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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2543

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(9.51) —I should like to comment on them right now. Senator Short's address was made up of two parts. I think it is important to remember that. In the first part he talked about the importance of the arm's length funding, the independence and integrity of the Australia Council. He said that we were in some way violating that because the Australia Council was funding trade unions. He described them as left wing trade unions. He then complained that we did not interfere when the same body funded organisations such as the Palestinian organisation that he talked about. I feel very strongly about this issue. We need consistency about it in this place. I remind Senator Short of something that he did not mention; that is, that the arts in working life program, under which these projects were funded, was established by the Australia Council in September 1982 under the Fraser Government. It was certainly not complained about by the Fraser Government. Trade unions were funded under the Fraser Government in the same circumstances. I personally have no objection to trade unions being funded for this purpose. Senator Short mentioned some $3m for all the things he was talking about. I do not hear anyone in this place complaining about the $4m or $5m we spend on the Australian Opera or the $5m we spend on the Australian Ballet Company. I have no objection to it. Some of the people who support the opera and the ballet are trade union members. For instance, Laurie Carmichael is a great supporter of the opera, the ballet and those sorts of things. The very large subsidies that are provided to the opera enable people such as Dame Joan Sutherland to get $1m-I think that is what it was-out of the Australian Opera in the last couple of years. There is never any complaint about that but there is a complaint about the $15,000 spent by the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union for music and the $15,000 spent by the Building Workers Industrial Union to produce murals and music. We are talking about a few thousand dollars being spent by some trade union which wants to encourage its members to have some training in leadlighting or something that Senator Short made some derisory remarks about. It seems to me that if we spend a pittance on providing some cultural activities for working class people or people in trade unions it is a crime but if we spend millions of dollars to provide a great subsidy to the Australian Opera-providing a couple of million dollars for Dame Joan Sutherland, whom I have great admiration for-it is perfectly all right. This is the great inconsistency.

Senator Michael Baume —Don't trade unionists go to the opera?

Senator GRIMES —Of course they go to the opera. I said that earlier. Laurie Carmichael is a great example of someone who attends and likes opera. It seems that it is perfectly all right to spend $5m on opera alone but it is not all right to spend a couple of million dollars on trade unions supporting their members getting some cultural activities. Is that what the problem is?

Senator Michael Baume —Can I go to a trade union workshop?

Senator GRIMES —The honourable senator can. Senator Baume can come to the city which has received great publicity in the last couple of days because of Senator Newman and me to see a very good mural which has been put up by the trade union movement. Everyone enjoys it; everyone likes it.

Senator Short —Why should it be paid for with taxpayers' money?

Senator GRIMES —Why should we pay out of taxpayers' money a huge subsidy to the Australian Opera?

Senator Short —Because the Australian Opera and Australian Ballet have as their whole purpose for being the arts and culture in this country. That is not the purpose of the trade union movement.

Senator GRIMES —Oh, good! So the criterion of funding is that we should fund only those organisations whose sole purpose is to provide ballet, opera or cultural activities. If that is the criterion that Senator Short puts down why did the previous Government not have that policy? Senator Short was a supporter of the previous Government. Why was he not up screaming when the art in working life program was introduced? Why was he not up complaining about that?

Senator Short —Because I was not here.

Senator GRIMES —Was Senator Short complaining outside? Senator Michael Baume was an advisor to the previous Government. Was he complaining at the time?

Senator Michael Baume —No, because it has been corrupted. It has good objectives and it has been corrupted by your lot.

Senator GRIMES —That is an outrageous statement and Senator Baume knows it. Trade unions were funded by his Government under this program. But any trade union that he does not like that is funded is apparently an example of corruption.

Senator Newman —Why is it a closed shop? Why do you not answer?

Senator GRIMES —It is not a closed shop. There is no way it is a closed shop. The guidelines were set up under the previous Government and it is not a closed shop now. The Palestinian group that Senator Short was talking about is not a closed shop. It is not a trade union movement. I may disagree very strongly with individual grants under this program and I may get up in this chamber and say so-I am not arguing with the right of honourable senators to do that-but honourable senators opposite are complaining in general about the whole program because grants go to the trade union movement. I could make a big class issue and ask: `Why should funds go to an organisation run by Lady Fairfax or some such person?'. I do not do that and I would not do that because I think that that is a reasonable and sensible organisation to fund. But honourable senators opposite are talking about a couple of million dollars going to organisations that are trying to provide culture-trying to provide a bit of music-to ordinary people in this country yet they are not complaining about tens of millions of dollars going in funding which is largely provided to those from the higher socio-economic groups in this community.

We have to be a bit consistent in this area. I remember that at the time of the 1967 war the Israeli Government spent a considerable amount of money-Don Dunstan often cites this-providing instruments for the Tel Aviv Symphony Orchestra. The argument at the time was that even though the war and the survival of the Israelis was important, what would happen after the war and their survival was also important. So proper instruments were provided for the orchestra. I think it is important that in this community we realise that arts and culture are not only the prerogative of the rich. We should use any opportunity we can to provide funding to extend arts and culture to those who do not have the background and the wealth to attend the opera, who do not have the $20, $30 or $40 for the cost of attending concerts at the Sydney Opera House. Why should we not subsidise such people? The previous Government did not subsidise such programs for party political purposes; it subsidised them to ensure that in some way the ordinary people of this country had exposure to the arts and culture generally. We are doing that. If the AMWU and the BWIU happen to be organisations doing that-if at the time the Builders Labourers Federation was the organisation doing that-they should be funded. If some mistakes were made and some funding went in the wrong direction, I ask honourable senators: So what? It is better to have that happen, and it is better not to make political capital out of that, than it is to have exposure to the arts and culture in this country confined to those who are wealthy enough to view it.

If we withdrew our support for the arts and culture across the board on the basis that Senator Short was talking about, very few people would be able to attend the opera, very few people would be able to attend the ballet and very few people would be able to attend concerts. I do not think that is the sort of society that we want. Senator Short can make his little whinge about the AMWU or other organisations that he does not think should receive a bit of funding, but if he does not like the way it is being done now and he did not like the way it was done by the previous Government, he should give some alternatives. He never gives any alternatives. He claims that every act of the present Government-and, by definition, every act of the previous Government in this area-was a political act aimed at supporting the Left. That is nonsense, and he knows it is nonsense. I feel very sad that somebody such as Senator Short has done that.