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Thursday, 19 March 1987
Page: 1133

Mr LEO McLEAY —Is the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment aware of recent criticism by the Waste Watch Committee regarding artistic grants made by the Australia Council? Can the Minister please explain the application of the Government's policy with regard to artistic funding?

Mr COHEN —This House should have been aware over the last 13 or 14 years that decisions on arts grants are made not by the Minister but by the Australia Council and its boards. The Opposition ought to make very clear whether it wants that to remain the case. Does it want to have ministerial control over arts funding or does it wish it to remain at arm's length? Most of the criticism, however, has been aimed particularly at the Community Arts Board. During the last four years the art in working life program has consumed less than 2 per cent of the funding available to the Australia Council-about $2.8m. We do not hear any criticism of the arts that the mates of Opposition members see-the opera, the ballet and the major theatre companies. The opera receives in one year more than the Community Arts Board has received in some four years. By its nature, community arts tends to be innovative, experimental and indigenous. It is one of the most successful initiatives that we have in the arts program.

Let me mention a couple of programs: $9,000 to the Workers Cultural Action Committee towards artists' fees for a trade union banner; $10,000 to the Victorian Trades Hall Council towards the costs of a crafts residency in wood, plus $3,000 towards fees for a Greek composer in the work place. Do honourable members opposite think they are terrible?

Mr Cobb —Outrageous.

Mr COHEN —They were granted under the Fraser Government. Artists should be judged by their peers. Is the Opposition now saying that this principle should be abandoned? Are we to have grants determined by the likes of Sir Joh? Perhaps his artistic judgment should be the benchmark for future grants in the arts area. Is every new, experimental and innovative artistic endeavour to be subject to public ridicule, or are we to allow artistic and cultural freedom? This is not Nazi Germany. It is not the Soviet Union and it is not South Africa.

I might remind people that innovative artists in their time have always been attacked and ridiculed. I refer to the impressionists a century ago-the Manets, the Monets, the Renoirs, the Toulouse-Lautrecs and more recently the Picassos and the Salvador Dalis. In our own country Sir William Dobell was told in 1943 that he was a caricaturist. Today, history will show that he is one of our greatest ever artists. What we are seeing at the moment is the absolute epitome of philistinism. Australian art, through its writers, painters, dancers, musicians, actors and directors, has placed Australia in the forefront of the cultural scene in this world. What better example of this than the film industry? What other industry has done more to bring tourists to this country than our film industry?

The depressing part about this whole thing is that the head of the Waste Watch Committee does not believe a word of it. He is not a philistine. What he is doing is just playing cheap politics in an area of which we ought to be proud, which we ought to stay out of and allow artistic and cultural freedom to flourish.