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New sedition law to stifle artists.
New Sedition Law to Stifle Artists
On behalf of the 20,000 Australian visual artists, galleries and other support organisations, the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) joined with Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) today to call for changes to the Federal Government’s proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill.
Tamara Winikoff, Executive Director of NAVA said today “Buried in the back of the Anti-Terrorism Bill are new offences under the heading of sedition which may severely constrain the freedom of expression of visual artists such as painters, sculptors, video makers and cartoonists.”
“We are concerned that the new sedition laws inhibit artists’ entitlement to exercise their human right to represent, discuss and critique ideas, through their artwork or other forms of public or private expression,” she continued.
As with all Australian citizens, they should remain free to continue to challenge current orthodoxies - artistic or political” .
Because artists’ work is often oblique, using metaphorical imagery, quotation or allusion and satire, many meanings can be drawn from it. Under the proposed law, artists could be charged with sedition for influencing others in a loosely specified way.
The Bill makes it an offence punishable by 7 years imprisonment if a person urges another to assist ‘by any means whatever’ an organisation or country engaged in armed hostilities against the Australia Defence Force,” said Simeon Beckett, President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.
“This then would make artists and galleries which show their work vulnerable to being prosecuted for influencing the actions of others, whether this was intended or not,” he said.
Tamara Winikoff said “It is easy to imagine that if this law had been in force in the 20th century, the work of great Australian artists would have been indictable, like S.T.Gill’s
1 November 2005
comments on the Eureka uprising, Albert Tucker’s Images of Modern Evil and Sydney Nolan’s post war angst paintings,”
She continued “Right now there are many highly respected artists who are making deeply concerned and thoughtful comments on September 11, the detention of asylum seekers, and the involvement of Australia in the Iraq war. Should they be jailed and silenced?”
“While there is a “good faith” defence it is so narrowly drafted that it will be difficult for an artist to fall within it. In addition it is the artist who has to prove to the court that the defence applies to him or her,” said Simeon Beckett.
“If this legislation goes through unchanged, self censorship is the likely course of action. For fear of possible misinterpretation of their work or abuse of power by government, artists will be under pressure. The result could be the stifling of free visual inquiry and expression and a consequent cultural blackout,” said Winikoff .
ALHR and NAVA called on the Federal Government to put in place safeguards for free speech as exist in other similar Federal laws such as s.18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
NAVA is the peak body representing the professional interests of the Australian visual arts and craft sector. ALHR represents over 1000 Australian lawyers.
For media comment contact: Tamara Winikoff : 0411 162 156 (mobile) Simeon Beckett 0412 008 039 (mobile)