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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2546

Senator SHORT(10.09) —I must respond briefly to Senator Grimes's comments following my earlier contribution. I do not know whether it was deliberate or otherwise, but Senator Grimes completely misrepresented the point I was making. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he misunderstood what I was saying. I was not for one moment suggesting that arts funding by way of taxpayers' funds should go only to the wealthy. I did not mention that-quite the opposite. What I want to see is the widest possible participation by and benefit to the community in the development of arts and culture in this country. My point is that that cannot happen when funds go to a closed shop situation in the form of the trade unions through the Arts Council's arts and working life program. That is a closed shop situation and that is what I am objecting to.

The point that was related to that and that I was making, which Senator Grimes appears to have misunderstood, was that the difference between funding with taxpayers' money, say the opera, the ballet or any other arts or cultural group in the community, is that the whole raison d'etre of those organisations is arts and culture. The purpose of the trade union movement is industrial and political. I repeat what I said in my earlier remarks, which again Senator Grimes does not seem to have understood; that the point I made about the funding of the trade union movement I would make in exactly the same way if the Business Council of Australia sought money to fund a muralist or artist in residence. That is not the purpose of the Business Council of Australia, just as the purpose of the trade union movement is not to receive taxpayers' funds for artistical or cultural purposes. If those organisations want to engage in those activities for their members, by all means let them do so. That is their privilege and prerogative, but not with taxpayers' money.

A large amount of this money that has been going through the Arts Council to the trade union movement has been going to some of the wealthiest unions in Australia. The Amalgamated Metal Workers Union's funds are now almost $15m. Only 10 or 12 years ago its funds were $2m. Why should an organisation that has nothing to do with arts or culture, and which is wealthy beyond the dreams of most trade unions or most other groups in our community, receive taxpayers' money to fund such projects as muralists or artists in residence. That is the point I was making and Senator Grimes completely ignored or misrepresented it.

He also totally misrepresented me on the point I made in relation to arm's length funding. I was not arguing necessarily one way or the other in terms of whether the way arm's length funding is now practised is good or bad. I would agree with Senator Grimes if what he was saying was that there is a conflict there. There is a dilemma if a Minister can involve himself or herself in individual grant applications as there is scope and possibility for political patronage, or whatever one might want to call it, entering into the issue when we would not otherwise want it to do so. I fully appreciate that point but I think there is also the other side of the case to be considered, and that is whether the government of the day, which has responsibility for arts policy and all other areas of policy, should have the right to intervene in particular cases where applications for taxpayers' funds come from organisations whose activities or values are completely the antithesis of the values and aspirations of our society.

I put it to the Committee that I believe very fervently that there is not one iota of justification for taxpayers' money and Australian governments to fund the activities of the Palestine Information Office in this country and the Palestine Liberation Organisation which it says it represents in this country. If arm's length funding is the sole principle in this area, one faces that dilemma. I suggest to the Minister and to the Government that the policy of arm's length funding be looked at to take account of that sort of situation. I am not pushing it any further than that. I am just saying that I believe it is an issue to which we all need to give further consideration.