4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Social issues


There is considerable interest in the individual and social outcomes generated by cultural and leisure activity, and in managing these outcomes to maximise benefits and minimise harm. Information is needed that sheds light on how culture and leisure influence wellbeing, and on which management strategies are the most effective. For example, participation in sports and active leisure is seen as a crucial element in strategies aimed at maintaining and improving the physical and mental health of Australians. Cultural and leisure activity can integrate communities in positive ways and build social capital. Cultural activities in particular are seen as a valuable forum for social examination and debate, and a means of fostering the creativity, innovation and dialogue necessary for economic development.2 Culture and leisure activities may also have negative outcomes. For example, there is concern about inactivity of the Australian population, and the extent to which passive or sedentary leisure options (e.g. watching television, playing computer games) are contributing to this trend. Other leisure activities that have the potential to negatively affect the mental and/or physical health of individuals and their family and community include gambling, illicit drug use, and legal drug abuse (e.g. alcohol abuse). Activities such as graffiti and vandalism can also detract from community wellbeing.


The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, "Everyone has the right to rest and leisure including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay". Information on the use of time, overall and for different population groups, can allow the availability of leisure time to be monitored. Many changes that took place during the 20th Century should theoretically have resulted in an increase in the leisure time available to households (e.g. the invention of labour saving devices and other technological developments reduced the effort required to undertake many household chores, including banking and shopping). The length of the working week was reduced. The use of child care, cleaning and prepared food services increased, and people began to have fewer children, retire earlier, and live longer. However, in many households, the additional 'free' time has been filled by increased paid work responsibilities, rather than leisure time. In the last 30 years, there has been an increased rate of participation of women in the labour market, while domestic chores and child care continue to take time. Responsibility for the care of people with disabilities and the elderly has shifted from institutions to families. The availability of time for individuals to participate in culture and leisure activities therefore still needs to be monitored.


The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights also states that everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to receive the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he or she is the author. While it may be assumed cultural rights are secured in Australia, ongoing social and economic change make it necessary to continuously re-assess performance against such goals. For example, the reconciliation process has emphasised that there are extant cultural rights issues relating to Indigenous people (as discussed in the 'Population groups' section below). There is increasing demand for the recognition of the custodial rights of Indigenous and other cultures over cultural objects and practices. For example, cultural artefacts that have been taken from their place of origin in the past, or misappropriated, are being reclaimed. Technological change also has implications for the rights of artists, as discussed below.


Culture and leisure related policy objectives tend to revolve around:

  • increasing participation in culture and leisure;
  • supporting equitable access to culture and leisure activity;
  • ensuring freedom of cultural expression for all Australians and encouraging multiculturalism;
  • developing and improving the viability of Australian culture and leisure businesses;
  • preserving Australia's cultural heritage; and
  • maximising funding by the private sector of culture and leisure organisations.

There is debate over what policy mechanisms most effectively achieve or support these objectives. For example, there is debate about whether the government should subsidise, legislate or provide tax incentives to achieve these policy objectives, and information is needed to determine what mix of approaches results in the best outcomes. The extent to which responsibility for funding of culture and leisure should be shared between government, communities, individuals and commercial enterprises is also of interest. Many key issues in the area of culture and leisure relate to the extent to which these objectives are threatened or supported by such phenomena as technological change, globalisation, demographic change and increased tourism.


Technological change is seen to offer both opportunities and risks for the culture and leisure sector. For example, new media technology introduces new forms of cultural expression, but may threaten the sustainability of traditional forms of expression. As well, some traditional cultural and artistic intermediaries and supply chains (e.g. galleries and publishers) may be bypassed via new technologies such as electronic media. The rights of artists are seen to be particularly threatened by new technologies that facilitate the unlawful reproduction of materials protected by copyright. New media technologies increase options for interpersonal communication and, consequently, increase cultural networks. Information is needed about whether this will promote global cultural convergence, and thereby threaten local cultures and cultural diversity, or offer cultural opportunities, by increasing the range of cultures in which an individual can participate. In the past, policy responses aimed at preserving local cultures have included the imposition of local content rules for broadcasting media; however, new media technologies may require new community and government responses.


A prominent demographic change that will affect the types of culture and leisure activities in which people participate is the ageing of the Australian population. In particular, the movement of the baby boomer cohort into retirement may have implications for the culture and leisure sector. This group may precipitate changes in the nature of and demand for culture and leisure activities and related facilities, reducing audiences and patrons in some areas and increasing them in others (e.g. compared to people older than them, baby boomers attend art museums and jazz concerts, and listen to classical radio programs more often, but attend symphony concerts, opera, musicals, and theatre less often).3


Over the last few decades greater global wealth and cheaper, more efficient travel, as well as other globalisation developments, have contributed to an increase in tourism and to growth in the Australian tourism industry. Culture and leisure are central elements of tourism, and increased tourism raises the demand for domestic culture and leisure goods and services. While this may represent a significant economic opportunity for the domestic culture and leisure sectors, this growth may need to be monitored and managed in the light of its possible impacts on the local environment and local culture.

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