A West Australian government policy of refusing to lease its entertainment venues to groups with alternative views to the government has scuppered plans for a series of appearances in the state by the head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). The Perth Theatre Trust invoked the venue hire policy last month when it rejected the ACL’s request to book the Albany Entertainment Centre and the Perth Concert Hall for events featuring the group’s head, Martyn Iles, declaring the ACL had “politically motivated objectives’’. The venue hire policy was finalised just days after the state government’s emphatic March election win, and amended following its decision to ban the ACL from its venues across the state.

It states the trust will not accept individuals or organisations “where the content of the event does not represent the views of the West Australian government or the vast majority of Western Australians”. The ACL has found itself at odds with the McGowan government on issues including the Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation that came into effect at the start of July. The ACL is now considering whether to take legal action against the trust, with the policy potentially in breach of section 62 of the Equal Opportunity Act. That act makes it unlawful for a person to not make facilities available to another person on the grounds of their religious or political convictions. Peter Abetz, the WA state director of the ACL, said the policy appeared to be a serious example of government censorship.

Abetz went on “I’d be very keen to see it progressed and the policy changed, or if they don’t do it voluntarily, then perhaps we need to go to some kind of discrimination tribunal.” While the updated policy expressly rules out leasing venues to “political parties for the purposes of electioneering and fundraising”, venues managed by the Perth Theatre Trust and fellow government body VenuesWest were hired out to WA Labor Party candidates and the party in the lead-up to the March election. Retiring Labor MP Peter Watson held both a Christmas concert for constituents late last year and his farewell in January at the Albany Entertainment Centre, while his successor in Albany, Rebecca Stephens, held an event at the venue just before the election. The Labor Party’s campaign launch was also held at the state-owned Perth Arena.

An updated version of the Perth Theatre Trust’s venue hire policy came into effect on 15 March, two days after the McGowan government recorded its overwhelming election win. The Perth Theatre Trust is responsible for a host of venues, including His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth Concert Hall, Subiaco Arts Centre and the State Theatre Centre of WA. The bulk of its funding comes from the state government, which contributed $14.76m in the 2020 financial year, almost double the $7.45m in revenue it generated over the same timeframe. The decision to block the ACL event drew a furious response from Albany mayor Dennis Wellington, who described the policy as draconian, discriminatory and financially irresponsible.

The city of Albany contributes $400,000 a year to maintaining the entertainment centre. Mr Wellington said he would raise the issue at the next meeting of the council. “The ACL are not illegal, they have a right to their opinion, and I cannot see a reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to use the damn thing.’’ WA Culture and Arts Minister David Templeman referred queries about the policy to the Perth Theatre Trust (PTT). A spokeswoman for Perth Theatre Trust said it hired out venues in accordance with its venue hire policy. “PTT is currently considering the specific matters raised by the Australian Christian Lobby,” she said. In subsequent news, the Western Australian Government has backed down. Their policy to cancel those who disagree has been rescinded in its entirety pending a full review.

Source: Australian Christian Lobby

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