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SCREAM : February 2002

The Silence of Public Liability

Governments have become adept at attacking and silencing any and all areas of public dissent and demonstrations of alternative views. The more obvious methods, (eg. censorship of artistic expression and dismantling of funding to community infra-structures and the independent ABC) are now being compounded by less obvious, but potentially more potent means: One of these being the impossible to pay rise in Public Liability insurance being demanded of arts and community practitioners who present in public locations. This is happening at a time when giant corporate institutions are being encouraged to take greater control of public artistic presentation. The result will be a filtering out of small and diverse pockets of cultural creation that both lack financial power and any attractive proposition for corporate sponsors.

In order to present a production at The Street Theatre (even with Government funding) SHADOW HOUSE PITS will need to prove it has $20,000,000 worth of public liability insurance. This is for two productions to an audience of no more than 600 people. It seems the ACT Government has decreed that to use its facilities, groups will need to show this amount of insurance.

To even find a company willing to offer this amount is problematic in itself. After approaching five different Brokers, only one has found a company willing to offer our group anything approaching this. Here is a copy of its response:

  "We have received terms for liability cover for $5,000,000 and $10,000,000 for your business. We are waiting on AON to come back and advise if they are able to offer $20,000,000 liability cover. I have detailed below costings for quotes that we have received.

Limit of Indemnity $5,000,000

Premium $2570.75 Including charges

Excess $500.00

Limit of Indemnity $10,000,000

Premium $3507.13 Including charges

Excess $500.00

Quote based on 2 productions and 10 shows maximum for each production."

There is no guarantee of $20,000,000 worth of public liability insurance. The rates quoted are outrageous. In 1998/99, SHADOWHOUSE PITS was paying approximately $500 premium for $5,000,000 worth of public liability. The same amount of insurance would now cost more than five times the premium required only a short while ago. It is a massive increase in two and a half years! In most areas of business and commerce, this would be highly illegal and not acceptable.

The public liability issue alone is now a major issue facing all small presenters of artistic and community expression. The demand for small groups to pay outrageous premiums for excessive sums of insurance is an attack on artists and artistic presenters.

I believe it is part of an observable pattern of attack on freedom of expression. It is part of an ever increasing silencing of community opposition to state control over the dissemination of information and the provision of alternative cultural view points. As such it is every bit as significant as issues of censorship and the withdrawal of Government funding to infra-structures deemed challenging or subversive (ie. Youth and community and charity organizations).

Issues governing Public Liability are huge. To simply pass on the costs in terms of massive premiums to financially strained small groups and artists is a cynical and overly-simplistic solution. It attacks the source of artistic cultural and social challenge while also undermining those community organizations which seek to knit communities together through communal celebration and demonstration.

The temptation and obvious ideological and bureaucratic intention is for small arts and community groups to seek the auspices of larger institutions and corporate sponsors. This would help bundle all such problems into tidy cannisters of administrative control. Problems of censorship would be largely over-come by groups self-censoring in order to meet the desired outcomes of such institutions and sponsors. The only problem would be the independence of the art as the artists take on the mind-set of those calling the tune and paying the piper. And this is happening all around us. The Public Liability issue is simply one of the final straws.

On a seemingly unrelated issue, we read about the Federal Government introducing laws that will silence whistle blowers through jailing them. It doesn't take too much imagination to see links and ingenious methods for silencing alternative thought and public opposition to the whims and interests of those in positions of power and social control.

Joe Woodward