Communications and the Arts: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

The Communications and the Arts portfolio is committed to improving communications services to regional and remote Australia, and making government services simpler and more accessible, through the increased availability of digital services. The Communications and the Arts portfolio also supports the achievement of a culturally rich Australia by supporting arts and cultural activities in regional and remote Australia.

Regional communities across Australia are benefiting from a number of initiatives, including:

  • providing high–speed broadband at affordable prices, and at least cost to taxpayers as soon as possible to all Australians through the rollout of the National Broadband Network;
  • improving mobile phone coverage in black spot areas through the Mobile Black Spot Program;
  • providing support for digital television services;
  • providing funding support for community broadcasting services;
  • reforming media regulation to remove outdated media control rules and strengthening local content provisions on regional commercial television; and
  • delivering tailored programs to support artistic and cultural expression, and participation and access to cultural experiences.

People living in regional areas of Australia are already benefiting from the National Broadband Network, with NBN Co Limited having completed network rollout to more than 60 per cent of homes and business outside major urban areas as at the end of April 2017. This includes the availability of Sky Muster satellite services for eligible premises across the country, completion of over 74 per cent of the fixed wireless network nationally, and the availability of the National Broadband Network to half the brownfield premises in the fixed line footprint outside major urban areas.

As at the end of April 2017, services were already available to over 2 million of these homes and businesses through fixed line, fixed wireless and satellite infrastructure, and will be available to around 3.6 million remote and regional brownfield premises by 2020.

The Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program will continue to invest in mobile base station infrastructure in areas that are otherwise non-commercial for mobile network operators. The Australian Government’s investment of $160.0 million for rounds 1 and 2 from 2015–16, will deliver 765 new or upgraded base stations across regional and remote Australia. In total, rounds 1 and 2 of the program will deliver more than $598.0 million in new investment including co-investment from state governments, third parties and mobile network operators. The Australian Government has committed an additional $60.0 million from 2017–18 to 2019–20 to target specific mobile black spots announced during the 2016 election.

The Communications and the Arts portfolio also delivers programs which encourage the protection, development, production, celebration and exhibition of artistic and cultural expression.

New Initiatives

Broadcasting Spectrum Pricing

The Australian Government is making changes to how we tax commercial broadcasters for spectrum by moving from revenue-based fees to a fee based on spectrum use. The new fees reflect significant discounts for broadcasters in regional Australia. This means that the vast majority of broadcasters in regional Australia will experience a decrease in fees. Despite such discounts, a small amount of regional licensees will experience an increase in fees. To respond to this, the Government will compensate these licensees over a period of five years to enable transition to the new tax framework.

Community Broadcasting Program

The Australian Government provides funding to support community broadcasting services throughout Australia via the Community Broadcasting Program. The Community Broadcasting Program is administered at arms–length from the Australian Government by the Community Broadcasting Foundation via a funding deed with the Department of Communications and the Arts. In the 2017–18 Budget, the Australian Government announced an additional $6.1 million for the Community Broadcasting Program. In 2017–18 this results in a $19.6 million investment in community broadcasting.

The Community Broadcasting Foundation allocates the Community Broadcasting Program funding to community broadcasters in metropolitan, regional and remote locations around Australia. Grants are allocated in various categories including content development, ethnic, Indigenous, radio for the print handicapped, training, and transmission support.

Special Broadcasting Service—Operational Funding

In the current triennium (2016–17 to 2018–19), the Australian Government also committed to provide the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) with $814.2 million in base funding over three years, and an additional $8.3 million over three years, to maintain its commitment to multilingual, multicultural and Indigenous media services. In the 2017–18 Budget, the Australian Government further agreed to provide $8.8 million to replace advertising revenue that SBS has been unable to realise.

This funding will enable SBS to continue connecting Australians in regional and rural areas with stories that celebrate Australia’s rich cultural and linguistic diversity. As part of the SBS family, National Indigenous Television (NITV) seeks to inform, educate and entertain Australians about Indigenous issues, by showcasing Indigenous culture, languages and talent. Each month, NITV is watched by more than two million Australians, with many located in remote areas.

Part of this funding ensures that stakeholders and filmmaking talent in regional and remote areas, which have previously included Darwin, Alice Springs, Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Rockhampton, Dubbo and Gulkula, are able to share local stories with national audiences through NITV.

