UNESCO Votes for Cultural Diversity: Australia Abstains

By Kaufman, Tina | Metro Magazine, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

UNESCO Votes for Cultural Diversity: Australia Abstains


Kaufman, Tina, Metro Magazine


After five years of debate and negotiation, UNESCO overwhelmingly voted in favour of a convention supporting cultural diversity, with Australia one of only four countries to abstain. The USA and Israel voted against the convention. While the convention is far from what the international coalition of artists has been pushing for for years, it is an important development, being part of a global recognition of the need to treat cultural work as distinct. The vast majority of UNESCO's 191 member nations, urged on by Canada and France, voted to approve the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. UNESCO said the aim of the convention is to promote indigenous and other ethnic traditions and minority (non-English) languages, and to protect national and local cultures from the negative impacts of globalization. It allows for more national quotas on local content in film, television and music, and for increased restrictions on the import of foreign (mainly US) films and other cultural products.

Rarely has the USA been so isolated in a UN forum. Countries such as Chile, Colombia, Peru and Mexico, who had held serious internal debates over the position each government would ultimately take with regard to key aspects of the convention, all spoke out strongly in support, while Australia's decision to abstain from the vote could actually be regarded as progress; determined lobbying from the local cultural sector eventually persuaded the federal government not to vote with the USA against the convention.

Jane Madden, head of Australia's permanent delegation to UNESCO, said that the Australian government 'clearly respects the importance of cultural diversity to societies and to their sense of identity'. However, she added that for the convention to be effective, 'it must be workable and consistent with other international instruments'.

Minister for the Arts Rod Kemp, who had attended the conference but was not at the final vote, has said that Australia is concerned that the text will allow countries to take measures that conflict with other international agreements, particularly in the areas of trade and intellectual property. …

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