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Creative Nation: Commonwealth Cultural Policy

1 October 1994

Creative Nation: Commonwealth Cultural Policy released.

The first national cultural policy in Australia, the document argues for the recognition of a common heritage and a policy that acknowledges the essential role of culture, identity and technology in national politics.

Film, television, radio and multimedia were highlighted as a significant part of the national cultural agenda, and of cultural production in the information age. The following is an excerpt from the report:

Multi-MediaCultural Production in an Information Age

Not too many years ago, policy in respect of information, computing, telephony and broadcasting would have been seen purely in an industry or service policy context. The focus would have been on hardware and its application to the means of production and distribution. The emphasis was almost exclusively on efficiency and productivity.

Today, information technology having advanced so rapidly offers a wide medium for the exchange of information and ideas. Text, graphics, sound and image can now be deployed to provide not simply data but concepts and understanding, creative elements that can expand horizons and devices that can engage the mind in contemporary activity.

Information technology, and all that it now offers, has crossed the technical rubicon into the realm of consciousness, to the realm of culture. Multi-media today gives us instruments which allow us to shape information in so many forms that they can become an integral part of our life's experience.

This is why the imperatives of the information age and some of its opportunities are addressed here in the context of creative and cultural policy. Interactive multi-media has the potential to become a new force in education, art, culture and service and the biggest information business in the world. It will change the way we communicate, the way we learn, the way we do business, the way we create, the way we live our daily lives.

If, as a nation, we can create a vibrant multi-media industry, we will go a long way to ensuring that we have a stake in the new world order yet retain a distinctly Australian culture. Multi-media can provide us with an important new form of cultural expression and a major product to sell to the world. It will also provide new ways of accessing the storehouse of our intellectual and creative inheritance.

Australia already has some of the wherewithal to yield these new opportunities. We have one of the more advanced telecommunications networks in the world, and now substantial investment is underway to ensure our information highway is put into place.

But it is content which is absolutely critical: it is what we put onto the highway that really matters.

Australian content development industries already generate domestic revenues in the order of $8.4 billion and we have considerable strengths in areas relevant to the creation of interactive multi-media products. We have a strong and innovative film and television industry, recognised software skills and a long tradition of innovation and entrepreneurial endeavour.

However, if we are to create a market for Australian content both at home and abroad, we must make a fundamental conceptual shift to this new form of information packaging and presentation. In response to this, the Government has moved quickly to re-assess traditional policy settings across government.

In January 1994, the Communications and Arts portfolios were merged to enable the Government best to deal with the convergence of the broadcasting, telecommunications, computing and creative (i.e. film and content production) industries and technologies. This reflects the view that the content of communications services cannot be considered separately from the delivery of that content. This move has sent a positive message to both content creators and distributors that the Government understands the need for policy to take us into the epoch of the `information superhighway'.

In addition, in late 1993 on the Prime Minister's initiative the Broadband Services Expert Group (BSEG) was established to report to the Government, and the wider community, on the implications for Australia of the impending developments in multi-media and broadband services. Throughout its inquiries, content producers have stressed that future developments must be in lock step with service providers. In its interim report, BSEG nominated content as the critical issue for Australia.

Australia has the opportunity to become a world leader in the new services environment through the production of content - the essential element in the broadband and multi-media environment. This was also recognised in Commerce in Content: Building Australia's International Future in Interactive Multi-media Markets, a report jointly commissioned by BSEG and the Department of Industry, Science and Technology.

The Commerce in Content report estimates that, by the end of the decade, the Australian domestic interactive multi-media market could be worth $2 billion to $3 billion. Australian interactive multi-media exports could be worth more than $200 million by 1997-98.

As we look at the information highway road map, there are broadly speaking three main waves of content production which will be developed over the next 10-15 years. They are not entirely sequential, but loosely involve CD-ROM product over the next three to five years, followed by on-line PC services and finally broadband interactive services.

While ultimately it is the broadband services that are likely to have the most pervasive effect on our lives and our culture, a key challenge facing us now is the production of CD-ROM multi-media titles for personal computers. Personal computers equipped with CD-ROM players are now standard. The global installed base of CD-ROM players is forecast to quadruple to 45 million units from 1994 to 1996 and the number of CD-ROM players in Australia is forecast to exceed one million within three years.

If we can compete successfully in the CD-ROM market, the experience and skills base we gain will provide a critical foothold for the future development of content for the information highway. It will help position us to compete better in the already emerging PC on-line narrowband market, and later on in the interactive PC and broadband television market. But the window of opportunity is limited indeed and unless we act quickly and creatively, we run some risk of missing the content boat.

Our educated population, our creative infrastructure, and the fact that we develop in English are all big advantages in capturing a significant share of the rapidly growing CD-ROM market.

In the longer term, BSEG has also identified the need to focus on the emerging on-line services and broadband interactive services. These new services will be very pervasive and are likely to transform the way we live, work and play.

These services will enable people and organisations to send almost any communication, information or entertainment from anywhere to anywhere. In simple terms, a home or work computer could also be a television set and video, a telephone, and a connection to every on-line databank. A wide range of information and entertainment services will be more readily available and easier and cheaper to find and access. There is no doubt that multi-media products will be the drivers of these vast new services.

