Newsletter 276

Published March 2, 2019
Portrait of a press conference

This website may be dedicated to the visual arts and cinema but I’m always tempted to use the newsletter to sound off on politics or other topical themes. Aside from the spectacle of Cardinal George Pell’s fall from grace, the story that stuck in my mind this week was Peter Fitzsimmons’s report in the Sydney Morning Heraldabout the astonishing arrogance of the NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian and the Transport Minister, Andrew Constance.

Asked about the controversial light rail project in Newcastle, for which the government has never released a business plan, the two politicians proceeded to sneer at the reporter from the Newcastle Heraldand ignore his question. Just watch this, and keep an eye on the man in the background – Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scott MacDonald – beaming madly like a yes man in a comedy routine. You can see why he’s just lost preselection.

Mr Constance has more questions to answer than most politicians, not just about the Newcastle project, but the mad rush to spend billions on unwanted stadiums, and the ongoing light rail disaster in Sydney, which is a long way behind schedule, battling a massive blow-out in costs.

If the Berejiklian government is thrown out at the next election, as it deserves to be, it will be because of this attitude that government is a kind of exclusive club, not accountable to anyone – let alone the electorate. Major decisions effecting millions of people are shrouded in secrecy, business plans are concealed from the public, legitimate questions are greeted with sneers and scorn.

The appropriate word for this is hubris, and the ancient Greeks believed it was always followed by nemesis– ie. the downfall of the perpetrator. Let me also quote the oriental wisdom of the I Ching: “If a man would rule he must first learn how to serve.”

Gladys and her gang also get full marks for cynicism in their new “near $1 billion” embrace of public hospital funding – an idea that struck them like a lightning bolt just before election day. Apparently voters are expected to forget all about the debacle of the Northern Beaches Hospital, a $2.14 billion deal with a private operator that has been accused of being “chaotic” and under-resourced. It’s a mark of this administration’s priorities that even in their opportunistic attempts to claw back ground on health issues, the amount of money they are promising represents less than half the sum involved in the private deal.

Don’t get me started on the Powerhouse museum…

This week’s art column seeks refuge on the other side of the continent. I’m writing about the visual arts program of the Perth Festival, which is always worth catching, even if for most readers it probably seems a long way from the eastern states. The Festival organisers give tremendous prominence to the visual arts, with national and international works chosen in a way that provides a wide variety of options.

The highlight this year was the poor old, much-derided Art Gallery of WA, which seems to inspire groans of despair in Perth every time it’s mentioned. For the 2019 festival AGWA is hosting a brilliant survey of art from the Kimberley region that has been six years in the making. The irony is that the gallery has pulled off a memorable exhibition by concentrating on those things that are close at hand, rather than looking for dubious international attractions. This doesn’t mean AGWA shouldn’t be showing art from all quarters, but it’s only sensible to get your house in order before inviting the neighbours in.

The film being reviewed this week is Greta, a new offering from the talented by patchy Neil Jordan, featuring Isabelle Huppert as a little old lady psychopath. The success of the film is all down to Huppert because the plot is far too implausible for a lesser actress. One wonders if she’d consider the lead role in a horror movie about NSW politics. As a title, I’d suggest Gladys.