Picking grand final week to brand Prime Minister John Howard as a philistine was a sure headline winner for Labor’s would be Arts Minister Peter Garrett.

While some might question the credentials of a former rock musician to pronounce on matters of art and culture, Mr Garrett asked people to remember the last time Mr Howard offered a view on the value of creativity, of encouraging expression, of the importance of telling our own stories. This was before answering his own question with “the idea of a national political leader championing an artist, author or designer in 2006 seems almost absurd. Politicians continually associate themselves with sport and sporting success and yet at the national level are virtually absent from any meaningful discussion or involvement with the arts.”

Now true it is, as the rock star himself acknowledged, that the PM is a cricket tragic but a “philistine”? How then to explain his close friendship with Donald Benjamin McDonald AC? It was Mr Howard who personally plucked the chief executive of The Australian Opera for ten years to become chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is hard to imagine that friendship developing unless their paths had crossed at a cultural event.

Perhaps this is just another example of the political skills which have kept Mr Howard a winner for so long. He is a closet opera lover who keeps his sin hidden behind a macho pretence of loving sport in the knowledge that as an arty crafty he might suffer the same fate as Paul Keating when he came out as a lover of Mahler.

Peter Fray

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