The letter also said the project “exposes the Australia Council to unacceptable, potentially long-term and incalculable risk”.
The U-turn was called “a disturbing precedent” by the head of arts organisation Vitalstatistix, which supported the project.
The council said negative media coverage “was not a factor” in its decision. In her August 18 segment, Ms Credlin called the project the “tip of the iceberg” of “sheer abuse of taxpayer grants”, and interviewed Dr Bella D’Abrera, director at the Institute of Public Affairs, who said “Australians really need to question where their money is going”, pointing out “we’ve supposedly got a conservative government in Canberra”.
Jenkins said during subsequent discussions about the funding, a senior Australia Council staff member warned “we have a very conservative Prime Minister”. A council spokeswoman said they “have no record of any such comment”.
The spokeswoman confirmed there had been “emails and calls” with the office of federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher about the project, because they were required to keep the minister informed of anything that may attract media attention, but said the minister “has not pressured or directed” the council. A spokesman for Mr Fletcher said “at no point have the minister or his staff directed, or requested any action from the council on this or any other grant”.
“It’s been a saga,” the artist said. “It’s just weird, and it doesn’t make sense.”
Jenkins said the council was “projecting into this dystopian future where there is a child who’s going to have the power to sue their parents because they don’t like how they were conceived”.
“It’s bizarre on so many levels. I’m in a mind-boggling, weird zone.”
Jenkins said they feared the stress would make it harder to conceive a child.
In response to questions from this masthead, the council said its decision was “based on potential legal risk, rather than ethical considerations”.
Jenkins said they had a phone call with Mr Collette that gave the opposite impression: “I remember saying to him I thought AusCo was treating me unethically, but he cut me off and said the decision was made because they had considered the ethical implications”.
Jenkins is continuing with the project with support from South Australian arts organisation Vitalstatistix. Director Emma Webb said she admired Jenkins’ work and thought the process of documenting attempts to become pregnant, as a solo queer person at home alone in lockdown, was “really interesting”.
Ms Webb said her company had checked with an arts lawyer to see if there were legal issues around presenting the work and were “extremely comfortable with our support for the project”.
“This idea that [Jenkins] was being funded to create a child is a complete misrepresentation of what the project actually is. Like their other work it documents real life and lived experience” she said.
“We selected this project for support for its artistic merit; and we are not in the business of censoring the artists we work with. We support Casey from both a position of supporting artistic expression and also from a pro-choice and pro-human rights position.
“I have been extremely troubled by the actions of the Australia Council in relation to this project … They publicly expressed their funding support for the work. Why they have now decided to reverse this support is concerning and confusing. I feel this situation creates a disturbing precedent.”
The Australia Council said it had “reviewed and adjusted” its processes for approving grants. In relation to sending Jenkins the Sky News transcript, the council said “staff do at times alert artists to negative media coverage … in order that the artist may take the necessary precautions” against “trolling”.
It said the council had sought legal advice about the project “when details of this project were escalated to the executive”.
Asked to specify the legal risk it had identified, the council replied: “legal advice provided to the Australia Council identified the possibility that a legal claim could be brought in the future, and the council determined this was not an acceptable risk for a corporate Commonwealth entity”.
It declined to share that legal advice. Asked on what grounds a legal action could be brought, and by whom, it replied “any number of parties involved in or associated with the project may initiate a legal claim in the future. Whether any future claim has any merit or is successful or not, the Australia Council is asserting its right not to be implicated or joined to any such claim”.
The council confirmed Jenkins had not been in breach of their funding contract.
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Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.