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Interview with Paulette Whitton, Blackchat Program - Koori Radio 93.7FM, Sydney
30 March 2009
WHITTON: It is about six minutes away from 12 o'clock on the Koori clock and we have in the studio right now with us, as promised, the Federal Government Minister for the Arts and Environment, Mr Peter Garrett, who is joining us this morning after launching a special project on the top of our building.
Good morning to you Peter and welcome to the show.
GARRETT: Thanks very much Paulette. Great to be here.
WHITTON: Now tell us, what have you been up on our rooftop doing?
GARRETT: I have been up on this fantastic rooftop announcing that applications are open for a special program which we are bringing forward called Breakthrough. And this is providing three Indigenous performers or bands or outfits with the opportunity to have a $25,000 level of support for recording, which will enable them to make a broadcast quality, standard recording for use, airplay, building their careers and getting promotion for their career both here in Australia and, depending on how red hot they are, even overseas.
WHITTON: Fantastic, that is a great opportunity. Now how was it received upstairs?
GARRETT: Yeah look it was great up there. We had a fantastic time telling the media about this program. What's happened is that I have come into the Government, I am the Environment Minister and the Arts Minister, but of course I have had a long interest in aboriginal issues, Indigenous culture and Indigenous music and one of the things that I thought was really important was to provide a little bit of extra support where we could, for bands of performers who quite often have got great songs but they just don't get the opportunity to get in a studio and have enough time to work up those songs the best they can be. So, the idea of Breakthrough is that it will give people that opportunity. It means that they are going to have a bit of time, a decent budget, great engineers and they get the best out of their music and performance with that support.
WHITTON: Now you would have seen a lot of great talent on your travels around aboriginal communities prior to your role in the Government, wouldn't you?
GARRETT: Yeah look I have and one of things that I said upstairs on the roof is that it doesn't matter where you go - you could be here in Redfern, you could be in any of the suburbs of the cities, country towns, western New South Wales, western Queensland, down in the Riverland or out in the remote communities, and you will often find, in fact more often than not, people are making music. There is some great bands, fantastic people I have seen over the years, who have been good songwriters, good performers. And quite often they've made a bit of a name for themselves in their own area but for what ever reason it hasn't gone further than that. So I reckon with this support that we're providing, it will give people an opportunity to get the recorded material up to a really, really good level, and hopefully there will be some other interest for them so they can build their career after that.
WHITTON: Deadly. Now does that include recording here at our very own, state-of-the-art Gadigal music label recording studio which is next door to where we are sitting?
GARRETT: Well, it is a fantastic...look Brad took me through and I had a look at it and look, it really is, it is a fantastic facility and I imagine that the opportunity is there for people to do that. You're putting in a plug but it is beaut - you've got all the right gear there, there is no reason why not.
WHITTON: Now, so we have got to wait for applications so we don't know who these artists and bands will be until when?
GARRETT: Look that process will take a little bit of time, it will be decided at arms length and won't be decided by me. It will be decided by a proper panel at arms length. But there is opportunities there for people and in the next couple of months we expect those applications to come in. I reckon there will be a heap of talent there. So the ones who eventually end up getting the gig - keep your eye on them because they will be going to s studio and I reckon they will have plenty of energy.
WHITTON: Now this Breakthrough initiative, this is part of a bigger picture isn't it about Indigenous Contemporary Music Action Plan, is that right?
GARRETT: Yeah that's right. When the arts ministers from the states and myself as the Federal Arts Minister got together in Alice Springs last year, one of the things that we signed on to was an Indigenous Contemporary Music Action Plan. And the reason for that is that there is some pretty straight forward barriers to people realizing the fruits of their ambition and their ability. Quite often it is distance issues, quite often it is just getting them into the place where they get heard or maybe onto radio or into some form of the media, so we have got a couple of components that we are looking at. One is the touring circuits - the opportunity for Indigenous musicians and artists to get on the festival circuit. Another one is looking at ways in which we can actually translate and bring them across to other media forms so people know who they are and know what they have got to offer.
WHITTON: Is this action plan going to as well involve access for our artists to be played on commercial radios as well? Because I notice that in the Action Plan it is only to promote greater use of Indigenous contemporary music content on the ABC, SBS and National indigenous Television.
