Creative Industries, Creative Country

The arts are central to our lives as Australians.

They define who we are as a modern, innovative, confident and outward-looking society.

The arts are how we express ourselves, how we explain ourselves, how we understand ourselves as Australians. When we tell our stories through the arts, we are creating a chronicle that transmits a shared sense of the Australian self through generations.    

Our continent is the home of the longest continuous arts and culture makers on Earth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

A lively arts sector is also important to our economy. Growing creative industries generate jobs and keep talented Australians here at home. The visual arts, film, music, theatre and dance all contribute to economic activity across Australia’s cities and regions at the same time as providing entertainment, delight and meaning in our lives.  

Australia’s arts sector has struggled under the Abbott-Turnbull Government. From huge cuts to the Australia Council to the steady strangling of national cultural institutions and the messy upheaval caused by George Brandis’ disgraceful intervention in well-established funding programs, the past few years have been tough.         

The Abbott-Turnbull Government’s savage cuts to the ABC have added salt to the wound.  Traditionally, Australian stories have been safeguarded by Australian content quotas on commercial broadcasters and funding to the ABC. The increased acquisition and availability of foreign small-screen content has seen the dilution of unique Australian stories and voices.  

A Shorten Labor Government will undo the damage and restore Australia’s arts sector to its rightful place at the centre of our cultural life. We have a comprehensive plan for the arts that will see this sector thrive and grow again, reaching out to touch the lives of all Australians.  

Our plan

Labor will renew the Federal Government’s commitment to the arts and the cultural life of this nation. Our plan to grow Australia’s creative industries for a more creative and prosperous country has six components.

1. Restore the standing of the Australia Council for the Arts 

The Australia Council has been the pre-eminent body for the arts in Australia for almost 50 years. It provides an independent, peer reviewed approach to arts funding which protects artistic freedom and expression by working at arms-length from government.

Labor endorses the Australia Council’s strategic plan for Australia to be a ‘culturally ambitious nation’.

The Abbott-Turnbull Government damaged the Australia Council’s standing by ripping over $100 million from its funding to establish a personal slush fund for George Brandis as then Arts Minister through a so-called ‘National Program for Excellence in the Arts.’ The program was so unpopular that it was rebadged as the Catalyst fund under replacement Minister Mitch Fifield, but the fundamental problems remain. Funding delivered through Catalyst is not transparent or independent – as evidenced by the Turnbull Government’s decision to announce a flurry of grants, some in breach of the program’s own guidelines, just two days before the federal election was called in May. 

A Shorten Labor Government will close the Catalyst fund and return all remaining money – $32 million over the next four years – to the Australia Council. We will also boost the Australia Council by providing $20 million a year in new funding over four years from 2017.

This new funding will restore vital support and stability to small and medium arts organisations across the country. Community-based arts organisations which make music, theatre, dance and the visual arts accessible to all Australians have suffered repeated cuts under the Abbott-Turnbull Government, forcing many to close.

The entire arts community will also benefit from putting an organisation that is independent of government and puts a transparent peer-reviewed process back at the centre of funding for our creative industries.

This returned and additional funding will see the Australia Council better fulfil its purpose of supporting and championing Australian arts and culture – both at home and overseas.  

2. Grow regional arts

Australians in regional and remote communities should have just as much opportunity to connect with our shared culture through the arts as people living in big cities. What’s more, the stories of our country towns and regional centres are stories all Australians should hear. 

Since 2001, the Regional Arts Fund has supported arts and cultural development projects in regional Australia. It supports sustainable cultural development through ongoing artistic initiatives rather than ‘one-off’ events, and increases employment and professional development opportunities for regional and remote artists. The Fund also has a particular focus on artistic skills development among disadvantaged communities, including young people, Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islanders and isolated townships. 

The Fund operates on a four-year agreement between the Ministry for the Arts and Regional Arts Australia. It generates far-reaching benefits for the size of its investments – over the last four years $9.3 million worth of successful applications leveraged a further $17 million in additional financial support from business, state and local funding sources.

In recognition of the cultural and economic benefits of the arts to regional Australia, Labor will increase the Regional Arts Fund by $8 million over four years from 2017, on top of its current funding level. The existing grants system would continue to be used, so there will be no significant increases in administration costs and so these additional resources will reach projects on the ground in our regional communities. 

This will almost double the size of the Regional Arts Fund, reflecting Labor’s commitment to ensuring all Australians can create, participate in and enjoy the arts.

3. Strengthen live music

Australia is the 6th largest music market in the world and has the potential to become a significant global exporter of contemporary music. The talent of contemporary Australian musicians should be shared with the world. 

A Shorten Labor Government will strengthen Australia’s contemporary live music industry by bringing the Live Music Office and the Australian Music Centre under the umbrella of an expanded Sounds Australia to deliver export, domestic and content management strategies. 

Sounds Australia is Australia’s music export market development initiative – fast-tracking Australian music success globally. 

