Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Election time: Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose, In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes …

by Gail Hastings

While recently stricken with tonsillitis, fevered by memories of its torturous infliction suffered in early childhood, I immersed myself in the music that surrounded me back then — such as my father’s collection of Johnny Cash. 

As I lay in the miasma of consciousness’ twilight zone that flickered between pain, sleep and the dread of flickering between them all over again — a ‘Man in Black’ suddenly stepped from the dark shadows of Vietnam relevancy into the uncanny currency of the Iraq war. A coincidence prompted by Johnny Cash ’s melodious rumble as he sings, “I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been — Each week we lose a hundred fine young men”. 

And while I read in the daily news of ‘a march by thousands of protesters demanding an end to the Iraq war [that] turned chaotic near the US Capitol, where … police arrested almost 200 people, including [Iraq] war veterans’, the cavernous voice of Johnny Cash strode gloriously higher to declare, “And, I wear it for the thousands who have died, Believen' that the Lord was on their side”; before gravelly letting fall that he wears black “for another hundred thousand who have died, Believen' that we all were on their side…”.

Similarities abound. Yet the potency of this song’s relevancy is not only due to the Iraq war. Very soon  a federal election will be announced; when we may very well ask where is the person in black. 

For although our nation will perhaps suffer a deathly dose of tonsillitis if forced to swallow the Howard governments so-called ‘clean’ nuclear option, it is not this that will hijack the last days of commentary before our vote is cast. No it will be, of course, the economy; just in case we didn’t already know that we are supposedly “doin' mighty fine … In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes —  But …”. 

And there is a ‘but’ at this point in the song, one best heard from the man in black, himself, as he tells us why he wears the things he’s got on … 

Albeit moving — a part of me, I have to admit, is a little incredulous that I find a ‘Man in Black’ so relevant today – tonsillitis or no tonsillitis. For who, in a supposedly booming economy where very few — if one believes the government’s unemployment figures — are left behind, are the forgotten that need remembering by a person in black? 

When we look for the forgotten we find a successful economy. An economy that would be a misnomer to label insignificant in the real tally of things, when for many it is in fact the economy that allows a necessary tally of things. 

Could the issue, then, be that of drawing a distinction between a false and a true economy rather than one of whether the economy is the most important election issue or not? For both a false and a true economy may appear to facilitate the growth of money on the surface at first, even though one creates a deficit while the other creates a fertile abundance. 

A false economy, for instance, could be thought of as divisive for generating unbridgeable oppositions between, say, employers and employees based on a master and slave type of relationship (see article Work more, Earn less). When instead a true economy paves a reconciliatory common ground for a wide open road; where exchange between opposites, based on mutual recognition and mutual benefit, can be thought of as cohesive for generating a burgeoning knowledge that fuels progressive (and potentially planet saving) developments in technology, research and society. 

How, then, might we tell the difference between a false and a true economy when both appear the same on the surface at first? 

Perhaps the telltale is whether opposites are manipulated to extract benefit for one side at the expense of the other side. When preferably a reconciliation between opposites would allow for the productive distinction of both sides while, at the same time, allowing for a prosperous unity, too.

For as soon as opposites are manipulated and split asunder so no rhyme nor reason can determine a reasonable relation between them, then cause and effect can be twisted beyond the call of justice. In which case the unreasonable rules. 

In this way we might see how the plight of indigenous Australians has somehow been twisted to become not the effect of a wrong but the cause of another far weightier injustice — our guilt, according to our Prime Minister; which should be abolished at all cost, it seems. Even at the expense of not properly recognising indigenous Australians.

Or the plight of a foolishly errant David Hicks. Having fallen victim to the denial of his rights as an Australian citizen when our government refused to appeal the lack of proper legal procedures by the US, David Hicks' plight was somehow twisted to become not the effect but the cause of a loss of rights — our rights, not his — as though he were secretly the masterful right-hand-man of Osama bin Laden.

And again quite infamously in October 2001, when asylum seekers in waters off Christmas Island were the victims of a sinking boat, they too where somehow twisted into becoming perpetrators, instead, who — it was erroneously claimed by our Prime Minister at the time — threw children overboard to save themselves. 

Incidences such as these over the course of the Howard government tend to suggest that opposites are being twisted into a false economy here in Australia — not a true one. 

Or in the words of a more contemporary tune by The White Stripes — 'Effect and Cause' (2007): 
“Well, in every complicated situation of a human relation — Makin' sense of it all takes a whole lot of concentration, mmm — Well, you can't blame a baby for her pregnant ma — And if there's one of these unavoidable laws — It's that you just can't take the effect and make it the cause — No”.

