PETER Garrett has asked the arts community to draft a set of protocols for artists who depict children, amid concerns that Kevin Rudd would have taken a much harder line.
The move follows some deft behind-the-scenes negotiating in recent weeks on behalf of the Arts Minister to defuse in cabinet the volatile issue of naked children represented in art.
Mr Garrett on Friday wrote to the Australia Council and Screen Australia - the Government's peak funding bodies for the arts, film and television - asking them "to develop a setof protocols to address the depiction of children in works, exhibitions and publications that are recipients of government funding".
As the former lead singer of Midnight Oil and more recently as Opposition arts spokesman, Mr Garrett was a prominent supporter of artists' rights to express themselves.
His low profile during the recent furore over Bill Henson's photographs of a naked 13-year-old girl in May, then Art Monthly Australia's decision to use an image of a naked five-year-old girl on its cover earlier this month, incurred the wrath of many observers who felt he should speak publicly on the issue.
Mr Garrett's handling of the controversies was in sharp contrast to the Prime Minister's public responses, which included calling the Henson works "revolting".
It is understood that Mr Garrett was deeply anxious about the issue's potential long-term effect on artists, as well as the spectre of censorship.
Australia Council chief executive Kathy Keele yesterday confirmed the letter had been sent to council chairman James Strong requesting a set of protocols by January 1.
Ms Keele said the council would hold discussions with a wide range of interest groups including artists, lawyers and children's rights ####.
"I fear a lot of people might be thinking censorship, but I don't think that has to be the outcome," she said yesterday.
"I'm optimistic the consultations will be enlightening."
Ms Keele said the challenge was to maintain the funding of excellent art projects "while at the same time reflecting community concerns for the protecting of children in the showing of these images".
National Centre for Australian Studies deputy director David Dunstan said the Government's decision to hand the matter over to its funding body experts was logical.
"Otherwise it just becomes something that can be manipulated by politicians and political groups for their own advantage," he said.
"These issues can take the form of moral panics, and they don't necessarily result in good debate, good legislation and good public practice. And there is panic currently over the sexualisation of children.
"It would seem, given the sensitivities, this is a logical way to go. It's very important it be kept out of populist politics."