Shenanigans at the Art Gallery of NSW

Theresa May’s election gamble in Britain … Tories should win at a canter, BUT …. Some headlines starting to turn ugly …. Now NSW police has a special thought unit … Annual storm over ANZAC Day won’t die away …

Culture Heist launch

Judith White’s book, Culture Heist: Art versus Money, published by Brandl & Schlesinger, was launched in Sydney this week at the State Library of NSW by John McDonald, the highly esteemed art critic of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Her insider’s account of recent shenanigans at the Art Gallery of NSW has been welcomed by the passionate arts community as well as in political circles and the general book reading community.

Ms White, who was executive director of the gallery’s membership organisation, the Art Gallery Society, is asking the gallery’s elitest management to withdraw its vainglorious project to replace the current gallery with the $380 million Sydney Modern and to concentrate on its core mission to bring world class art to the people of NSW, of all ages and backgrounds. She addressed a large group of art lovers at Wednesday’s official launch (pictured above).

John McDonald’s speech was a tour de force reviewing the dreadful impact of budget-cutting policies on the AGNSW and vulgar commercialism. However, McDonald wrote a brief comment on his blog which I am happy to reprint:

“If one assumes this [energy] is only possible in a relatively small organisation, the National Gallery of Victoria proves otherwise. In Melbourne this week for the Van Gogh opening, I was struck by the number of visitors to the St. Kilda Road venue, and by the way staff seem animated and motivated in a manner I’d never noticed before.

“Director Tony Ellwood has been rewarded by the Victorian government with a substantial funding boost, after achieving record attendance numbers, propelling the gallery into the world’s top 20 most-visited art museums.

“How very different to the AGNSW, which feels like a shadow of its former self, if you’ll pardon the cliché. I don’t want to dwell on this comparison, which has only become more glaring over the past few years, but the problem will be thrown into relief this week by the publication of Judith White’s book, Culture Heist: Art Versus Money, which I’m launching at the State Library of NSW next Wednesday, 3 May, at 11 am.

 “Judith, who was the former executive director of the Art Gallery Society of NSW, has detailed the breakdown of relations between gallery management and this long-established group of friends and supporters. It feels like an unnecessary, poorly-handled takeover bid that has been utterly destructive in its effects. The author is at pains not to make the book a hatchet job on director, Michael Brand, but he doesn’t emerge in a favourable light. Neither does the gallery’s top-heavy management team, whose large salaries seem inversely proportional to their understanding of art museums. The saga of the AGNSW’s decline is presented as part of a wider story that threatens all our cultural institutions, and that’s the theme of the book that should really spur debate and discussion. We’ve reached the edge of a precipice and it’s time we took a stand.”

Judith is my partner and her book is a marvellous piece of meticulous research and passion for public arts and science. To order a copy of her book, go to this site

Theresa May will win UK election, won’t she?

It has been two weeks since Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election on June 8, four years before it was due to be held. The pro-Tory press greeted her surprise decision with a collective orgasm – “May heads for election landslide”, The Times – despite the fact only days previously she was sticking to the line that no election would be held and she would serve out the full five-year term ending in May 2021.

It was a gift for her political opponents: she lied i.e. she can’t be trusted. None of them used it.

In conformity with current legislation, May asked the Commons for a two-thirds majority vote to bring forward the election to June this year. She won it easily with the backing of Labour and the Liberal Democrats. With Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party trailing the Tories by a record 21-23%, the result is a foregone conclusion. Or is it?

