Payne said the grants were part of a competitive process. “Applications must be made for these grants, and they will always be assessed in the light of experience,” she said.
The Senate assesses questions followed by reports by The Sydney Morning Herald and Age wednesday and Cantonese SBS. Emails show that a festival organizer told the Hong Kong Cultural Association of South Australia that he cannot use umbrellas in his performance.
“As for the yellow umbrellas, we found this online,” a festival official said in an email linked to the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy 2014 Wikipedia Page movement. “Unfortunately, we cannot endorse the use of yellow umbrellas as props or decor.”
The umbrella movement marked the start of pro-democracy protests that have inspired millions of Hong Kong people to take to the streets by 2019 to protest Beijing’s growing influence. The protests were wiped out in 2020 by Beijing-imposed national security laws, which sent more than 100 activists to jail, forced media companies to shut down and fire unions and civil society groups.
The five-person team had planned an interactive workshop that would take viewers through Hong Kong’s culinary and cultural scene, and then through a century of transformation from a fishing village into an international financial center.
The Hong Kong group reluctantly agreed to remove the umbrellas, but were then told that the festival could not provide them with audio equipment. The artists insisted that they bring their own. A month later, they were told that all workshops in the Lucky Dumpling Market section of the festival had been canceled due to the additional staff required to maintain COVID restrictions.
They were not given a chance to reschedule, but when the final festival performance schedule arrived, they found five groups from mainland China had been stuck in time slots.
A spokesperson for the OzAsia festival said on Wednesday that the performances of Moon Lantern Trail and Lucky Dumpling Market are being promoted as inclusive community and family events.
“As such, activities with political or religious content are not scheduled,” she said.
The organizer of the Hong Kong booth, Janet Leung, said an organizer told her that if “the Chinese group or others are not happy with your yellow umbrella display, we will be in trouble.”
Paterson said that if there is political pressure on the organizers of the OzAsia festival not to host the group from Hong Kong by the festival’s other sponsors – including the Hong Kong government or the Confucius Institute affiliated with the Chinese government – then this could be an attempt to manipulate Australia’s domestic politics.
“If this could be demonstrated, it would not only be a problem of restricting Australians’ right to free speech, but also potentially a problem of foreign interference,” he said. .
Elly Lawson, the first deputy secretary of the East Asia division of the Foreign Ministry, told the Senate that the ministry would look into the allegations.
“Such questions will have to be answered by the festival organizers themselves,” she said. “But we intend to pursue the matter further because we would take it very seriously.”
The OzAsia Festival has been contacted for a response to the Senate estimate hearing.
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