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Newsletter 317

Published December 16, 2019
Scott Morrison reveals his artistic side

It’s not my intention to start ranting about politics every week but the mixture of radical inertia about big issues such as climate change, and vicious pettiness in other areas, keeps fuelling my distaste of this government. When Scummo and the gang go out of their way to ignore the glaring lessons of the bushfires; to downplay responsibility for a bottom-of-the-class report card given to Australian schools; and dodge the growing anger of farmers being forced off their land by policies that favour big business, it’s hard not to clamber up on the soapbox.

Government energies have gone into things such as the repeal of the Medevac legislation which allowed sick detainees to be treated humanely on the mainland. How proud they must be of this great victory.

When politicians prefer to say nothing, close down parliamentary debate and refuse interviews to the press, one can only judge them by their actions (or inactions). Of all ministers, Angus Taylor seems the most masterful at digging a hole. The latest scandal to hit the headlines is Mr Taylor’s bizarre story about how he and a few right-minded pals at Oxford University rescued Christmas from the grinch, Naomi Wolf in 1991. The only problem with such a heroic triumph in the battle against Political Correctness is that Naomi Wolf graduated from Oxford in 1989, and has no animus against Christmas whatsoever.

Not only was the story a bald-faced lie, but a very stupid one – especially as it was read into Hansard as part of Mr. Taylor’s maiden speech to Parliament. If there’s anything worse than Political Correctness, perhaps it’s being dishonest with the public to suit your own selfish purposes. As recently as Malcolm Turnbull’s administration ministers who misled Parliament were sent to the backbench. Scummo simply refuses to admit they did anything wrong.

Now in the lead-up to Christmas we find that the government has abolished the Department of the Arts, folding it into a super-ministry with Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

It’s been proven, both at home and abroad, that these ‘super-ministries’ don’t work, being too big and cumbersome for any one minister. Something always gets pushed to the bottom of the heap, and when Arts doesn’t even make it into the name of the Ministry its fate is all-too-apparent.

Names mean a lot more than we might assume. When museums start calling their curators “managers” it has a deleterious impact on the way they view their work, and how they are viewed by others. When journalists are called “content providers” it reduces them to the status of drones. Losing a name altogether is tantamount to being rendered invisible – which is probably what our leaders would prefer when it comes to the Arts.

I don’t feel up to the task of reciting all the reasons why the Arts are vital to the lifeblood of a nation. If the government is so blind to the economic and cultural benefits of the sector, they will not to be swayed by any amount of argument. The problem may be that an engagement with the arts prompts people to think and feel more deeply, and that’s the last thing Scummo wants his “quiet Australians” to be doing.

It’s significant that this week’s art column looks at the Singapore Biennale – a large-scale extravaganza spread out over 11 venues in a country that had almost no conception of the arts as recently as the turn of the century. While Australia keeps pulling money out of arts intitiatives, Singapore has been investing heavily and enjoying the results. There’s a palpable excitement in the work that’s being done – and occasionally over-done.

I’ve got mixed feelings about the Biennale. The level of commitment and organisation is impressive but there were relatively few exhibits that made me want to stop and take notice. No-one can say they haven’t put in the effort, but it’s a shame curators don’t seem to believe in the concept of “taste” any more.

For the third week in a row I’m writing up a documentary for the film page. My second option this week, Marianne and Leonard, is also a doco, but I decided not to review this bio-pic (much as I like Leonard Cohen) because it’s already had pretty extensive coverage. Instead, I went with Justin Krook’s Machine – a mind-bending examination of Artificial Intelligence and all the changes it will bring to our lives. The technology is both exciting and dangerous, but what comes through clearly is the need for us to get our own thoughts and values in order before we start programming super-intelligent machines. Judging by what we see coming out of Canberra, intelligence is not a quality currently held in high esteem.