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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2540

Senator SHORT(9.36) —I want to make a few comments on the funding by the Australia Council of various groups, particularly the trade unions of Australia, but also some of the other more radical groups in our community. Before doing so, I publicly congratulate Senator Puplick on his remarks and all the work he has put in over a lengthy period in this area, not only on behalf of our side of politics but also in the wider context. The work that he does with the Estimates committees and in the broader context is something on which we all congratulate him and for which we thank him.

The purport of my comments is to consider funding by the Australia Council, particularly of trade unions, and, within that context, funding under the art and working life program of the Council. Grants to trade unions under this program alone now total almost $3m of taxpayers' funds. So we are looking at something that is very significant, not in dollar terms, but in terms of raising some broader issues which I hope the Minister and the Government will address. Within that broad heading I want to raise two particular issues. The first issue is the appropriateness of this funding. The second issue, flowing from the first, is the principle by which the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment of the day stands at arm's length from the details of individual grants.

If one looks at some of the grants that have been made to the trade union movement during the life of the art and working life program in recent years one finds some grants which I believe the average Australian taxpayer would be staggered to find his money being spent on. I shall go through a few of them. The Amalgamated Metal Workers Union of Western Australia received a grant of $15,000 for a regional music co-ordinator. The Australian Insurance Employees Union in Victoria received $16,000 for a print maker in residence and an artist in residence. The Australian Building Construction Employees and Builders Labourers Federation-which has now been deregistered following actions by this Government supported by the Opposition-has received in excess of $50,000 for similar activities under this program. To give some examples of those activities, $13,000 was received for artists' fees; $12,000 was received for a mural project a couple of years ago and a further $18,000 was received for similar purposes in the following year. As I said, the total amount received is in excess of $52,000. The Combined Union Arts Committee at Williamstown Naval Dockyard in Victoria has received $5,500, mainly for an arts and working life project and for a mural project at the Williamstown Naval Dockyard. It received the grant not all that long before employees had been retrenched at the dockyard because of a lack of sufficient activity. The Musicians Union of Australia in Western Australia has done very well over the last couple of years. It received $23,500 for a jazz co-ordinator and for a writer-in-residence.

Senator Grimes —Tell me what is wrong with that. State specifically what is wrong with that.

Senator SHORT —That is the point I want to come back to in a moment. I am just giving a few examples. If the Minister is quiet, I will raise the matter again with him. The Victoria Trades Hall Council has received several hundred thousand dollars in the last three years, again for artists-in-residence and artists-in-the-community activities.

Actors Equity of Australia has received $22,000 for a printmaker-in-residence and for artists-in-residence and for materials for a poster project. The Australian Council of Trade Unions in Victoria received $41,000 for a book of songs of working Australians project and for an arts festival committee for a working life arts festival. On it goes. The Australian Telecommunications Employees Association received $30,000 for three artists-in-residence and an artist-in-residence graphic project. The Food Preservers Union of Australia, one of the most extreme left wing militant unions, received $8,272 to enable its members to attend leadlight and ceramics classes. It received $10,000 the following year for craft activities. It has been given yet another grant of $5,000 for similar activities in recent months.

The Trades and Labor Council of Western Australia received $115,000 for writers-in-residence, community-in-workplace theatre projects, community murals and a community theatre project.

Senator Grimes —Come on, give us some reasons why you do not like them.

Senator SHORT —The Minister should be patient. The Labour Council of New South Wales received $24,000 for a lyricist/musician-in-residence, for a composer/musician-in-residence and for a songwriter-in-residence at the Chullora workshops, and for an employee participation play for work sites and schools. On and on it goes. These grants add up to $3m. The point I raise is the appropriateness of taxpayers' funds being used to fund organisations such as the trade union movement as distinct from the trade union movement funding its own activities. Although I am levelling this criticism at Government expenditure on the trade union movement I would like make exactly the same point if such funding were to go to employer organisations or similar groups in the community.

Senator Grimes —But it is.

Senator SHORT —It is not. I understand that the criterion under the art and working life program is such that the activity has to be a trade union-related activity or the grant either cannot be applied for or will not be granted.

Senator Michael Baume —You cannot get it in a non-union shop.

Senator SHORT —That is right. So the whole program is absolutely and totally directed and biased towards the trade union movement. The significance is that this funding is very much given to enable certain groups in the community to get a privileged position in relation to the use of taxpayers' funds that other groups cannot get. It is quite evident from the nature of the grants that have been given over recent years that there is also a bias within the trade union movement. The overwhelming bulk of funds that have been granted, for whatever reason, have gone to the more extreme sections of the trade union movement, including the Builders Labourers Federation, which I mentioned recently and which the Government has played a major part, with Opposition support, in deregistering because of its wanton activities.

The problem with this type of activity, and this is what I want the Minister to comment on, is that it goes to the core of reducing the independence of the arts. That is very damaging because the cultural and artistic life and development of this country depend essentially on the arts maintaining their independence and integrity. For organisations such as the trade union movement, the purposes of which have nothing at all to do with artistic endeavours but with industrial matters, or for employer or similar organisations to be funded with taxpayers' money for artistic-type activities makes those organisations beholden to government and destroys the integrity and independence of the cultural and artistic life that the grants ostensibly are aimed towards. By giving funds not only to the trade union movement but to radical groups such as Women for Survival, for example, which is radical and feminist and whose membership is formally affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party and other communist peace groups, the Federal Government is diverting taxpayers' funds to undermine its own policies. For example, the Pine Gap bases, which are vital to Australia's defences, have been subject to sit-ins and campaigns by this group which was represented opposite Parliament House recently.

In the time available I will mention one other grant because it raises very serious issues of principle, particularly for the whole question of arm's length funding for the arts. I refer to the grant in October 1985 by the Australian Council, through the Community Arts Board, of $5,000 to the Palestine Information Office for a cultural exhibition. It is common knowledge that the Palestine Information Office is the Australian headquarters of the terrorist organisation, the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It is widely reported that the man who heads that office, Mr Ali Kazak, is a direct appointee of Yasser Arafat, the leader of the PLO in the MIddle East. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment, Mr Cohen, in response to a question as to why that grant was provoked, stated categorically:

There is no PLO office in this country.

Yet Mr Kazak displays no confusion about his organisation's role in Australia and its links with the PLO. In an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program, the World Today, he described the office in the following way. He said:

Well, it is like an embassy, like any other PLO offices around the world. We have over 100 offices and embassies around the world.

The Minister went on to justify the grant of $5,000 on the ground that intervention to stop that grant would have violated the principles of arm's length funding and peer group assessment. Mr Cohen added that the Palestine Information Office merely represents one of the ethnic communities in Australia, some of which have also received funds from the Australia Council. The spirit, if not the letter, of the Minister's response is, in effect: Who cares whether the political values and activities, indeed the whole raison d'etre, of groups at the end of government handouts are revolutionary, aimed at promoting terrorism, the whittling away of democratic principles or what have you? The principle of arm's length funding is that one does not worry about such things. Who cares whether the Government uses taxpayers' money to support a terrorist organisation such as the PLO in Australia?

According to the Minister, the boards of the Australia Council are made up of artists with specialist expertise, so there is no need for the Minister to intervene. With some of the examples of the funding provided by the Arts Council in the last two or three years, the very considerable question of the responsibility of the relevant Minister of the government of the day is raised in my mind and whether there are certain groups and activities in our community about which the Minister ought to have the responsibility and capacity to say: `This is not an organisation which should receive funding from taxpayers' funds'. The purposes of the funding-it is for a cultural exhibition in the case of the Palestine Information Office-is irrelevant. The simple fact is that providing taxpayers' funds to that type of activity frees up the funds of that organisation to be used in other ways. I think it raises a very important issue of principle. We are talking about a lot of money, but more importantly we are talking about values within our community. I wonder whether the Minister, in his later remarks, will care to comment on some of those things.