Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Kim Williams on Q&A

Q&A: Bill Leak racism debate prompts protest, claim Australia lagging behind in dealing with race, ABC News, 14 March 2017

Emotions ran high as a panel of arts industry professionals discussed the work and passing of controversial Australian cartoonist Bill Leak during Monday night’s Q&A program.

The panellists condemned what an audience member described as some sections of the left wing celebrating Leak’s death on Friday, but they also criticised his infamous 2016 cartoon depicting an Indigenous man with a beer can who could not remember his son’s name.

Cartoon called an "attack" on Indigenous Australians

PHOTO: The cartoon depicts Aboriginal people as bad role models, a community leader says. (The Australian: Bill Leak)

The debate prompted a woman in the Q&A audience to shout “Bill Leak is a racist”, before she was ejected from the venue.

Panellist, Canadian singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright, then declared Australia “a little far behind” on dealing with racial issues.

“I don’t think he [Leak] would have gotten away with it in Canada,” she said.

“In North America there’s some parallel histories, but that kind of stuff — those kind of drawings and satires — were given up a while ago.”

Fellow panellists, author Mem Fox, former media executive Kim Williams and theatre and opera director Neil Armfield praised Leak’s body of work but agreed the 2016 cartoon was offensive.

Fox linked the argument to debates around free speech and political correctness.

“We are fighting for the right to be insulting and offensive. This is most odd,” she said.

“…There is another word for political correctness. And it is a simple word. It’s called politeness.”

Fellow panellist, Indigenous actress and singer Ursula Yovich said Leak’s cartoon highlighted racism she and other Aboriginal people faced “on a day to day basis”.

“I think if you have a platform as he did, you do have to have some kind of responsibility with what you put out there. I’m all for free speech,” she said.

“…There’s no limitation to what you can say but you do have a responsibility and you have to make amends if you’re going to say something stupid or if you’re going to say hateful things.”

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