MHC Forum 1999

Political Will or Political Won't

A contextual examination of past and present government multicultural arts policies

Christine Sammers


Resistance to the implementation of Multicultural Arts Policy requires more rigorous analytical attention. The context for this is a history of partially achieved objectives over two decades of debate about multicultural arts and the cultural rights of non English speaking background Australians. Recent international initiatives seek to redefine culture as a cornerstone of development, and affirm cultural diversity as the backbone of heritage and the creative arts. In Australia, multicultural policy making has been incremental, and resistance based on organisational and individual ideology has caused backsliding from frameworks for change, for example that articulated in the 1993 'Big Picture' consultations. On the surface at least, key government agencies seem to be addressing internal implementation challenges (for example the need for representative peer assessment panels). Yet in those few studies of outcomes that exist, there is evidence of incomplete achievement of objectives. Evaluation mechanisms must go beyond monitoring of internal funding body objectives and processes to explore the outcomes of policy within the cultural sector and within the community at large. This should also be accompanied by closer attention to the quality of leadership within government and the organisations regularly receiving government support.


Government and community institutions managing the sometimes-separated domains of cultural heritage and contemporary arts can undoubtedly benefit from the development of common principles, shared terminology and strategic partnerships.(1) While other speakers at this conference will focus more explicitly on cultural heritage, in this paper I will concentrate mostly on policy processes in the domain of contemporary creative arts, specifically Arts for a Multicultural Australia(2) (AMA) policy. My aim remains the search for common ground, and to inform discussion about how cultural heritage institutions can better reflect Australia's cultural diversity. This also acknowledges that arts policies, particularly at the state level, provide an umbrella for the development of museums and heritage institutions.

This paper will have more to say about the successes and failures of policy implementation, than about the content of policy statements. In taking this approach, we can note the agreement amongst policy analysts that as seemingly intractable public policy matters have come to the fore in the late Twentieth Century, failures of implementation have become endemic, and that matters of leadership, organisational capacity and political will are therefore increasingly in the spotlight.(3) In this study of AMA, by focussing mostly on the Federal and New South Wales arenas, with relevant overseas experience for comparison, I will be trying to comment throughout this paper on how resistance to implementation of policy has operated in recent years. I take the standpoint that Australian governments have already successfully produced rational and clearly formulated goals for AMA. There are several well articulated policy statements that deserve revisiting, in particular the 'Big Picture' framework issued in 1993 by the then Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Australia Council. Likewise the recent NSW Ministry for the Arts policy settings, if fully implemented, would go a long way towards achieving equitable distribution of resources and cultural rights. Policy statements are not the problem in Australia but policy implementation certainly is.

Glimpsing the Problem

An important challenge for AMA policy is that there has been very little evaluation of outcomes related to the broad goals of access and equity in the arts.(4) Arts funding bodies have concentrated their measuring of performance on achievements that are internal to the grant-making process, for example percentage of funding allocated to activities categorised as AMA, and number of peer assessors or staff who are of non English speaking background (NESB). Where there are indications of the impacts of AMA policy at the grass roots, the story is one of under-achievement. For example, one recent study of NESB personnel in theatre, film and TV has shown significant under-representation of NESB in all three industries relative to their proportion of overall participation in the Australian workforce.(5) The same study provides considerable evidence that NESB artists are still restricted to minor, tokenistic or stereotyped roles, and that amongst industry managers there is resistance to and fear of cultural diversity in theatre.(6)

If the sort of study I'm quoting is quite rare in Australia, so too are investigations of how and why implementation is impeded. Nonetheless there are some recorded insights, and one that interested me can be read as a transcript of the closing discussion in the 1990 proceedings of the national symposium 'Issues in Multicultural Heritage Management'. Delegates to this conference lamented lack of action following a conference on 'New Responsibilities' held two years earlier. In a mood of frustration about revisiting previous debate, delegates demanded that government officials explain what they actually did after the first conference, which had produced a viable set of goals and objectives. Reasons for lack of implementation included lack of liaison between relevant departments, a failure to establish a co-ordinating group to oversee the work, and the basic problem that no-one had analysed the recommendations and decided how to progress them.(7)

The Big Picture

We've probably all experienced the sort of frustration captured in this last example, and it would be interesting to analyse then do something about our collective experience of implementation failure. One case that certainly needs some explanation is the fate of 'The Big Picture: a framework for policies and practices relating to arts for a Multicultural Australia' (See attached). This document was endorsed by the Cultural Ministers Council in February 1993. Auspiced by the Office of Multicultural Affairs(8) and the Australia Council, the process involved consultation with a wide range of State and Federal government departments, including all State and Territory arts ministries and Ethnic Affairs offices and commissions, and artists. At the time, the policy statement was considered as 'a major landmark both in the cultural development of Australia and the evolution of our national identity'.(9)

In my view, the aims and strategies of 'The Big Picture' continue to offer an appropriate framework of principles for AMA policy. When it was devised, there was considerable momentum associated with the program of reform that it implied. The intention was to see AMA policy revised or introduced and integrated through all relevant agencies at State and Federal level. But by about 1995, the program was left high and dry by political and institutional changes. Although 'The Big Picture' did become the backbone for new multicultural arts policies in South Australia and the ACT, its wider application was curtailed as multicultural arts lost priority status within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. This change in emphasis from the middle of the decade was confirmed when under the Howard government the OMA was abolished altogether. We should also note that the process of 'The Big Picture' had been somewhat 'organic' (for example delegates agreed on the run to extend what started as an information exchange into a longer meeting to decide goals and strategies).

I would speculate that although there was broad participation of government and bureaucracies, it was not fully 'owned' by the political and bureaucratic leadership - the people charged with its implementation.(10) Further, FECCA (The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia) also de-emphasised the arts in its mid 1990's agenda.

The Australia Council

We can usefully move from the story of 'The Big Picture' to some discussion about the general role of the Australia Council(11) in progressing AMA policy. Before doing this let me comment that with regard to 'The Big Picture', new priorities, major internal reviews, restructuring and staff changes at the Australia Council had also contributed to the loss of its momentum, though we should see this as one of many problems faced by the Australia Council in the mid nineties as cultural diversity and the arts lost its platform in Canberra.

In the introduction to the current Australia Council AMA policy, Council's Chair, Margaret Sears encapsulates important shifts in multicultural arts policy (and more general trends in Australian approaches to multiculturalism):

The Council's AMA policy has evolved as a result of this country's unique cultural diversity and the particular contribution it has made to our arts. From the 1970's to mid 1980's 'ethnic arts was the term commonly used to describe arts by migrants - usually equated with folkloric arts and cultural maintenance only. By 1988, notions of multicultural arts as 'welfare' or only an access and equity issue, shifted to the recognition of the contribution of non-English speaking background artists to excellence across the arts and national identity. 'Multicultural Arts' became 'Arts for a Multicultural Australia' in recognition of this progression.

The Australia Council AMA policy was first introduced in 1989, enshrining principles of access, diversity and participation, and formalising a range of initiatives which had emerged in the previous decade. In response to the government's Access and Equity requirements, the importance of increased non-English speaking background (NESB) representation in Council and its boards and committees was acknowledged and implemented via the introduction of a 'Grid' for determining membership of these decision making bodies.(12) In practice, this at first meant ensuring that after three years there would be at least one NESB member on all Council's decision making bodies. In 1991, 18 percent of all decision-makers were NESB,(13) and levels of around 16 to 18 percent have been maintained to the present day, though not consistently across all art form areas. We must also note that in 1991, 26 percent of Australia Council staff were NESB 1 or NESB 2, and that this rose to 29 percent in 1997.(14) The efficacy of the Grid system for peer appointments always relied on its enthusiastic deployment by Council's Chair and/or other Council members, and on the willingness of the Federal Government (through the Minister responsible for the Australia Council) to accede to the recommendations for appointment put forward by Council. In the early 1990s these two preconditions for equitable representation were by and large met.

This period saw effective Government leadership on multicultural policy work in tandem with the Australia Council's strong internal leadership(15) to make relatively rapid progress. Cultural Diversity was incorporated in the stated goals of the organisation, and a dedicated AMA staff member was appointed with a brief to advocate AMA both internally and externally. Meanwhile information strategies aimed at ethnic communities and artists increased the number of applications. Targets were introduced which specified for each Board or Committee the proportion of funding for the arts that should be provided in the category 'Arts for a Multicultural Australia' (AMA). An AMA coding for a funding application was established by content, and/or by participation of key creative personnel of non-English speaking background. A further strategy for increasing representation was the establishment in 1990 of the Australia Council Multicultural Advisory Committee (ACMAC), to provide support for NESB members in advocating AMA principles within their specific art form areas, and to formulate policy to put to Council.

Without exception, each of the measures described above has been the subject of contestation and even acrimony at times. That this has been exacerbated by the frequent changing of peers and staff, points to the importance of internal training and the construction of receptive 'corporate culture', and I will discuss this further below. As one example of internal problems, the coding of applications has always been controversial, with, for example,

conflict about whether international touring and exhibitions should be classed as AMA.(16) From the mid 1990s a number of unsatisfactory coding practices were eliminated by refinements of coding criteria and staff training regarding coding. As a result of this, records show significant falls in reported AMA funding, although this was one of several factors producing a downward trend.

Targets were barely tolerated by some sectors of Council, and in some quarters there was active campaigning against them.

In 1995, the Australia Council abandoned targets, using in part the perception that 'it's all just happening without us interfering', and enthused by the prospect of changing the way AMA was implemented in Council by taking the heat out of the funding areas and peer decision making through alternative strategies which placed emphasis on audience development. During the Keating government, the rise of the negative campaign around 'political correctness' escalated, with some prominent individuals criticising the decision making of the Australia Council as 'political correctness run wild'. Council buckled under what was perceived to be unbeatable pressure to change both strategies and language. Not long after, Howard's arrival and the unleashing of the Hanson phenomenon produced a reactionary political context in which defenders of targets and other more pro-active AMA instruments lost further ground. This period coincided with a major restructure of the Australia Council, which among many important changes, saw the dedicated AMA staff position relocated from what had been the supportive environment of the Community Cultural Development Unit, into the Strategy and Policy Division. There, in the context of severe belt tightening, the position was eventually given a broader range of policy duties.

Funding levels for AMA applicants are still monitored. Over the decade, the total amount of money spent on non-English speaking background artists and communities increased from 3 percent in 1986 to a peak of 14 percent in the mid '90's, and is currently at 8-9 percent. Expenditure has varied significantly from Board to board with Community Arts consistently spending around double this amount.(17) Anyone familiar with such reporting also understands the many uncertainties associated with these figures, in particular inconsistency of coding practices between funds and over time as discussed already.

Perhaps the most significant part of this history is that with or without formal targets the Australia Council's monitoring of AMA expenditure over the last decade has never been accompanied by mechanisms for coercing its decision makers or staff to achieve particular levels of AMA funding, other than the moral pressure that could be brought to bear on funds which reached only relatively low levels. Also, as indicated earlier, the Australia Council has made only limited attempts to study real outcomes of its AMA work in the form of field evaluations. There is therefore little knowledge of the impacts of programs, targets, peer representation and other mechanisms on NESB artists employed, changing content of artworks audience access or other key objectives.

A further concern is that Council's latest corporate plan 1999-2001 has substantially watered down (on paper at least) the organisation's commitment to AMA and cultural diversity.

The effect is that core recognition of cultural diversity and commitment to access and equity is lacking as part of the organisation's vision or goal, and does not rate amongst lists of outcomes or outputs or performance measures. Instead, cultural diversity is relegated to the status of a subsidiary policy to which the only stated commitment is that 'the Australia Council will refine the principles.'(18) As we'll see, this situation, which I believe reflects general reticence in the first Howard government to even mouth the word 'multicultural', runs diametrically opposite to international trends in the debate about cultural diversity and its fundamental influence on a broad range of policy.

NSW Ministry for the Arts

The New South Wales government produced its Charter of Principles for a Culturally Diverse Society in 1993, and has built on this through its Ethnic Affairs action plan 'Building on our Cultural Diversity' adopted in 1997 and by incorporating charter principles into legislation which provides new responsibilities for NSW public agencies.(19) The Ethnic Affairs Commission Act 1979 was amended to include the principles of cultural diversity in legislation, define new responsibilities for CEOs of NSW public agencies in relation to ethnic affairs, and enhance the powers and responsibilities of the Ethnic Affairs Commission. The new arrangements mean more than 130 agencies, including eight NSW cultural institutions plus the Ministry for the Arts, are required to produce an Ethnic Affairs Priority Statement (EAPS), and must annually report in public on progress in forward planning and implementation of their EAPS goals. The Ethnic Affairs Commission has developed a standard framework to check effectiveness, and also has power to strike agreements over and above EAPS.

A policy document specific to AMA was issued in August 1997 titled 'The Arts and Cultural Diversity: principles for multicultural arts support in New South Wales' (See attached). This charges the Ministry for the Arts with coordination and leadership roles, and prescribes a two directional approach - focussing on assisting artists from diverse communities to maintain and develop their culture, and on reforming mainstream arts organisations so that they incorporate cultural diversity considerations into their activities.(20) To facilitate these objectives, Ministry funding guidelines now include criteria relating to cultural diversity in each funding area. Also, the Ministry will establish and negotiate individual agreements with the State cultural institutions to deliver outcomes in accordance with this policy. Agreements will be made on an annual basis, and must establish clear expectations appropriate to each institution, introduce performance measures for audience development, exhibition and curatorial policies, make use of existing infrastructure, and enhance employment of NESB people. At the same time the Ministry has undertaken to ensure representative appointments to its decision making boards and committees.

It is too early to fully assess the impacts of the policies described above. We can say that unlike the Australia Council's last decade of AMA reform, the change environment in New South Wales arts is now characterised by consistent signals from the State's political leadership, and there is acceptance within the Ministry itself for the implementation of these far reaching changes. A central challenge will be to quickly and strategically increase the proportion of arts funding provided for AMA, currently estimated to be of the order of two percent(21), comparable with the Australia Council threshold value pre-1989. The Ministry's prescribed leadership role is also challenging in the face of vested interest of cultural organisations, and the program will stand or fall on the extent to which the Ministry can negotiate reforms. An examination of EAPS submissions made by cultural institutions since the 1997 legislative reforms reveals a wide range in the quality of responses. Some have sophisticated understanding of cultural diversity issues and articulate viable strategies. Others can only be described as confused, with coding problems strongly reminiscent of Australia Council inadequacies.(22) As with the Australia Council experience, this implies the need for the Ministry to provide clearer guidelines on activities which can and can't be claimed within a cultural diversity framework; plus the need to enhance knowledge of AMA principles amongst staff of cultural institutions, as well as its own staff. These and other suggestions are further discussed in a later section.

International Comparisons

At this midpoint of the paper, I want to step out of the Australian context for enough time to report briefly on some relevant international experience with cultural diversity and AMA. As we do this, we leave hanging certain key questions about capacity and political will in the two Australian arenas under consideration. With the national funding and policy body, the seemingly backward trend in stated corporate directions, uncertain government commitment and problems of obtaining clear evaluation of policy outcomes stand out; meanwhile in NSW, we have a largely untested raft of reforms with significant leadership challenges facing the responsible government agency.


As might be anticipated, the multicultural debate is most evolved at the level of United Nations agencies. In 1966, the General Conference of UNESCO had adopted its Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Co-operation. Article One of that declaration states that 'each culture has a dignity and value which must be respected and preserved' and that 'every people has the right and duty to develop its culture'. This set in train an on-going process of debate at UN level, and of particular interest is the 1998 Inter-governmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development convened by UNESCO The resulting Action plan on Cultural Policies for Development was adopted in Stockholm on 2 April 1998. Among its far ranging arguments, the plan makes it clear that what we call AMA should be understood as an element of general multicultural policy, and indeed that all policies of national development including cultural policy are necessarily inter-linked.

The 1998 Stockholm Conference has been considered to have equivalent status to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit at which world leaders considered connections between environment and development, and which has had far reaching consequences in every nation, including Australia.(23) Stockholm provided a robust and broad ranging rationale for reforming cultural policy and within this taking full account of cultural diversity. In its detail, it provides reasons which range from market based imperatives to requirements under the Universal declaration of Human Rights, from educational needs to the need to ensure social harmony.

There isn't scope here to review the Action Plan's twelve principles in any detail, let alone come to terms with the general recommendations for cultural policy reform, and the 51 specific recommendations to member nations (therefore including Australia). Combined, these stress the importance of the interdependence of cultural and sustainable development, rights of access for individuals and communities (with governments having a duty to create conditions for the full exercise of this right in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), respect and tolerance for cultural identities as preconditions for harmony and peace, and acceptance of cultural diversity as a necessity for the development of shared national values. The recommendations provide a valuable checklist for the review, reform and revitalisation of cultural policies at all levels of government, and to my eye they reveal considerable scope for improvements. Such an exercise, in search of harmony and rigour and integration of cultural policy with other areas of social policy, may well be an important next step that Australian governments, acting in concert, may wish to take.

The great majority of countries, though not Australia, embraced the UNESCO initiative with considerable enthusiasm. For our modest delegation(24), the role of the conference seems to have been about attracting UNESCO funding for less developed countries in the Pacific Region, and not about the development of Australian cultural or arts policies.(25) This is either a unique and enlightened insight on the part of our Federal Arts bureaucracy, or a possible indication of a trend to complacency in the implementation of cultural diversity goals.

Canada, Netherlands

If it's not already obvious, I'm headed towards a general point that Australia can't crow too loudly about its progress with cultural diversity matters when the state of play in some other western countries is considered. Canada for example has advanced its reforms in a way that seeks to fully integrate cultural policy and planning among all federal government departments with respect to culture and encourage partnerships with other levels of government, the private sector, and Canada's cultural community. The terms of the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act reflect Canada's commitment under several international human rights treaties and have been adopted and incorporated in all federal departments and agencies. Like the UNESCO plan, the Canadian approach clarifies the central importance of robust cultural heritage and arts policy for overall national development and development of its people. Within the Canada Council's corporate plan (comparable to the Australia Council's offering), access and equity for the nation's diverse cultural communities remains one of five central planks.(26)

Likewise, and in contrast with the Australia Council, the Netherlands keeps cultural diversity issues centre stage in its cultural plans for 1997-2000, and integration is sought across a broad range of policy areas. Incidentally there is an interesting rhetoric contained in the recent Netherlands cultural policy planning documents which appear with the motto 'Armour or Backbone', as follows:

People who use culture primarily as a means of distinction, who see cultural identity as a means of differentiating their own group from others, easily descend in to a defensive posture. Their culture is a shield against an apparently hostile outside world... On the other hand those who experience their acquired cultural skills as a form of inner security, a supportive structure enabling them to mix with people who think differently, without fear of losing their identity, maintain their resilience and ability to change...

A society of armour-plated individuals drifts apart on the seas of suspicion; a society with culture as its backbone can grow towards unity in diversity. The latter is vastly preferable and governments should do everything in its power to stimulate it.(27)

The Netherlands plan gives particular emphasis to the needs of an increasingly diverse youth population (More than half of children in major cities are now of non-Dutch origin.), and to the central importance of expertise in cultural institutions and funding bodies - among other things expertise in assessing applications for funding. Not only must minorities be represented amongst decision-makers, but also they must be people with particular skills in assessing culturally diverse activity. As two further points of interest, the Netherlands is now allowing for the impacts of European integration which sees regional rather than national boundaries obtaining cultural significance; and among its raft of 1998-2000 planning documents, the interplay of equity and excellence considerations (see later) is given voice in the motto: 'equality as a hallmark of quality'.(28)

Arts Council of England

England more than any other country has focussed resources of both policy makers and analysts on the implementation and evaluation stages of the policy cycle. As early as 1976, the Arts Council had installed a monitoring committee to try to gauge the impacts of the ethnic arts action plan, following a provocative report titled 'The Art That Britain Ignores'. Overseeing a target of 4 percent of total arts funding budget to ethnic arts to be implemented over four years, this committee identified failures of strategic planning and the pitfalls of haphazard developments.