Consider the following:

  1. May is a Tory. She espouses the twin fantasies of the vicarage and the City of London, polar opposites. Her conflicting messages lead to confusing and largely unintelligible speeches. This kind of preachy politicking – invoking god and mammon – worked a century ago, but in 2017? The bizarre duality of civic humanity and greed also goes towards explaining why she can’t answer a straight question with a straight answer. Is that why she has ruled out any televised election debates with her opponents?
  2. Voters in the North of England swung in favour of Brexit in the European Union referendum in June 2016. But will they vote in the same numbers for May to remain PM?
  3. Political memories run deep in the North of England – places like Lancashire, Yorkshire, Cheshire, Tyne and Wear, Cumbria, Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Voters across three generations still remember the last Tory female premier, Margaret Thatcher, and the cruel havoc her government inflicted on their families, communities and industries. They owe no loyalty whatsoever to the hated Tories or May – so why would they vote for her on June 8?
  4. May’s election gambit is directed at impressing Brussels bigwigs where she has been treated as a joke since delivering the Article 50 letter triggering her doomed exit plan. She craves to be taken seriously and her advisers say that can best be done by winning an election. That isn’t a strategy; it’s an act of desperation.
  5. Many voters supported Brexit in the2016 referendum believing that payments to Brussels would be suspended forthwith so that the money could be diverted to the National Health Service (NHS). That was a lie and no extra money has gone into the NHS: in fact, its budget has been further eroded.
  6. May and her ministers continue to lie about the real cost of Brexit. The exit payment runs into tens of billions of dollars and May hasn’t a clue where she will find it.

The pro-EU Economist cast a shadow over electoral proceedings by remarking: “In Britain, where Brexit increasingly resembles a faith-based initiative, voters have been given wildly unrealistic expectations of the Utopia ahead.”

Panicky headline writers

Here are some recent UK headlines to ponder: “May dismisses reports of frosty dinner with EU chief as ‘Brussels gossip’” (Guardian), “May is living in another galaxy, says Brussels” (Sunday Times), “Alarm bells ringing after May announced a snap election” (Daily Express), “Why Theresa May is gambling all with shock election in bid to silence the Remoaners [sic] and deliver Brexit” (The Sun), “Crush the Saboteurs” (Daily Mail), “Labour gains again in new poll as Tory lead narrows” (Independent), “‘Power-grabbing’ May scolded by EU bureaucrat who claims election will not help Brexit” (Daily Express), “Lib-Dems gain 1000 members in just one hour after snap election is called” (Independent).

And the Independent super-charged May’s latest anti-EU blast with the headline: “UK-EU relations hit new low as Theresa May viciously attacks Europe politicians – With new comments on the EU, she has gone full Trump.”

From this distance – the other side of the world – it is difficult to gauge this election contest. With the chief Opposition party, Labour, in such a lamentable state, the Tories should walk in. But would I bet on it? No!

The British Tory Party has hired two Australian carpet baggers, (Sir) Lynton Crosby and (Sir?) Mark Textor, as re-election strategists. Both have a history of installing fear, loathing, diversion and division in election campaigns and this is what the Tories need this time around. It worked for Donald Trump, so why not for May?

The US and UK electorates are vastly different. American voters are naïve and largely ignorant of history or current affairs (ideology is quite beyond most of them). They vote on emotion, impulse, personality and Christianity.

British voters consider honesty, integrity and what’s best for the country and its people. Does Mrs May offer these preferences or is she just another untrustworthy, union-hating, business-loving Tory politician?

NSW police unit straight out of Kafka

It has taken no time at all for the new NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller to start implementing the “law’n’order” agenda of the Police Association and the Berejiklian Coalition.

While he earned brownie points by abruptly ending Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn’s dysfunctional role as head of anti-terrorism operations, he immediately compensated by announcing that 50 “lone wolves” had been placed under surveillance by a new “Fixated Persons Investigations Unit”.

The Kafkaesque and Orwellian unit of 17 coppers and “government health workers” is perfect material for a comedy series by John Clarke but tragically he is no longer with us. What about Shaun Micallef of “Mad As Hell” fame?

All the names of the “fixated persons” have not been released but I have been assured that Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi are not among them. Why not?

Both are fixated upon destroying the prime ministerial career of Malcolm Turnbull just as Kevin Rudd was fixated by destroying Julia Gillard’s. Yet all three – Abbott, Bernardi and Rudd – are still allowed to roam at large in the community with posturing impunity.