The starting point to realising our potential in multi-media products is to build a critical pool of talent with multi-media skills. For the most part, the talent is located in young people in education or working in small companies around Australia. Our schools and our tertiary institutions need to meet the challenge of new information technologies. We need to generate greater dialogue and interaction between the traditional content producers and the software experts. And since much of the talent resides in people with little experience in business, we need to ensure that good ideas can be turned into commercial product.

The reward for getting this right is the creation of a dynamic Australian multi-media industry producing Australian content for Australian and international consumers. Our current strengths in creating for film, literature, music or art audiences provide a wonderful platform from which to build. Our cultural institutions have begun to head down this path, but much more can be achieved.

Against this background, the Government has decided to take five specific and complementary measures costing $84 million over a four-year period. They are:

  • the creation of the Australian Multi-media Enterprise;
  • the establishment of Cooperative Multi-media Development Centres;
  • the initiation of a series of national Multi-media Forums;
  • the commissioning of CD-ROMs involving material from our major cultural institutions for Australian schools under the Australia on CD program; and
  • specific assistance to foster our film agencies' move into multi-media.

These measures will benefit our cultural institutions and the production of Australian content more generally. They will have an important impact in our schools and tertiary institutions, while also making it possible for the creative members of our community to get access to the skills and finance that will enable them to create a product for the world market.

In addition, these measures represent an important investment in and for young Australians. Obviously, it is young Australians who will best embrace the information waves. They are the ones who are already picking up the new technologies with enthusiasm. They represent the way forward. If we can take steps now that will realise the enormous potential that exists in our youth, we will travel a good distance to setting them up with the sorts of skills they will need to ensure that Australia prospers in the twenty-first century and that Australia remains an originator of culture.

the australian multi-media enterprise

The creation of multi-media product from an initial concept is difficult and risky. For every successful multi-media title, probably another two to-three never make it out of prototype stage and another two fail to bring in appropriate returns at market. A combination of good title selection, sound management, effective marketing and distribution and access to suitable finance is required. This can be especially difficult for enterprises starting out.

Traditional forms of finance are used to fund multi-media development where it is custom development work. This can be quite profitable work, but it does not allow for the multipliers that exist when a `title' is developed and sold in its hundred of thousands across the world. These higher risk, higher reward propositions require new types of financing arrangements, some of which are beginning to emerge but are still very much in their infancy. For example, two development capital funds with a multi-media focus have now been registered under the Government's Pooled Development Funds scheme and are in the process of raising capital.

It is critical, however, that this market is developed quickly, particularly in the production of mass title CD-ROMs for the global market. Private sector funds are likely to focus more on projects involving established firms, whereas there are significant opportunities with genuinely new entrants to the market.

Accordingly, the Government will provide $45 million for the establishment of the Australian Multi-media Enterprise (AME) to provide financing for the development and commercialisation of interactive multi-media products and services. An enterprise of this size will provide a spur to the industry at this early but critical stage of its development. It will, of course, tap only a small part of the sector's enormous potential.

The enterprise will ensure the production of Australian content by accelerating the production of high quality interactive multi-media products and services. It will foster world best practice and act as an important catalyst for increased investment, both directly through its own resources and indirectly by leveraging private sector funding on a project basis. It will provide a platform for small Australian multi-media companies to gain a worldwide reputation as producers of innovative and high quality multi-media products and services.

The AME will be established as a company to manage the funds along the lines of a development capital enterprise. It will be run by a board of people expert in the provision of world class multi-media content and will be responsible to the Minister for Communications and the Arts. It will assess and oversee multi-media projects from the concept stage through to commercialisation and distribution. Related enterprise development programs will be coordinated through AusIndustry.

Very often, the range of skills needed to develop multi-media projects does not reside in one enterprise. The AME will thus also facilitate the forming of consortia to produce and distribute successful interactive multi-media products and services through a project management approach.

The Board will encourage private sector participation in project investments, including that by companies which have committed themselves to long-term and strategic investment under the Partnership for Development program. The Regional Headquarters Contract Program will also be used to attract international investment including towards the establishment of regional and global production centres and content hubs.

The enterprise will initially focus on the production of CD-ROM titles and on-line services, although this will not be its exclusive focus, and the attention will progressively shift to other waves of multi-media content production.

cooperative multi-media centres

Traditional training courses provided by our tertiary institutions include first rate computing courses and, in quite separate departments, media courses. However, they are not well tailored to multi-media, which draws on a range of skills. This is beginning to change, with a few institutions now setting up specific courses in multi-media.

To foster these very positive developments, the Government will seed the development of up to six Cooperative Multi-media Centres over the next two years. The Centres will be collaborative enterprises between the education and training sectors and other public and private organisations. The Government will commit up to $56.5 million over nine years to establish the Centres ($20.3 million over the first four years) and provide them with initial funding of up to $2 million per year for seven years. The program will be administered by the Department of Employment, Education and Training.

