Newsletter 318

Published January 2, 2020
Merry Xmas from the Government

As we move into the dreaded Christmas season, with Sydney wreathed in smoke, it’s hard to avoid thinking about the bushfires. If Scummo is willing to call his election victory a “miracle” he might consider having a word with Jesus about the fires that are predicted to be still raging in February. Perhaps when he gets back from the holiday he decided to take this week, in a furtive kind of way.

The PM’s most amazing statement to date, when rejecting calls to increase assistance and funding, was that the volunteer firefighters “want to be out there”. Yes, they’d much sooner be out there fighting fires, without pay, rather than sitting around idly at home over Christmas. Presumably they also want to use their own credit cards to pay for petrol for the firetrucks when the government card has run dry, which is what has been happening. Are the firefighters examples of those “quiet Australians” Scummo prefers? Perhaps they’re just preoccupied. Along with the continued threat to life and property the economic argument is that the fires are costing us $50 million a day, so it doesn’t make much sense to keep withholding resources, even if you think a budget surplus is more important than mere humanity.

Back in NSW the Berejiklian government is making alarmed noises about the bushfires, but this seems a trifle hypocritical when we learn that $121 million was cut from the Parks and Wildlife budget in 2016-17, and a further $80 million ths year. This has resulted in about 100 park rangers being laid off, and a corresponding decline in forest management.

To put this in perspective, over the same period the government has proposed spending more than $2 billion demolishing and rebuilding two sports stadiums; has gone about $1.5 billion over budget on Sydney’s light rail; and is pushing on with the ludicrous, vandalistic ‘relocation’ of the Powerhouse Museum, against all expert advice and common sense – at a cost that will probably nudge $2 billion when all the sums are in.

I took my first ride in the light rail this week, between the QVB and Haymarket, and realised it would have taken me less time to walk the same distance. As for the Powerhouse, the government has just unveiled plans for the new museum in Parramatta they intend to build. Allegedly the scheme will necessitate demolishing two more heritage buildings, so they’re nothing if not consistent. On first impressions the proposed building by Moreau Kusunoki and Genton could be a whole lot worse, but it could also be better. Ultimately, it should never even have been countenanced.

The one bright spark in NSW politics was the Minister for Energy and Environment, Matt Kean, breaking ranks and calling for action on climate change. For stating the obvious. Mr. Kean has become an overnight hero – which is a dire reflection on those Coalition politicians, both state and federal, who are too timid or craven to speak out against the environmental disaster being fostered by the climate change deniers in their party. That makes a grand total of two NSW Liberal Ministers that I’ve heard saying something sensible in public. The other occasion was when Rob Stokes, the former Minister for Education made some perceptive comments at a forum on art education. Stokes is now the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, which shoud protect the government from any good educational ideas he might have been harbouring.

OK, enough catharsis for another week. The current art column takes us to New York in the 1980s, for Keith Haring/Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines at the National Gallery of Victoria. This show is, of necessity, scrappier and more chaotic than the NGV’s usual polished performance, but all that energy has its own appeal. Thirty years on we can probably say that Haring and Basquiat have stood the test of time, and stood it a lot better than many of their peers who are still churning out works today that are being sold for inflated prices to a new group of super rich clients.

The show is said to be the first ever which has shown these artists side-by-side, which is another coup for the NGV. There are few works that anybody would consider to be masterpieces but the level of invention and commitment is impressive. One suspects this will be a very well-attended show.

As for the movies, in a week in which I saw previews for both Cats and the new Star Wars on successive nights, the newspaper absolved me from the need to file a review – which was a relief. Instead, I’ve written a long overview of the decade in film, divided into ten rather arbitrary categories, along with a shamelessly subjective list of my favourite movies over that period. I’m putting it up as a blog so readers can argue about it.

By way of an extra, I’m including a preview/review I wrote about the Matisse & Picassoshow that has just started at the National Gallery of Australia. I’ll be writing a more detailed piece in a future column.

There won’t be another newsletter until after the Yuletide festivities are over, so I guess this is the time to say: Merry Christmas!  And thanks for your indulgence over 2019.