Dr Leigh Summers with Coffs Coast sculptor Lisa Magi?s work Graham Kennedy and Henry Reunited in Arcadia, one of the exhibits i
Dr Leigh Summers with Coffs Coast sculptor Lisa Magi?s work Graham Kennedy and Henry Reunited in Arcadia, one of the exhibits i

Artists fear loss of fair comment

ANY move to stifle freedom of expression would be a serious blow not only to cartooning, but to the people who make some of society's bravest statements, says the director of the Bunker Cartoon Gallery, Dr Leigh Summers.

Dr Summers is adding her voice to the growing chorus of concern about the sedition provisions of the Federal Government's proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill.

"Cartoonists, above traditional artists and journalists, have said the bravest and most controversial things and to prevent cartoonists from making comment silences any genuine criticism of the State," Dr Summers said.

"The general public is rarely swayed by cartoons but rather cartoons reflect, in a pithy way, the essence of any given situation."

She said the exhibition now being mounted at the Bunker Cartoon Gallery, Rude, Nude and Crude, demonstrated the freedom of expression which cartoonists and artists used to tackle such taboo subjects as bestiality and sexual abuse within the church.

Painter Barry Dengate, who has often included veiled political and social comment in his work, said creative people were among those likely to offer a new perspective on issues.

"If people are not game to say anything, the government can't hear what they want and in the end, if the government is doing the right thing, it should be able to tolerate criticism and respond to it honestly."

The National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA) yesterday joined Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) in calling for changes to the Bill, on behalf of 20,000 Australian visual artists, galleries and other support organisations.

NAVA is the peak body representing the professional interests of the Australian visual arts and craft sector. ALHR represents more than 1000 Australian lawyers.

"Buried in the back of the Anti-Terrorism Bill are new offences under the heading of sedition which may severely constrain the freedom of expression of visual artists such as painters, sculptors, video makers and cartoonists," Tamara Winikoff, the executive director of NAVA said.

"As with all Australian citizens, they should remain free to continue to challenge current orthodoxies ? artistic or political.

"We are concerned that the new sedition laws inhibit artists' entitlement to exercise their human right to represent, discuss and critique ideas, through their artwork or other forms of public or private expression.

"The Bill makes it an offence punishable by seven years imprisonment if a person urges another to assist 'by any means whatever' an organisation or country engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force," said Simeon Beckett, the President of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.

"This then would make artists and galleries which show their work vulnerable to being prosecuted for influencing the actions of others, whether this was intended or not."

Tamara Winikoff said it was easy to imagine that if this law had been in force in the 20th century, the work of great Australian artists would have been indictable, like ST Gill's comments on the Eureka uprising, Albert Tucker's Images of Modern Evil and Sydney Nolan's post war angst paintings.

"Right now there are many highly respected artists who are making deeply concerned and thoughtful comments on September 11, the detention of asylum seekers, and the involvement of Australia in the Iraq war," Ms Winikoff said.

"Should they be jailed and silenced?"

LHR and NAVA are calling on the Federal Government to put in place safeguards for free speech as exist in other similar Federal laws such as s.18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

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