The Centres will assist the education sector and the broader Australian multi-media industry to produce multi-media titles for domestic use, and to develop the Australian market as an export platform. They will offer education, training and professional services, access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, access to leading-edge research and development, and assistance with the handling of issues such as intellectual property and product testing and evaluation.

They will act as a resource for the multi-media industry at large while also accelerating the uptake of multi-media within the education and training centres.

They will complement the Government's new Open Learning Electronic Support Service (OLESS) which is currently being developed to provide a national electronic infrastructure for the delivery of educational and training services to students in their homes, workplaces and community based facilities such as public libraries.

In short, the Cooperative Multi-media Centres are designed to enable the education and training sector to do its own job better and more cost-effectively while also providing an important platform for the development of a major new export industry. In this way, the Centres should make a significant contribution to building Australia's content industries.

multi-media forums

A major impediment to the development of a successful multi-media industry is insufficient dialogue and interaction between the creative and software communities. For too long these communities have been travelling along parallel paths not exploiting obvious synergies. It is imperative, therefore, that we accelerate integration between them and foster links between industry and the cultural community including film-makers, broadcasters, galleries, museums and educational institutions. Through these links, we will better develop and commercialise interactive multi-media products and services.

To this end, the Government will fund a series of national multi-media forums to be jointly administered by the Department of Industry, Science and Technology and the Department of Communications and the Arts at a cost of $3.9 million over four years.

The forums will be State and sector-based (education, games, infotainment) and will identify opportunities and barriers to developing the multi-media industry. A structured program will focus on critical industry issues such as best practice, intellectual property copyright, reasons for market success and failure, interface design, development of titles, financial realities of developing titles and the future of title development.

australia on cd program

Offering Australians access to the widest possible range of cultural experiences and cultural material is a key element in the Government's cultural policy.

The "Australia on CD" Program is designed to showcase a wide range of Australian cultural endeavour, artistic performance and heritage achievements while also fostering the development of our multi-media industry.

The Government will fund the production of ten CD-ROMs that focus on national cultural institutions with an emphasis on the development of collaborative projects.

 Four copies of each CD-ROM will be made available to all primary and secondary schools throughout Australia. While all schools do not have access to CD-ROM technology, the costs involved are decreasing significantly and the benefits of using multi-media programs for a range of educational needs is already established. Access to the CDs should also encourage the acquisition of CD-ROM facilities in schools.

The CDs will also be made available to Austrade offices and our overseas missions in order to showcase Australian culture abroad.

The program, which will cost $7.6 million over two years, will be administered through the Department of Communications and the Arts with projects being selected for development by a panel comprising representatives from the Department, the Foundation for Cultural Development, the National Museum of Australia and with advice from experts in the multi-media field.

The projects selected will cover a broad range of content from our national cultural institutions, from music to dance, from painting to literature, from our history to our built heritage. The fund will encourage self-sustaining and on-going collaborative ventures by drawing together the cultural creators and providers with the multi-media technicians. Quality titles built on intuitive, interactive concepts will be selected. The consortia involved will have the copyright on sales beyond those provided to schools and overseas missions, thereby providing a further incentive to produce quality titles and the wherewithal to initiate further product.

new media program

In addition to undertaking measures to build the multi-media industry at the general level, the Government is also keen to see that existing institutions are encouraged to develop their capabilities in the multi-media field.

To this end, the Government will provide specific assistance to the Australian Film Commission (AFC), the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) and the Australian Children's Television Foundation (ACTF).

The objective is to bring together cultural creators, multi-media technicians and producers to stimulate the development and production of new media projects while also targeting industry training needs in the audio-visual sector.

The Australian Film Commission will receive $5.25 million for investment funding over a four-year period for developmental multi-media projects initiated in the independent film production and computer software sectors. The AFC's New Image Research Program will be extended to develop experimental multi-media projects work in addition to film. Private sector participation will be sought so as to link with industry and assist the development of an effective local marketing and distribution infrastructure network. This approach parallels and builds on the success of the AFC in funding film projects that were not able to find commercial backing because of their innovative nature.

The Australian Film, Television and Radio School will receive $950 000 over four years to extend its advanced professional training for the film and television industry to cover new media production training as part of its core training responsibility for industry. This training will add to the national skills base of the industry. A key component will be the establishment of a multi-media laboratory in collaboration with industry to provide hands-on training and to develop teaching expertise in the area.

The Australian Children's Television Foundation will receive $700 000 over four years to develop quality educational multi-media projects drawing on its own and other educational materials and sources. It will do this in cooperation with the private sector and other government agencies. The Foundation already has established client groups, both in Australia and overseas, and a strong educational base on which to build.


The multi-media measures outlined in this statement are an important step that the Government is taking to ensure that Australia makes the transition to an information economy. Necessarily, they focus on measures that are designed to foster the production of Australian content in our cultural industries.

Over the coming months, the Government will consider a number of important reports that will touch on the development of the multi-media industry. In December, the BSEG will present its final report to Government on what it considers Australia needs to do to make the leap to the information age. The other important study underway is the Telecommunications Policy Review which will report around the middle of next year. This review is examining what we need to do in the post-1997 environment when we have full and open competition in our telecommunications services.