In mid-September, Treasurer Peter Costello came out guns blazing in parliament with his trademark sarcasm and tore up one of the ALP’s central arts policies – ArtStart.

The policy, which Opposition Arts Minister Peter Garrett had launched as part of a paper entitled New Directions for the Arts, would see the ALP “develop a ‘Social Security and the Arts’ policy that harmonises current Australia Council, Centrelink and the Australian Tax Office rules and determines the most equitable way to treat earnings and royalty payments for artists currently receiving welfare.”

Costello’s mouth salivated. “The member for Kingsford Smith said that I would never have thought of something like this. Well, blow me down! I never have thought of something like this: that somebody on welfare needs more time to produce art! What are the responsibilities of someone who is on welfare? Do they have to turn up at the office at 8am and take them away from their easel?”

His spray was even picked up by the Murdoch papers with the usual hysteria — the Herald Sun branded it the ‘paint for the dole scheme’.

On Saturday, Mr Garrett officially launched the ALP’s arts policy in Parramatta. It contained a wide-ranging arts platform, including increased funding for the Australia Council for the Arts, encouragement for the development of the local music industry and a resale scheme for visual artists.

But ArtStart suddenly disappeared from the official speeches and the press releases approved by Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd’s office and then forwarded on by Garrett’s team.

It appears that Mr Garrett’s run of bad luck with the media in previous weeks means that even with an Arts Policy launch, the ALP is trying to keep him under the radar.

Crikey asked Garrett’s office whether the disappearance of ArtStart from his official speech and the releases meant that this central policy had been abandoned. “It’s still there, no plans to change that. It was mentioned in two of the speeches by artists,” the spokesperson said.

In the transcripts provided by Garrett’s office, even the artists’ speeches, ArtStart is nowhere to be found.

Indeed, the entire Arts Policy launch on Saturday was kept extremely quiet, with most of the arts industry receiving emails from an independent arts lobby group two days before the event. Notifications to arts media contacts, however, only left Garrett’s office three hours prior to the event. And this was an event that had a line-up including David Wenham, Tim Freedman, Mark Seymour and Sarah Blasko – an extremely good photo opportunity.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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