9 December 2003

The loss of independence to the Australia Museum is dangerous to Australian culture

Deputy Secretary of the Department, Dr Stretton, is an observer on the Museum Council. It was revealed that departmental officers through Dr Stretton, played an improper role in drafting the Museum Council's response to the Carroll Review. In other words a key mechanism to facilitate the 'Howard-isation' of the Museum was prepared within the Department!

Our cultural agencies must surely be alert and alarmed by now, all the more so because the Department of Communication, Information Technology and the Arts seemingly has the Minister's permission to participate in this politicisation.

The story of the Museum is frightening and raises serious concerns about the ability of any institution or agency to effectively maintain its cultural independence.

I have outlined the chain of events which have unfolded during the life of the Museum because I think it is a story which needs to be told. Dawn Casey's lament of the Museum being the battle ground for the Howard government's war on culture constitutes a warning for other institutions - a warning to be heeded.

I believe that the ramifications of this government exerting its influence in such a partisan way damages the Museum and is designed to prevent the honest exploration and portrayal of Australian cultural heritage and identity.

The National Museum of Australia has become John Howard's personal story board through which he can make his image of Australia and pretend it is real: an anglo-centric society, patronising of migrants, in denial of indigenous injustice and glory for those who share this narrow, ill-informed conservatism.

John Howard has cultural pretensions of his own. That's why he was in a position to overrule Les Murray on language issues for the constitutional preamble and recently withdrew the commission for the London war memorial over artistic disagreements. As both rather stodgy examples of the Man of Steel's artistic ability demonstrate, John Howard is no Thomas Jefferson.

The level of interference in the museum is a disgrace.

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