How long does it take for the New South Wales Police and their legal advisers to decide whether or not to charge Bill Henson with offences under Commonwealth or State law? The coppers have had the Henson pictures they took off the wall of Ros Oxley’s Paddington Gallery for almost a week now and yet no charges have been laid against Henson or the Gallery.

Why not? This is not a case that requires any forensic analysis of material, or the interviewing of a substantial number of witnesses. It merely requires the coppers to make a judgement call on whether or not they think Henson and the Gallery have breached the law on the creation and distribution of child p-rnography, or whether an indecent article has been published Hardly Sherlock Holmes stuff now is it?

Mind you, how could Henson and the Gallery get a fair trial, now that politicians like the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the New South Wales Premier have decided to judge Henson guilty? Their populist and ill-informed condemnation of Henson’s work is particularly odious and dangerous given that any charges against Henson and the Gallery require a judge or a jury to make an assessment of what a reasonable person in today’s society would think of the images created by Henson.

Perhaps the New South Wales Police haven’t charged Henson and the gallery yet because they are too busy running around other art galleries like the one in Newcastle yesterday and ordering them not to show Henson’s works.

Since when did we allow our police forces to become censors of art and culture? And by the way, under what legal power were the New South Wales Police acting yesterday in telling an art gallery what it can and can’t show in its exhibition? It is not as though the gallery was showing the pictures in defiance of a law, a regulation or a court order. The New South Wales Police have overstepped the mark in Newcastle.

What is happening here is that vigilante, McCarthyist moralists masquerading as child abuse campaigners are being allowed to take over the justice system. Some moralist complains that a gallery has a Henson hanging on its walls, and the New South Wales Police waste taxpayers money and their own limited resources in a jackbooted attack on poor unsuspecting art curators and gallery directors.

It’s a sad scenario: politicians fulminating about what art is acceptable and what is not, police officers rampaging through galleries and concert halls. The persecution and public denunciation of artists have been the hallmarks of vile regimes.

Is the Australia of Kevin Rudd and Morris Iemma any different?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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