This new structure will leverage and expand its success to support the development of Australia’s live music export industry. It will also formalise a four-year industry and government investment partnership to strengthen one of our greatest creative industries. 

Artists like Courtney Barnett, Vance Joy, Sheppard and Gossling have already benefited from the exposure to new markets and international performance opportunities fostered by Sounds Australia

The expanded Sounds Australia will develop and strengthen three key areas:

  • Export: Expand the operation of Sounds Australia to include the export of all music genres to key and emerging international markets.
  • Domestic: Expand the remit of the Live Music Office to include all genres and venue types.
  • Content Management: Use the Australian Music Centre content management system to aggregate and promote Australian artists and music content.

Labor will commit $1.8 million a year over four years to support the expanded Sounds Australia. This will operate as a public-private investment partnership between Government and the music sector. Through this partnership the music industry will provide an additional annual investment of $500,000 a year. 

This initiative will grow job opportunities including for artists, their managers and a range of affiliated professionals such as digital content managers and promotion and production workers. A greater number and genre of artists will benefit from the expanded services and markets provided by Sounds Australia, enabling them to gain exposure to wider audiences and markets both domestically and internationally.

4. Boost music in schools 

Supporting Australia’s creative industries starts in the class room. But in the Music to Our Ears report, Music Australia and the Caledonia Foundation found that 63 per cent of Australian primary schools offer no classroom music instruction. Only in Queensland and Tasmania is music a part of the primary school curriculum in government schools, and taught by specialist music teachers.

That is why a Shorten Labor Government will provide $2 million a year to expand successful school music programs such as Music: Count Us In, Musica Viva in Schools and the Song Room

We will also invest $350,000 a year to continue the SongMakers program beyond 2017.   SongMakers is an intensive program which sees Australia’s best songwriters and producers mentor students to create and record new music in the classroom. The program is designed to fast-track secondary students’ understanding of the opportunities in today’s contemporary music world and set them up for success. 

Through mentorship, SongMakers gives students real-world skills in composing, collaborating, arranging, writing lyrics, and using the latest available technologies to create and distribute new songs. It promotes student engagement by linking students’ in-school and out-of-school interests and experiences, and gives them the opportunity to work with some of the most successful Australian songwriters and producers in the business. All resources are aligned with the Australian Curriculum.

Labor believes the benefits of musical education should be available to all Australian students. Our initiatives will support more schools in introducing children to the arts through the joy of music. 

5. Invest in local drama

A Shorten Labor Government will invest in local production so that Australian audiences can grow up watching Australian stories on Australian screens. 

The increased acquisition of foreign small-screen content has seen the dilution of unique Australian stories and voices. Traditionally, Australian stories have been safeguarded by Australian content quotas on commercial broadcasters (becoming less effective as audiences move online) and supplementary funding to the ABC. 

Investment in Australian drama makes sense. It fosters local creative skills development for Australian writers, producers and actors and will help to invigorate the local industry. It also provides a boost to the local economy. For example, the ABC’s Anzac Girls series, produced in South Australia, employed over 1,500 Australians (87 crew, 130 cast and 1,300 extras) with a total expenditure of $5.5 million.

A Shorten Labor Government will invest $60 million over three years in the ABC to produce local drama. This investment will allow the ABC to deliver 30 hours of family drama programming each year, comprising 30 episodes of 1 hour each or 60 half-hour episodes.

With this funding boost, the ABC could commission a long-running, quality local drama which provides an opportunity for Australian stories to take a permanent, prime-time place in the ABC’s schedule and provide for advertisement-free family viewing in a market that is increasingly being dominated by international content. 

6. Carefully consult on copyright

The Australian book publishing industry is competitive and highly innovative. It has not only survived digital disruption, but has embraced it to become the 14th largest publishing industry in the world. 

Producing more than 7,000 titles annually, this industry generates $2 billion in revenue and directly employs more than 4,000 people. The Australian publishing industry has thrived despite the advent of online shopping which demonstrates the industry’s resilience in the face of global competition, and that it provides consumers with locally produced products they are willing to buy. 

Labor understands that the value of the Australian publishing industry goes beyond its economic benefits. A strong local publishing industry also fosters emerging Australian authors, often giving them their first publications and the chance to enrich our culture by telling Australian stories to ourselves and to the world.

Labor will consider any proposals or recommendations to adjust the current territorial copyright regime with caution. While there are economic arguments to be made in support of this, such a significant change to our copyright laws could have a serious impact on our publishing industry, our authors and Australia’s cultural life. 

Labor understands the importance of the Australian publishing industry – both in cultural and economic terms. We have heard the serious concerns expressed by our publishers and authors about the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s intentions on territorial copyright, and we take those concerns very seriously. A Shorten Labor Government would consult extensively and openly before reaching any decision on copyright changes which would have a significant impact on one of our most important creative industries.  