It was also becoming an instrument for assessing depth and need - the sum total of which outstretched Council's expectations, leaving many big holes unable to be filled.(29)

More than 20 years later, in its 1997 report 'The Landscape of Fact', the Council continues to progress cultural diversity policies through detailed analysis of outcomes and assessment of implementation failures of the arts infrastructure. The Council makes use of annual funding review and negotiation of agreements as times to address equality of opportunity, and the overall infrastructure for arts funding is also under review. A useful set of generic questions is provided with the 1997 Report:

1. How successfully does the arts infrastructure as a whole take in NESB individuals as managers or technical staff?

2. How well does it accept artists and arts activities from different cultural forms and different aesthetics?

3. How well does it address the needs of audiences whose different cultural backgrounds might dictate different cultural needs?

4. How well does a general funding system respond to the differing strands - that is the basic heterogeneity of multicultural arts?(30)

The Arts Council has refined planning around four streams of thought and action: diversity, advocacy, access and development. The English action plan argues that leadership and direction from the centre and the top should focus on programs which answer the needs for advocacy and access, and work from below should seek to foster development. All three dynamics are to be informed by a full understanding of diversity, and the plan refers to the right endorsed in UNESCO's 'Our Cultural Diversity' to cultural self definition and the value given to the individual voice. The plan gives priority to a coherent monitoring scheme that respects cultural diversity, an advocacy role to increase awareness and inclusion, firm application of equal opportunities in order to ensure access, and a development strategy for responding to and sustaining diversity. Among particular objectives, it calls for undermined infrastructure to be rebuilt, and for rebuilding of the confidence of young NESB artists.

Contemporary contexts for Australian Multicultural Arts Policy

I have only been able to present here a sketchy and selective review of overseas experience. Nonetheless I'd make the general point that what we do know of advances in countries such as Canada, the Netherlands and Great Britain, should be put to better and more systematic use in supporting our on-going assessment of the local policy context. As I've been arguing all along, the Australian approach could do with stronger analysis of both internal management practice and outcomes as experienced in the field, and certainly the Arts Council of England model is, in its detail, a notch or two up from what we currently do. At the same time, there is great rhetorical strength in some of the ideas and proposals coming from other countries such as Canada and the Netherlands. What is most interesting about the UNESCO initiatives is that culture is progressively seen as a part of human rights, and seen as seminal to both diversity and concepts of 'nation'. Within the UNESCO framework, multicultural arts policy is inextricably linked to issues around immigration, racism, security as well as aesthetics.

These are just some of the elements which can be imported into our understanding of the AMA context. What I now intend to present is a couple of other general considerations which should also be top-of-mind in current deliberations, and in doing this I'll come back closer to home.

Revisiting Multiculturalism

In 1978 the Galbally report articulated multiculturalism as a policy of Australian government. In 1989 the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia made specific the principles of pluralism, with three dimensions: first, the right of all Australians within carefully defined limits to express and share their individual cultural identity; second the achievement of social justice through equality of treatment and opportunity; and third the need to maintain utilise and develop effectively the skills and talents of all Australians regardless of background. In this decade of public debate about multiculturalism, the pluralist character of Australian society came of age, overtaking older assimilations ideals through these explicit policies which imply the willingness of the majority group to accept cultural difference, and which mark Australia off from more 'laissez-faire' approaches to pluralism adopted for example by the USA. Like other countries with explicit multicultural policies (for example Canada and Sweden), we rely on strong social justice elements within these policies to help guarantee a harmonious society.(31)

The 'liberal' progressive thread which lead Australian through the multicultural policy processes seemed to unravel with Howard's mishandling of the Hanson phenomenon. We experienced a stalling moment in which potentially multiculturalism could have been set back, with immigration numbers significantly cut for the first time in the post war period, potent use (I would say abuse) of environmentalist arguments about population limits and scarcity of resources, receding interest amongst political leaders in the arts as expression of cultural diversity and the Prime Minister even unwilling to use the word 'multiculturalism'. In effect we experienced a tilt back towards assimilations approaches, at least in the political rhetoric.(32)

However, as several commentators have pointed out, there have been therapeutic aspects to the Hanson debate, and an ensuing optimism based on new pride in pluralist style multiculturalism.(33) Policymaking based around cultural diversity has advanced under the Howard government, though with subdued fanfare, not least in the form of the 1998

'Charter of Public Service in a culturally diverse society' which re-works the older access and equity policy and has been accepted as a set of operational principles by all State governments as well as the Local Government Association of Australia. Although familiar on the surface, the 'Charter' has been interpreted as symbolic of the new concept of multicultural citizenship, based in a 'citizen knows best' model of enhanced government-community interaction, in short 'a new kind of democracy'.(34) Of equal, perhaps more significance is Howard's launch this year of the National Multicultural Advisory Council's report 'Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: Toward Inclusiveness'. This report articulates four principles for an inclusive multiculturalism: Civic Duty, Cultural Respect, Social Equity and Productive Diversity. Essentially this revisits the 1989 National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia (though with a fourth principle of Civic Duty), but above all it makes explicit the return to the continuum of multicultural policy development, in both name and intent, and the practical business of making multiculturalism a reality.(35)

