The Big Picture 2: Public Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative activity in Australia in 2007-08 to 2019-20 

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The 2019–20 financial year included both significant bushfires and the first four months of the Covid-19 pandemic. While Covid-19 dominates our every thought and every policy today, it is important to remember that this was not the case for most of the 2019–20 period. This report provides an updated overview of cultural expenditure trends in Australia between the 2007–08 and 2019–20 periods, drawing on a new release of Australia’s most comprehensive dataset on cultural funding by governments. It builds on the initial observations about this release, which ANA published in October 2021.

Australia’s federal, state and territory and local governments all invest in arts and culture to provide opportunities for people to access, experience and keep creating Australia’s heritage and culture. — The Big Picture 2

Summary of findings 

Finding 1

Arts and culture organisations and businesses accessed more than $4 billion of Covid-19 support in the last four months of the 2019–20 financial year. Of this amount, 98.8% came from the federal government; however, only half the states and territories were able to report on their Covid-specific cultural spending.

Finding 2

Expenditure on arts and culture across the three levels of government reached a new high of $7.26 billion in the 2019–20 financial year, even without the inclusion of support for Covid-19 disruptions. However, the increase in real terms between 2017–18 and 2019–20 was marginal, at just 0.6%, indicating that total expenditure has increased only slightly faster than inflation.

Finding 3

Cultural spending has not kept up with population growth, with a 6.9% decrease in per capita expenditure on arts and culture in the period between 2007–08 and 2019–20. Cultural expenditure from the three levels of government combined was $282 per person in the 2019–20 period; in the 2007–08 period, it was $303 per person (adjusted for inflation).

Finding 4

At the time of this report, Australia was ranked number 23 out of the 34 OECD countries – a slight increase in ranking from 26th in 2015. In 2019, the OECD average for expenditure on culture, recreation and religion was 1.23% of total GDP, while the Australian figure was only 0.95% of GDP.

Finding 5

Responsibility for cultural expenditure continues to be split more evenly between the levels of government than it was in the 2007–08 period. Excluding Covid-19 measures, the federal government contributed 37.9%, state and territory governments 36.7% and local governments 25.3% to total cultural expenditure by governments in the 2019–20 financial year.

Finding 6

Total capital expenditure has slowly but steadily increased as a proportion of total cultural expenditure in Australia. Capital expenditure was 17.1% of the total cultural expenditure during the 2019–20 financial year, up from 11.5% in 2007–08.

Finding 7

The proportion of cultural expenditure by federal, state and territory governments allocated across three overarching categories was 42% to Museums, Libraries, Archives and Heritage; 31% to Film, Radio and Television; and 27% to Arts in the 2019–20 period. The proportion allocated to Museums, Libraries, Archives and Heritage increased, while the proportion allocated to Film, Radio and Television and to Arts decreased since the 2017–18 period.

Summary of opportunities 

Opportunity 1

Develop and implement the National Cultural Plan, a bipartisan 2021 recommendation from the recent Parliamentary Inquiry into Creative and Cultural Industries and Institutions. This will facilitate more effective collaboration between federal, state and territory and local governments and cross-portfolio strategic initiatives. Clearer policy direction and coordination will ensure that the benefits of cultural expenditure by governments are available to all Australians.

Opportunity 2

Within the context of the National Cultural Plan, and with bipartisan recognition of the positive cultural, social and economic impacts of arts and cultural participation, design and implement mechanisms to boost cultural expenditure by governments as a percentage of GDP to at least the OECD average within the next decade.

Opportunity 3

Create a standing item on the development of the National Cultural Plan on the National Federation Reform Council agenda.

Opportunity 4

While Covid-19 is still disrupting the operations of arts and cultural organisations and special support mechanisms are in place, conduct the CFG survey every financial year.

Opportunity 5

The proposed Productivity Commission inquiry ‘into the legislative arrangements which govern funding of artistic programs and activities at all levels of government’ should proceed and take a broad approach towards understanding the source and intended purpose of this investment, including the expected cultural, social and economic benefits from this investment. Noting expenditure is only one of the policy levers available to governments; they can also consider if Australia has a fit-for-purpose legislative, regulatory, tax incentive and investment environment.

Opportunity 6

Build on the work of Infrastructure Australia to 1) implement a coordinated national approach to arts and cultural infrastructure and 2) facilitate greater collaboration between federal, state and territory and local governments for cultural infrastructure programs.

Opportunity 7

Take an industry transformation approach to supporting arts and cultural organisations in expanding digital offerings and access, given the importance that Australians are now placing on digital engagement with arts and culture.

Suggested Citation

Fielding, K., Trembath, J.L., February 2022. “The Big Picture 2: Public Expenditure on Artistic, Cultural and Creative activity in Australia in 2007-08 to 2019-20”. Insight report no. 2022-01. Produced by A New Approach (ANA). Canberra, Australia.

Report Design

Swell Design Group (@swelldesigngroup)


A New Approach (ANA) is Australia’s first think tank dedicated to arts, culture and creativity, and was established in 2018. ANA’s vision is for an Australia that celebrates, benefits from and invests in arts, culture and creativity for all Australians.

ANA’s work informs debate, shifts beliefs and inspires better public policy. We leverage our unique independence and expertise to generate the evidence-led insights that underpin our contemporary, pragmatic and non-partisan advice.

ANA acknowledges the cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia and their continuing cultural and creative practices in this land.

This report was written by Dr Jodie Trembath and Kate Fielding from A New Approach (ANA). The primary research underpinning it was led by Dr Stephen Cuttriss from the Social Research Centre, with assistance from Louise Nisbet.

Expert advice was provided for this report by Professor Gerry Redmond, Dean of Research and sociologist of children and youth at Flinders University; Associate Professor Hernan Cuervo, Deputy Director of the Youth Research Centre at the University of Melbourne; Dr Emma Felton, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Creative Industries, Education and Social Justice at Queensland University of Technology; and Ben Au, Director of Policy and Government Affairs at the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association.

ANA thanks all the people who generously reviewed this paper for their time and excellent feedback, including members of ANA’s Board and Reference Group.

The opinions in this Insight Report do not necessarily represent the views of ANA’s funding partners, the individual members involved in the governance or advisory committees, or others who have provided input.

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