On Saturday evening, the Labor Party faithful gathered at the Randwick Labor Club in Sydney’s eastern suburbs to cheer on candidates Peter Garrett (Kingsford-Smith) and George Newhouse (Wentworth).
Filling the enormous function hall, supporters squealed and hissed as they gorged themselves on drink, pies and meatballs in the anticipation that after 11 years, the ALP would reclaim the golden crown of Australian politics.
Spotted throughout the big hall, amongst the hundreds of balloons and Kevin 07 t-shirts were the arts community, all standing on the sidelines barracking for a Rudd Labor Government win. Incoming STC Artistic Directors Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, comedian Mikey Robbins, performer Rhys Muldoon, playwright Van Badham and a host of actors, writers and musicians were cheering with the best of them, as Mr Garrett was wheeled out from the upstairs VIP room for each of the speeches.
For artists and the arts in Australia, a Labor win marked the end to the cultural cringe, Mr Garrett told Crikey after Mr Howard conceded defeat.
“The conservatives have never understood that the arts are about community,” he said. “They’re all about involvement and the human spirit of every Australian, regardless of where they live and regardless of how much they earn.”
In recent days, arts editors and journalists have complained about the lack of arts industry involvement and arts policy debate in the lead-up to the Federal Election. Arts Editor at The Australian Miriam Cosic wrote on 22 November that “artists have been conspicuously absent from this election campaign. No massed choruses of famous faces singing, ‘It’s time!’. No cool concerts held by pop celebrities backing Kevin Rudd. Hardly a political whimper from the arts constituency…”
From the balcony at The Australian’s headquarters in Holt Street, it certainly may have felt that way, but down on the ground, the arts community has been predictably vocal as they barracked for an ALP win.
Only two weeks ago, Peter Garrett as opposition arts spokesman held a large policy launch at Parramatta Riverside theatre in Sydney’s west. In attendance were the movers and shakers of the arts industry; playwright Wesley Enoch, actor David Wenham, singer Sarah Blasko, Tim Freedman, singer Mark Seymour and Dr Julian Meyrick, Associate Director of the Melbourne Theatre Company.
The policy launch was the culmination of five arts forums held around the country with Mr Garrett and his electoral team. Co-ordinated by Melbourne based playwright Alex Broun, Mr Garrett spent months of this year speaking to and listening to artists, industry workers and the arts community.
And on Saturday night, it was clear from the numbers that the arts industry still believe in the ALP. It’s predictable and hardly a surprise to anyone. Especially since the Liberal Party didn’t even bother releasing an arts policy for this campaign. Many are wondering whether Garrett can withstand that misfortune of his campaign and survive as Environment Minister, but for the arts community, many are hoping that Garrett will keep the arts portfolio and his promises.