According to the Herald’s Rachael Olding, who sees dark and sinister forces at work in every corner of society, one of the “extremists” on the FPIU’s lists is the 18-year-old who yelled a world peace protest just prior to the ANZAC Day dawn service in Sydney’s Martin Place.

At 5.30am, before the official ceremony had begun, the hip-hop DJ, shouted: “The courageous will never be silent as long as senseless violence continues! Stop the wars! Bring peace to the world!”

After he was bailed to appear at Downing Local Court on May 18, he posted on Facebook: “Anzac Day is a celebration of war and murder.” His comment drew a howl of venomous outrage with one nut job calling him a “delusional fuckwit”.

So much for those who died to safeguard freedom of speech!

As the lone protester told City Hub newspaper: “Yelling ‘Stop the war’ in a public space is now a criminal offence.”

Lest We Forget Scott McIntyre

On Anzac Day two years ago, SBS sports presenter Scott McIntyre was sacked after posting four Tweets highly critical of the event – as are many veterans and non-veterans, me included!

McIntyre wrote:

  1. “Remembering the summary execution, widespread rape and theft committed by these ‘brave’ ANZACS in Egypt, Palestine and Japan.”
  2. “Wonder if the poorly-read, largely white, nationalist drinkers and gamblers pause today to consider the horror that all mankind suffered.”
  3. “The cultification of an imperialist invasion of a foreign country [Turkey] that Australia had no quarrel with is against off ideals of modern society.”
  4. “Not forgetting that the largest single-day terrorist attacks in history were committed by this nation and their allies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
Scott McIntyre

Malcolm Turnbull, then the communications minister, got involved. He phoned SBS managing director Michael Ebeid at his home to demand action. Ebeid, a faithfull sniveller, complied at once and sacked the young presenter with immediate effect. A year later on the footsteps of the court where McIntyre was suing for wrongful dismissal, SBS suddenly offered to settle on undisclosed terms. Case closed. But Turnbull, a former Bulletin journalist and champion of free speech in the Spycatcher case, had shown his true colours, and he has been backsliding ever since on every major issue that he once advocated.

The (“Independent Always”) Herald and the Rupert Murdoch-owned Australian gloated over McIntyre’s sacking.

The lesson is simple: these privately-owned newspapers are all in favour of “free speech” – just so long as they agree with what you are saying. If you don’t agree with their views, then they will monster you.

Other ANZAC Day Tweeters now being harassed and vilified by the mainstream media are Dr Tim Anderson, a Sydney University political economy lecturer, and Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a part-time ABC presenter. Social media nutcases are now demanding they both be sacked.

Anderson’s Tweet read: “Let we forget: Australian military involvement in the 17 Sept 2016 murder of almost 100 Syrian soldiers, as they were fighting ISIS terrorists. When Australia stops collaborating with imperial powers to attack other peoples, I will celebrate ANZAC Day.”

Ms Abdel-Magied wrote: “LEST.WE. FORGET (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine).”

For voicing her opinion, Ms Abdel-Magied, a Moslem, received the following responses, “Just stop breathing”, “Please kill yourself it will benefit us all” and “Filthy dog”.

The writing is on the wall: ANZAC Day is starting to get a bad wrap, and it will probably intensify.

The pro-RSL and pro-war crowd have two options: 1) dig foxholes in the sand and continue fighting; 2) follow the great ANZAC tradition and use the cover of nightfall to evacuate the beach.



One comment

  1. Hi Alex , Thanks for another stimulating column.
    In Team Australia it’s clearly dangerous to say anything which could in any way be construed as critical of Anzac Day.

    Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to hearing what those champions of free speech and the anti-PC brigade have to say about those brave men leading the NSW RSL, revered peace time leaders, who’ve been internally charged with bringing the organisation into disrepute.

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