Communications and the Arts: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19

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 Australian Government initiatives, including:

  • providing high-speed broadband at affordable prices, and at least cost to taxpayers as soon as possible through the rollout of the National Broadband Network
  • improving mobile phone coverage in black spot areas through the Mobile Black Spot Program
  • providing funding support for national and community broadcasting services
  • reforming media regulation to remove outdated media control rules and strengthening local content provisions on regional commercial television
  • providing support for digital television services
  • providing the regional and small publishers innovation and jobs package which will support news coverage in regional areas
  • providing support to strengthen the online safety of all Australians and improve the digital literacy of older Australians
  • delivering tailored programs to support artistic and cultural expression, and participation and access to cultural experiences.

People living in regional areas of Australia have been the first to benefit from the National Broadband Network (NBN), with NBN Co Limited having completed network rollout to more than 81 per cent of homes and businesses outside major urban areas as at mid-April 2018. This includes Sky Muster satellite services for eligible premises across the country, completion of over three quarters of the fixed wireless network nationally, and the brownfields fixed line rollout with more than 76 per cent complete outside major urban areas.

As at mid-April 2018, more than 3 million premises outside major urban areas were in NBN ready for service areas (including new developments). Rollout to many regional areas will be essentially complete by the end of 2018 with the entire network on track to be completed by 2020.

The Australian Government has committed $220.0 million through the Mobile Black Spot Program to invest in telecommunications infrastructure to address mobile black spots across Australia. Rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program are delivering 765 new base stations into regional Australia. The Australian Government commitment includes $60.0 million to the Priority Locations round, which is delivering new and improved mobile coverage to 125 targeted priority locations, including 23 that are being addressed under round 2 of the program, an alternative Government program or through carriers’ own commercial investments.

The Australian Government has announced that the Communications and the Arts portfolio will undertake a program of work to develop a new Universal Service Guarantee (USG), which will ensure all Australians have ongoing access to voice and broadband services, regardless of where they live or work, once the NBN is completed. The USG will aim to better reflect changing consumer preference in communications.

The Australian Government has committed to providing new funding of $14.2 million over four years from 2018‑19 to support the expanded remit of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (eSafety Office). This funding will enable the eSafety Office to deliver new and existing programs that are designed to foster the safe and confident use of online technologies for education, social interaction and entertainment. These programs will positively impact the online safety of all Australians, including people living in regional and remote areas.

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

Online Safety Proposals to be delivered by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner

On 23 June 2017, the Enhancing Online Safety for Children Amendment Act 2017 expanded the Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s (eSafety Office) remit from online safety for children, to online safety for all Australians, resulting in an increased workload and associated funding pressures. The Australian Government will provide new funding of $14.2 million over four years from 2018-19 to support the increased workload. The additional $4.0 million allocated in 2018‑19 to the eSafety Office will build on its existing funding of $17.2 million in 2018‑19. Australian Government funding will enable the eSafety Office to continue delivering existing programs and expand its ability to address emerging eSafety pressures.

The new and existing programs delivered by the eSafety Office will have a positive impact on the online safety of all Australians, including persons living in regional centres. Extension of the eSafety Women and Certified Provider’s programs will ensure online safety support is available in regional centres. The materials developed to combat cyber abuse will be available on the eSafety Office’s website and will be readily accessible to individuals in both metropolitan and regional areas. These programs are designed to enable Australians to safely and confidently take advantage of the benefits of online technologies for education, social interaction and entertainment.

Current Initiatives

National Broadband Network

The Australian Government is committed to completing the National Broadband Network (NBN) and ensuring all Australians have access to high-speed broadband. The Australian Government has invested $29.5 billion in equity in the NBN Co Limited (nbn) and is providing a commercial loan for up to a further $19.5 billion to nbn.

Delivering high-speed broadband to remote and regional Australia is a key priority. By mid-April 2018, services were already available or construction underway to over 91 per cent of remote and regional homes and businesses through fixed line, fixed wireless and satellite infrastructure. High speed broadband will be available to around 3.6 million remote and regional premises (excluding new developments) by 2020.