Resistance to change

From the broad context of the post Hanson re-emergence, we'll return specifically to the AMA arena, and with this to the cultural institutions responsible for inflecting broad multicultural goals and current government arts policy to produce practical change outcomes. It is useful to identify the enduring impediments to goal implementation which might operate in such organisations, and I would suggest three broad areas which can be divined from the literature on Australian multicultural arts.(36) First is the economic interests of major arts organisations whose operations would be affected by the implementation of multicultural goals; second is the lack of education and/or experience amongst decision makers and professionals which limits their receptivity to multicultural goals, despite their universal benefits; and third is the unconscious discrimination that persists amongst some decision makers and serves to blunt strategies through an 'amorphous lack of desire for change'.(37) Elsewhere in this forum, Andrew Jakubowicz will be proposing responses to educational needs aimed at overcoming such impediments. It's worth noting that he sees resistance ranging from ineptitude to active hostility, and identifies four sources which overlap with those I identify above. He suggests resistance arises from old power hierarchies objecting to demands of access by newly emerging groups, from reluctance to open up the first stage of the policy cycle (agenda setting) to scrutiny and public participation, from individual (psychological) opposition to personal cultural change and learning new social knowledges, and finally from hostility by those in authority to what they see as challenges to that authority.(38)

I've raised this because in a way the impediments to change constitute the most important contextual matter which we could consider. Personal ideologies must be understood alongside our knowledge of international initiatives and government policy frameworks. It's important to know (and perhaps it's clearer post-Hanson) that individual decision-makers may fundamentally oppose high levels of immigration, or may have questions about immigration and environment. Others don't believe there are inequities because they see multicultural activity all around them and think 'it's all happening without my intervention'. (As I've suggested the Australia Council in the late 1990s lost a certain amount of resolve for this last reason.). Another common attitude is that 'For change to occur, I don't have to change my own beliefs, I just have to do it'.

Money and Excellence: Shadow Plays of Multicultural Arts Policy

Finally, before making some conclusions, I want to make mention of the way fundamental sources of resistance including personal worldviews are often masked by an 'excellence debate' and/or a 'resources debate'. These of course are famous arts contests which are, in the field of AMA, mere 'shadow plays' for that which is less tangible or taboo.

The Money debate is the more straightforward. In various ways, arts budgets are 'locked in', and over recent times 'shrinking', and it requires particular resolve to explore ways of diverting resources towards any new purpose, let alone purposes with which a decision maker fundamentally takes issue. The implications of this are well understood in the British experience, where low relative levels of funding for multicultural arts have meant a lack of product and therefore nowhere for emerging artists to go. In the Australian situation, in the late 1980s, when there was more money to play with, we didn't consolidate the multicultural organisations, nor the individual managers and artists, nor audiences, in a way that did happen in other quarters during that period of growth. Now, in a period of tightening, the multicultural arts suffer disproportionately because they were under-resourced in the first place.

The role of the excellence debate in discriminating against NESB arts and artists has been described in considerable detail by Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope in their well known article 'Vocabularies of excellence: rewording multicultural arts policy'. In this they first explore eight common ways to understand 'excellence', then show how each of these can lead to discrimination. For example, in the 'universal canon' model, the understanding which measures excellence against the standards of 'the greats' really means that Western high cultural traditions provide a framework in which the less-than-excellent includes the traditional, the folkloric, the ethnic, the particular.(39) Kalantzis and Cope then explore ways of 'discriminating excellence without discrimination', for example by restating the 'canon' approach as:

The canon is constantly evolving, involving critical self-reflection, dialogue with those on the cultural margins and a determined openness to difference. This is an open notion of excellence that thrives on variety, in differences and on interaction.(40)


In seeking to conclude the discussion in some more concrete form, I provide the following scenario as an example of how impediments or resistances to the implementation of policy may operate:

Scenario - Several representatives of a cultural organisation attend a first positive meeting with a change agent (eg Bruce Robinson of the Migration Heritage Centre) who is suggesting ways to integrate cultural diversity objectives. Everyone finds common ground, in the language, and in the debate about multiculturalism; and the meeting ends with the shared sense that change will occur inside the organisation. Over the next six months, the internal debate about operationalising these changes takes place. Lock-in to traditional roles and reliance on experiential knowledge make it hard for some people to fully grasp the detail of policy implications. For others, change starts to seem invalid when measured against internal priorities. Staff know their own area. They know their own priorities. Change starts to seem like a challenge to individuals' authority. Resistances play their part - the internal construction of acceptable change, rather than necessary change occurs. Returning to a second meeting, the organisation and the change agent now find themselves some distance apart - even definitions, for example coding practices, have slipped away from the previous common ground. The change agent plays an authoritarian card 'you might not think change is necessary or that it isn't valid, but you're going to have to do this anyway because it's government policy'. (Bruce Robinson would never talk like this.)

