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Q And A -

View in ParlView

TOM BALLARD
Good evening. And welcome to Q&A, live from the Adelaide Festival Centre. I’m Tom Ballard, filling in for Tony Jones. Australia’s premier arts festival is in full swing and so tonight, we’re all about the arts. Here to answer your questions, Canadian singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright, acclaimed theatre, opera and film director Neil Armfield, who is also co-director of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, actress and singer Ursula Yovich, media and arts executive Kim Williams, and beloved children’s author and international terror suspect Mem Fox. Please welcome our panel.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
Very dangerous having her here. Q&A is live on ABC TV in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, and live everywhere else on News 24 at 9:35 eastern daylight time. And you can watch and listen live on iview, Facebook, ABC NewsRadio and on Periscope through Twitter. There’s much to discuss tonight from the state of the arts to artists in trouble, and of course we’ll have to finish tonight with a bit of a song. So, let’s get to our first question. It comes from Stewart Sweeney.



STEWART SWEENEY
Today in Adelaide, we have the Adelaide Festival under way. We have the Fringe, we have WOMAD, the World Music Festival, we have had the Adelaide Cup race we’ve also of course got the Adele concert tonight and last, but not least, here we are at the Q&A. Meanwhile, later this year, car manufacturing will finish after 100 years here in Adelaide. So that raises for me the question, are we living in the best of times or the worst of times?

TOM BALLARD
Neil Armfield, I’ll start with you. It is an amazing time for this city. It is Mad March - so many different festivals going on, people having a fantastic time, but some other people in South Australia are having a bit of a tough time at the moment and facing some real challenges. How do you reconcile those two things - the worlds of creativity and arts and joy, and the real economic stress that some people are under?

NEIL ARMFIELD
I think that, really, the value of the arts for South Australia in particular, the value of the arts for Australia, if you want to measure it in purely economic terms, it is massive. Like, the energy that is generated in this state, in this city by this great jamboree of performance and storytelling and dance and visual arts is filling the state coffers in a way that does not happen at any other time in the year. The relationship between the manufacturing industry is a completely other one. But the actual vibrancy of employment that is created by the arts in this country is huge. More than 310,000 jobs across Australia, it was measured after the 2011 Census, due to people working in the arts, or creating objects for people to read, that has a massive contribution to the country. In terms of the comparison with people going to art galleries and football matches, more people per year go into an art gallery than go to a football match. More people, far more people, participate in the arts than do in sport. It’s... There’s great room for both, but it really doesn’t affect... It’s a false kind of equation to say that manufacturing is somehow suffering because of support for the arts.

TOM BALLARD
Not necessarily, but do you see something like the Adelaide Festival of Arts providing something and offering something culturally or emotionally to people who are facing or staring down the barrel of a pretty uncertain future, just in terms of the kind of shows you’re programming, and the kind of experience that’s involved at an arts festival?

NEIL ARMFIELD, THEATRE, OPERA AND FILM DIRECTOR
Well, the Adelaide Festival has...is I think distinguishing itself with a great width of... a great bandwidth of connection with its audience. We’re going for very large-scale events as well as extremely intimate and beautiful kind of almost person-to-person storytelling. I think anyone who comes to Adelaide will find - and I’m not saying this facetiously - but I think...I think the arts is what makes life worth living.

TOM BALLARD
Mem Fox, I want to come to you. You live in Adelaide. You say you’d never live anywhere else. The best of times or the worst of times for this state and this city at the moment?

MEM FOX, CHILDREN’S AUTHOR
We live in the best of times and the worst of times. Some of us live in the best of times. Some of us live in the worst of times. And my heart goes out so much to the people who are living in the worst of times. However, being an optimist, I would like to say to the manufacturing people who are going to lose their jobs - we know that, we know the date, we know it’s going to happen. There is a sense somehow that this whole climate change energy that we have in this state, of the changes that we’re going to make, of the way we’re going to lead the nation, in looking after energy security will make jobs for the people who are not going to be employed by Holden. They will have jobs - not all of them, and they will be different jobs, but there will be jobs because of the way this state is moving.

TOM BALLARD
Kim Williams?

KIM WILLIAMS, MEDIA AND ARTS EXECUTIVE
I have difficulty with binary arguments that say this or that and see things as exclusionary rather than inclusionary. And I struggle to deal with the well-intentioned question in terms of comparing the investment in creative activity as compared with manufacturing activity. The reasons for the collapse in manufacturing activity are large and complex. It doesn’t, in any way, derogate from the need for society to sustain, particularly our society, our intellectual and creative capital, particularly given that the whole crucible of the future of Australia is in terms the intellectual resource and creative capacity of our people, given that we don’t have much of a competitive advantage in most things. We do have a very strong competitive advantage in terms of people who are fabulously original. And that’s what we have to invest in.

TOM BALLARD
Ursula Yovich, you’re one of those people. (LAUGHS) At a moment when some people are facing some pretty tough times, is the arts ever verging on being an indulgence for people, or do you still see it as a viable and valuable thing for society?

URSULA YOVICH, ACTRESS AND CABARET SINGER
I mean, this is my personal opinion, but, yeah, I think it’s definitely an important part of society. It’s where we go to practise empathy and I think that’s what makes people really, you know, loving and giving. And I think the moment, you know, we shut down the arts, that’s when we’re in a lot of trouble. But I do feel for those who are in these difficult times. And we can only try and be optimistic, you know, and try and embrace, like Mem was saying, the changes that are happening in this state.

TOM BALLARD
Martha Wainwright, from an international perspective, perhaps a North American perspective, Bruce Springsteen was certainly inspired by some tough times, singing songs of solidarity for people facing economic distress. What do you make of that?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT, SINGER SONGWRITER
Yeah, I mean, I often... there’s an aspect of the arts and I guess maybe music, in particular, that’s entertainment, but I think much more than that it’s usually...usually sheds lights on some of the harder things in life and the hardship that people have, and it’s...you know, as a songwriter, you know, I write about my... my personal life, but what I’ve noticed with audiences, and what they like about it, is that they identify with that. And so for people who, you know, might be struggling in their lives because of economic reasons, I think will gain a lot by being able to listen to music, hear music, see art, see plays - that’s what’s going to get them through this, potentially.

NEIL ARMFIELD
Can I say, Tom, that...what... the arts is not only providing this kind of life force, I think, of originality and the world of the imagination to the country, but the arts are making this state and this country so much wealthier. Even if the metric is purely economic. So, you know, hopefully some of that money that is being made, estimated at $87 billion of value to the country in 2009, some of that money will be made available to those who are losing their jobs.

TOM BALLARD
I think we’ll touch on that a bit throughout tonight’s show as well. We’ll move on to the next question. It comes from Sally Hardy.


TECHNOLOGY ARTS00:09:52

SALLY HARDY
Artists often live without superannuation or sick pay or holiday pay, and it’s therefore not always an easy life being an artist. But recently I’ve taken heart by the fact that, unlike so many other jobs, artists are not...don’t seem to be faced with being replaced by robots or an automated system of any kind. And for once it seems like it might possibly be a sensible career choice. So I’m just wondering...

(LAUGHTER)

SALLY HARDY
..I’m just wondering what the panel thinks about how artists and the arts may be affected going into the future, as we move further toward that automated and more digital age?

TOM BALLARD
Martha Wainwright, are you worried about being replaced by robots?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Well, in many ways, I mean, it’s a different equation. But, you know, I think artists are used to being replaced by, you know, things pretty quickly, whether it’s, uh, you know...you know, not being played on the radio because it’s not popular music enough. And, you know, I mean, there are people that are puppets in art, especially in popular music. And so I think we’re used to that feeling already. So, you know, um...

TOM BALLARD
And digital technology must have affected the way you make a living as an artist, right?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Oh, you know, I don’t even ask anymore how many records I sell, ‘cause it would be too depressing to know, because I would be worried about how I’m gonna feed my kids. So, there is, you know, um... But what you’re saying is that we’re not replaceable, and I understand that, and that’s a different thing than how people consume music, ‘cause that’s a really big problem, because people don’t buy records anymore. But I guess...I guess that is...that really does speak to it, is that, you know, if you’re true to yourself, if you’re a true...you know, if you are connected to some inner voice inside of you as an artist and you’re doing the job that you’re supposed to do, you are irreplaceable and, you know, you can’t be replaced by anything.

TOM BALLARD
Ursula, what about technology’s impact on people going to the live theatre? I mean, you can watch more television and more movies than ever before at home by streaming online or by torrenting, that kind of thing. Are you concerned about the future of live theatre and live performance in that kind of context?

URSULA YOVICH
I actually think that people will always come back to the real deal. There’s something really magical about going into a theatre and...and watching a live performance. And what’s so special about that? A very good friend of mine, I was recording in his studio, and he opened up the top of the piano and he said, “I want you to scream into that.” “I’m not going to scream into it.” He goes, “No, scream into it.” And I called out, and it kind of vibrated and called back to me, the piano. And that’s what...you know, that’s the magic. There’s a reciprocation that you don’t get when you’re watching television and film. I mean, I enjoy it. I love Netflix. But, yeah, there’s still...

TOM BALLARD
I think you mean you love ABC iview.

(LAUGHTER)

TOM BALLARD
You’ve written about piracy, you think piracy should be relabelled as theft, and ripping off artists and copyright and that kind of thing. What’s your take on digital technology - the opportunity and the cost that it poses?

KIM WILLIAMS
Well, piracy suggests a romantic notion of people with one hand and parrots on their shoulders saying, “Oh-ho, me hearties,” when in fact it is theft. It’s nothing more or less than theft. And theft is a deeply socially corrosive thing, and it denies artists revenues that they’re legitimately entitled to. And I don’t think that there is any defence imaginable for piracy. The impact on the music industry has been dramatic. And the impact in film and television has been equally dramatic. What has happened as a response to that is that digital technologies have enabled artists to be heard much more pervasively and through many different media in a way that has liberated whole ranges of new opportunities for artists. So that whilst Martha might talk about lower record sales, I bet she’s never had her music listened to more often and never had more streams of her music going out to people across the planet.

TOM BALLARD
Just quickly, Martha.

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Yeah, no, absolutely. Certainly. But I do think it’s hard to wade through, you know? I think when... You know, that’s all.

TOM BALLARD
Well, look, there’s...

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
There’s such thing as curating. And I think that it’s important to have people curating. And it’s important to have, you know, labels of taste you know, dictate sort of what they think is kind of interesting and good, and sort of offer that, and then... You know, because you can’t spend your whole life on the internet looking for something that you might find. You know? It’s very hard to do. And your time would be better spent taking a walk. It would be better for your health, you know, I would say. So, you know, I think that to take away the value of curating artists... And also, I think the other problem that it leaves an artist like myself, who would rather spend their time playing the guitar or playing with my kids, I’m forced to constantly be selling myself on social media and being...being made sure that people can see me at all times, whether it’s on Facebook or whatnot. And I think for many artists that that’s a natural thing, but for some artists it’s not a natural thing.

TOM BALLARD
Alright. I’ve got to move things along. Thank you very much for your contributions there. You’re watching Q&A, live from the Adelaide Arts Festival. Our next question comes from Sophie Green.


MEM FOX & TRUMP00:15:31

SOPHIE GREEN
Mem Fox, you were recently detained at an airport due to Trump’s policy. What is your stance on this matter? Although you may have been wrongfully detained, do you agree with the policy if it was an attempt for the USA to maintain sovereignty? Just like Tony Abbott led Australia for...sorry...to undergo the Operation Sovereign Borders in Australia, do you agree with the policy? Um... (LAUGHS) Sorry. Shouldn’t the USA be able to protect their borders also by enforcing a stricter policy?

TOM BALLARD
Mem Fox, most people would have heard about your ordeal there. But if people haven’t, if you’d just briefly let us know exactly what happened a few weeks ago when you tried to go to the United States.

MEM FOX
I did go to the United States, and I was let in. Amazingly, I was allowed in. But not until I had been interrogated, and I use the word specifically - interrogated, not interviewed. I was pulled out of line for a very small reason - the digital cameras didn’t work. And I was sent to a real person, and that’s where the trouble started. And the real person found out that I was being paid to give a speech in the States, and said, “You’ve come in on the wrong visa. You need to have more questions asked.” It was the WAY the questions were asked. It was the WAY they’re trying to protect their borders. It was the insolence. It was the fear that they caused in me. It was the humiliation in a public room in which everything about my finances were shouted out to the entire room. It was the way other people in the room were treated, which made me ashamed of being a human being. It was not only I who was badly treated. It was appalling. Of course they can keep their borders safe. There are ways of doing it that are polite, that are friendly, that are warm. You know, I hope that Australians who would be in the same situation as those border police would be slightly more polite, slightly warmer. Please don’t ask me to comment on Tony Abbott and our own border protection, because there are not enough expletives in Roget’s Thesaurus.

TOM BALLARD
There is a dark irony...

(APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
..somewhat of an irony to the timing of this ordeal for you, Mem, as your new book is called I’m Australian Too, which features this verse -
“We open doors to strangers. Yes, everyone’s a friend. Australia Fair is ours to share Where broken hearts can mend.”
You wrote a book specifically about a culture of welcome out of a fear that Australia will go the same way as America, with extremists in power, racist hatred, ghastly speech against decent people. Do you think you will ever return to the United States?

MEM FOX
No, I won’t. Absolutely not. It wouldn’t be safe for me to do so. I don’t think I would be allowed in. I would faint in the immigration queue. I couldn’t even stand in the immigration queue. I would just faint with fear. I cannot explain what happened to me in that room. People have said, “Get over it.” You know. “Don’t be so precious.” “I was in that room. I’ve been through that. “For heaven’s sake, get over it.” They were not in the room that I was in. They were not there after Trump came into power. They were not interviewed by the man who interviewed me, who was much younger than I was, who was absolutely terrifying, and he humiliated me from the first sentence. That person who says, “Get over it,” was not there with me.

TOM BALLARD
Neil Armfield, a reflection on Mem’s ordeal there and the notion of borders defending one’s sovereignty, generally.

NEIL ARMFIELD
I think it is very clear that there is across the world a movement based on fear where there is an absolute... targeting of difference and of the other. It happens to be particularly Muslims in... under Trump’s horrific beginning as president of America. The flag is being waved in Australia and has been waved for some time. The kind of xenophobic terror of the movement of people in this country is equally disturbing and the kind of energy with which both parties have supported this, the basically... inhuman decisions in our name, I find gives me great shame as an Australian.
The... Of course...of course borders have to be defended. But I’d like to think that one of the actions of the arts is to open up a discussion where people listen to each other and we’re all made richer by this conversation, by what Ursula just called empathy, this sense of, you know... Someone was talking the other day about if you see a child walking towards a hole in the ground, everyone’s impulse is to go and stop that child from falling into that well. What has happened to our humanity that, across the world, people are deciding that... millions of children, millions of people in despair, in terrible, impoverished and broken situations, who are fleeing countries because of the impossibility of living there, often because of wars that we have participated in or that America has participated in. How do we not embrace that responsibility?

TOM BALLARD
Well, our next question relates to Mr Trump as well. It comes from Elena Casciano.


“TRUMP!” THE MUSICAL00:21:35

ELENA CASCIANO
Thanks, Tom. In 20 years from now, when we’re sitting in this theatre watching Trump: The Musical, what message do you think the audience will walk away with?

TOM BALLARD
Martha Wainwright, any thoughts?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
(WHISTLES)

TOM BALLARD
Would you write that musical? (LAUGHS)

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
That history keeps repeating itself. You know, I mean, and this kind of relates maybe a little bit to what we’ve just been talking about and maybe that doesn’t answer your question as nicely as you would want it to be answered, or cleanly. But... It’s just surprising to me how we just keep doing this, you know, whether it’s the Gestapo. It’s just continual and I think it really does... People like Donald Trump, you know, it speaks to a thing in the psychology of certain human beings where they really have the need to, you know, take people down or hurt people or police people or be aggressive, and it seems to keep going and going and going. So there will be a Trump musical and people will laugh about it.

KIM WILLIAMS
But I think the Trump musical would be a great, big flop. I think it will be a stinker. A one-night wonder.

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
And hopefully it will be over some day.

NEIL ARMFIELD
10 years ago, I directed a musical called Keating! The Musical. And I said to Casey Bennetto, who wrote that amazing work, you know, could we consider... Tony Abbott: The Musical? Could we consider John Howard: The Musical? And Casey’s retort was that any successful musical needs a hero. You need to... You actually, at the centre of it, you need to love. You need to be able to love, for one reason or another, for all their flaws, the lead character in a musical. Trump: The Musical would never work.

TOM BALLARD
Ursula, what about art about someone like Donald Trump or about political leaders that you might disagree with? What role do you think art can play - theatre, music, anything - in criticising politics of the day and actually having any kind of impact on the political viability of those kind of candidates and people?

URSULA YOVICH
I think it’s showing the other side of the story that’s more important, as opposed to talking about Trump and his very privileged white life that he’s had. I would want to hear stories of people that are affected by the policies that he is putting in place. Because one... They’re the ones that are affected. And we get a chance to hear another side of history, and I think that’s where history keeps repeating itself because we tend to have this... a very one-sided view when it comes to history. You know, if you’re educated and you’ve got the know-how, you know, you’ve got everything at your fingertips, you’re more likely going to be making the rules. You’re going to be able to tell your stories. And I think that’s where the arts is so important because we hear, you know, the little people.

TOM BALLARD
We’ll come on to people’s storytelling right now, actually, with our next question, from Carol Omer.


THE SECRET RIVER - PERSONAL IMPACT00:25:05

CAROL OMER
This question is for Ursula, and thanks very much for being here and I’d like to acknowledge we’re on Kaurna country.

URSULA YOVICH
Thank you.

CAROL OMER
Ursula, you released a statement revealing that you were so distressed that you almost had to give up your role in The Secret River. What impact do you think it has for the children whose characters are victims of the massacre? And as tomorrow’s grandmothers and grandfathers and elders, could this be seen as a rite of passage experience for them, or are you concerned about the impact for them?

TOM BALLARD
Ursula, just a tiny little bit of context here beforehand. Lots of people would be familiar with The Secret River but it does depict the often brutal impact of white settlement on the Darug people around the Hawkesbury River. You were involved in the original Sydney Theatre Company production, as directed by Neil, and there was a moment where you said, “I can’t do this anymore.” You wrote a note to Neil which was reproduced in the program. We might hear from that for a bit. But can you just talk us through that moment for you?

URSULA YOVICH
Um... (LAUGHS) Actually, I put a couple of notes here. But it was a really painful experience. Don’t get me wrong. These stories are really important to tell. I mean, what I said earlier about... hearing another side of history, it’s really important. So, these stories are important. People need to know it. My frustration and kind of defeatism came from, I guess, playing Aboriginal roles. I... The pain and suffering of that past, that history, is really strong in the collective mind of Aboriginal people. Aboriginal peoples go to more funerals, we go to more hospitals, and jails in a year than the average non-Aboriginal person.
And I just didn’t want to immerse myself in a story when a felt like I was just immersed in it in life, just for being Aboriginal. So, it was a hard one. I’m actually really proud of The Secret River, even though it was very difficult. I think...I still stand by it and feel it’s an important story to tell.

TOM BALLARD
Neil Armfield, that must have been a striking message to receive from one of your actors during the production, the putting together of that play. How did you approach that and how did you convince Ursula to rejoin the cast and go on?

NEIL ARMFIELD
Ursula’s letter actually came when... after we talked about doing it, and Ursula thought about it. This was well before rehearsals began, actually. And I met with Ursula and we talked about it and she agreed to go in the show.

URSULA YOVICH
Mm.

NEIL ARMFIELD
But the letter that Ursula wrote me was so eloquent and I thought so important for our audience to consider as they’re watching these actors go through this story that I asked Ursula if it would be alright if we published it in the program. And so that’s what we did.

TOM BALLARD
The question touched on the fact that you have Aboriginal children in this production, partaking in a re-creation, a theatrical representation of a massacre.

NEIL ARMFIELD
Yes.

TOM BALLARD
How do you negotiate that? That must be extremely difficult to negotiate.

NEIL ARMFIELD
It’s extremely difficult. If you can imagine what it is like...And this is now the third time I’ve done the production. So the second...you know, And a revival involves following the pattern of the production. It changes in significant ways always according to the company who’s performing it. But you are largely following the footsteps of the previous actors who have played it. Of course, with the children, we first did in ‘13 and then ‘16. We’re now doing it in South Australia on Kaurna land with Kaurna children. Uh, but...to face that day in rehearsal, when I have to show a little 8-year-old boy how to walk across the stage, where the mark on the stage is where he must lie down because he’s been killed...makes me stop in a way that is...it’s hard for everyone in the company. We brought in a lot of support, as we...as from that first production, more support than we... The Sydney Theatre Company was extremely mindful of this. We had an auntie, Auntie Glenda Stubbs, who looked after the company and encouraged discussion. But how you deal with a little 8-year-old -actually, he’s a little Dharug boy and there’s another little Kaurna boy in it, and you...you know, we dealt with it. We talked about it basically as a kind of dance. The action is extremely abstracted. Um...the boys throw a handful of flour over their shoulder as they hit the ground. It’s done in a...not in any way a kind of realistic fashion in order that the meaning of the physical symbols of what we’re doing is made stronger. But basically everyone looks after each other. The difference, you know... I’ve done Hamlet where you finish with a massacre and that’s what you do and that’s the show. But with this one, because you’re dealing with young people and you know that not so many generations ago their ancestors faced the gun in the way that this child, Jaydan or Liam, is...is now enacting that action. And when that reality in the rehearsal room hits you, it is absolutely overwhelming.

TOM BALLARD
I just need to move along, Neil. I want to bring the rest of the panel in and I think our next question might allow us to do this, on a similar topic. It comes from Annie Maschmedt. Oh, Annie?

ANNIE MASCHMEDT
..whole panel. I’m just wondering where do you draw the line between representing and showing pain or topical issues and exploiting it to attract viewers’ attention and funding?

TOM BALLARD
I wanted to come to Martha Wainwright first of all, just because you write very personally often. You have released songs about people who are very clearly very close to you, parts of your family. And you put that out there. How do you balance that? How do you balance your creative truth and what you want to say as an artist and also the impact that might have on real people and their real lives?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Um...I don’t know if it’s a perfect balance. I think that the role of an artist is...can be difficult. And it isn’t very comfortable and it can cause problems in your life. And, you know, my father is a songwriter. His name is Loudon Wainwright III and he was married to my mother, who was a songwriter. And my dad wrote songs about me and I really liked it because it reminded me that my parents were, in fact,married. Because I never lived with both of them. I lived with my mother. And he said things that were very personal in the songs and I’ve taken on that same tradition. But I think he had to do it and I think I have to do it too.

TOM BALLARD
Kim Williams, do you see arts that’s exploitative or crosses that line in your view?

KIM WILLIAMS
Well, I think it comes back to the artist. I don’t think exploitative art is very effective. I think that it’s dependent upon the creative, ethical heart of any work that is being realised and created. And the execution is dependent upon having dignity and respect and understanding that you’re dealing with, often with, very difficult and fragile emotional and personal settings or with very difficult and complicated issues that impact all of humanity. And I think good art is sensitive to that. It doesn’t mean that it pulls back and doesn’t offer the version of the truth that the artist is feeling. But it does so in a way which is aiming to communicate, not to harm.

TOM BALLARD
Martha, you wanted to...

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Yeah, I think there’s a use, you know, there’s a use for art and I think that this is a good example of it. In the sense that... Or one of many good examples of it. But I think, you know, when I’m singing songs, I’m known for writing a song about...that was about my dad originally and it has a bunch of swear words in it. And, um, you know, when I wrote that song, in that moment, I thought it was funny and interesting and I also felt that I couldn’t stop myself from saying it and I should then say it because it was an expression of something. But very quickly, right away, once I started singing that song to an audience and I looked out and their eyes were closed and they were singing the words, they were not singing about my father. They were singing about their own father or the jerk that went out that they just broke up with or the teacher that didn’t understand them. And I really quickly realised this song has nothing to do with me. This is nothing to do with me. This is what the purpose of the song is. It is to help people understand their own lives and to contemplate their own lives. So when my father or a songwriter is talking about their divorce or their wife or the child, for the listener, it’s not about the person’s...it’s not about that performer’s life, it’s about the listener’s life. And it’s very, very instantaneous. And so that’s really the point of it. And, um, you know, I also just really want to go back to what you were saying about those children because I am sure that the experience of being in that play and having to talk about those things and having to do those actions is also gonna be very helpful for them in being able to deal with the actual thing that happened. And that’s very, very important. It’s important to go there and to talk about it, to say it.

TOM BALLARD
We need to move along. You’re watching Q&A live from Adelaide. I’m Tom Ballard filling in for Tony Jones. Our next question comes from Adam Bishop.


EXPLOITING PAIN?00:31:24

ADAM BISHOP
Thanks, Tom. Traditionally many sports, particularly Olympic sports have been heavily reliant on government funding. But in recent times, due to reductions in that funding, there’s been an emphasis on those sports becoming, or the sporting organisations, becoming more commercially minded, innovative and sustainable. So should the arts industry accept that reduced funding is the new reality and focus on being commercially sustainable and more entrepreneurial?

TOM BALLARD
Kim Williams, you’re very passionate about funding of the arts. I’d be interested in your take on this. When the Institute of Public Affairs released a list of 75 radical ideas to transform Australia for Tony Abbott before he became the prime minister, number 62 was “End all public subsidies to sport and the arts.” What would you make of that kind of proposal?

KIM WILLIAMS
Well, I think it’s boneheaded and stupid.

TOM BALLARD
Well, I asked the question. There you go. (CHUCKLES) Fair enough.

KIM WILLIAMS
The...the arts are absolutely at the heartland of a nation’s sense of self-confidence, a nation’s view of itself, a nation’s sense of its history as told through stories, through music, through painting, through film and through television and, of course, through theatre. And to in some ways see this as being entirely about commerce reflects what I think is one of the most dangerous things in modern life - where we treat money as the measure of all things rather than one of many measures. Other things matter. Knowing one’s history matters. Knowing the nation’s sense of association with all of the rich diversity of people that repose here and all the musics that those people comprise matters. It is not capable of being reduced to some kind of financial argument. It is preposterous to treat everything as if, in fact, it is a reflection of some monetary transaction.

TOM BALLARD
But, Kim, many would argue...

KIM WILLIAMS
No, let me finish.

TOM BALLARD
Sorry.

KIM WILLIAMS
In relation to the argument that this should all be a sort of commercial destiny, I-I feel compelled to say, “Well, why is that the case?” Why is it the case where nations have over time invested very heavily - going right back - have invested very heavily in intellectual and creative life with a deliberate purpose to ensure that it is healthy and vigorous? Because they know it’s good for you. Why should that just be rejected and suddenly become part of a monetarist argument that has nothing at all to do with the underlying ecology of creative and intellectual life?

TOM BALLARD
The question...

KIM WILLIAMS
These things are under constant attack.

TOM BALLARD
The question pointed to the example of sport, though. Many would argue sport matters a lot. It provides community, it is good for people’s health.

KIM WILLIAMS
I’m a very big believer in funding of sport. I think sport is fundamental to community cohesion. I think it’s fundamental to national health. It is terrifically good for individuals to realise their potential. I think it’s fantastic. In Australia particularly, sport is a wonderful example of where the whole of the nation feels absolutely uncompromisingly devoted to excellence. To being your very best. I think we all need to learn from sport and translate it more into the arts and other areas of intellectual endeavour where people feel similarly proud about our great physicists, about great directors like Neil or writers like Mem or actors like Ursula. I mean, these are things that are ineffably precious.

TOM BALLARD
But if you’re following the example of sport making it more...

(APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
Well said.

(APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
I guess the questioner is wondering whether the arts sector can learn from sports and commercialise that interest in terms of corporate sponsorship and make it financially attractive...?

KIM WILLIAMS
I think the arts sector can certainly learn from sport in terms of the way in which sport is an enthusiastic conviction on the part of the majority of politicians. In our last federal election, the overwhelming majority of political parties had no arts or culture policy at all. Only two parties had an arts and culture policy. One of them was...let’s say, more like a memory of a policy than the policy, and the other was an endeavour to have a substantial policy, that was from the Labor Party. The Coalition had, for the second consecutive election, not one single policy statement about cultural life, creative futures and devotion to matters of creativity.

MEM FOX
Is this in spite of George Brandis?

(LAUGHTER)

MEM FOX
I would have thought that he would have been...out the front with an arts policy?

KIM WILLIAMS
I’m afraid that it wasn’t there.

TOM BALLARD
Mem Fox...

KIM WILLIAMS
I don’t find that satisfactory. I think this is an entirely unsatisfactory state of affairs.

TOM BALLARD
As an artist, Mem Fox, do you find yourself competing for attention, for literacy, which I know is a passion of yours, up against this sporting nation’s obsession with sport and preparedness to put a lot of time and money and energy into this?

MEM FOX
Look, I hope you don’t mind me saying, Tom, that I feel no competition from anybody.

TOM BALLARD
OK.

(LAUGHTER)

TOM BALLARD
Fine, no worries. You wrote Possum Magic. Fair enough.

KIM WILLIAMS
Brava.

TOM BALLARD
Our next question on Q&A tonight comes from Alex Goodwin.


BILL LEAK00:36:05

ALEX GOODWIN
G’day, guys. Bill Leak died on Friday, and as I was scrolling through Facebook I was quite shocked to see many from the left actually celebrating.

(MEM GASPS)

ALEX GOODWIN
Given that he was a champion of free thought and critical thought and free speech, which is typically and historically some of the greatest weapons OF the left, how could anyone feel a sense of joy over his passing? And as follow-up for that, is that indicative of how indifferent we’ve become towards those that don’t hold the same political views as our own?

TOM BALLARD
OK, we’re gonna come to the panel, just before I do, I feel it’s appropriate in the notions of full disclosure to mention that I listed my name on an open letter to the editors of The Australian last year, condemning that editorial decision to publish the cartoon depicting an Aboriginal father. That’s just my opinion, doesn’t reflect the opinions of the show or the ABC itself. But for the record, I certainly don’t express any joy whatsoever at the news of his passing at just 61. Ursula, I’ll come to you, as an Indigenous person, what did you make of the work of Bill Leak and the reaction to his death over the past week?

URSULA YOVICH
Um... Oh, jeez...

TOM BALLARD
Do you think his work was racist or exploring uncomfortable truths or where do you land?

URSULA YOVICH
I think if you have a platform, as he did, you do have to have some kind of responsibility with what you put out there, um... I’m all for free speech, I know the government’s trying to change 18C and D, I think it is. Um... (LAUGHS) There’s no limitation to what you can say but you do have a responsibility, and you have to make amends if you’re gonna say something stupid or if you’re gonna say hateful things. Um...so, Aboriginal people do need protection, as we spoke about Secret River, I mean, the history is one of oppression and constant racism. And this is one of the reasons why I find it very hard to do some of these stories because that is my reality on a day-to-day basis. So when I see it, you know, those kinds of comics or... I understand where it comes from. It is raising awareness and I think that’s important. But, um...sometimes you do have to check yourself because...I have to speak about my own mental illness but I have had some times where I’ve just thought, “I can’t handle this and I would rather not be here.” I don’t like who I am because of the way Aboriginal people are portrayed at times and we need to have control of those stories. I need to be able to put something out there and go, “That’s not all Aboriginal fathers. That’s not all Aboriginal women. That’s not all mothers.” I am a mother first and foremost. I don’t identify as an Aboriginal mother, I’m a mother. Um...so I find, yeah, I...was the same. I was mortified when I saw that particular cartoon.

TOM BALLARD
Neil Armfield, I’ll come to you. The question also mentioned that the reaction to some of Bill Leak’s controversial work and perhaps the expression of joy that some people have put out there at his passing are indicative of a polarised toxic public debate at the moment. Your thoughts on that and on the controversial work of Bill Leak?

NEIL ARMFIELD
I worry that the debate is polarised and toxic. I knew Bill, uh, and enjoyed his company. Respected him. I thought those cartoons in The Australian were despicable. I thought he was... I think that as he grew older, he became more and more, for whatever reason, sort of narrowed into a corner. And I thought that, you know, he was playing into an attitude which was completely the attitude of the racist and the powerful and that he was ignoring the inheritance of rage and pain that those social situations that he was... ..that he was kind of excoriating in his cartoon are the result of. I think it’s a much more complex idea. I certainly...I certainly don’t, um, celebrate Bill’s death and I think it’s... I think it’s, you know... I’m not on Facebook or any social media, so I’m not really aware of what happens in that echo chamber but I think that people, on the whole spectrum of attitudes, do love the sound of their own voice, the sound of their own anger and there’s something terrible that is growing inside the debate as a result of that.

TOM BALLARD
Kim Williams, I want to come to you. You knew Bill Leak personally as well. Laura Tingle on Insiders over the weekend suggested there’s a culture in the media at the moment that rewards sensationalism and hyperbole and outrage and that could have contributed to some of Bill Leak’s work towards the end of his life. What are your thoughts?

KIM WILLIAMS
I knew Bill for a very, very long period of time. I don’t think... Bill...Bill may have done some things in the haste but I don’t think that he ever did things for reasons of deliberate exaggerated... Um, I don’t think he meant it that way, that the impact was quite different.

WOMAN IN AUDIENCE
Bill Leak is racist! We won’t stand for it!

TOM BALLARD
OK, we have some people protesting in the room. We appreciate your passion very much.

(WOMAN CONTINUES SHOUTING)

TOM BALLARD
We understand why you’d want to make a stand at this particular moment. We appreciate you being here, honestly, but we have to continue on with the discussion and so we’ll have to ask you to head out, for you to leave. We can’t actually hear you at the moment so people won’t be able to receive the message you’re sending out there. Thank you very much for your time. And they seem to be leaving now so we can move on.

MEM FOX
Could I say something?

TOM BALLARD
Please.

MEM FOX
I really think...

(WOMAN CONTINUES SHOUTING)

(SCATTERED APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
Alright...

(WOMAN SHOUTS WILDLY)

TOM BALLARD
Again, obviously, bringing up a lot of heated passionate debate and some people clapping in agreement. Mem.

MEM FOX
I want to go back to the business of free speech, OK? Free speech and political correctness. I find it very odd that we live in a democracy where people fight for the right to be...insulting. What is the other word? There is another word, insulting and...

TOM BALLARD
Offensive?

MEM FOX
Offensive. OK. We are fighting for the right to be insulting and offensive. This is most odd. Why would people want to be insulting and offensive? What is good in that? What good did hate ever do anybody? I mean, what country did hate make an improvement in? No country in the world has been improved by hate. And those cartoons, I just looked and I thought, “Bill, Bill, no, please, no.” And I loved Bill Leak’s cartoons, I thought they were fabulous, absolutely fabulous. But those...because political correctness has another word, Tom, there is another word for political correctness and it is a simple word. It’s called politeness. It’s called politeness.

TOM BALLARD
Martha Wainwright?

MEM FOX
Be polite.

TOM BALLARD
I’ll come to you, seeing some passionate responses both on the panel and in the audience on this particular topic. Your thoughts?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Well, um... I don’t think... I don’t think he would have gotten away with it in Canada. I think there’s something going on in this country where you’re a little far behind.

(APPLAUSE)

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Because, I mean... In North America, there’s some parallel histories but that kind of stuff, those kind of drawings and satires were kind of given up a while ago. And it’s because you get to a certain point where things are, you know... You make a decision as a society to sort of rise above those kinds of, you know, um, depictions or whatever or the way... whatever you wanted to call them. And I think...you’ll get there soon.

TOM BALLARD
But those decisions can be made culturally...be commonly agreed on by a range of people or they can be legislated. Do you have any concerns about when the law intersects with freedom of speech and what people can and can’t say?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Oh... Well, um... (INHALES AND SIGHS) I think it’s up to the...the... You know, I don’t know what...how to say about that, what to say about that. Because I don’t know how things exactly come about where you get to a point where things are obviously just unacceptable and don’t happen. I mean, uh...and I... And I don’t want to come up... I mean, look, the United States is clearly really racist. I mean, you know, I’m sure... I don’t know. I don’t know the answer to that. I’m sorry. I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you.

TOM BALLARD
We’re gonna move along. You’re watching Q&A. We’ve got time for...we’re heading towards the end of the show and we’re fast running out of time. Our next question comes from Robyn Brown.


PHILANTHROPY00:41:55

ROBYN BROWN
Should the... Uh, the US philanthropic culture is firmly entrenched and accepted, whereas here in Australia, we’re a long way behind. Should the Federal Government set up a philanthropic fund that will encourage arts philanthropy by matching, dollar for dollar, any gifts to the arts?

TOM BALLARD
OK, now, Robyn, we just need to acknowledge that you are the Manager of Philanthropy right here, at the Adelaide Festival Centre. So, obviously, you have an interest in pushing this ahead. Philanthropy, when it comes to the arts, has really increased over the past little while. It’s currently five times what it was 10 years ago in terms of funding the arts sector. Neil Armfield, your thoughts there on encouraging philanthropy and the opportunity of that to even replace some Government funding?

NEIL ARMFIELD
In America, where there is very little government funding for the arts, there is...it has been taken onboard as a sign of being a good citizen to...if you have wealth, you give to the arts and people, I think, are given great respect in the States, or they have been up until now, for that kind of cultural intention. It is growing in Australia, without doubt. Secret River wouldn’t exist without the very generous support of actually a lot of people across the years of philanthropists. I think that it would be a great idea if the government, which spends 0.2% of its annual budget on the arts, compared with something like 2.1% in Sweden for a population of 9 million... I think for the Australian Government to spend...to set up programs to increase the awareness of philanthropy would be a great idea.

TOM BALLARD
Kim Williams, do you think a philanthropic fund could work?

KIM WILLIAMS
I think anything that increases the possibilities for funding a diversity of creative activity is a good thing. And so I would always vote yes for more money, and if there’s a way of government doubling the amount of money that an individual’s giving, go for it.

TOM BALLARD
Fair enough. We’ve got time for just one last question tonight here on Q&A. We’re gonna sneak this one in. It comes from James Tattoli.


CREATIVE ARTS V POPULISM00:51:32

JAMES TATTOLI
It seems like there’s a growing disconnect in those...between those in creative arts and rising populism across the Western World. What’s the panel’s opinion about the role in the creative arts in an increasingly polarised society?

TOM BALLARD
OK, I’m gonna whip round the panel pretty quickly. Ursula, do you think there’s a disconnect between the creative arts industry, people who work in arts and theatre, and the people who would vote for Pauline Hanson and Donald Trump? Is there a disconnect there?

URSULA YOVICH
Yeah. They’re not going and seeing enough live performances.

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
But whose fault is that? Is that their fault or is that the industry’s fault for not necessarily appealing to them and giving them something that they’d like to see?

URSULA YOVICH
Look, I don’t know. I don’t know where that would... I don’t know where we would place the blame on that one. But, um...maybe it is. Maybe it is part of the industry’s, you know, problem. But I think government should definitely... It shouldn’t be seen as a hobby. That’s one of the things that Australia... Um, we look at artists and they’re just hobbyists. But it is a very living and thriving industry. And I think if we had more - what’s the word I’m looking for - pride in that, people would come and see what’s there.

TOM BALLARD
Mem Fox, do you think if those border guards had read more of your books, they wouldn’t necessarily be detaining you there? Do you think there’s a disconnect there between the kind of work and creative arts that are out there and people who are really hurting at the moment and are becoming a political force and voting for more extreme political options?

MEM FOX
I don’t know. Because I am so not connect... I am so connected, I cannot put myself in the shoes of the disconnected. I just can’t do it. I just don’t understand...them.

TOM BALLARD
Martha Wainwright?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Um...I think that if people had more opportunity to see, hear, witness, absorb, read, you know, um, they would be happier, their lives would be better, their lives would be uplifted and there wouldn’t be as much of a disconnect between, you know, types of people.

TOM BALLARD
What’s stopping them doing that now, do you think?

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT
Well, I would venture to say mass culture. If all you’re really exposed to is bad television shows and bad movies, things that are controlled by money, things that are there to sell you a product, whether it’s a soda can or...a soda pop or, you know... I mean, they’re being sold something and that’s what they’re consuming and that’s what they have time to consume - you know, Disney or whatever it is. Um, and if that’s all you can see and all that’s in front of you and that’s all you’re sold, you’re never gonna have time, you’re never gonna be able to expose yourself to everything else that isn’t controlled by commerce.

TOM BALLARD
Neil Armfield, celebrated artist in this country, I’ll leave you with the last word.

NEIL ARMFIELD
What Mem talks about as that disconnect, uh, experiencing art is an experience of connection. And it does work. I think it has to begin in the schoolrooms and in the families. Every child in Finland is taught music. Finland has the greatest percentage of conductors and professional musicians who are now leading the world because of music education in that country - public education for every child. I feel that the division and the game playing between public and private education in this country has brought it to its knees. Australia funds private education to a rate utterly iniquitous and utterly out of step with the rest of the world.

(APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
Alright. Thank you very much, Neil. Thank you, panel. That’s all we have time for tonight. Would you please thank our panel - Martha Wainwright, Neil Armfield, Ursula Yovich, Kim Williams and Mem Fox.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
Thanks, Martha. And we’d also like to say a very big thank you to the Adelaide Arts Festival, the Festival Centre and, of course, our arts-loving, very lively crowd right here in Adelaide. Give yourselves a round of applause, please.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TOM BALLARD
Remember, you can continue the discussion now on Q&A Extra with Tracey Holmes and her guest, Pawan Luthra, the publisher of Indian Link, on NewsRadio and Facebook live. Next Monday on Q&A, Tony Jones is back to turn the focus onto politics and the media with the former director-general of Al Jazeera network Wadah Khanfar, Claire Wardle, the research director at First Draft, which targets fake news, veteran journalist, editor and broadcaster Mark Day, and two politicians caught in the 24-hour news cycle - Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and Labor front-bencher Terri Butler. We’ll end tonight with Martha Wainwright performing a song from her new album, Goodnight City. It’s a beautiful touching farewell to a friend lost to cancer entitled Traveller. Thanks for watching Q&A. Goodnight.