Universal Service Obligation

The Australian Government contributes $100 million per annum to the delivery of public interest telecommunications services. This includes the provision of fixed line voice and payphone services in regional, rural and remote Australia under the Universal Service Obligation (USO). The USO is central to ensuring people in regional, rural and remote Australia have ongoing access to these important services.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation—Operational Funding

The 2018-19 financial year is the last year of the triennium funding period for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Over the course of the current triennium period (2016-17 to 2018-19) the Australian Government will have provided the ABC with $3.1 billion in base funding.

The ABC will have received a further $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 enables local stories to be shared with national audiences.

The Government is committed to supporting broadcasting services to rural and regional Australia. In October 2017, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2017 was introduced into the Senate. The aim of the Bill is to support the provision of broadcasting services by the ABC that meet and reflect the needs of rural and regional Australia.

Special Broadcasting Service—Operational Funding

The 2018-19 financial year is the last year of the triennium funding period for the Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS). Over the triennium period (2016-17 to 2018-19), the Australian Government will have provided the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) with $811.0 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. The Australian Government has further agreed to provide $30.3 million to replace advertising revenue that SBS had been unable to realise across four years from 2016-17.

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.

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 $185.5 million in 2017-18, up almost 48 per cent from payments in 2012‑13.

Telecommunications Reform Package

The Australian Government’s Telecommunications Reform Package comprising the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017 will reset carrier separation rules, create a statutory infrastructure provider regime and establish a Regional Broadband Scheme (RBS).

These reforms will establish an explicit statutory requirement on NBN Co Limited, and other carriers as appropriate, to ensure that all Australians are able to order a high‑speed broadband service regardless of where they live.

They will also ensure that all high-speed fixed line network owners (including NBN Co Limited) contribute funding, proportionate to the size of their networks, to the costs of providing essential broadband services to regional and remote Australia.

Mobile Black Spot Program

Rounds 1 and 2 of the Mobile Black Spot Program are delivering 765 new base stations across regional and remote Australia—comprising 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 was activated on 8 March 2017. As at 3 May 2018, a combined total of 491 base stations have been activated across Australia under rounds 1 and 2 of the Program. 

The Australian Government has committed $160.0 million to rounds 1 and 2 of the program since 2015-16. Together rounds 1 and 2 are investing almost $600.0 million in new mobile infrastructure in regional and remote parts of Australia, including contributions by the carriers and co-contributions from state and local governments, and third parties.

The Australian Government commitment to the program includes $60.0 million for a Priority Locations round from 2017-18 to 2019-20. The full outcomes of the Priority Locations round tender were announced in April 2018, with the rollout commencing in 2017-18. The funding is delivering a total of $82.8 million in new investment by the Australian Government and carriers, and all 125 targeted priority locations will be receiving new and improved mobile coverage.

Media Reform—Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund

The Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund is part of the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package and will provide $16.0 million in grants per year over three years from 2018-19 to support regional and small publishers to transition and compete more successfully in the evolving media environment. It will encourage news publishers to develop and trial sustainable models for the provision of public interest journalism. At least two thirds of total funding in any year must go to regional publishers and not less than 25 per cent for non-regional publishers. One of the core objectives of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund will be to support these publishers to put themselves on a sustainable commercial footing to develop new business models and practices.

Media Reform—Regional and Small Publishers Cadetship and Scholarship Programs

The Regional and Small Publishers Cadetship and Scholarship Programs are part of the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package, which aims to enhance news coverage of issues of importance to local communities across the country, particularly in regional areas. The Package includes a Cadetship Program and a Journalism Scholarship Program targeted at regional students.

The Regional and Small Publishers Cadetship Program is a competitive grants program under which the Australian Government will provide $4.0 million per year for two years to assist in creating employment opportunities in regional media.  Funding will support a total of 200 cadetships over a two year period from 2018-19, with each cadetship valued at up to $40,000. Of the 100 cadetships each year, 80 to 90 will be for regional publications and news media organisations.

Under the Regional Journalism Scholarship Program, the Australian Government will provide $1.2 million per year over two years to support students and graduates in regional and remote areas of Australia by providing opportunities to study journalism. In total, 60 scholarships will be made available over a two year period from 2018-19, with each scholarship valued at up to $40,000.

