Policy Blog: Local Government

by Alex Masso, November 2012

Earlier this year I spent some time reading through submissions to the Government's National Cultural Policy consultation.  We don't yet know what is in the National Cultural Policy - apparently at the time of writing this it is finished but not funded - but we do have hundreds of documents from arts & culture stakeholders across Australia. When Chair of the National Cultural Policy Reference Group, Julianne Schultz, spoke at the MCA Assembly this year it was encouraging to hear that she had not only spent some time reading them, she commended the high quality of work that went into these submissions. 

Here is a 'digest' of the submissions relating to Local Government. I openly declare that I have a lens of 'music' when reading these things, I may have missed something important which doesn't relate directly to music, but much of what was written in these papers relates to a broad view of the arts rather than genres of art.

Many thanks to those that wrote these submissions for their insight. I encoruage you to follow the links to read them in full.


Local government submissions to the National Cultural Policy make a few key points:

1) Highlighting “Culture: The Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development”, a policy document from the 3rd World Congress of United Cities and Local Governments. It asserts, among other things, that “culture in all its diversity is needed to respond to the current challenges of humankind” and that “governance at all levels (local, national and international) should include a strong cultural dimension”.

This alone is a powerful backdrop for this country’s Cultural Policy. Indeed, the “Fourth Pillar” document called on all governments around the world to “develop a solid cultural policy” and integrate the dimension of culture into their development policies and other public policies. Cairns Regional Council “believes that culture has an essential role in public planning, and that a healthy arts and cultural community makes for healthy individuals and neighbourhoods, greater social cohesion and an improved sense of cultural identity.”

2) Asserting the unique and crucial role that local government plays in the delivery and facilitation of cultural activities.

3) Highlighting the financial constraints of local government and (implicitly or explicitly) calling on the federal government to provide direct financial support to councils for cultural facilities, programs and activities.

LGAQ suggests “population-based distribution of funds + needs-based funding”, several highlight the need for cultural and infrastructure funding for regional areas. ABS Data cited in submissions tells us that Local Government controls “5% of the public purse” although it has provided “17% of public cultural expenditure”. (These figures are from different years and may need to be looked at to make the direct comparison; regardless, it seems that Local Government is contributing financially to cultural activity).

Here is a summary of some of the main submissions:

1) Australian Local Government Association

Read it in full (PDF)

In its introduction, ALGA states that it “believes that the National Cultural Policy should not be the exclusive prerogative of one level of government (or of governments alone) nor should it be seen as the exclusive providence of a single agency or portfolio.”

The role of local government in supporting culture (and cultural policy) is summarised neatly by ALGA: “Local government has the advantage of observing, experiencing, guiding and managing the manifestations of Australia's culture at the local community level.” The role that local government plays in the arts and culture includes provision of cultural facilities (libraries, halls, performing arts centres), supporting cultural development activity through grants, projects and/or local government staff, facilitating social cohesion and community relations, and even managing festivals.

The submission doesn’t directly answer the questions set out in the discussion paper. It does, however, emphasise the need for a broad focus of the policy, beyond traditional art forms and including the role of education, immigration and settlement policy, and an issue close to the heart of local government – the build environment.

On the subject of funding, ALGA makes its case for the federal government (and perhaps state government, although it is not stated) giving more financial support to the cultural activities of local government: “this means that the cultural dimension and benefits should be recognised when government considers general funding for local government.”

2) Local Government Association of NSW and Shires Association of NSW

Read it in full (PDF)

This submission is more specific in its proposals for the National Cultural Policy, outlining six key proposals:

1. Local Government in cultural development: Defining roles and committing resources

2. Local Government leading local cultural planning to inform state and federal cultural planning and as culture relates to other policy areas.

3. Whole of government approach

4. Equitable government investment and access to the arts across rural, regional and metropolitan communities

5. Cultural development and community participation

6. Cultural outcomes from the National Broadband Network (NBN) – as identified in objective two of the National Council Policy Discussion Paper

Its data on the provision of cultural facilities, programs, policies and community engagement paints a picture of local government moving decidedly in the right direction. In the 10 year period to 2009, according to its research, NSW councils with Performing Arts Centres increased from 16% to 57%, Community Arts Centres from 11% to 36%, Cultural Development Plans from 19% to 55%, and so on.

Its case for financial support is based on the fact that “the commitment of councils in NSW to culture is under significant financial pressure, with Local Government operating on only 5% of the public purse expended by all levels of Government.” In NSW, “councils are not permitted to set rates accordingly” although the local government sector in NSW alone spent $391.1 million on cultural activities in 2009/10.

(The LGAQ submission cites ABS 2008/9 data which indicates that “Local Government provide a significant 17% of public cultural expenditure).

In particular, the submission notes that opportunities for regional communities to access and participate in the arts are limited. The LGSA’s own policy states that “Local Government recognises that access to cultural experiences should not be impeded by geographical location” and it argues for councils to be given particular support in these areas since they are “key providers” for their communities.

On the “whole of government” issue, this submission highlights the “cultural implications and outcomes across various ministries” and cites an idea for a “cultural desk at every ministry”, floated at the World Summit on Arts and Culture (Melbourne 2011).

