New government in Australia?

Former rock star would be Minister for Arts and Environment


As The Art Newspaper went to press, Australia was set to go to the polls on 24 November in a general election which is widely expected to unseat Prime Minister John Howard and his politically conservative, centre-right Liberal/ National Party coalition government, which has held power for almost 12 years.

Kevin Rudd, the Australian Labor Party leader from Queensland, who speaks fluent Mandarin and was a high-ranking diplomat in China in the 1980s, is set to become Prime Minister should voters reject a fifth term for Mr Howard. Mr Rudd is seen as an advocate of “third-way” politics in the mould of the UK’s New Labour or the US Democratic Party under former President Clinton.

Both sides have been conspicuously quiet on policy for the arts, but Labor have hinted they will investigate the formal introduction of an artist’s royalty on resales of their work, or Droit de Suite (since 2004, the auction house Lawson-Menzies has set aside 2% of all sales of Aboriginal art for redistribution to the artists). It is understood that the Howard government’s ongoing commitment to the construction of a new National Portrait Gallery and an extension to the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra would be honoured by Labor.

If Mr Rudd’s party gains power, the new Minister for Arts and Environment is likely to be Peter Garrett, a trained lawyer and the former lead singer with the rock band Midnight Oil. The band’s biggest international hit, “Beds are Burning”, which promoted Aboriginal land rights, reached number six in the Australian charts in 1987, and the same position in the UK charts in 1989.

At the closing concert of the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, the band wore the words “Sorry” on their stage outfits, a rebuke to Mr Howard—who was in the audience—for his refusal to make a symbolic apology to the Aboriginal people for Australia’s historic racial discrimination against its indigenous citizens. Mr Garrett, who has been shadow arts and environment minister since December 2006, has come under close scrutiny after he jokingly told a radio presenter that if it took office, the Australian Labor Party would “change all its policies”.

Mr Rudd has pledged that, if elected, his government would immediately sign the Kyoto agreement on climate change, make a partial withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq and, in time, repeal the “Work Choices” industrial legislation introduced by Mr Howard, which made it harder for employees to contest unfair dismissal, introduced compulsory secret ballots before industrial action and outlawed industry-wide strikes.Former rock star would be Minister for Arts and Environment

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 186 December 2007