editorial rt85 – censorship

Under the previous John Howard government and some state governments of the last decade, the threat of censorship was every present. It escalated to an unprecedented level in 2005 when Howard sought to increase the extent of elderly anti-sedition legislation in line with the Federal Government’s Anti-Terrorism Bill. Despite considerable protest and Senate Committee recommendations to the contrary, Attorney General Phillip Ruddock pressed ahead, promising to review the laws once they were instituted. He didn’t. Howard’s line was ‘trust me’, assuring artists and satirists that they were safe to speak their minds. No one believed him. With the arrival of a Kevin Rudd Government it was assumed that the law and order drive, neo-liberal political correctness, ministerial interference in funding decisions and media-driven censorship frenzies would fade or, better, be firmly repudiated. While the Goverment is addressing a wide range of rights issues (which we hope will lead to a charter) and has allocated $2.8m in the current budget for such, Prime Minister Rudd and Arts Minister Peter Garrett’s responses to the NSW Police seizure of work by Bill Henson from the Roslyn Oxley Gallery were deeply disturbing. A virtue of Rudd’s election campaign in 2007 was his and his team’s refusal to be rattled or wedged. Other than having to strategically buy into some of Howard’s bigger spending promises, Rudd played it cool and casual. Now, like his predecessor, he’s playing it fast and loose—gut reactions on the fly, an opinion on whatever’s put to him. All very presidential. Instead of deferring the Henson matter to the appropriate ministers, he chose to speak publicly, what’s more condemning the work and thereby Henson—a pronouncement of guilt that brands a man forever. Rudd can only appear impatient, imperious and unjust, and worse, opportunist, given heightened public concern about sexual exploitation and abuse of the young. The censorious pall of the last decade hangs over us still, and now grows more toxic, sucking the air out of difference, stifling nuance. Australian art may well be poisoned by this episode, made cautious and more self-censoring in every way from creation to marketing to funding. We hope that the defenders of Henson’s art, including the 2020 Summit Creative Australia participants [see their Open Letter, p15], many other artists, arts critics and a wide range of commentators, not to mention the Member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull, will clear the air, allowing for clear thinking, uncluttered by prejudice and those ever ambivalent attitudes to art in this country.

RealTime issue #85 June-July 2008 pg. 1

1 June 2008