marcus westbury

my life. on the internets.

marcus westbury header image 2

Hey artists, make like important and decisive voters for a change!

September 23rd, 2010 by marcus

This piece featured in The Age prior to the Federal election. I think the sentiment applies to several seats in the upcoming Victorian and NSW State elections though.

AUSTRALIAN artists are used to being marginal. But they’re not used to it being a good thing. In this election the arts and creative community of Melbourne is experiencing that rarest of phenomena: political relevance. Who’da thunk it? Artists are a key constituency in a real, live marginal seat.

While the national media focuses on the dog fights and dog whistles, the battle between Gillard and Abbott in the outer suburbs and the haunting spectre of Kevin Rudd, there’s an interesting side story being played out in the inner city. In at least one seat there’s another group of swinging voters firmly in the latte belt end of the mortgage belt. If the pollsters and pundits are correct, the once-safe Labor seat of Melbourne will go down to the wire between Labor’s newly appointed candidate, Cath Bowtell, and the Greens’ Adam Bandt.

The seat of Melbourne covers the city itself as well as many of the typical inner-city arty areas. In places such as Abbotsford, Clifton Hill, Collingwood, North Melbourne, Fitzroy, Richmond and parts of Brunswick, voters suddenly find themselves in the unusual position of being able to actually influence an election result. And many of them are working in or connected to the arts and creative industries.

How significant might the arts vote be? If recent history is anything to go by, the answer is very. In the dying stages of the last state election, with the Greens breathing down the ALP’s neck in several inner-city seats, Labor went hard and a little dirty after the arts community. Famously late in the campaign the Melbourne Fringe Festival’s email list was “hijacked” — allegedly by a Labor spin doctor who was also on the festival’s board — to spam a last-minute pro-Labor and anti-Green message to thousands of unwitting artists and festival fans. Whether it helped or not is unknown: as many Fringe fans were either Green voters or decidedly of the view it should be apolitical, the backlash from artists, punters and the community was considerable.

While it’s hard to calculate what, if any, effect it had on the state election outcome at the time, it did demonstrate that the potentially swinging votes of a few thousand inner-city artists and their fans was a constituency worth going to — and getting in — an awful lot of trouble for.

Today the same constituency is in play in a federal election. On the back of Labor’s perceived failings on climate change, refugee policy and many other areas, the Greens are riding high in the national polls. Combined with the retirement of the popular and respected current member, Lindsay Tanner, this means that many of the artists, arts workers and creative types in Melbourne will be considering voting Green this time around.

At a national level, many segments of the arts community have been making noises that they’re not particularly impressed with the Labor government. It has managed a few significant achievements but failed to live up to what may have been overblown expectations.

Until defused in the last few weeks, the role of art under the Cooper superannuation review threatened to boil over into a full-blown election revolt. The lack of arts and cultural ideas in the national election thus far from both major parties has certainly given the signal that priorities are elsewhere.

Locally, though, in the wake of the Fringe fiasco of 2006, it seems as though the Greens have made a real effort to build connections with the arts community. With at least a year’s head start on Cath Bowtell, Adam Bandt has been actively working with and picking the brains of the arts community – myself included – to air ideas, develop policies and work up arts issues to campaign on. Academy Award winner Adam Elliot has hit the campaign trail, they’ve been active about the issues at VCA, and over at the Fringe Festival the popular recently retired chairman Richard Watts has also been actively spruiking for the Greens — on his own time.

For artists there is an opportunity here. Marginal seats matter — even inner-city leftie ones. In the current federal poll and in the coming state election, the inner-city constituencies have a platform to be listened to. Regardless of which — if any — side of the ALP v Greens spectrum they might come down on, now might be a great time to whip out the wish lists, threaten a protest or two, or simply make like you’re an important and decisive voter for a change. If you’re in Melbourne, this time you are.

Similar Posts:

Tags:   · · · · · · No Comments

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter

Leave A Comment

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.