Cultural economy and the soft power of the forgotten portfolio

Should public servants consider cultural impact when developing policies? Julianne Schultz says cultural policy has been undervalued, but combating Australia’s cultural deficit has been stymied by equating culture with arts, and arts defined quite narrowly as the non-commercial sector.

It’s time to think much more seriously about culture. For years we have bought the Clinton truism, “it’s the economy, stupid”, but this simple binary no longer provides sufficient guidance for the future.

Self-evidently, a successful society must have a robust and innovative economy — one that is able to adapt to changing domestic and global circumstances. This process of adaptation and change seems to be one that Australia is ill-equipped to tackle; there is little evidence of big thinking, and a lot of protection of existing interest groups and sectional activities.

The need to redefine the nature of the Australian economy, to search for new areas of comparative advantage, and embrace the emerging ways of measuring the impact of intangible benefits, is more acute than it has been for decades.

In the area of culture politicians and policy makers seem to be as wilfully blind to the opportunities as they are in other areas of comparative advantage canvassed elsewhere in this series — but there is excellent research being done here by scholars and practitioners, and enormous capacity, as a recent report by Professor Justin O’Connor and Mark Gibson for the Securing Australia’s Future program showed.

FREE membership to The Mandarin

Receive unlimited access, get all the latest public sector news and features, plus The Juice, our daily news update sent direct to your inbox.

The Mandarin is where Australia's public sector leaders discuss their work and the issues faced within modern bureaucracy. Join today to discover the latest in public administration thinking and news from our dedicated reporters, current and former agency heads and senior executives.