THE ARTS 2020

The Age 7th July, by Jon Faine.

The Bureau of Meteorology said it would not rain yesterday. It did. The footy tipsters said there was no way Essendon could beat Collingwood. The Bombers won. Believe it or not even the bookies sometimes get it wrong, as do stockbrokers. My mechanic – who is a genius – replaced the wrong part in my old car, so it still stalled at the lights and needed to be fixed twice. It is an imperfect world. Not everything goes the way it should. Even experts get it wrong. The Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton has been at the forefront of criticism since the first days of the pandemic. His measures were too severe, said his critics. The business community were furious - his advice ‘‘ignored the commercial reality’’ was their complaint. For weeks he resisted their urging to relax the restrictions, and despite his ‘‘scaredy cat’’ approach, Victoria now has what suspiciously looks like a second wave, albeit not yet of Brazilian or Floridian proportions.

Applying the blowtorch to him and his colleagues in the middle of this emergency is not just unhelpful but plain dangerous. He and the team must get on with their job and be provided with every support possible. Just as in the middle of a bushfire emergency, we put out the flames first, ask questions later. The blame game will happen, and the judicial inquiry under Judge Jennifer Coate is the best forum to interrogate what has gone wrong. She will have the power to search for smoking guns within the bureaucracy, seeking internal memos of advice that were ignored or overlooked, and evidence of contract supervision that was lax, fraudulent or even non-existent. Her work has already started. The document survey and search within the public service and in private providers will deliver a mountain of evidence that will need to be carefully sifted. Anyone from any private security firms been seen buying shredders in large quantities lately? Witnesses will need to be proofed, independent analysis sought. Her $3 million budget may need to be increased even before any public hearings begin.

People close to the Premier insist the emergency cabinet was never told of problems with security guards, even though several accounts have already been published of lower level managers alerting their bosses to procedural breaches. How high the warnings went will be a critical line of inquiry in Coate’s work. In the meantime, Melbourne is being ordered to knuckle down again. No more shopping except for essentials. No more huddling around the takeaway window of your favourite cafe, chatting to the neighbours who likewise are seeking fresh air, dog walking or just escaping another zoom meeting. Those home schooling skills refined earlier this year will get a second airing, and the cupboards and drawers that became extraordinarily tidy back in March and April will be subjected to a second wave too.

The six week lockdown period gives business, schools and households a clear envelope to work with. If the new case numbers decline earlier, providing two weeks of a steady zero of new reports some time earlier than that, then the lid may come off ahead of the six week maximum. It is the same technique applied to level-crossing removal - plan for the worst, hope for something better. If you get the job done early, people think you are brilliant. If it takes longer than you predicted, you are incompetent or worse.
This time though, more attention to detail, and clearly for those communities in the high rise estates, much greater emphasis on crosscultural communication is essential. And we are not simply talking about interpreters and translation of words and documents here. There are more subtle skills and knowledge involved in true cross-cultural communication.

Some people refuse to be tested because they have a natural suspicion of anyone coming to their door. Some come from those parts of the world where anyone in a uniform can never be trusted, and those lessons were learned from tragic episodes not readily forgotten. Some people in public housing are terrified that anyone from the government knocking on the door would ask awkward questions - for instance about how many people are living in the apartment. Will there be trouble with the housing authorities? Undeclared pets need to be hidden amid a myriad of other secrets and complications. How many of us would welcome the intrusion into our homes that we seem to expect is required for those in the high rise estates? Some people have complex health needs or disabilities and some have drug and alcohol problems. Overwhelmingly though, we just want our government to get on with it. Whatever it takes - just do it. No half measures, no tentative steps. We got through lockdown earlier in the year, and we will get through lockdown again. It was hard, it was frustrating and it was financially disruptive for many. But we came through, and we will again.

 
 
 

 

19/6/2020: The government announced it would reduce its share of funding for university degrees and raise the cost of humanities subjects. JobKeeper denied to universities, and to many artists. People who can already afford expensive home renovations will receive subsidies. An entitled government pursuing ideological ends when there should be concern?

 

The  Saturday Paper, editorial 21st March, 2020, edited: 

"Panic! At the Costco". Really, we should not be surprised. Panic buying isn’t an aberration – it’s the logical extension of a political system based entirely on selfishness and indifference, on the hoarding of wealth and property. It is what happens when government persuades the public that it is the problem. It is difficult to remain credulous as Scott Morrison says hoarding is one of the most disappointing responses to coronavirus. “Stop doing it,” he says. “It’s ridiculous. It’s un-Australian … That is not who we are as a people.” Perhaps Morrison doesn’t remember his election campaign launch last year. He’s not alone. Few lines proved enduring, although this one is: “I will not punish Australians for taking responsibility for themselves and their families.” Morrison’s promise has always been lower taxes. More money for you, and less for them. He says life is not about what you accumulate, then outlines the simple, honest and decent aspirations of people who want more than what others have. And then, a year later, having triumphed on the promise of greed, he says: “Stop hoarding. I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it. It is not sensible, it is not helpful.”

Crises are greeted by the best and worst in people, and the worst in people is what put this government in power. They won on grift and seem surprised the country doesn’t trust them. You cannot reassure a public you’ve never succeeded in leading. This isn’t just Scott Morrison. The contraction of government services across decades has left people isolated and mistrusting. They have been told to depend on themselves, and that is what they are doing. A government that won’t promise healthcare or education can’t be expected to guarantee groceries. The ungenerous spirit that empties shelves is acting on the absence of leadership we have been offered. Morrison believes his success is in being an everyman. It is an everyman who goes to the football when the prime minister shouldn’t. It is an everyman who addresses the nation and says “stop it” like he is scolding a child. Everymen go on the holidays they’ve planned. They make promises to their children. Their choices are simple because they believe their lives are simple. Everymen are ordinary, like Scott Morrison promises to be ordinary. The problem is ordinary people cannot lead countries. They don’t have the capacity, don’t have the insight or the empathy. They cannot reassure because they have nothing large enough – intellectually or emotionally – to draw on for reassurance. Scott Morrison is proof of that. Panic buying is proof of that. The many people who suffer from this virus will be proof of that. We shouldn’t judge the people lining up outside supermarkets or fighting in grocery store aisles for toilet paper, but we should judge harshly the celebration of greed and selfishness that put them there.

 

The stakes could not be higher by Craig Collins, edited. Food for thought? "Economic growth is the product of an industrial civilisation that has pillaged and polluted the planet to produce temporary progress for a growing middle class and enormous profits and power for a tiny elite. Two centuries of fossil fuel combustion have saturated the biosphere with climate-altering carbon that will continue wreaking havoc for generations to come. The damage to Earth’s living systems - the circulation and chemical composition of the atmosphere and the ocean; the stability of the hydrological and biogeochemical cycles; the biodiversity of the entire planet - is essentially permanent. Human civilisation’s collective capacity to confront its mounting crises is crippled by a fragmented political system of antagonistic nations ruled by corrupt elites who care more about power and wealth than people and the planet. The more catabolic industrial capitalism becomes, the greater the danger that hostile rulers will fan the flames of nationalism and go to war over scarce resources. Warfare is not new, but modern warfare is so devastating, destructive, and toxic that little would remain in its aftermath. This would be the final nail in civilisation’s coffin. Can we put the survival of our species and our planet first, or will we allow ourselves to become hopelessly divided along national, cultural, racial, religious, or party lines? Can we foster genuine democracy, harness renewable energy, reweave our communities, re-learn forgotten skills and heal the wounds we’ve inflicted on the Earth? Or will fear and prejudice drive us into hostile camps, fighting over the dwindling resources of a degraded planet?"  

By David Pledger; edited.

On the fifth day of the last month of the last year of last decade, Australia’s conservative government erased the Federal Ministry for the Arts. Erasure is emblematic of ideologically-driven systems regardless of the wing, left or right. Some person, idea or practice hitherto considered vital seems suddenly to lose value and is airbrushed from history. But in truth, the practice of erasure increases by stealth. Because, in truth, the erasure of Arts Ministries began in our country five years ago in the State of Victoria and again in South Australia last year. The erasure of the arts from the public consciousness of government is as damaging as deep funding cuts. In 2011 when 25% of The Netherlands arts and culture budget was slashed leading to the closure of 24 cultural and arts organisations, a fate that awaits Australia’s small-medium and independent arts sector in February. Across the Western world, the evisceration of the arts is integral to a programmatic approach that cuts welfare, health and public services. It is consistent with a worldview that creates and accentuates division, inequity and social injustice, unspoken policy that fits squarely within the trajectory of neoliberal governments worldwide, governments creeping – sometimes sprinting – towards authoritarianism through downward pressure on civil liberties, direct attacks on the media, the ‘militarisation’ of the public service and a perceived state of permanent crisis. It is a corollary of neoliberal capitalism that it disables these instrumentalities of democracy in order for it to fulfil its essential ambition, the maximisation of the profit of all things – goods, services, people. Whilst neoliberalism has no centre, it is visible by the dots that, once connected, characterise each region or nation’s variant. In Australia, these include the persecution of citizens (Robodebt), the prosecution of whistle-blowers (Witness K), the intimidation of journalists (ABC, Newscorp, Assange), a brutal asylum seeker policy, the militarisation of police, the politicisation of the public service, climate-denialism and the diminution of the arts and the national broadcaster. This is the shape of Australian neo-liberalism. We need to understand that external forces will always determine the conditions under which the Arts operate.The Arts sector has struggled to read and adjust to this shift. It continues to behave as if politicians’ primary motivation in government is to represent the interests of their elected constituency, and for Ministers, their portfolio constituency. This is no longer the case. Politicians’ primary motivation is to remain in government. In opposition, it is to return to government. The political mind-set is risk-averse, it’s hardwired to not committing to anything or anyone in case that commitment exposes them to criticism, worse still, a loss of power. It’s time to change our action settings to deal with this change in political culture.

 

The Arts sector’s main strategy has been to have a seat at the table to ensure access to politicians. It’s ingrained a politesse that has dominated and diluted advocacy for a generation. Sitting at the table is irrelevant unless you can turn tactics into parliamentary muscle, signatures into votes, individuals into community, outrage into practice. How do we do this ? In the political space, we need to shift our historical focus on major political parties and forge a cross-party alliance of individuals who can represent the interests of the Arts in all areas of mainstream political culture in every policy discussion. Special attention needs to be afforded to independent and micro-party politicians in the Senate who are critical to passing legislation, and so carry real power. In the social space, we need to understand that external forces will always determine the conditions under which the Arts operate. The reality is, there is not a deep, sectoral understanding of how the Arts intersects with, relates to, and is affected by other parts of society. The sector’s tendency to see the Arts as an isolated thing to which singular stuff happens, only re-enforces its perception as elite. We, in the Arts, need to engage meaningfully with familial sectors such as environment, media, welfare, health and education, and lift our eyes from the path we are walking to join those in other countries facing similar travails. We need to see ourselves as part of a whole rather than a whole, apart. In the artistic space, the generation of artists in our post-emerging, pre-established artist category is beginning to understand that being in control of one’s content and medium in dialogue with an audience is a discipline that can be seamlessly applied to protest, rights and power. It can be playful, disruptive, artistic – and they don’t see you coming, ‘cos they don’t see you. Practising artists need to be activists, and cultural institutions need to find courage to support them. Advocacy and activism need to be an extension of every artist’s practice. These tactics can be deployed by artists, arts workers and cultural operators. They comprise a strategy to combat a government committed to keeping the Arts in check as opposed to embracing the Arts at the democratic table. Here, the two, best examples are our neighbour, New Zealand – whose Prime Minister seamlessly integrates the Arts in her nation’s vernacular – and our friend, Canada – whose arts budget will have doubled in 2021 on its 2016 figure. Our government is more aligned with the European variant that fears the Arts for its potential to reveal its duplicity, negligence and vested interest. Time to build a new table.

 

John le Carré, edited, on winning the Olof Palme prize: "So why isn’t the threat of nuclear war today as present or terrifying to us as it was in Palme’s day? Is it simply that the nuclear threat is so ubiquitous, so diffuse and irrational? North Korea? Isis? Iran? Russia? China? Or today’s White House with its born-again evangelists dreaming of the Rapture? Better to invest our existential fears in things we understand: bushfires, melting icebergs, and the uncomfortable truths of Greta Thunberg. The cold war was anything but irrational. It was two players facing each other across a nuclear chessboard. And for all their clever spying, neither knew the first thing about the other. If Johnson and his Brexiteers had their way, it would be declared St Brexit’s Day. Church bells across the land would peal out the gladsome tidings from every tower. And good men of England would pause their stride and doff their caps in memory of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, Trafalgar, and mourn the loss of our great British empire. Empires don’t die just because they’re dead. We Brits are all nationalists now. Or so Johnson would have us believe. But to be a nationalist you need enemies and the shabbiest trick in the Brexiteers’ box was to make an enemy of Europe. “Take back control!” they cried, with the unspoken subtext: and hand it to Donald Trump, along with our foreign policy, our economic policy, our health service and, if they can get away with it, our BBC. So Boris Johnson with our blessing has taken his place beside two other accomplished liars of our time: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. If Palme were trying to get the truth out of them, which of the three would he turn to? Or none of the above? One day somebody will explain to me why it is that, at a time when science has never been wiser, or the truth more stark, or human knowledge more available, populists and liars are in such pressing demand. But don’t blame the Tories for their great victory. It was Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, with its un-policy on Brexit, its antisemitism and student-level Marxism-Leninism that alienated traditional Labour voters and left them nowhere to go. They looked to the left and didn’t recognise their leader. They looked to the centre and there was nobody there."