Australia’s Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, today announced that Australia was signing up to the United Nations Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. It is the 101st country to do so.
The Convention came into force in 2007. Australia, under the government of John Howard, was one of six countries that did not support ratification of the Convention when it was originally adopted in 2005. In 2007 the government of Kevin Rudd committed to ratifying and in September 2008 called for public submissions in response to the planned ratification. “This is an important step in support of our diverse cultural heritage and a vital artistic life for our citizens”, Mr. Garrett said.
The Convention has nine stated objectives including "to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions" and "to create the conditions for cultures to flourish and to freely interact in a mutually beneficial manner". It also aims "to encourage dialogue among cultures with a view to ensuring wider and balanced cultural exchanges in the world in favour of intercultural respect and a culture of peace" and "to foster interculturality in order to develop cultural interaction in the spirit of building bridges among peoples."
Eyebrows were raised when Australia opted to abstain from the 2005 ratification vote. Some critics of the convention see in it an attempt by countries such as France and Canada to limit the global power of US culture such as Hollywood. The most prominent opponent of the agreement was the USA and it has still not signed up. Nor is it likely to do so in the near future. The main sticking points are the articles (five and six) that allow signatories to introduce measures aimed at protecting "cultural expressions" they feel are threatened by those of other countries. The US argues these provisions are open to abuse. They may also cause conflict with the free-trade commitments made by member countries of the World Trade Organisation.
Australia's signing up to the Convention is not going to shake the world of international culture and law but it is another welcome sign that the Rudd Government is putting the country's multilateral relations on a more even keel after the arrogant indifference of the Howard years.
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