All progressively minded lovers of culture are supposed to be gnashing
their teeth at the news that the right-wing News Ltd scribe Imre
Salusinszky is to take over as chair of the literature board of the
Australia Council.

Along with the Howard Government’s decision to put Keith Windschuttle on
the board of the ABC, Salusinszky’s appointment is supposed to be
further proof that the Visigoths are being let loose on our cherished
cultural institutions.

Well, I hate to disappoint my cultural cadres, but I’m finding it hard
to feel any emotion about Salusinszky, other than annoyance over the
tricky business of correctly spelling his name. Salusinszky is a
right-winger. So what? Why should his political views prevent him being
appointed to an arts funding body? Former Australia Council Chair
Hilary McPhee led the left-wing assault
on Salusinszky’s appointment: “This government is shameless; their ideological bent is so palpable.”

Coming from McPhee, that’s just a touch rich. She was appointed chair
of the Australia Council in the mid 90s while her husband, Don Watson,
was working in the office of the incumbent Labor Prime Minister. I
thought she did an excellent job, incidentally, but she can hardly
complain about the government of the day appointing like-minded souls
to arts gigs, given that her own appointment was a prime example of
the same.

Likewise, the objections to the appointment of Windschuttle and other
conservatives to the ABC board would have a bit more credibility if the
left also acknowledged the brazenness of the Hawke and Keating
governments in putting their mates in those same positions. Indeed,
Labor went a step further, making sure two of its mates, David Hill and
Brian Johns, got the top executive job at Aunty, something the
government is not supposed to have a say in.

The stacking of the ABC board is, indeed, scandalous, but a little more consistency from the left wouldn’t go astray.

As for putting right-wingers on the Australia Council, quite frankly,
it’s a good thing. The Australia Council desperately needs greater
diversity of opinion to break down its humourless and stultifying
culture of correctness. Even Hillary McPhee would agree with that.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey