The WA Opera announced yesterday that it had decided not to run the opera Carmen, which is set in a tobacco factory, because of its sponsorship deal with the publicly funded health promotion body Healthway.
Mr Barnett said he was not certain how the decision to cancel the opera was made, but vowed to keep a closer eye on Healthway’s actions.
“If sponsorship arrangements with Healthway led to the cancellation of the opera, that is a mistake - a serious mistake that smacks of, basically, arts censorship,” he said.
“Carmen is probably one of the most popular operas in the world and I think it makes us look foolish and, as the premier of Western Australia, I am embarrassed about it.
“I will take a more direct interest in Healthway from now on,” Mr Barnett said.
A sponsorship deal between Healthway and the WA Cricket Association has also led to the eradication of alcohol and tobacco promotion at the grounds and by teams.
Mr Barnett said Healthway, as a government-funded agency, was doing good work but that should not extend to influencing art productions.
“I think they do good work and I think they can rightly claim a lot of success in health promotion - that is their role, but arts censorship, particularly of something like Carmen, is not their role,’’ he said.
“We will be looking at Healthway and ensure that they concentrate on what their prime role is, and that’s promoting public health.”
Mr Barnett said the incident indicated that the state government needed to keep a closer eye on all its government funded agencies.
“The trend in past years has been to set up all these independent entities funded by government [and] managed by boards, and they tend to wander off in all directions from time to time,” he said.
“You are seeing that across a range of areas where bringing funded bodies under direct control of the minister responsible [would be a benefit], because at the end of the day it is the minister who is responsible.
“They have the independence and everyone thinks it’s a good idea to bring in the experts, but when a poor decision or misjudgement is made, drawing public attention, it should quite rightly go to the minister.”
The WA Opera has said its decision to cancel Carmen was not out of direct pressure from Healthway, but rather an act of respect of one of its major sponsors.
It has also said that it would include Carmen in future programs when the two-year sponsorship deal with Healthway had concluded.