The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sports (DRALGAS) was established from a post-election agreement between the Prime Minister and two independent members of Parliament in October 2010. Under the agreement, the new department was to have responsibility for developing regional policies, overseeing the rollout of initiatives and providing a dedicated source of advice on regional Australia to the Cabinet and other government departments.
It initially comprised staff and functions moved from Attorney-General's Department (territories functions) and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government (Regional Development and Local Government functions). Additional functions were also added: a new policy function for place-based interventions with a focus on regional development, and a coordination function, similar to a central agency role ensuring that a regional perspective is taken into account on all Cabinet submissions and budget proposals being considered across government. Arts and sports functions were subsequently moved to the department from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in December 2011.
The department's mission is 'Building a stronger, creative and liveable Australia'. This mission provides a unifying purpose for the department's functions, expanded elsewhere in its Strategic Plan 2012–15, as its commitment to 'improving Australia's regional sustainability, artistic pursuit, cultural heritage and sporting lifestyle'. It is actively working to achieve this through:
- working with communities, industry stakeholders, and all levels of government to better understand the needs and priorities of regions
- working across the Australian Government to align policies and programs to maximise benefits to regional Australia
- driving practical solutions and supporting regions in transition
- driving a coordinated approach to regional investment
- administering the territories of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Coral Sea Islands and Jervis Bay
- administering the Financial Assistant Grants to local government
- overseeing national interests in the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Australian Government responsibilities on Norfolk Island
- supporting excellence in cultural and sporting endeavours and creating opportunities for participation in cultural and sporting activities.
To achieve its outcomes, DRALGAS works across all Australian jurisdictions, with a range of partners including 55 Regional Development Australia Committees and 16 portfolio agencies (13 cultural agencies and three sports agencies).
It provides advice to the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Minister for the Artsand the Minister for Sport. It also provides continuing support to the Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery.
The department comprises five divisions:
- Regional Strategy and Coordination division is a dedicated source of regional policy advice and ensures that policy and implementation across government takes into account the needs of regional Australia and reflects advice on local issues. It administers and supports the Regional Development Australia network, leads the department's engagement with state, local government and regional stakeholders and facilitates a range of place-based development activities to assist regions in economic transition.
- Local Government, Territories and Regional Programs division delivers community infrastructure programs to support growing and changing communities, as well as Financial Assistant Grants to local government. It provides policy advice to Australia's self-governing and non-self-governing territories. It also provides advice to the Australian Government on matters relating to local government.
- Office for the Arts division provides policy advice and administers programs to support Australia's arts and cultural sector.
- Office for Sport division provides policy advice to the Minister for Sport and supports the Australian Government's policy objectives to increase all Australians' participation in active recreational activities and to use sport as a means of social inclusion and to build stronger communities. It also works with a range of government and non-government stakeholders to strengthen sporting pathways, ensure Australia's continued success in international competition, and provide support for the hosting of major sporting events.
- Corporate Services division delivers the department's financial, information technology, human resources, legal, governance and communication services.
The department's 586-strong workforce is well educated with 65% (2011–12) holding a bachelor's degree or higher. There is a fairly even gender distribution, with 46% male, and 54% female at senior levels, and 36% male and 64% female across the entire department.
DRALGAS maintains a regional presence with 20% of its workforce distributed across 23 locations in Australia including Christmas and Norfolk Islands. A total of 80% of its workforce is in Canberra.
In 2011–12, the department oversaw:
- $41.18 million in administered income, which largely related to services provided to the non-self-governing territories, interest on loans to state and government territories, and royalties from the Christmas Island Phosphate Mine
- $3.6 billion in administered programs, which included payments under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995, services to the Australian territories, support to arts, culture and sports, and payments to portfolio agencies
- $8.9 billion in administered assets, which included loans receivable, cultural and heritage assets, and property, plant and equipment items
- $25.94 million in administered liabilities, which included supplier and grant payables, Indian Ocean Territories staff provisions, an asbestos removal provision, a Christmas Island Phosphate Mine rehabilitation provision, MV Tycoon removal provision
- $115.49 million in departmental appropriation.