Media Reform—Additional local programming on regional television

The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017 amended the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. It repealed the ‘75 per cent audience reach rule’ and the ‘two out of three rule’ and introduced changes to protect and enhance the amount of local television content in regional Australia.

To meet community concerns, stronger local programming obligations were 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 are 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.

Broadcasting Spectrum Pricing

The Australian Government has made changes to how commercial broadcasters are taxed through the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Act 2017 and the Commercial Broadcasting (Tax) Act 2017. Instead of a revenue-based fee, commercial broadcasters will be paying 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 from 2017‑18 to enable transition to the new tax framework. The first compensation payments were made in December 2017, with subsequent payments being made at the start of each financial year.

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.

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.

In the 2017-18 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO), the Government allocated an additional $12.0 million over four years from 2017-18 for community radio broadcasting to be administered through the existing Community Broadcasting Program.

Digital Literacy for Older Australians

The Australian Government has allocated $47.2 million over four years from 2016-17 to deliver the Digital Literacy for Older Australians initiative. The Digital Literacy for Older Australians initiative is a joint initiative of the Department of Social Services and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (the eSafety Office) to provide older Australians across the country, including regional Australia, with the digital skills and online confidence needed to participate in an increasingly digital world. The initiative includes the current delivery of a National Network of more than 900 participating community organisations that deliver free training across Australia, and this support will increase to 2,000 community organisations by July 2018. 

Of the $47.2 million, $16.9 million was allocated to the eSafety Office to develop a national senior’s online portal and implement a national outreach program for Aged Care Support Workers and a Schools Mentor program. The eSafety Office’s ‘BeConnected’ portal was launched in October 2017 and provides older Australians, their families, peers and community organisations, with a one-stop-shop for information, tools and training resources. The portal can be found at

National Broadband Network (NBN) Consumer Experience Improvement Package

The Australian Government is providing the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with $8.7 million over three years from 2017-18 to implement a package of new measures to improve the NBN consumer experience. The package will empower consumers to make informed decisions about their NBN plan and help ensure they get the level of service they expect from their retail service providers as they transition to the NBN. This package will assist all Australians using the National Broadband Network, including people living in regional centres.

The package includes requirements on retail service providers to perform line tests on new connections to ensure a working service, temporarily reactivate a disconnected service where the NBN is unable to be connected in a reasonable time, and provide consumers with a critical information summary for NBN services to explain speed tiers when signing a new contract.

In addition to these measures, the ACMA will collect and publish complaints statistics from major retail service providers to help consumers differentiate between providers based on the quality of their customer service. The ACMA will also conduct a study into the quality of modems, potentially leading to the introduction of technical standards or a modem performance rating scheme.

The new measures will ensure greater transparency by retail service providers, and mean that consumers are better informed about NBN services and experience less disruption when transitioning to a new NBN service.

Viewer Access Satellite Television

The Viewer Access Satellite Television (VAST) 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 VAST service provides free-to-air digital channels from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS) and the commercial broadcasters. The VAST service also includes dedicated news channels carrying nightly bulletins from regional commercial television broadcasters.

Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund

The Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund has provided $4.0 million in funding over four years from 2014-15 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. Projects supported by the Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund will conclude in November 2018.

Australia Council

The Australia Council provides significant support to the arts in rural, regional and remote 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 activities 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.

Every year the Australia Council invests 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. In 2016-17, these activities reached 2.1 million people in regional areas through attendance at a performance, exhibition, schools activity or workshop.

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 supports arts practice and engagement with the arts through a diverse range of programs such as its artist in residence, education, performance and environmental programs which have long-term cultural, economic and social benefits for the Shoalhaven region and beyond. In 2018-19, the Australian Government will provide $1.5 million to the Bundanon Trust.

Community Heritage Grants

The Community Heritage Grants Program will receive $490,000 of Australian Government funding in 2018-19, along with support from the National Library of Australia, 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, 1,352 projects across Australia have received over $6.5 million in funding, almost half of which has gone to regional organisations.

