Ashleigh Wilson for The Australian, reports:

THE Australia Council will develop a voluntary code of conduct for indigenous art after a lobby group was stripped of responsibility because of “regrettable” delays and inadequate consultation.

At the Cultural Ministers Council meeting in Alice Springs yesterday, arts ministers agreed to speed up work on guidelines the federal Government hopes will help reduce exploitation of Aboriginal artists.

The Australia Council had not been directly involved with the code.

The National Association for the Visual Arts had been developing the code for several months, and had planned to complete it by yesterday’s meeting. Executive director Tamara Winikoff did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

State, territory and federal arts ministers were scathing of NAVA yesterday, saying in the final communique that the delays had been “regrettable” and the level of consultation was “inadequate”. Federal Arts Minister Peter Garrett said the development of the code had been a long, complicated process that needed to be finished. “We’re always trying to strike that right balance between providing people with sufficient information to make reasonable decisions in the marketplace and ensuring that we don’t have excessive and continuing exploitation in indigenous art,” he said.

An Australia Council spokesman said the process would be “taken up a notch”. He said the council would work with NAVA to finalise the code this year.

Moves to develop voluntary measures followed last year’s Senate inquiry into Aboriginal art, which recommended a code of conduct be established if problems remained after two years. The Howard government announced the inquiry after The Australian highlighted concerns about the exploitation of indigenous artists.

The ministers also supported indigenous musicians with a $78,000 program to improve access to recording facilities. “There’s always been quite a high level of music-making activity in rural and regional Australia,” Mr Garrett said.

“Particularly in indigenous communities, it seems to be a feature that there’s a great deal of music about, but there are a great deal of issues around getting that music out to a wider audience.”