Australian PM slams WAO's decision to cancel Carmen over fears it promotes smoking

13 October 2014, 10:22 | Updated: 13 October 2014, 21:52

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said West Australia Opera's decision to cancel a planned production of Bizet's Carmen was 'political correctness gone crazy.

Carmen is famously set around a cigarette factory, and features smoking. Healthway, the state government's health promotion agency, which is a WAO partner, does not allow even electronic cigarettes to be smoked at any event which it sponsors - and WAO fears staging Carmen would jeopardise a $400,000 partnership with the agency.

Carolyn Chard, WAO general manager said: “We care about the health and wellbeing of our staff, stage performers and all the opera lovers throughout WA, which means promoting health messages and not portraying any activities that could be seen to promote unhealthy behaviour.”

Healthway chairwoman Dr Rosanna Capolingua said: "The portrayal of smoking on stage, in film and on TV normalises smoking and presents it as being attractive, which could dissuade smokers from quitting and encourage young people to take it up... In addition, new trends such as smoking electronic cigarettes may re-establish smoking behaviour in our community where the majority of people are non-smokers".

Dr Capolingua added that Healthway had not pressurised the WAO to cancel Carmen, saying: "It was their choice and I think it's great that they have chosen not to run Carmen and tell everyone about it." Dr Capolingua said that while Healthway does not censor art, "As far as Healthway is concerned, it is taxpayers' dollars and we have to use it to protect and promote the health of Western Australians."

Public reaction has been mixed: one listener of 720 ABC Perth radio said: "It is a deeply concerning day for our arts community when sponsors can dictate performance policy in such a way. This decision sets a very unfortunate and dangerous precedent." Another listener said: "Would the state government cut funding to a performance of Hamlet because it shows a mentally ill person in an unfavourable light? Or cut funding to Macbeth because of the homicides?"

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Radio 3AW that the decision to cancel the production was "political correctness gone crazy", adding: "Of course it is [going too far]... Operas are all about tragic situations; someone unfairly losing his or her life... Opera is, if you like, inevitably, an exaggeration, and if we running around looking to take offence or looking to spread some politically correct message, just about every opera would be forbidden."