… I ain't the reason that you gave me no reason to return your call — You built a house of cards and got shocked when you saw them fall, heh — Yeah, well, I ain't sayin' I'm innocent, in fact, the reverse — But if you're headed to the grave, you don't blame the hearse — You're like a little girl yellin' at her brother 'cause you lost his ball

Well, you keep blamin' me for what you did, but that ain't all — The way you clean up a wreck is enough to give one pause, yeah! — Well, you seem to forget just how this all started — I'm reactin' to you because you left me broken-hearted — See, you just can't take the effect and make it the cause …”

And so when election time draws near and the arteries of political commentary become clogged, as they did last time, by one issue and one issue only — the economy — maybe we, the electorate, can instigate movement by asking whether the economy on offer is a false or true one. 

At which point, whether fevered by tonsillitis or not, you might also wish to draw comfort from hearing someone sing: 
“Well, there's things that never will be right I know — And things need changin' everywhere you go — But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right — You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day — And tell the world that everything's OK — But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back — 'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black.”

Peter Garrett interviewed by Virginia Trioli

In preparation for ‘Your Shout’ tonight, please find below a transcript-extract from an interview between the Shadow Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, and Virginia Trioli screened on the ABC’s ‘Sunday Arts’  on 25.03.2007.

I have extracted the parts most relevant to the Visual Arts.

As you will read, it is encouraging to note that discrepancies in the Howard government’s application of the Myer Recommendations have been recognised and will be addressed — Peter Garrett says — by a Labor Government.

This is already a very good sign. As indeed, much that Peter Garrett says suggests he is well informed. 

As for the question to be asked tonight:

Will a Labor government put forward and pass legislation that enforces the payment of a mandatory artists’ acknowledgement fee of no less than $2000 by public art institutions? And, in order to pay this fee, will a Labor Government make available an additional $3 million per annum?

Without doing this a Labor Government will not be addressing Recommendation One of the Myer report in which case — in terms of visual artists — there will be little difference between a Labor and a Howard Government. Recommendation One is recommendation number one. No matter how many other recommendations might finally be addressed, they will not in any way compensate for any lack in this first. One isn’t One for nothing.

But as for the question, if anyone can manage to get to their feet to ask it before me — then please, do. Gail Hastings

Interview between the Shadow Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, and Virginia Trioli screened on the ABC’s ‘Sunday Arts’  on 25.03.2007

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You've accused the Howard Government of being made up of philistines when it comes to art in Australia. It's a little bit rough, isn't it, and possibly not quite accurate when you look back over what the Howard Government has done in its time in office. There's been the Strong report into the state of orchestras, the Nugent report into performing arts, the Myer report into the visual arts industry. They've not really sat on their hands and been that much of a bunch of philistines, have they? 

PETER GARRETT: Well, my point about philistines in the Howard Government was about the lack of strong senior advocates for arts and for the Australian artistic community generally. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You mean, you don't hear members of the Government out and about talking about the importance of culture or art in Australia? 

PETER GARRETT: Generally you don't. I mean, some do. But I was thinking specifically that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, senior ministers - other than those that have the portfolio areas of responsibility - quite often seen at sporting events, quite often celebrating our sporting excellence, you know, clearly and I think rightly, a recognition of the military contribution people make in the country, but very rarely do we see a real espousal in a public way, public declarations, not at the events, of the great contribution that the arts have and that artists can make to Australia, and in fact the way in which artists shape who we are as people. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, maybe the discussion's not needed when you're applying it practically in terms of those reports and those reconsiderations that I mentioned just before, by Myer and Nugent and Strong. Do you concede they've at least paid some proper systematic attention to what's needed in those areas of the arts? 

PETER GARRETT: Myer and Nugent were both important, but we haven't seen all the recommendations of Myer in particular enacted. But in terms of the actual vitality of the arts sector, what we really have at the moment is in some ways trying to maintain a semblance of stasis in a sector which always struggles for money and always needs extra resources, and where there are many demands. And you need to do more than just have reports and reviews. You need to actually proclaim, loudly and clearly, that your vision for Australia includes resoundingly supporting Australia's creative community and recognising that artists are gonna play an absolutely vital role, not only in the culture of the country but in the economy of the country. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Then you need to back up with money. Is that what you would do if the Labor Party won government at the next federal election? Would all of those recommendations of those reports that we mentioned, would they be implemented? In full, as originally recommended by the authors? 

PETER GARRETT: Well, we'd certainly look closely at what Myer recommended and have a close look... 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: With the visual arts? 

PETER GARRETT: Yeah, that's right - the visual arts. Nugent, we'd look at it again. I think the task of government is not necessarily to say we're gonna spend more money. Obviously I would like us to do that, but that's a decision that has to be made formally at a later date. I do think that we've got the capacity to harness more investment for the arts, particularly from the public sector and the private sector. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So how do you make it more attractive, then, for those individuals or organisations, privately, to do that? 

PETER GARRETT: Well, you can look at tax arrangements... 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Is that what you're considering at the moment? 

PETER GARRETT: We will look at some tax arrangements. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Do you care to elaborate on what those tax arrangements might be, Peter Garrett? 

PETER GARRETT: Virginia, we'll have a close look at them, we've got a discussion paper out there, we're taking feedback and we'll release policy as we go forward to the election. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: This is like interviewing the Treasurer in the lead-up to the budget. 

PETER GARRETT: (Laughs) It's a tough seat sitting in this seat. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Yeah. Of course. But tax is everything and to give him his due, you have to say that the previous arts minister, Rod Kemp, did make some headway on that in relation to the... advantages that could be gained from the tax office if you invested in certain aspects of cultural production in this county. Do you give Rod Kemp his due for that? 

PETER GARRETT: I do give the former minister some credit for... beginning that process. It's some way to go, though. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Going from the organisations now down to the personal. Rod Kemp, again, the former arts minister, did make some taxation reform in headway there in allowing artists to claim expenses against all forms of income as artists. Has that gone far enough or would you like to take that further? 

PETER GARRETT: There's a dollar limit on for the capacity for people to do that which I think needs to be looked at. There's another issue, though, that's really important, Virginia, and that is we've got quite a lot of young digital entrepreneurs and creative entrepreneurs doing very well. But we've got a huge body of people who are still on incredibly meagre incomes. There needs to be, I think, much more attention given to the capacity of people to come in and out of the welfare situation, which quite often is the case for artists - to be able to teach part-time, to work as sessional staff in universities, to be teachers and residents in schools. And also for us to look at the social welfare arrangements to see whether the activity that's constituted as activity that's appropriate and fulfils the guidelines, which is, say, for example, going off and organising your own exhibition if you're an artist and making sure you're getting sponsors and organising everything can actually qualify. So it's... 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: So you don't lose your benefits or get kicked off the system? 

PETER GARRETT: Yeah, that's right. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: How do you think the Australia Council is functioning? Does that need to be reformed under a Labor Government? 

PETER GARRETT: What we've said is we believe there's an important and necessary role for a stand-alone body like the Australia Council to do what it does. I certainly support the Australia Council fully in that role. We also believe there are a whole range of ancillary issues. Some to do with the bureaucratisation of... the grants process and the way the boards are constituted that needs to be looked at. I think, importantly, though, we're also interested in looking at whether or not the Department should be acting as a promoter and a driver of programs or whether it's the AC that should be doing it. Because at the moment we've got the Australia Council doing some things and we've got the Department, with visions and touring Australia and so on, doing others. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Are you suspicious of a Department driven program, cultural program? Do you think it's not where that sort of thinking should come from? 

PETER GARRETT: The Department should be thinking about culture and arts, of course. It's just whether or not the programs should be executed through the Department or not. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You mentioned those on the Government side who you see as having the beliefs of philistines or behaving like philistines in relation to the arts in Australia, or at least not going out and volubly advocating on their behalf. So who are the arts advocates in a Rudd cabinet? Who are your art supporters? 

PETER GARRETT: I think, Lindsay Tanner's someone who's obviously spoken about it and supports the arts, and there's myself. Kevin hasn't had an opportunity, I think, in the period of time he's been Opposition Leader to actually go out and see too much art and culture. But I'm absolutely sure that he will. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: You don't need to wait to be asked. Is that it? Is that...the list that we can come up with today? 

PETER GARRETT: Oh, look, there'd be others as well. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Well, I mean, that's an important point, though. If you're going to posit that the potential Labor Government is going to be difficult or present a different view compared to the Government, you'll need to have your advocates in place. 

PETER GARRETT: I think that the leader of the country and the alternative leader as well, in this case... You need to hear from them about what they think about the arts community and our arts endeavour generally. 

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: There's a risk with that, though, isn't there, Peter Garrett? Because I know you mentioned in a speech some time ago that there are those who believe that Paul Keating's very obvious and clear attachment to the arts was in part responsible for his electoral demise. So do you need to be aware of, and cautious, about that? 

PETER GARRETT: Well, I think that the contribution Mr Keating made particularly in terms of the arts was an immense one. And I think that history will judge him very, very kindly for that. The fact that we ended up with a debate about the so-called 'elites', a debate which was really fuelled by the then Opposition and certainly by this Government, was terribly regrettable. Because since when has this idea of singing or dancing or producing sculpture or putting on a play become an activity only for the elites? We've got large numbers of Australians that go to museums, large numbers of Australians that go to performances, large number of Australians in rural and regional Australia who love their theatre, who love their art, who find their local gallery to be a place of great solace and they're very proud of it. That was a false debate, it was a distractive false debate. And I hope we've moved well, well past that. 

The entire transcript can be read at Sunday Arts

“Your Shout” - Sydney

Arts Forum with Peter Garrett, Shadow Federal Arts Minister

Date: Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007
Time: 5pm – 6.30pm
Location: The New Theatre
Street: 542 King Street, Newtown.

Your Shout is a free forum for artists, arts workers and arts supports to express their views to Peter directly on issues they feel are important for the arts in Australia.
PLEASE RSVP to Alex Broun at