The organisation leaves this second meeting resentful. The resentment against the authority of government turns into resentment against the issue and for the people that are the change agents, and potentially for NESB people generally. By the third meeting, the change agent is saying 'just do it', and the organisation is providing a well-argued set of reasons why change is impossible.

At this point, unless the change agent is steeled and well resourced for a new cycle of much more difficult negotiation the initiative collapses into one of compromise or window dressing.

Clearly we need to explore ways to counteract the various problems raised by such a scenario, and I'll summarise some possibilities under the two headings of policy settings, and implementation.

Policy settings

If there's a single activity that could provide us with better and more clearly understood policy settings it's to begin a program of more detailed evaluation of the impacts of past policies in the field. This contrasts with measures of outputs favoured for example by the Australia Council. For funding bodies it is no longer sufficient to measure the dollars going out the door or the NESBs coming in to work on staff or committees. We must understand how and if progress is happening in the furtherance of key goals. In this respect we have something to learn from the model provided by the Arts Council of England, which relies heavily on such analysis in revising policy settings. We also need to pay more heed to international initiatives which are sophisticating the discussion of cultural diversity beyond the current understanding of Australian politicians, bureaucrats and arts practitioners. To make AMA operational as a matter of human rights, and for the purpose of providing fundamental support for a harmonious and productive society are approaches which need to colonise the Australian scene. We also need to act upon new proposals for linking AMA work to developments across diverse field - health and environment for example.


It is important that efforts towards better implementation build on an exploration of resistance to change, and that programs, for example education and training, which do something about resistance, take place pro-actively and outside the process of change itself. With these preconditions established, change needs to be approached in a holistic way on a numbers of levels - incorporated into the planning and management of organisations, considered through employment strategies, and in the performance agreements of CEOs and senior management and in the work plans of all staff who will have a hands on role in implementation. Externally to key stakeholders and internally to staff, cultural organisations must clearly articulate goals which include cultural diversity, for example through corporate plans, and money must shift to support these goals, that is to say that budget processes must reflect corporate planning processes. Monitoring and evaluation based on consistent frameworks (for example coding guidelines for funding bodies) needs to be rigorously implemented. As already stated, evaluation needs to shift to the outside of funding bodies. Internal reviews of processes are not enough. A particular strategy should be to develop and sustain companies that define themselves by their culture and express the aspirations of culturally diverse communities. At the same time, existing mainstream arts organisations which are not specialist in multicultural arts activity, must be reformed so that they address AMA goals. In this regard, principles underpinning the EAPS process in New South Wales could be extended to cover all major organisations regularly receiving government grants. Finally the history of AMA policy and its attendant implementation failures confirms the need for visionary, principled and consistent leadership, by politicians, CEOs, staff, the multicultural lobby itself and artists and arts workers.