Labor’s record

Labor is the party of the arts. From Gough Whitlam’s establishment of the Australia Council to the Gillard Government’s wide-ranging Creative Australia policy, we have valued and elevated the contribution of the arts to Australia’s social, cultural and economic life. 

This is the approach we will continue to take under a Shorten Labor Government. Importantly too, we are committed to consulting widely with the arts community and delivering sound, inclusive policies and programs. We will rebuild the trust and collaboration that has been destroyed by the Abbott-Turnbull Government and set Australia’s creative industries back on track for a stronger future. 

Financial implications 

Labor’s plan to grow jobs through a more creative Australia has been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office. 







Australia Council reinvestment
















Regional Arts Fun











Live Music Office











Music in Schools







Invest in local drama












The Liberal alternative 

The Abbott-Turnbull Government has been a disaster for the arts and for Australia’s creative industries, with reports of hundreds of direct jobs already lost across the country.

The horror 2014 Budget cut more than $100 million from arts funding, including $37 million from our national cultural institutions and $25 million from Screen Australia. Despite the Liberals promising before the last election that there would be “no cuts to the ABC or SBS,” Mr Turnbull as Communications Minister also oversaw more than $250 million in brutal cuts to the ABC. 

The arts community thought it had seen the worst this Government had to offer as programs were slashed and organisations shut down in the wake of these cuts. 

But the 2015 Budget went even further. The Government ripped $105 million from the Australia Council to create a ministerial slush fund for Senator Brandis. This appalling policy, which trashed the model of independent, peer-reviewed funding for the arts, was introduced without consultation and without any demonstrated need beyond Senator Brandis’s vanity.

In addition to leading a number of organisations to miss out entirely on funding, these cuts forced the Australia Council to abandon the six-year funding model that it had been working on since 2014 as part of its new strategic plan, and which would have provided greater certainty and planning capacity to grant recipients.

Astonishingly, the 2015 December Budget update brought yet further cuts, including $36.8 million from our national cultural institutions and $9.6 million from various arts programs. The 2016 Budget did nothing to repair any of the damage, but instead locked in the earlier cuts, which will fall heavily on our national cultural institutions, resulting in job losses and cuts in exhibitions and services.

When Malcolm Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott, he heeded the rage of the arts community and sacked Senator Brandis. Although Australians initially breathed a sigh of relief, after nine months of Mr Turnbull’s failed leadership it is clear that he and his replacement Arts Minister, Senator Fifield, are no friends of the arts and our creative industries either. They are continuing with the same destructive polices and cuts Tony Abbott and George Brandis forced on the sector. 

These cuts are having a devastating impact on arts and cultural activities right across Australia. In September 2015 the Australia Council was flooded with 1,700 applications, but could afford to fund only 290. Initiatives like ArtStart – for emerging artists – and the Community Partnership program have been cancelled, and 10 out of 14 youth theatre programs have lost funding entirely. 

In addition to $140 million in cuts from the Australia Council, since the 2013 election this Government has:

  • Abolished the Australian Interactive Games Fund.
  • Abolished the Get Reading! Programme.
  • Abolished Australian Arts in Asia Award.
  • Abolished the Book Council of Australia.
  • Cut $38.7 million from Screen Australia.
  • Cut $33.8 million from Arts Ministry programs.
  • Cut $1.8 million support to the Asian cultural activities program.
  • Cut $9.5 million over four years from the Indigenous Languages Support Program.
  • Cut $36.8 million from museums and galleries. 

Among the organisations no longer funded are:

  • Arena Theatre (Melbourne)
  • AsiaLink (Melbourne)
  • Ausdance (national)
  • Australian Design Centre (Sydney)
  • Australian Experimental Art Foundation (Adelaide)​
  • Black Arm Band (Melbourne)
  • Brink Productions (Adelaide)
  • Canberra Contemporary Art Space (Canberra)
  • Centre for Contemporary Photography (Melbourne)
  • Contemporary Art Centre South Australia (Adelaide)​
  • Cultural Partnerships Australia (Newcastle)
  • Express Media (Melbourne)
  • Force Majeure (Sydney)
  • KAGE Physical Theatre (Melbourne)
  • Legs on the Wall (Sydney)
  • Meanjin (Melbourne)
  • Mosman Art Gallery (Sydney)
  • National Association for the Visual Arts (based in Sydney)
  • Next Wave Festival (Melbourne)
  • PACT centre for emerging artists (Sydney)
  • Phillip Adams Ballet Lab (Melbourne)
  • Red Stitch Actors' Theatre (Melbourne)
  • Slingsby (Adelaide)
  • Snuff Puppets (Melbourne)
  • Synergy (Sydney)
  • Taikoz (Sydney)
  • Theatre Works (Melbourne)
  • Vitalstatistix (Adelaide)
  • Wangaratta Festival of Jazz (regional Victoria)

[1] Totals may not sum due to rounding