Aug 5, 2010

‘Window dresser’ Garrett a pain in the arts …

For someone who was once a working artist, on the whole Peter Garrett has been missing from every aspect of what is an enormous portfolio, writes a Sydney arts insider.

Invitations have gone out to close allies of  Peter Garrett for a function in Randwick this Sunday to help him "mark the achievements of the last three years and to share our vision for the future of the arts in Australia". "Raise a glass for the arts", it says, but it'd be interesting to see who attends because as the election looms, it's not just the environmental lobby crossing its fingers hoping for a new minister. The arts industry is praying that the portfolio is handed to a more competent and active minister. It's no surprise that the former Nuclear Disarmament Party candidate has had a tough time of it within Labor ranks. But no one could have expected his performance was going to be this bad and many are surprised he's still running. For someone who was once a working artist, on the whole he's been missing from every aspect of what is an enormous portfolio. He was silent during the Bill Henson debate and his inaction to fight for dollars during the roll out of the Rudd government's $70 billion stimulus package is largely seen by the industry as one of the biggest missed opportunities for the sector. Hundreds of heritage sites, old regional theatres and arts spaces across the country are desperate for restoration work. Not only would it have made economic sense to pump money into these projects, with many of them in marginal seats, it would have made political sense. Despite traditional affiliations with the ALP, the arts industry is developing a fond nostalgia for Liberal Party predecessors in the portfolio -- George Brandis and Rod Kemp -- who were able to fight for extra dollars and boost spending. Ten years ago Garrett was the headline act at the opening of the Sydney Olympics leading the charge for an apology to the stolen generation. Now he's the weakest link in the federal caucus and a pin-up boy for Liberal Party advertising as the minister in charge of the insulation debacle. On environmental issues, Garrett has probably spent most of his time in parliament biting his lip on issues close to his heart, but on the arts front he is all but dismissive of an industry that, according to research presented by Queensland University of Technology at the 2020 summit supports just over 400,000 jobs nationwide. (That's more than the mining industry). Garrett's three years at the helm have shown the conviction of man who is distrustful of what he terms "the heritage arts" (major arts companies in theatre, dance and opera). One manager of a key national arts company said that under Garrett the arts have become a "dumb-downed rockabilly version" of an industry that once sought excellence. Admittedly, Garrett launched a website inviting submissions on a "national cultural policy" and sought to redress some of the funding inequalities between metropolitan and indigenous communities. But three years is a long time in politics and window dressing and creating a website can only really get you so far. As a high-profile candidate who was parachuted into the safe seat of Kingsford Smith, Garrett’s limitations as a minister have wider repercussions than those of most members of parliament. Like a sore thumb on the front bench, Garrett will be lucky to survive a reshuffle if a Gillard government is re-elected. The only thing that may keep him in cabinet is the fact he was parachuted in by Gillard's old ally, Mark Latham. But things must be pretty bad when Mark Latham is the only feather in your cap.

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6 thoughts on “‘Window dresser’ Garrett a pain in the arts …

  1. Holden Back

    About the only positive thing he’s done for the ‘heritage arts’ is to extend funding for ANAM in response to the public campaign against its closure.

  2. Richard Letts

    Rod Kemp is viewed with fond respect as a committed advocate and minister. It would be difficult to find similar warmth for Mr Brandis. His apparent interest early in his short incumbency seemed to quickly disappear and he could not stir himself to produce any sort of arts policy for the last election – an inertia that seems now to have infected both major parties. Only the Greens have come through.

    As for the Randwick meeting, there seems to be some confusion as to whether it is for Mr Garrett’s electorate or for his arts constituency. A scatter of arts people have been invited, others not. Will there be a policy statement?

  3. Trevor Harrison

    If re-elected, Labor has an admirable candidate for Arts Minister in Julie Owens, the member for Parramatta. Owens has a ‘complete woman’ biography: her education includes a Masters of Economics, she has an arts industry background having been the administrator for the Lyric Opera, and is an accomplished classical pianist.
    Apparently she continues to practice the piano daily as well as take to the roads on her push bike (interestingly, she left Tony Abbott in her wake in a 150 kilometre event last year).
    This is a lot of talent and arts sympatico to leave languishing on the backbench.

  4. Simon Balderstone

    I cannot let this outrageously inaccurate and unfair piece of writing go unchallenged .The author does not even have the courage to put his/her name to it. No wonder: there are several factual errors in it , mixed with a series of cliched comments (” traditional affiliations with the ALP”) and unsubstantiated and erroneous claims : Who are the alleged people who were surprised he is “still running” (sic) ? What evidence is there that he is the “weakest link in the federal caucus”? No evidence, because he is not. Far from it.
    And the claims about his lack of achievements and funding in the portfolio are outlandish. The writer obviously knows stuff all about major sections of the art industry, including indigenous art. Either that, or he/she had an electoral motive for such a diatribe.
    And for a “sydney arts insider”, the person claims to know a lot (and actually knows very little) about Peter’ performance and achievements as Environment Minister.
    The anonymous article simply cannot be considered an accurate, fair summary of Peter Garrett’s performance.
    Yes, I am a labor voter and a Peter Garrett friend and supporter : and publicly proud of it – a stark contrast to putting a limp pseudonym to some ill-informed nasty words.
    P.S. I didn’t see Peter Garrett – or the “headline act” of Midnight Oil for that matter – at the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games. No-one did. Just another factual error.

  5. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    I am an admitted fringe dweller rather than an insider when it comes to the arts community although I have been the treating medico for many of the most international famous when visiting Australia but I have always thought the arts community is very kind to include rock&roll as a member not because of the way the community treats them but visa versa.
    I now know how bad that anonymous person is but you didn’t say one thing about Garrett’s ministerial contribution apart from how much you love him.

  6. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Thanks for the introduction to Julie Owens. She does sound a very special person.

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