Editorial RT53

The USA, Iraq and Free Trade

You open the first edition of RealTime for 2003 in anxious times. Australia is actively complicit with the USA in premeditating murder, a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, a brutal move contrary to the fragile but sometimes effective restraints developed in the wake of World War II.

Infinitely less publicised is the free trade agreement our federal government is negotiating with the USA, and which poses another kind of threat to Australian integrity.

This edition of RealTime features the work of artists, producers, government agencies and overseas partners in marketing and touring of the Australian performing arts. Consistent outcomes are very hard to achieve, but the determination of all those involved and the many successes in recent years suggest that a dream is on the edge of being realised.

All of this assumes that while we build international demand the supply side of the picture is safe. However, the example of New Zealand’s decimated domestic TV drama production under the terms of their free trade agreement is frightening.

On January 15, a host of Australian cultural organisations banding together as the Australian Coalition for Cultural Diversity (ACCD) and representing artists and companies in theatre, film, music, dance, television, libraries, museums, literature, book publishing, and visual and multimedia arts called on the Howard Government to support Australian culture in the forthcoming free trade negotiations with the USA. ACCD will be officially launched in February 2003. Some of the member organisations are Arts Law Centre of Australia, Ausdance, Australian Guild of Screen Composers, Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association, Australian Screen Directors Association, Australian Society of Authors, Australian Writers Guild, Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, Museums Australia, Music Council of Australia, National Association for the Visual Arts, and Screen Producers Association of Australia.

ACCD has made a submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs Office for Trade Negotiations urging the Government “to negotiate a broad exemption for cultural industries, to allow it to continue supporting and fostering Australian cultural expression unfettered by the constraints of a trade agreement.”

Dick Letts, Chair of the Music Council of Australia and spokesperson for ACCD writes: “We believe that pressure will be applied by the US in forthcoming negotiations to restrict Australia’s freedom to act in support of its cultural policy objectives. The US Trade Representative, for instance, has been openly critical of measures such as Australian content rules for television as barriers to free trade. But while this is one of the most immediate issues at stake one must also bear in mind the potential impact of trade commitments on the whole range of cultural expression, and the extent to which such commitments could limit the Government’s ability to support Australia’s cultural industries in the future.”

Ian David, President of the Australian Writers Guild, is quoted by ACCD as saying, “To some this may just be about trade, commerce and access to markets. To us it’s about our heritage, our identity, our livelihood. What will be unique about being Australian if our songs, stories, pictures and ideas are crushed under the weight of a boot made somewhere else?”

The ACCD notes that the USA already has it pretty good in this country: “Australian government support for culture is open, measured and does not pose any real threat to the ability of the USA to sell its cultural products and services in Australia.” But as we well know, the fundamentalists of freedom prefer it for themselves, not others.

RealTime 54 (April/May) is titled BOOKish and will feature reviews of a wave of new Australian books about performance, digital arts and cultural issues. RT

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 3

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2003