1 One place this has been argued is The Big Picture: a framework for policies and practices relating to arts for a Multicultural Australia, Office of Multicultural Affairs and The Australia Council, 1993, p5.
2 I intend to use the term Arts for a Multicultural Australia (AMA) throughout this paper, as a substitute for 'Multicultural Arts'.
3 The analytical focus on problems of political will crosses into many fields where rational approaches have indicated the need for deep seated structural change, such as environment and health. For a theoretical discussion of this, see for example Howlett M., and Ramesh, M., Studying Public Policy: policy cycles and policy subsystems, Oxford University Press, 1995.
4 As a basic guide to what 'access and equity' might mean, some population statistics provide guidance about desirable participation rates. In 1945, ninety percent of the Australian people were born here, and a further eight percent were born in Britain or New Zealand. Half a century later, forty one percent of Australians have been born overseas, with twenty three percent either born in a non English speaking country, or having a parent who was.
5 This is recent research commissioned by the Australia Council. To give examples of numerical under-representation, based on 1996 ABS statistics, while NESB first generation people are 14 percent of the overall workforce, they have only 9 percent of artistic roles in theatre; and whereas 24 percent of Australians are either first or second generation NESB, only 21 percent of actors and 14 percent of artistic directors across theatre/film/TV are NESB.
6 Fears about box office failure, lack of roles, problems with 'looks' and 'accents' and preference for British theatre traditions were cited.
7 The discussion was punctuated by Des Griffin, then Director of the Australian Museum, saying 'To hell with more reports and recommendations... until we understand why it was not implemented, we might as well go and have a beer!' See Galla A., and McIntyre, D., (Eds) Issues in Multicultural Heritage Management: Proceedings of a National Symposium, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Council of Australian Museum Associations et al, 1990, pp76-80.
8 The OMA no longer exists, but under the Labor government was an arm of the Federal Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet The Howard government located multicultural affairs in the Department of Immigration, now called the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
9 This view, and the story of 'The Big Picture' has been provided by Meredith Austin in 'Cultural Policy making in action: the development of the Big Picture', paper presented at Post Colonial Formations Conference at Griffith University July 1993.
10 Ibid. Austin records how 'members of a government committee came together almost by chance and decided to draw up guidelines for good multicultural practice in arts funding, and how this seemingly modest project took on a life of its own'.
11 The Federal government's Arts Funding and Policy body, established as a Statutory Authority. The relationship between the Australia Council and Canberra is characteristically 'arms length' by design but perhaps not entirely in practice, given, for example, the implications of Ministerial power to appoint members of Council, and Boards (now called Funds).
12 Annette Blonski, Arts for a Multicultural Australia, 1973-1991: an account of Australia Council policies, Australia Council, Sydney, 1992, p43. The Grid sought to increase representation for women, regional areas, NESB, and trade unions.
13 Ibid. p47.
14 Australia Council Annual Reports 1991-92 and 1997-98 respectively. In 1991-92 the breakdown was 18% NESB 1 and 8% NESB 2. In 1997 the staff profile was 16% NESB1 and 13% NESB 2.
15 Initially, in the person of Council Chair Donald Horne who championed the introduction of AMA policy.
16 Until the mid 1990s. The Visual Arts and Craft Board claimed activities relating to the Venice Biennale and overseas studios as Arts for a Multicultural Australia. A simple way of looking at the counting and coding issue is to say that if a project has over 50 percent content that reflects issues of Australian cultural diversity or if over 50 percent of its key creative personnel are NESB, then it should be counted as AMA. This also applies to organisational funding. International activity, including for example visiting exhibitions of overseas artworks, should be excluded.
17 Such figures appear in internal AMA reports which the Australia Council produces annually.
18 Australia Council Directions 1999-2001, p12.
19 Access and Equity Annual Report, Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, 1998. And see NSW government white paper 'Building on our cultural diversity: ethnic affairs action plan 2000', 1996.
20 The Arts and Cultural Diversity (August 1997) key principles are:
(1) The government acknowledges the inter-relationship and interconnectedness of areas that have previously been considered distinct: community arts and professional arts; traditional arts and contemporary art; mainstream art and minority art; commercial art and non-commercial art. It acknowledges that arts practice exists on a continuum in which all activities have a place.
(2) The Government will ensure that the resources it administers are distributed as equitably as possible. This will result in fairer outcomes, generating more work by artists of non-English speaking backgrounds and greater participation by people of these backgrounds.
(3) The Government will treat cultural diversity, as expressed in the arts, as one of the defining characteristics of a united modern Australia
21 This is my estimate based on analysis of Ministry annual reports and EAPS reports.
22 For example, the same untenable classification of international touring activities as AMA. Only visiting performers/exhibitions/etc with clear links to an Australian diaspora should be classed as AMA.
23 There is an extensive literature on the impacts of the Earth Summit, not to mention the outpouring of policy at every government level, starting with the Earth Summit's own extensive 'Agenda 21'.
24 I'd make the observation that Australia's involvement in the UNESCO process has been minimalist, even embarrassing. For an event attended by a large number of cultural ministers, even prime ministers, and large delegations from all western countries (Canada sent 36 representatives for example) it is curious that Australia sent just three delegates, including two consultant academics and a Deputy Secretary of the Department Communications, Information technology and the Arts; therefore with no Ministerial presence, no representation from the Australia Council and no State government representation.
25 This view was put to me by one of the Australian delegates.
26 UNESCO Cultural Policy database, entry for Canada.
27 Principles on Cultural Policy, Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 1996.
28 'Sparkling Opportunities: Equality as a hallmark of Innovation in Education, culture and Research, Netherlands Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, 1998
29 This history is recorded in 'The landscape of fact; towards a policy for cultural diversity for the English funding system: African, Caribbean, Asian and Chinese arts': consultative green paper, Arts Council of England, Feb 1997, p32.
30 Ibid. p15.
31 Stephen Castles, 'Multicultural Citizenship: a response to the dilemma of globalisation and national identity', Journal of Intercultural Studies, 18/1, 1997, p10.
32 There is a full discussion of these trends in recent work by Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope. See their book A Place in the Sun: A promise of the Australian Way of Life, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, in publication.
33 See for example Anthony Dennis 'Towards One Nation: Australia appears to have emerged well from a multicultural debate', Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 1999, Features p17. Dennis quotes new research by Hugh Mackay who says "Ultimately the overwhelming majority of Australians have decided that they are proud of [our hybrid society] and that they like it and that they want it."
34 The importance of this Charter and the proposition that it represents a new form of democracy is discussed by Kalantzis and Cope. Op. Cit. See Note 31, pp289-291.
35 Ibid, pp280-284. Kalantzis and Cope capture the moment of the launch by quipping 'Howard had used the 'm' word. And he seemed to be meaning what the word meant.'
36 For example see Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope, 'Vocabularies of excellence: rewording multicultural arts policy', in Gunew S., and Rizvi, F., Culture, Difference and the Arts, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1994, p13-35.
37 Ibid. p22.
38 With some elaboration of the second type of resistance, this is the model put forward by Andrew Jakubowicz in 'Professional Development and Heritage': background paper for this forum.
39 Op. Cit. See Note 35, p17-20
40 Ibid p20.