Senate Inquiry into the National Cultural Policy

Updated 19th July, 2023

The Senate References Committee for Environment and Communications is holding an inquiry into the National Cultural Policy. The AMA has written submissions to the initial consultation, and to this inquiry, offering constructive suggestions for policies that would benefit members and progress the AMA’s interest in more music makers.

I was invited to give evidence at a hearing, one of just two hearings for this inquiry and one of three music organisations at this hearing (alongside Music SA & AIR).

The prepared opening statement focuses on music education, follow up questions covered music education, supporting music in regional communities, cultural infrastructure, supporting live music venues, and Music Australia. I referred in passing to the National Review of School Music Education (2005), Victorian Inquiry into the Extent, Benefits & Potential of Music Education (2013), and South Australian Music Education Strategy (2019).

The following is an excerpt from Hansard

Alex Masso


Mr Masso:  Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. The AMA, or the Australian Music Association, represents the music products industry. Our members are wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers and associated businesses. Our submission to the cultural policy consultation and this inquiry addressed four areas of interest to us. They were music education; participation in music more broadly; spectrum allocation for wireless audio devices; and musical instrument certificates, which relates to the Samuel Review of the EPBC act.. We didn’t really refer to the main elements of Revive, like Music Australia and the other institutional changes, but there are lots of things to be optimistic about in Revive.

I’d just like to focus on music education in my introduction. Revive clearly references—as its predecessor, Creative Australia 2013, did—the importance of arts education in schools, including music. However, we know that access to quality music education is not consistent, and many Australian children miss out or have insufficient musical opportunities. The 2023 policy does not, and the 2013 policy did not, take steps to address systemic issues of provision.

Provision of quality music education in primary schools is the focus of Music Education: Right from the Start, a great initiative led by Alberts music. The AMA is an enthusiastic supporter of this, and I sit on the advisory group. They recently published an important report on initial teacher education, or ITE, for music, called Fading Notes, and I’ve asked if I could table that report; I’ve sent that in advance. As the name suggests, the report did not find that the situation is improving. The research concludes that diminishing levels of music education within generalist primary teaching degrees leave most teachers underprepared to meet the reality of the classroom and the expectations of the curriculum. Music training and ITE in degrees has fallen by 53 per cent in 14 years, from an average of 17 hours to just eight hours in 2022. That includes the nine years of implementation of the national curriculum.

We really need more data to identify what is improving or declining; how many teachers are able to teach music; how many students have access to a quality, sequential, ongoing education in music; where the gaps are; and how many students play a musical instrument. These basic questions really can’t be answered with any confidence.

The goal of quality school music education for all Australian students is implicitly supported by Revive, but there’s no explicit commitment to take the steps needed to achieve this important and beneficial aim. Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr Masso, I’m interested in the Australian Music Association’s submission. You’ve spoken heavily around the need for improving access to quality music education. You’re not the only one to point this out. We’ve had many people today point out that the education element is really missing from the national cultural policy. If this is going to be a policy that is about the future of the creative industries, a genuinely national cultural policy, then we really need to see that foundation within our educational institutions. I don’t just mean the tertiary institutions or the performing-arts institutions; I mean actually in our schools.

Mr Masso : That’s right. I think one of the issues is that maybe too much faith is put in the national curriculum to deliver arts education. Often when you ask someone from the school system or government—I’ve asked this question in New South Wales, where we know for sure lots of kids miss out on music education because there aren’t specialists, and lots of teachers aren’t trained. You ask the government, ‘How many kids receive a music education?’ and they say, ‘All of them, because the curriculum requires it.’ But that’s really not the case, and we know that that’s not the case. There was a national review of music education in 2005, and it really thoroughly went through all the issues. It’s over 300 pages. And we’re really still talking about the same issues. In that report, they talk about the exact thing I mentioned in my introduction—the decline in initial teacher education for music, so people who are training to be a teacher aren’t confident going into the classroom to teach music. That’s one of the problems. That’s not the only problem—there are lots—but that’s one of them.

The other thing I’d say is, because the federal government isn’t involved in direct delivery of music education, I think it allows it to be a little bit more strategic. We don’t necessarily need a huge investment from the federal government. We do need coordination and we need it to go on the agenda of the education ministers. If we as a country say—I’m talking about music, but you could also apply it to dance, drama and everything else—’All kids should learn music,’ then we should have systems in place to make sure that that happens, and we don’t. We have lots of different systems that do different things well. Certain things are much better in Queensland than in other places. There are certain things in New South Wales that are fantastic. Certain things in WA are terrific. South Australia is really the gold standard. Right now they’ve got a 10-year strategy. They’re doing really well. Victoria had a parliamentary inquiry in 2013, and they still haven’t got all those things implemented that it recommended. There are a lot of different good things happening, but there is a lot of work to do in the system.