The first arts policy drawn up by Australia's new Labor government includes initiatives for the contemporary music sector. The arts minister is Peter Garrett, former singer with the political Sony BMG-signed veteran rock band Midnight Oil.

The policy was unveiled Saturday (March 1), the day after Garrett helmed the Cultural Ministers Council in the capital city of Canberra. Eleven arts ministers from Australia's states and territories used the meeting to debate and ratify Garrett's plans.

Also discussed was the establishment of live music precincts in major cities where live music venues could operate during late hours without complaints from neighbouring residents.

The policy includes a business skills training project for talent managers, greater moves to develop export music markets and support for the indigenous hip hop sector.

Garrett also wants to put in place policies to foster the arts in schools and colleges, increase funding for indigenous arts and associations, and promote access to the arts for people with disabilities.

The meeting yielded a document entitled the "Building a Creative Innovation Economy," which assessed how the arts could most effectively be used in the digital sectors. In particular it assesses how to promote works internationally via online, mobile and broadcasting opportunities. It recognized that it will be the artists, not technology engineers, who will drive innovation on the Internet.

Garrett said that contemporary music was ignored during the decade-long rule of the previous conservative John Howard government.

"Australian culture is something that we've tended not to celebrate and advance," Garrett said. "We had a period, the dark days if you like, where ideas of culture weren't being discussed, they weren't being explored at the national level. We think it's time for a change."

Opposition arts spokeswoman Sharman Stone questioned how Garrett could keep his promises when up to A$40 million ($37.4 million) was estimated to be axed from the arts as part of the new Labor government's attempts to tackle inflation and improve efficiency.