Discussion paper

Whitlam, the arts and democracy

Democracy Arts citizen participation Arts Cultural policy Australia
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Whitlam, the arts and democracy 515.82 KB

The legacy of Gough Whitlam is writ large across Australian society to this day, but nowhere was his impact as profound as in his devotion to the intellectual and creative life and aspiration of Australians. 

Whitlam’s was a commitment which was unprecedented in Australian history. It has been matched only once since – by Paul Keating’s Creative Nation policy which was released in October 1994.

A centrepiece of the bold election manifesto delivered on 13 November 1972 saw the arts elevated. They were featured equally with undertakings as to a huge range of policy initiatives of a breadth and scope never seen before or since in Australian political life. Although the ALP, uniquely in Australian national political life, has sustained a commitment to the publication of a national policy platform with a substantial cultural policy commitment ever since. Unusually other parties have reflected superficial approaches to arts and culture policy or increasingly have had none at all – as seen, hard as it may be to believe, in the case of the Liberal Party in the last three federal elections which were without any published cultural policy.

Kim Williams AM examines the impact of Whitlam Government era (1973-75) arts and culture policies on Australian culture, institutions and identity. 

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