Current Initiatives

Digital Literacy for Older Australians

The Australian Government will provide $16.9 million over four years from 2016–17 to 2019–20, with $4.9 million allocated in 2017–18 to the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner. This will deliver a ‘Digital Literacy for Older Australians’ initiative to improve the digital confidence and skills of older Australians across the country, including in regional Australia. The initiative will be jointly implemented with the Department of Social Services.

The initiative includes the development of an overarching digital literacy and online safety strategy. The key deliverables of the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner include the development of a national digital portal that will provide Australian families, peers and community organisations, with a one-stop-shop for information, tools and training resources. This will assist with safe and confident participation online and access to tools and programs at any time to improve digital literacy levels.

Community Infrastructure Projects—New Announcements: Sunshine Coast Regional Council Submarine Cable Study

The Government has committed to provide $250,000 to support the Sunshine Coast Regional Council to undertake a feasibility study into landing a potential international submarine telecommunications cable on the Sunshine Coast. The study will examine how the economic benefits from a cable to the Sunshine Coast could be realised. The study would enable the Sunshine Coast Regional Council to progress its business case for the project.

Community Infrastructure Projects—New Announcements: Mt Roland FireLight Trial Festival in Tasmania

The Australian Government provided $40,000 in 2016–17 towards the May 2017 trial of the Mount Roland FireLight Festival in North West Tasmania. Funding will support a multimedia animation laser show beamed onto Mt Roland, which will tell the story of the rich history of the North-West of Tasmania, including Indigenous culture. The animation will be accompanied by an original soundtrack, incorporating orchestral and Indigenous musical traditions. The soundtrack will be streamed live via the Internet and local radio during the laser show enabling broad audience engagement with the project throughout the region.

This five day trial festival aims to build on Tasmania’s growing cultural tourism market and provide North-West Tasmanians with access to a cultural event celebrating the history and cultural influences of this area of regional Australia.

Community Infrastructure Projects—New Announcements: Tasmanian Winter Events Program on the North West Coast of Tasmania

The Australian Government provided $40,000 in 2016–17 towards the development of a Winter Events Program on the North West Coast of Tasmania. The Winter Events Program will support participation in, and access to, arts and cultural activities for Australians in regional Tasmania.

It also represents an investment in cultural tourism in regional Australia that will provide economic and employment benefits for North West Tasmania.

National Broadband Network

The Australian Government is committed to completing the National Broadband Network and ensuring all Australians have access to high–speed broadband. The Australian Government is investing $29.5 billion in equity in the National Broadband Network and will provide a commercial loan of up to $19.5 billion to NBN Co Limited to be repaid by June 2021.

Delivering high–speed broadband to remote and regional Australia is a key priority. By the end of April 2017, services were already available to over two million of these homes and businesses through fixed line, fixed wireless and satellite infrastructure, and will be available to around 3.6 million remote and regional premises by 2020.

Regional Broadband Scheme

The Australian Government is implementing the Regional Broadband Scheme to provide a sustainable and transparent funding source for NBN Co Limited’s fixed wireless and satellite networks. The company’s fixed wireless and satellite networks provide essential broadband services to regional Australians and are expected to be largely complete in 2018.

Under the Regional Broadband Scheme all fixed line network owners (including NBN Co Limited) will contribute funding proportionally to the size of their networks, replacing NBN Co Limited’s internal cross-subsidy.

Mobile Black Spot Program

Rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program will deliver more than $598.0 million in new investment towards improving mobile coverage and competition in regional and remote parts of Australia, including a $160.0 million Australian Government funding commitment from 2015–16, and co-contributions from State and Territory governments, mobile carriers and third parties.

Under rounds 1 and 2, 765 new or upgraded mobile base stations will be deployed across regional and remote Australia—114 Optus, 577 Telstra and 74 Vodafone base stations.

The first round 1 base station was activated in December 2015. The first round 2 base station (an Optus small cell) was activated on 8 March 2017. As at 27 April 2017, 141 round 1 and 2 base stations had been activated.

The program has been highly successful in maximising co-contributions from third parties, including State and local governments and communities.

The Australian Government has committed an additional $60.0 million to the Mobile Black Spot Program from 2017–18 to 2019–20. This funding will target specific locations announced during the 2016 election.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation—Operational Funding

In the current triennium (2016–17 to 2018–19) the Australian Government will provide the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with $3.1 billion in base funding.

The ABC will also receive an additional $41.4 million over three years from 2016–17 to supplement local news and current affairs services, particularly those located outside the capital cities. The continuation of base funding will enable the ABC to maintain its expanded presence and continue to deliver quality news and current affairs services on television, radio, digital and mobile platforms.

