Natasha Cica on the Howard Government's copy catting of Bush Jnr's fascism Print E-mail
The Age -- Melbourne -- Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sedition clamp is no joking matter

Proposed new laws will threaten our artists' freedom of expression, writes Natasha Cica.

As anyone who bothers with serious mainstream media knows, our federal and state governments are proposing harsh criminal penalties for urging any assistance of the enemy, including peaceful and non-violent assistance - and, more incredibly, for urging disaffection against the Government of the Commonwealth.

Fortunately for those governments, today most Australians aren't bothering, especially under-35s. Unless they work for ASIO, Media Monitors or a politician, they're not listening to Radio National debate on sedition or reading this opinion piece.

That doesn't mean they're off watching Schapelle Corby look-alikes grope under doonas on Big Brother, doing ecstasy in nightclubs or Zoloft in their rostered toilet breaks in call centres.

Many are, of course. But they're also renting the DVD of Three Dollars, based on Elliot Perlman's best-selling Australian novel. And turning up to Eddie Perfect, whose recent Sydney season of his clever, cutting cabaret Drink Pepsi Bitch was rebranded Drink Eddie Bitch lest its marketing offend the sponsoring corporation that brings us Pepsi.

Perlman and Perfect couldn't look more different.

Perlman is, well, a nice Jewish barrister you'd take home to your mother. Perfect is profane. He gives the lyrical finger to today's political in-crowds - Hillsong homophobes, Byron Bay boomers, terror terriers, people who fret over plastic bags. I counted about a million too many f---s at his show the other week. Then again, I could have stayed home with Lateline's Tony Jones, God love him, who'd never in a million years actually say he wished Ray Martin, his dated jingoism and concrete hair had all washed away with the tsunami masses in Aceh.

As Perfect responded when whacked by a left-wing academic for this incorrectness: "You're sounding like Andrew Bolt. It's just embarrassing. You think you're a doctor of popular culture because you can make one Simpsons reference? Man, that is so September 10. The left, with which I am proud to associate myself, (doesn't) have a reputation for having a very good sense of humour."

I had to laugh.

Appearances aside, Perlman and Perfect sing from similarly seditious song sheets. They out the real human pain festering under the Glad-wrappings of economic rationalism and global consumerism. That take-out message inevitably urges disaffection with the Government (and Opposition, such as it is) of the Commonwealth. That's startling right now, given that a strangely morphed mix of Oprah, Greg Sheridan, IKEA and Princess Mary of Taroona dictates most answers, while not enough real questions are asked about the slippery post-modern triumvirate of governance, consumption and corruption.

Why isn't Perfect, unlike Ray Martin, on prime-time anything? Who's making those programming decisions?

Whose publicly funded hands wrote and signed the sloppy paper of the first terror bill that ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, God love him, posted on the internet in our true national interest?

Why was it backbench liberal Liberals who were first off the blocks as the thin blue parliamentary line in our real democratic defence? Not Kim Beazley.

Why were so-called self-serving artists, like Robert Connolly, the film director who took Perlman onscreen, the first citizens standing up to be counted for the right to watch Australian classics like Peter Weir and David Williamson's Gallipoli? Rent that DVD while you lawfully can. While you're at it, find Liza Minnelli doing Cabaret and invite a premier of your choice to see it - or the Senate committee tasked with the rush job of making the best of the worst of these updated sedition offences, so badly and broadly drafted they shouldn't even be on that debating table.

Above all, start asking what it means for all of us, not just Muslims and artists, when Australian cabaret starts looking so damned Perfect.

Dr Natasha Cica is a consultant advising Australian arts organisations on the proposed anti-sedition laws.