the arts should be coupled with another portfolio that is included in the inner Cabinet. In recent years, the arts have been under the Ministers for Education and for Communications. At present, they are coupled with Environment. In the first two cases, there were junior Arts Ministers assisting the Education or Communications Ministers. Currently, there is no junior minister, but report has it that the Minister is almost totally taken up with issues around the Environment. The position in Cabinet presumably does give the Minister more opportunity to achieve favourable outcomes for the arts; the question is whether he or she has sufficient interest to use the opportunity. Judging by outcomes in recent years, the strategy has not been effective. Would outcomes have been better if there were a separate Arts Minister in the outer Cabinet? Well, probably not.

Incidentally, the coupling of Arts with another portfolio was also envisaged as lifting arts’ status in that area. For instance, making arts a part of the Education Ministry would result in the elevation of the arts in the curriculum. How well did that work?! It’s a nice theory but again, there will be a result only if the Education Minister is committed to the arts.

The government’s 2020 summit includes a proposition that there should be a “Ministry for Culture for high-level, cross-government advocacy that is central to and influential in government”. It probably is easy to rename the present Ministry for Arts as the Ministry for Culture and even broaden its responsibilities in this way. This will not automatically confer a central and influential place in government – an aspiration that is at least decades old. Possibly it will work; possibly this centrality will be achieved only when it reflects a broad cultural change in the population.

Issues by Department


Lift the 1% cap on broadcast royalties to record companies and performers.

Keep pace with the needs for copyright change as the digital realm evolves. See Nathan Shepherd’s paper for the summit.

Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Public broadcasting. Seek increased allocation of funds to and by the ABC to live music production by its radio networks, especially perhaps Classic FM and Triple J.

Seek increase in music productions shown on ABC and SBS TV.

Seek a clearly stated commitment by SBS radio to music made by Australians.

Seek more Australian music programming on both ABC TV and SBS TV.

Consider whether there should be regulation to involve ISPs in making royalty payments for music transmitted through their services.

Principles for allocation of digital broadcasting spectrum. MCA’s view is that it should be allocated to achieve maximum programming choice and musical diversity. How would this be best achieved?

Note that these issues also apply to digital television spectrum.

The public broadcasters should be funded to introduce multi-channeling.

NOTE. The Rudd summit recommends: “Introduce a levy on commercial broadcasters, with funds raised going to public broadcasters in exchange for the lifting of the mandatory Australian content quota.” This hare-brained idea could mean a decline in, or virtual disappearance of Australian content on the music stations listened to by 80-90% of the population. Remember that the profit-motivated commercial radio stations pay no broadcast royalty on US tracks. They may continue to play Australian content, or they may not.


No more cuts to/of armed services bands.

Education/Employment and Workplace Relations/Social Inclusion


The Commonwealth’s National Review into School Music Education made 99 recommendations, only one of which has been acted upon by the Commonwealth. Among the states, only one, SA, has taken any action. A substantial continuing commitment of funds is required, led by the Commonwealth but even more importantly, multiplied by the states. Everything else follows from that. It is of the highest priority.

At the Commonwealth level, Peter Garrett made an election promise to produce a satisfactory level of school music education. Although the government has made a great deal of the necessity for it to meet its election promises, it is clear to MCA at this point that music education is not even on a future priority list for the Department of Education. Garrett’s promise has the difficulty that he is not the Minister for Education and does not have the budget nor the authority, presumably, to fund education policy.

Social Inclusion

The summit might recommend that interested parties in the music sector work with the MCA to develop a proposal to the Minister for appropriate use of music activities to achieve social inclusion, perhaps for identified population groups. The objective would be to lead the Minister to a coherent policy position that envisages a partnership between the government and the sector in this area, rather than the present scattershot ad hockery.

Environment, Heritage and the Arts

Screen Australia. Take into account in film financing decisions whether or not the soundtrack is by an Australian.

Seek the establishment of a music counterpart to the film investment scheme. See the suggestion about financing in the summit paper on public funding.

Increase arts subsidies to support greater artistic risk-taking, viability for more small to medium music organisations. Should ‘industry assistance’ subsidies come from this budget or from the Department of Industry?

Perhaps the Department could facilitate multi-department support to suitable music initiatives. The Australia Council has pictured itself as doing this but so far has not, to our knowledge, invited arts organisations to seek its assistance. (See the first issue in this section.)

Implement the proposed ArtStart program, add arts activities in Work for the Dole schemes and the other government initiatives described above.

Support the proposals of the Contemporary Music Working Group for economic development of the industry.

Proceed with other proposed ‘creative industries’ approaches to development.

Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs

There are issues about adequate marketing of indigenous music productions which should be taken up by the New Music Industry group at the summit. They may be of interest to this Ministry but also would have a place with the Minister for Industry.

An objective of the Ministry is to bring communities together. Can music be proposed effectively to this Ministry as an effective tool for doing that?

Foreign affairs

Long-standing Foreign Affairs funding of international presentations by Australian artists was terminated by the Rudd government. It probably was not well conceived but reform would have been preferable. Investigate the models offered by the British, French, Germans and others and introduce a more effective cultural promotion for Australia.

It is suggested that should such a program be established, it should combine the objectives of satisfying the Commonwealth’s needs for promotion through the arts with other agencies’ objectives to build artists’ international careers. For instance, Foreign Affairs could select its artists from among those supported by the Australia Council in building international careers.

Perhaps even more effective could be the creation of the Australian counterpart of the British Council and other foreign cultural promotion agencies, for international promotion of Australian culture, as a joint project of Arts, Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministries (and even possibly, Tourism). The objectives could be

  1. international promotion of Australian culture for diplomatic objectives
  2. increase in cultural exports through presence and sales overseas
  3. increase in cultural exports through inwards tourism
  4. assistance to Australian artists, suitably qualified, committed and prepared, to build international careers.

When the nationals of most other countries gain high office in important international NGOs, their governments assist them in meeting the costs of involvement. In Australia, such assistance is not available except possibly by grace of employers. Without this support, the consequence is that unless such persons are of sufficient private means, they either cannot afford to accept the role or are constrained in carrying it out well. They do not win these roles unless they are of high ability and in carrying them out, they can do a tremendous service to Australia, even if only simply by being Australian. A high UNESCO employee who had been dealing with Australians in setting up a conference said to me that she was “struck by the force of Australian culture.” We have something to offer. A little assistance in offering it could go a long way.

Health and Ageing

There are issues around government recognition of music therapy services for purposes of Medicare. These could be taken up by the summit and recommendations made to the government.

Immigration and Citizenship

Recalling the Parliamentary Secretary’s responsibility for Multiculturalism and Settlement Services, is there a way that the sector can work with the Minister to support and develop ethnic and multicultural music as a major instrument for meeting its goals of social cohesion, participation, cultural diversity and so on, and at the same time achieve benefits for musical life by bringing a lot of this music out into the larger community and from it building new hybrids, new genres?

Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government

Is there a way that the sector could work with this Minister to build musical life and opportunities as an element of the cultural and economic development of the regions?

Innovation, Industry, Science and Research

Finally, support to the proposals of the Contemporary Music Working Group, basically for a government funded analysis of the industry as a basis for future development by the industry and possible support by the government.

At present, only tertiary education institutions can apply for research funds from the Australian Research Council. How about removing that restriction and admitting applications from non-profit organisations/industry associations?

Does the summit have proposals for the Innovations Agenda?


Include culture as an attraction in tourist promotions by Tourism Australia. Also see Foreign Affairs, above.


As mentioned a couple of times, there is a strong case for increased industry assistance to international promotion of Australian music, of which the government is well aware and to which it is sympathetic.

Every time a new international trade agreement is negotiated, the risk arises that the government will give away some of its ‘cultural sovereignty’. MCA attempts to remain alert to this issue and to offer advice where there is risk. Negative effects may appear only years later, opportunities foregone in a sense do not appear at all. We therefore have to respond in advance to these possible negatives and there is no pain that propels us into action. But once a treaty is signed, the game is pretty much over.

It was proposed to the Rudd summit that “The government should take immediate steps to remove culture from all free trade agreements, including the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement, to ensure Australian content restrictions.” In principle I agree, but the proposer probably did not understand the difficulty. New Zealand undertook under GATS not to have local content quotas. When Labor came to power, its platform included a promise to repudiate this undertaking, but it discovered that the financial penalties were so onerous that it could not proceed, and instead developed a subsidy scheme to promote local music on the market.

The issue goes beyond local content quotas to large questions of cultural sovereignty and integrity.

Does the summit have a view on Australia’s involvement in the US-led ACTA?

Also see Foreign Affairs, above.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics provides most of the statistical data available about the music sector. Unfortunately, there are large gaps. For a discussion of the quality of Australian music statistics see this knowledge base paper.

Responsibilities of the Parliamentary Secretaries

Disabilities and Children’s Services

There probably will be some rather complex proposals concerning disabilities considered by the Community group at the summit.

Early Childhood Education and Child Care

Proposed that it must be a graduation requirement for early childhood carers and teachers that they achieve prescribed skill levels in music and music teaching in early childhood programs.


Richard Letts Entered on knowledge base 13 September 2008. Introduction added 23 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.

No comment yet, add your voice below!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *