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Does Garrett have competition for the Arts job?

An ALP insider has told Crikey that Bob McMullan is likely to be the new Arts Minister under a Rudd Labor Government.

McMullan always loved being the Arts Minister,” the insider said. “And the problem with Garrett is that he doesn’t believe in funding the big theatre companies, while McMullan is more sympathetic to the institutions.”

McMullan was first sworn in as Arts Minister under the Keating Government in March 1993 and was the first Arts Minister ever to have a place in cabinet. He then acted as Shadow Arts Minister for much of the time Labor was in opposition until Peter Garrett took over the portfolio in 2005.

The ALP source has suggested that the recent form of Mr Garrett during the election campaign will most probably lead to McMullan retrieving his favourite ministry.

The appointment of such a senior member of the ALP caucus, if true, will be quite a coup for the arts providing leverage for greater funding of arts institutions the Australia Council and the ABC.

But for the community who has been getting behind Peter Garrett’s election campaign, many fear that the appointment of McMullan will be a blow to their hard work.

Some believe that the nationwide arts forums established by film maker Bob Connolly and playwright Alex Broun will see a lot of their community orientated activities undone by the more traditional McMullan.

Under the banner of ‘Your Shout’, the forums set out to create a more grassroots arts policy and much of the resulting policy developed by Garrett reflected the outcomes of each of the forums. Indeed, one of the central platforms of the ALP Arts Policy developed under Garrett was a Creative Communities program that would see a funding boost of $10 million over four years “to improve opportunities for Australians to participate in arts and cultural activities in the places where they live”.

But the relationship between Garrett and McMullan is said to be close. In an interview with the Bulletin in 2005 McMullan explained that he was instrumental in getting Garrett as part of the ALP and utilising him as an arts ambassador.

This could mean that Garrett could be junior to McMullan who has the networks with the powerful arts lobbyists who will no doubt be pushing the new government to put the arts as a high priority in the first term. Watch this space as the power-brokers push the Rudd Government hard to immediately revoke the Liberal Party’s sedition laws and to quickly provide some much needed investment in Australian television drama.

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