3) Local Government Association of Queensland

Read it in full (PDF)

“Local Government should be identified as on the ground vehicle to deliver goals, particularly in the context of regional communities”.

This submission is very direct in its statements about what the Federal Government should be doing.   It mentions that neither Community Cultural Development (CCD) nor Local Government have been considered appropriately in the discussion paper.

A specific proposal (probably common to many policy discussions; certainly in the music sector) is to “review existing acquittal and data capturing requirements across all funding bodies…and standardise data capturing to develop longitudinal research outcomes.”

A number of other recommendations include more funding (and “population-based funding”) particularly in relation to QLD, the need to “promote arts and culture, alongside society, economy and the environment as the quadruple bottom line when developing all policies”, considering education more broadly than the National Curriculum and schooling, and adequately considering Community Cultural Development (CCD) as part of the National Cultural Policy.

4) Local Councils

Cairns Regional Council, City of Sydney, Fairfield City Council, Gold Coast City Council, Logan City Council, Marrickville Council, and Swan Hill Rural City Council all made submissions. They are worth reading on their own merit, but for the purpose of this summary and since most of them followed the discussion paper framework, most of their comments have been quoted below.  

Cultural Indicators

“A national vision for arts and culture could pave the way in determining a better understanding of the value and impact of the sector, and defining much needed indicators for culture,” according to Cairns Regional Council.

Definition of Culture

Since the term “Culture” is “an extremely broad and subjective term” it needs to be better refined “to effectively communicate a sound and responsive policy framework.” (Cairns)

Indigenous Culture

Some Councils, particularly those with a large Indigenous population, see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture as an important part of cultural policy in Australia at any level of government. Marrickville recommends that the term “Indigenous” not be used, but rather refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture which is Indigenous to this country. Cairns Regional Council believes that the “significance and vitality of traditional and contemporary Indigenous arts” warrants a clear and specific standalone policy statement in the National Cultural Policy, including the role of culture in closing the gap on social and economic disadvantages.


Cairns Regional Council tells us that Craft (traditional and contemporary), Community Cultural Development (CCD) and History (including significant collections, oral and literary history) should sit in the list of “core arts”.

National Cultural Policy Goals:

Although not all submissions used the format of the discussion paper, here are some excerpts of comments made about three of the discussion paper's goals.

GOAL: To ensure that what the Government supports — and how this support is provided — reflects the diversity of a 21st century Australia, and protects and supports Indigenous culture.

To the question what the Government (ie. federal government) supports and how, local government submissions make the case for more funding to local government. The LGSA of NSW argues that “Councils have established relationships with the local cultural stakeholders and organisations. Therefore they are positioned to advise other spheres of government on the priorities of their Local Government Area.”

Marrickville Council suggests “The document should not use the term ‘Indigenous’, and should use instead Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and acknowledge the rich artistic culture of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.” It goes on to say that prioritising certain local areas (mentioning “Western Sydney”) can leave other areas “in a funding black hole”.

“Ensure stronger support and assistance to employ someone with a role focusing on the development of arts and culture in every local government area in Australia.” – Swan Hill Council

GOAL: To encourage the use of emerging technologies and new ideas that support the development of new artworks and the creative industries, and that enable more people to access and participate in arts and culture.

Some Local Government submissions refer to the NBN, through the lens of potential but also caution. LGSA NSW supports access to the NBN and relevant facilities and services but also proposes “that local communities are supported to produce local content for the National Broadband Network”. LGAQ “supports the outcomes intended by the Federal Government” in relation to the NBN and the arts but cautions that “regional engagement needs to be considered much deeper and more broadly than through digital platforms”.

LGAQ adds that “the only mention of participation in arts and culture is in reference to new and emerging technologies”.

GOAL: To increase and strengthen the capacity of the arts to contribute to our society and economy

Several local government submissions refer to the “Culture: Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development” policy. It sets out a brief history of this idea:

“A vision of sustainable development with three dimensions was developed in the second half of the 1980s, namely: economic growth, social inclusion and environmental balance…. It is generally felt, however, that these dimensions alone cannot possibly reflect the complexity of current society.”

“The world is not only facing economic, social, or environmental challenges. Creativity, knowledge, diversity, and beauty are the unavoidable bases for dialogue for peace and progress as these values are intrinsically connected to human development and freedoms.”

Read more about Music and Local Government >

Further reading:

Submission by the Australian Local Government Association

Submission by Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW (ALGA)

Submission by Local Government Association Queensland

Submissions by Cairns Regional Council, City of Sydney, Fairfield City Council, Gold Coast City Council, Logan City Council, Marrickville Council, and Swan Hill Rural City Council

Cultural Funding by Government, Australia, 2009/10, Australian Bureau of Statistics).

Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW (LGSA) Cultural Planning and Development Policy (Appendix 1 of ALGA’s submission)

Fourth Cultural Accord (LGSA / Arts NSW) (also included in ALGA’s submission)

Culture: Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development (United Cities and Local Governments)


Other National Cultural Policy submissions