Australian audiences in these areas will continue to benefit from this funding which strengthens reporting within local communities and also enables local stories to be shared with national audiences.

Media Reform

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Media Reform) Bill 2016 passed the House of Representatives on 30 November 2016 and was introduced into the Senate on 1 December 2016. The Bill will repeal the ‘75 per cent audience reach rule’ and the ‘two out of three rule’ and introduce changes that will protect and enhance the amount of local television content in regional Australia.

To meet community concerns, stronger local programming obligations will be introduced for regional commercial television broadcasters who, as a result of a change of control of their licences, become part of a television network that reaches more than 75 per cent of the Australian population.

In these cases, regional commercial licensees would be required to commence broadcasting additional local programming six months after the change in control.

Regional communities also stand to benefit from a new points system which incentivises the local filming of news stories. The new points structure will strengthen the link between local programming and local communities.

Viewer Access Satellite Television

The Viewer Access Satellite Television program provides funding from 2010-11 to 2019–20 to broadcasters to deliver digital free–to–air television services direct to home satellite users. The Viewer Access Satellite Television service provides free–to–air digital channels from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Special Broadcasting Service and the commercial broadcasters and, in remote central and eastern Australia, dedicated regional news channels which feature the news bulletins of regional commercial television broadcasters.

Supporting Regional Post Offices

The post office network provides important services to regional, rural and remote communities. Over 1,600 post office licensees in these communities continue to benefit from postal regulatory reforms implemented from January 2016 to help support the sustainability of the postal network.

The reforms have helped to boost payments made to regional, rural and remote licensees to an estimated $186.0 million in 2016–17, up almost 49 per cent from payments in 2012-13.

Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund

The Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund is providing $4.0 million in funding from 2014–15 to 2017–18 to support the development, production, presentation, exhibition or performance of arts and culture projects that enhance our understanding of the Anzac legacy. Projects supported through this fund are providing opportunities throughout Australia, including regional locations, for Australians to create and share activities that commemorate Australia’s century of service and acknowledge experiences of conflict at home and abroad.

Regional Arts Fund

The Regional Arts Fund provides support for sustainable cultural development in regional and remote Australia. The program provides funding for a mix of quick response grants and community grants for arts projects, professional development for artists and arts workers and community capacity building projects. The program also funds high priority strategic projects.

In 2017–18 the Australian Government has allocated $3.4 million to the Regional Arts Fund. The program is delivered on behalf of the Australian Government by Regional Arts Australia and organisations in each state and territory.

Bundanon Trust

The Bundanon Trust is a wholly owned Australian Government company limited by guarantee, established in 1993 to own and manage the properties and art collection donated by Arthur and Yvonne Boyd “as a means of a gift to the nation”.

The Bundanon Trust delivers a diverse range of functions such as artist in residence and environmental programs which have long term cultural, economic and social benefits for the local community in the Shoalhaven region and beyond. In 2017–18 the Australian Government will allocate $1.5 million to the Bundanon Trust.

Community Heritage Grants

The Community Heritage Grants Program will receive $490,000 of Australian Government funding in 2017–18, along with support from the National Film and Sound Archive, National Museum of Australia and National Archives of Australia. The Program will deliver grants of up to $15,000 to community groups, including historical societies, regional museums, public libraries and Indigenous and migrant organisations, to support the preservation of publicly accessible heritage collections which are locally owned and nationally significant.

These collections contain a wide range of materials including artefacts, letters, diaries, maps, photographs and audio visual material. First–time recipients also receive expert preservation and archival training at support workshops provided by the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Museum of Australia. Since 1994, 1,269 projects across Australia have received over $6.0 million in funding, almost half of which has gone to regional organisations.

Festivals Australia

Festivals Australia provides access to a diverse range of high quality, innovative arts projects that grow audiences at festivals across regional Australia. In 2017–18 the Australian Government will allocate $1.2 million to support arts projects that encourage partnership and collaboration across the arts sector and encourage community participation in arts activities at festivals in regional and remote areas.

Indigenous Languages and Arts Program

The Government is also keeping cultural identity strong within regional and remote Indigenous communities, and enhancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s wellbeing, by supporting Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and arts.  Indigenous languages and arts enrich Australia's cultural life, make a valuable contribution to our national economy and help promote Australia to international audiences.

In 2017–18, almost $23.0 million will revitalise and celebrate Australia’s many Indigenous languages, and support and promote both traditional and contemporary Indigenous artistic expression.

