WE LOVE IT GEORGE, YES REALLY
Sorry to have to bring up a story from the Daily Mail (14 May) but according to it, Arts Minister George Brandis, “believes Australia's art sector is ‘extremely enthusiastic’ about a redirection of $105 million from an independent body to his own program.”
Let’s examine this statement for a minute.
The one-time lawyer is naturally a master of WeaselSpeak and what he makes into an ominous-sounding “independent body” is of course the dear old Australia Council. Not exactly a bunch of crazed anarchists who make off with our hard-earned cash each year and hand it out to Janette Howard-approved ballet schools.
Let’s just get this straight. The Australia Council (forgive me if you know this already but it’s clear from everything he says the Arts Minister does not) is “independent” – yes! It was set up by a long-gone and wise man – Nugget Coombs, look him up children – to be funded from the public purse but, crucially and always, independent of government interference.
In words of several syllables, that means the money is distributed by an ever-changing and therefore fairly corruption- and favouritism-proof bunch of peers and public servants. They traditionally operate without fear or favour and without being heavied by a slippery poobah such as the arts minister. And that’s probably one of their problems: just like the ABC, being impartial and fair is seen by governments (and not just this one) as being against them.
So just who is “extremely enthusiastic” in the arts sector about this redirection of taxpayers’ cash into George’s kindly grasp? Very few at this stage would dare put their heads up above the parapet, unless they’re already doing very nicely thank you and can’t see how that’s likely to change. Craig Hassall of Opera Australia, for instance who said (SMH) that it was jolly mean to say horrid things about George because he loves OA and gives the company heaps of cash.
Okay, that’s paraphrasing somewhat. What Hassall (a decent chap who’s come in to OA at a tricky time) actually said is that he thinks it’s a “cheap shot” to describe the Brandis Fund For Fabulousness as a “land grab”.
He went on to say, “Speaking for Opera Australia, my first thought is that I am relieved and delighted that major performing arts companies’ funding hasn't been cut.”
And that inadvertently sums up everything wrong with the musical theatre behemoth: they don’t give a shit about anyone else, particularly those less favoured than they.
Hassall went on to say, “I always ask, what is the funding ultimately for? The funding is ultimately for audiences. Wherever the funding goes, audiences should benefit. If audiences benefit then I'm happy.”
Okay, back to examining the entrails: “wherever the funding goes, audiences should benefit.” Um, yes, sort of, maybe, probably...hang on a minute. What does that mean?
How will audiences benefit more through scented hand-outs from George to the chosen than they have to date with those same hand-outs from the plain old unperfumed Australia Council?
Why would anyone think George Brandis knows how audiences of ordinary Australians will benefit? I use the term “ordinary Australians” deliberately because – lest we forget – George Brandis is not an ordinary Australian. He is not like the rest of us and he sees absolutely no reason why he should be and no reason why that might be seen as a bad thing.
Proof? Remember this…
George Brandis likes to read. He has many books in his office in Parliament House. So many books that he demanded and was given custom-made Jarrah shelving at an overall cost to us of $20,000.
And the books on those shelves were purchased with taxpayers’ money too. And because George couldn’t reach the top shelf, he was also given a step stool ($211) to assist.
Not just any old books either: as Attorney General he’s allowed to use our money to purchase law journals and other such excitements to keep him up to date, but no. On those shelves you would have found har-di-har books by local pundits such as The Marmalade Files by Steve Lewis and Chris Ulhmann, So Greek – Confessions of a Conservative Leftie by the Oz’s columnist Niki Savva as well as Christopher Hitchens’ memoir Hitch 22.
We also bought for him Best Australian Political Cartoons, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage and a Roget's Thesaurus. (He’s soooo in touch with ordinary Australians he doesn’t know there’s a perfectly good thesaurus on his desktop and laptop and other taxpayer-funded devices.)
And…lest you think George was a reading slouch, we also bought for him John Howard’s autobiography Lazarus Rising. And Simon Schama's delightful Scribble, Scribble, Scribble: Writing on Ice Cream, Obama, Churchill and My Mother.
The latter collection of essays,was described in one review as “witty, learned, informative and clarifying.” Sadly none of that rubbed off on the Arts Minster, as far as one can tell. And although it’s nice that the Senator reads books – why does it have to be at our expense?
At the time of Bookshelfgate Fairfax Media carried out a cost analysis of the Senator's reading over the preceding four years. It revealed that of close to $13,000 spent on publications, just $4013.65 was spent on Commonwealth law reports.
And this is the man who has his finger on the pulse of the audiences and arts people of Australia. The man who defended his Gorgeous George’s Goodies Grab by saying in Parliament, “Nobody thinks monopolies are a good idea, this gives opportunities to people who didn't have them before.”