GARRETT: Well, the existing quotas that apply to locally produced music applies to Indigenous musicians as well. And certainly, if you listen to someone like a Christine Anu or Gurrumul or Yothu Yindi from an earlier era, you can hear people getting played on those commercial radio stations, but the fact is that generally speaking when people are starting off, they are more likely to get played on the community radio stations, on stations like this one, and on the ABC. And we very much see that as a launching pad. If they are making music which has got that commercial applicability as well then we would very much like to see them bouncing across into those commercial networks too.
WHITTON: And talking of radio stations like ourselves, I guess community broadcasting funding has remained stagnant for a couple of years - at least a decade. Will there be more funds going into building up community radio stations like Koori Radio?
GARRETT: We've provided some support for Gadigal here and through community radio for that funding. I think the fact of the matter is that we operate in a pretty tough environment in terms of budgets. You will have heard people like the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and others saying that with the global financial crisis biting here in Australia, budgets are going to be tough. I expect that will be the same both for Minister Conroy and also for myself. We strongly support community radio and we certainly support Koori Radio and my expectation is that the we want to and will continue that support. Will there be additional funds? Well, that is a question for the Treasurer when he looks at the overall budget. I think it'll be pretty tough in this coming budget but you know what we're doing today is providing additional opportunities for people who get played on radio to bring music through which you can actually play and give good broadcasting to, so I think that is gong to make a big difference.
WHITTON: We have got heaps of fantastic musicians on this station already and this is going to add to the pool I am sure.
GARRETT: I reckon it's going to be beaut.
WHITTON: So what is the end result that you would like to happen through the Breakthrough initiative?
GARRETT: My hope is that once people have been able to take advantage, if they succeed in the competition and they find themselves with the opportunity to spend some money, that means that they can produce a really good EP or a number of different songs - broadcast level quality, you know really high quality - the sounds that they can hear themselves but also the sounds that the engineer can take and make the best of. That will provide them not only with the opportunity for greater airplay potential but also it is a fantastic thing for them to have in their back pocket when they go to see labels, when they are talking to promoters, when they are talking to people who are putting on big tours and things like that. It will be a fantastic promotions tool for them because it will show people what they are capable of.
WHITTON: When are applications open, as of today?
GARRETT: As of today.
WHITTON: And how do people apply?
GARRETT: I think you're going to provide all that detail over the air. Go mate, that's all the paperwork just waiting for you.
WHITTON: Now, just on another thing as well, with the draft Indigenous Art Code of Conduct, while I have got you here I just wanted to ask you a question about this. Why have you supported a voluntary code rather than making it a legal code where a law is set to stamp out art rip-offs of our artists works?
GARRETT: Well look the reason is a pretty straightforward one and that is that we want to give the voluntary code an opportunity to get itself established and to see how effective it is. And my attitude to this is that we don't need to use a stick when a carrot can hopefully do the job. Let us see how we go with a voluntary code. I think there will be an enormous amount of goodwill and my expectation is that most people will abide by a voluntary code. If we do find that the voluntary code is not achieving the goals that we set for it then we will give some thoughts as to whether we need to add additional measures.
And you know what, if people do need to find out about what we have been talking about they could jump onto the Department of Environment website and it will all be there.
WHITTON: Well thank you for your time this morning Peter and I asked you once before but you knocked me back but would you sing a bit of Beds are Burning for us?
GARRETT: She keeps coming back again, again and again...(sings) the time has come.
WHITTON: I think that is about all we're going to get, hey?
GARRETT: Thanks mate.
WHITTON: What was it like reforming with your band actually?
GARRETT: It was a real moment to savour, I guess, is the best thing to say. And you know it was for an important cause and I think that we were doing it for a reason other than just talking about ourselves or being on stage and the mood of the audience, particularly at the MCG - the Melbourne Cricket Ground, one of the great sporting venues in Australia - over 80,000 people in there and I have never experienced a feeling like that and the crowd made it all worthwhile.
WHITTON: Well good on you and thanks very much for your time this morning and for being with us here on the Black Chat show.
GARRETT: Thanks for having us