The $20.0 million Indigenous Languages and Arts program supports a diverse, professional and community-driven network of 21 Language Centres and a range of specific language projects across regional and remote Australia.  It also supports organisations that contribute to ensuring the sustainability, vitality and strength of Indigenous communities through showcasing, preserving and encouraging participation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artistic expression.  The vast majority of projects supported through this program are in communities across regional and remote Australia.

In addition to that, as part of the Australian Government’s commitment to closing the gap, an additional $10.0 million over four years from 2016–17 has been committed to Protecting, Preserving and Celebrating Indigenous Languages. This funding will deliver additional language revival and maintenance outcomes across Australia, including in regional and remote locations, with a focus on community-driven projects that use digital technologies in an innovative and culturally sensitive manner.  This will enhance the collection, digitisation and promotion of language and language resources as well as the teaching and learning of language for future generations.

Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program

The Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program supports a professional, viable and ethical Indigenous visual arts industry, with strong participation by, and employment for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In 2017–18 the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program will contribute approximately $20.0 million to the operations of around 80 Indigenous–owned art centres, most in very remote areas, as well as a number of art fairs, regional hubs and industry service organisations that are at the heart of Australia’s internationally renowned Indigenous visual art movement. Together these organisations enable the development, production and marketing of Indigenous visual art, and provide opportunities for more than 8,000 Indigenous artists and over 300 Indigenous arts workers to generate income and participate in the nation’s economy.

Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund

Catalyst supports Australian arts and culture by complementing existing mechanisms. Catalyst is intended to support innovative ideas from arts and cultural organisations that may find it difficult to access funding for such projects from other sources and can include gallery, library, archive, museum, arts education and infrastructure projects.

Catalyst has provided funding of approximately $35.0 million over four years to 189 projects. Over 77 per cent of funding has supported projects undertaken by small to medium organisations, and over 52 per cent of the locations where funded Australian activities will take place are in regional and remote areas.

On 18 March 2017, the Australian Government announced changes to the Arts portfolio funding arrangements, with the transfer of the majority of funds from Catalyst – Australian Arts and Culture Fund to the Australia Council. The Department of Communications and the Arts will retain $2.0 million per year to provide an alternative avenue of funding for organisations which are not receiving funding through the Australia Council. This may include galleries, libraries, archives and museums sector and some regional organisations.

Indigenous Repatriation

This program facilitates the return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains in overseas collections, and ancestral remains and secret sacred objects held in major government funded museums, to their communities of origin. Many of these communities are located in regional Australia.

Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme

Many cultural institutions and community organisations around Australia care for maritime items of historical and national significance.

The Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme is a grants program which collects, conserves and exhibits Australia’s rich maritime heritage by helping these groups undertake this important role. The program targets smaller collecting institutions in regional Australia.

The scheme is jointly funded by the Australian Government and the Australian National Maritime Museum. The scheme provides grants of up to $15,000 to cultural institutions and community organisations for collection management initiatives, including documenting and caring for collections; and presentation projects, including education programs and workshops.

National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program

Engagement with rural and remote communities is a longstanding priority for all the cultural and collecting institutions. The national collecting institutions provide a variety of initiatives through a combination of on–site offerings, as well as physical and virtual outreach activities.

The National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach program provides funding of $1.0 million annually to assist the National Collecting Institutions to develop and tour exhibitions of their collections.

The program aims to make Australian and overseas cultural material accessible to all Australians, especially those in regional communities. It also aims to promote international awareness of Australia’s cultural heritage through overseas tours.

Visions of Australia Regional Exhibition Touring Program

The Visions of Australia regional exhibition touring program will provide approximately $2.4 million in 2017–18 towards the costs of developing and touring exhibitions of cultural material that has historic, scientific, design, social or artistic significance.

The Visions of Australia program improves access for Australians particularly in regional and remote areas to Australian cultural material held in a wide variety of national and local collections.

Australia Council

The Australia Council provides significant support to the arts in remote and regional Australia with grants for individuals, groups and organisations, national touring programs, and strategic national development and capacity building programs.

This includes supporting a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultural activity in regional and remote areas. The Australia Council also supports artists and arts organisations based in metropolitan areas to deliver projects, tour and engage with regional communities.

In 2015–16 the Australia Council invested $25.8 million in artistic activities in regional Australia, increasing access for audiences, fostering the vitality of artists and arts organisations in regional and remote communities, and strengthening the mobility of diverse and excellent Australian work. These activities reached 1.9 million people in regional areas through attendance at a performance, exhibition, schools activity or workshop.

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