Madame Speaker …

Madame Speaker
Honourable Members
… illness stalks our wounded earth
… and truth leans into the ditch
… but chin up and let these mere words be your balm

For today
I am your minister
With the means and budget to
… run amok

In short … my er hem … executive summary …
Our land needs to sing
The story of this earth …
Our work of beauty as artists
Counts and must be counted
That’s it
But let me continue briefly so …

What we need is a campaign
From instagram to bumper stickers
To get across my big idea, folks, that …
The Arts are not a thing
A sector
A commodity
An industry
The arts are a fact of our hearts.
You and me and all of us
From the Kimberley to Kiama
The invisible
Indestructible, fragile
Magnificent fact of our hearts
… That’s the arts

All of you children and elders in the arts
Burdened with fame or obscurity
(Or blessed)
Rise up all of you
You big hearted wonders and
Give the country what it needs and wants
The fact of our hearts
Split the chambers of our life’s pump
Scale each and every ventricle
Like the stomachs of a cow
That’s the arts now

In a time of illness and fear
In our sorry empty shops
A child doing its COVID sums at home
An uncle budgeting his Centrelink supplements
An auntie painting the quiet in her town
All of us trying not to get too down
The arts are the rising blood of this time
As we breathe and retreat and imagine how we can live

The arts do not exist
They cannot be bought
Or sold
The work of beauty
Is no work at all
And I want to put all that on a bumper sticker
With your help.

Yet Madame Speaker
Let’s be blunt
In simple contradiction
To my first point
Here is my second …

Get your abacus out
Show us yer spreadsheet
And tightly managed tiny budgets
Damned artists of our country
Tell me
What’s your hourly rate?
What does your unpaid overtime look like?

Is it off the charts? Off the chain?
Tell me how much, tell me your riches again!
As illness stalks our wounded world …

Let us send out a bill together
… for every moment you’ve ever given for your craft and love
Let’s make a tapestry invoice
Let us present old receipts made from magnetic tape and glitter
For all the work of your long committed life that you have given to the arts
To the fact of your heart

Look now at all the empty halls
The seats not sat in
The bums staying at home
Listen to the silence of the venues
The paintings unregarded
The comics not killing
And let us
Count the cost of it all

We offer buttons
To keep the already poor barely alive
Politicians always expect applause
And miss the point

Every cent earned in the arts
Is a cent like any other
That spins gold and good in our community
That’s the economic fact of our hearts

The workers in the arts
… those among us who take the artist’s vow of poverty
The ticket seller
The rigger
The lighting gal
wardrobe guy
cellist and actor
The sculptor and clown
Our money sloshes around
Raises families
Employs tradies
Shops in shops
Makes cities more like cities
And all of us more like all of us

We’d do a lot of it for free
And do
But we will bite you hand off
Then your head
If we do not get paid
Because it’s not the money
You know
But respect
That’s a fact of the heart

So as illness stalks our wounded world
Let us do the sums of our dreaming
The inkling to create
The daring to fail
The turning up to do it
To be skilful and serious
And do it again

Without a habitat
For the fact of our hearts
There is
No Blanchett
No Moffitt
No Hannah G
No Bangarra
No Tash Sultana
No Hunters
No Collectors.

I hereby commission a grand report
An honest one
To follow the dollars spent on the arts
Around our community
Like a contact tracer
From the budget to the studio
To the dance school or cutting room floor
Every dollar goes to someone else
Every dollar is watched lest tomorrow brings no more
We account for every penny in the arts like a mum waiting for their child to come home

The great pause sent us into retreat
Which is where art grows
Now our wounded planet heals a little
Thirsting for us to relent
Our social contract is scorched by untruths

But here’s where we find
Common ground
For our bare feet
Ground on which to meet
Roll up sit down
And share
The fact of the heart
In our town
Your village
In a mask
In a bubble
At 1 point 5 metres
To hug the fact of our hearts
The blood of our body
The healing of the world
And now is the time to work
For there is always work to do
On the fact of the heart
In fact
In here
Let’s start!

Mark Swivel

Mark Swivel is a lawyer, writer and performer. He is the MC of Dustyesky, Australia’s leading genuine fake Russian choir, has toured widely as a comedian and wrote Water Falling Down, a play about dementia, love of language and becoming our parent’s parents (QTC 2010).

Mark runs the community law firm Barefoot Law in Byron Bay and is the treasurer of Spaghetti Circus. He often pops up on ABC radio and Phillip Adams once gave Mark a coveted koala stamp on Late Night Live.

The speeches