Taiwan has urged the government of Western Australian to abandon the policy that effectively bars performers with links to the country from venues across the state.
WA Minister for Culture and the Arts David Templeman late on Friday announced that the Perth Theatre Trust’s contentious venue-hire policy – which blocked the hire of state-owned theatres to groups with views at odds with those of the government, or which had ties to China’s disputed territories – would be subjected to a review.
The Perth Theatre Trust signed off in March on a policy to refuse venue hire to organisations “identifying with countries whose political status is unclear or in dispute” – a reference that foreign policy experts have said was aimed squarely at Taiwan.
In 2020, the Perth Theatre Trust made a formal apology to the Chinese consulate after an acrobat from the Taiwanese Acrobatic Troupe raised a Taiwan flag during a performance at one of the trust’s venues.
Oliver Weng, the executive director of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Australia, said in a statement to The Australian that Taiwan was WA’s eight-biggest export market and said stronger ties between the two governments should be fostered.
“Taiwan has a multicultural society, vibrant democracy, dynamic economy and friendly people. Taiwanese performing arts groups have regularly visited Perth and other state capitals to promote cultural exchanges and build people-to-people links,” Mr Weng said.
“We believe such cultural and economic co-operation is in our mutual interest and should be valued and encouraged without let or hindrance.”
WA Premier Mark McGowan has been an ardent advocate for repairing the relationship between Australia and China, describing comments from senior federal politicians and officials about potential conflict with the superpower as “off the planet” and “insane”.
China is by far WA’s biggest export market, consuming the bulk of the iron ore production that delivers billions of dollars of royalties into the state’s treasury each year.
Mr Weng said Taiwan was one of the biggest markets for WA’s iron ore, base metal and copper ore exports. Taiwanese companies are also involved in Fortescue’s Iron Bridge project and the Prelude and Ichthys LNG projects.
“Through our joint efforts, Taiwan came eighth-largest export market and tenth-largest trading partner to Western Australia in 2020,” he said.
The planned overhaul of the policy followed revelations that the theatre trust had blocked the Australian Christian Lobby from hiring the Albany Entertainment Centre and the Perth Concert Hall for an event featuring ACL managing director Martyn Iles.
The ACL had warned that the ban appeared to be in breach of the Equal Opportunity Act, and the trust on Friday rescinded the ban and announced the fresh review after seeking legal advice from the State Solicitor’s Office.
Mr Iles told The Australian that the venue-hire policy’s implications for groups with ties to Taiwan and other disputed territories was “crazy” but consistent with what he said were the “authoritarian instincts” of WA’s Labor government.
“It’s not very surprising to me that they even promote the interests of an authoritarian regime over the interests of nations that are striving for freedom,” Mr Iles said.
Mr Templeman said when announcing the about-face on the ACL that the updated policy would reflect “the values and guiding principles” of the Perth Theatre Trust.
Asked if the reassessment would extend to the ban on groups with links to disputed territories, a spokeswoman for the minister said only that the policy would be “comprehensively” reviewed.
Kevin Carrico, a senior lecturer in Chinese studies at Monash University, said the existing policy’s clause about countries whose status was unclear or in dispute was consistent with Chinese efforts to stifle Taiwan’s international presence.