The newly-elected Australian Labor government today appointed former Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett as environment, heritage and arts minister.
Garrett, who initially ran as a candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the 1980s, joined the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in 2004 and was subsequently elected the federal member for the seat of Kingsford-Smith in Sydney. In 2006, he became shadow minister for the environment.
Garrett's 2007 campaign included pledges giving the government-run arts funding body the Australia Council an extra A$10 million ($8.8 million); a new visa rule that would require international acts use local support acts; an investment of A$17 million ($14.9 million) over four years to help arts businesses find markets here and abroad; more music education in schools; and a multi-million dollar boost for the college radio sector, and for marketing contemporary music.
Garrett formed the politically-charged Midnight Oil rock band in 1973 on Sydney's north shore. The group soon generated a reputation for fierce live performances and songs relating to the environment, indigenous rights and Australian culture. Signed to Sony, their hit albums included "10, 9, 8..." (1982), "Red Sails In The Sunset" (1984) and "Diesel & Dust" (1987).
They had an international hit from the latter album with "Beds Are Burning," which went on to peak at No. 17 on The Billboard Hot 100 chart the following year, and at No. 6 on the Official U.K. Singles Chart the year after. The band split in 2002 to allow Garrett to concentrate on politics, before reforming briefly to perform at the January 2005 WaveAid concert, which raised funds for the victims Indian Ocean tsunami.
Not surprisingly, his appointment - which follows the Kevin Rudd-led ALP's Nov. 24 general election victory over John Howard's Liberal Party - is popular with key sections of the music industry.
"This is the first time ever we've had a minister with first-hand knowledge of the contemporary music sector," says Nathan Brenner, Melbourne-based international manager of the Music Managers Forum. "We look forward to working with the arts minister, as well as ministries overseeing trade, export and education, on the issues that concern us."
These issues, Brenner explains, include initiatives to increase the skills of managers; the establishment of an Australian Music Office in Europe to complement the one in Los Angeles; setting up a new funding body for contemporary music rather; and encourage tax investment in the contemporary music sector.
Not everyone in the local industry is supportive of the ALP's new music measures. Evelyn Richardson, chief executive of the live sector peak body Live Performance Australia, wants the ALP to abandon its plan to enforce a rule on international concert promoters to use Australian artists as support acts, arguing the move would squeeze the live business.