Art and artist, Ardern in America, and at last, a climate election…

Your letters to the editor from the month of May.

For anyone who missed it, Statecraft is now accepting letters to the editor. These are intended as an easy way for your to share your thoughts, either about something we publish, or about current affairs in general.

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Art and Artist

Read now: Would Orwell Listen to Sticky Fingers?

In ‘Would Orwell listen to Sticky Fingers?’, Oliver Friendship asks an age-old question in a catchy way, and I think that Orwell’s essay is one of the better responses to the separation of art and artist. However, Friendship asks the secondary question of ‘what to do?’ How ought we to respond when our favourite musicians and artists behave reprehensibly? While Friendship is right in pointing out that we should be capable of acknowledging both that the art is good and the person/ people are not, I think that this dodges the crux of the question.

The fact that an artist is separate from their art should not encourage us to ignore their behaviour or continue supporting said artist. To use Orwell’s words: “The first thing we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up … and yet even the best wall ought to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp”. Orwell’s statement here crucially implies that we should be prepared to endorse artist’s being held accountable for their actions; that one has made good art in the past does not confer the right to continue making it. We should consider the implications of our support for the product even if it is not an endorsement of behaviour. These implications are particularly important in an era in which streaming a song is a payment (however small) to the artist.

Moreover, poor behaviour should prompt a reflection of the relationship between artist and art. That one is not the other, does not mean there is no connection between the two. We are missing the point of Orwell’s essay if enjoyment of art means forgetting, if momentarily, that it was produced by someone whose actions deserve condemnation.

— Michael Steinbeck, Brisbane.

Ardern speaks at the Harbard Graduation Ceremony. (Harbard Staff Photography: Jon Chase)

Current Affairs: Arden in America

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s current visit to the United States has served as a timely reminder that American exceptionalism falls at the feet of other countries who achieve the legislative, humanitarian, bare minimum.

After receiving her honorary doctorate from Harvard University this past week, Ardern used her commencement speech to highlight the American legislative need for gun reform. Citing the horrific mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, Arden reminded the graduates and academics that gun reform is not only possible but essential. Arden’s government banned semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles after the Christchurch Mosque shootings in 2019, and this reform has since been used as an example by gun reform activists in the US of the type of action legislators must take in order to protect their own citizens. Arden met with both senators and congress members, and discussed, among other things, gun violence within the US, as she reflected that despite the two countries’ differing histories, she believed change was still possible.

In her speech Arden also highlighted the legislative move of her government to decriminalise abortion within New Zealand, another timely reminder for the US as Roe v Wade looks set to be overturned. US legislators would benefit greatly from bursting their exceptionalism bubble to look outside of what has become the ‘new normal’, and instead accept that their current laws, surrounding both gun access and (soon) abortion care, is far below any standard that would be considered humane.

— Caitlin Goston, Brisbane.

Megan Herbert, as seen in the Brisbane Times

At Last, a Climate Election

Let’s face it, this election campaign was… uninspiring. A Coalition government on its last legs, all out of fresh ideas, and a Labor opposition, still traumatised from the last election, opting for a small-target strategy. The former trying desperately to cling to power with transphobic culture-warring, last-minute fearmongering about border security, and a core campaign message which effectively amounted to “better the devil you know”; the latter doing its utmost to avoid exposing itself to scare campaigns by minimising as many points of difference as possible.

This is not to say that there aren’t important differences between the parties, of course — but even Labor Party stalwarts must admit that the 2022 election campaign was a far cry from the ambitious policy platform promoted by Shorten in 2019.

Read now: High Road to the Political Wilderness: A Post-Mortem of Labor’s 2019 Defeat

And amid all this, barely a word spoken about climate change.

The 2022 election seemed, if the behaviour of the major parties was any indication, to be the first non-‘climate election’ in over a decade. But clearly, voters had other ideas.

Last Saturday, the Australian electorate voted overwhelmingly for action on climate change. Not only have the Labor party, with their comparatively ambitious climate agenda, replaced the Coalition in Government, but seven climate-oriented independents, and four Greens members, have been elected to the crossbench. This is the most climate-progressive parliament in the history of Australian politics.

While Labor’s own policy commitments will still see Australia fall short of our fair share in keeping warming below 1.5ºC, with a majority this slim, it seems likely that they might be pushed to take stronger action by the crossbench. And anything will be better than the past 9 years of inaction under the Coalition.

At last, Australia had a climate election — and it was when we all least expected it.

— Tom Watson, Brisbane.

Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? We want to hear from you.
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