Creative Partnerships Australia

Since its creation in 2013, Creative Partnerships Australia has delivered capacity-building and mentoring programs that assist artists and cultural organisations to diversify their revenue streams through philanthropy, sponsorship and fundraising. Creative Partnerships Australia also delivers matched funding programs for artists and arts organisations, and manages the Australian Cultural Fund, a fundraising platform that facilitates tax-deductible donations from arts supporters.

In 2018-19, the Australian Government will provide $4.5 million to assist Creative Partnerships Australia to build the capacity of artists and arts organisations across Australia, including in the regions, to secure revenue from private sector giving.

Festivals Australia

Festivals Australia provides communities in regional Australia with access to a diverse range of high quality, innovative arts projects that grow audiences at festivals. In 2018‑19, approximately $1.2 million will be provided to support arts projects that encourage partnership and collaboration across the arts sector and community participation in arts activities at festivals in regional and remote areas.

Indigenous Languages and Arts Program

The Australian Government is 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.

The Indigenous Languages and Arts program has around $20.0 million available annually to support a diverse, professional and community-driven network of 22 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, as part of the Australian Government’s commitment to closing the gap, the Australian Government agreed to provide an additional $10.0 million over four years from 2016-17 for Protecting, Preserving and Celebrating Indigenous Languages. The focus of this additional funding is to engage and consult nationally, support digital solutions and partnerships for the ongoing capture and teaching of language, and support career pathways for Indigenous language workers and linguists.

In 2018-19, almost $25.8 million will help revitalise and celebrate Australia’s many Indigenous languages, and support and promote both traditional and contemporary Indigenous artistic expression.

Indigenous Repatriation

This program facilitates the return of Australian Indigenous ancestral remains in overseas collections, and Australian Indigenous ancestral remains and secret sacred objects held in seven state and territory museums and the National Museum of Australia, to their communities of origin. Many of these communities are located in regional Australia.

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 2018-19, the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program will contribute  $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 7,000 Indigenous artists and over 300 Indigenous arts workers to generate income and participate in the nation’s economy.

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 will receive $105,000 of Australian Government funding in 2018‑19, along with support from the Australian National Maritime Museum through donations and own source revenue. 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. It also supports staff or volunteers, from regional or remote organisations, to spend time learning specific skills and making valuable connections.

National Arts Training Organisations

Our seven national arts training organisations have a national reach as centres of excellence, which sees regional and remote Australians participate in and contribute towards our nation’s artistic vibrancy. These organisations include: the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA); the Australian National Academy of Music; the National Institute of Circus Art; the Australian Youth Orchestra; the Australian Ballet School; the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association; and the Flying Fruit Fly Circus.

As leaders in elite arts training, the organisations accept students from all states and territories and conduct annual auditions, including in regional areas. Those unable to attend auditions due to geographic distance are invited to submit postal applications and show reels. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students auditioning for the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) Dance College can seek support from Abstudy towards travel and accommodation expenses, ensuring students from remote and regional communities have equal access to auditions.

Many of the arts training organisations tour nationally and run extensive outreach programs in regional Australia. For example, NIDA runs short courses in all states and territories. This year, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus will tour its production, JUNK, to regional centres across Victoria and New South Wales.

A number of the arts training organisations host national training programs that provide students from regional and rural Australia access to the world-class facilities and elite trainers of the organisations for short, intensive periods. For example, the Australian Ballet School’s Interstate Training Program provides the opportunity for talented young dancers from regional areas to access regular training.

Many of the arts training organisations also conduct activities in remote Australian communities. Students at the NAISDA Dance College attend cultural residencies in the Torres Strait and Far North Queensland.

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 per annum 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.

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 2018-19, the Australian Government has allocated $3.5 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.

Visions of Australia Program

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.

The Visions of Australia program will provide $2.4 million in 2018-19 to cultural organisations towards the costs of developing and touring exhibitions of cultural material that has historic, scientific, design, social or artistic significance.

The program also encourages partnerships between organisations, particularly collaboration across the collections sector, to form curatorial partnerships and deliver professional development.

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