A $19,000 ACT government grant for a theatre production called Kill Climate Deniers is outrageous and must be reconsidered, the Canberra Liberals say.
The ACT Opposition and right-wing commentator Andrew Bolt lined up to condemn the grant, part of the latest round of ArtsACT funding, calling it an "outrage" and demanding the government reconsider its funding.
But ArtsACT director David Whitney said the authors had explicitly stated in their application they did not advocate or believe in violence of any kind, including for political reasons.
According to the description on the play's website, it is about a group of heavily armed eco-activists who break into a major Australian institution and hold the occupants hostage.
It says in the play their demands are an immediate cessation of all carbon emissions and the immediate transformation of the Australian economy away from any reliance on fossil fuels.
"In short, what would it take to actually stop climate change, dead in its tracks? The answer is: guns. And lots of them," the website reads.
It comes after Arts Minister Joy Burch came under fire for allowing the Fringe Festival to include a performer in a Nazi-style uniform and wearing a Hitler moustache who stripped down to her underwear. ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson called on Ms Burch to resign as minister after the incident.
Bolt said he didn't see how the ACT government could justify spending taxpayers' money on the latest production.
"The left is the natural home of the modern totalitarian - and of all those who feel entitled by their superior morality to act as savages," he wrote.
Mr Whitney said that while the play had a provocative title, it was no more controversial than staging a Shakespeare production about overthrowing the government.
"Are we funding an organisation to overthrow the government? I don't think we are. We funding an organisation to write a play," he said.
"The joy of theatre and any literature or any art is that it can be used as the process for testing ideas and activating another view of discussing a particular matter."
Mr Whitney said the application had been reviewed through a peer panel of about six people, who judged it predominantly on the quality of the artists applying.
Aspen Island Theatre Company will receive $18,793 to help with costs of the creative development of the new theatre work.
Opposition arts spokesman Brendan Smyth said the government had shown bad judgment in spending taxpayers' money on the production, which he said was inappropriate.
He said it was not about censoring the arts, it was about the message the government sent with taxpayers' money.
"I don't care if it's supposed to be ironic, the title stands on its own. It would not be acceptable if any other group were inserted, and now is not the time to be even joking about this," he said.
He said Ms Burch should review her decision and explain why she had allowed it to happen.
Minister Burch said Mr Smyth's reaction was an indictment of his understanding of and commitment to his portfolio, saying he was either unaware of the Aspen Island Theatre Company's artistic credentials or he chose to ignore them.
She said the Liberals were trashing artists' reputations for cheap political point scoring.
"The Canberra Liberals seem to think that ministers should be in the business of censoring artists based on knee-jerk reactions rather than taking measured advice from highly regarded members of Canberra's arts community," she said.
The Aspen Island Theatre Company has been approached for comment.