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Kim Williams’ new book, Rules of Engagement, focuses on what is important to him - “enthusiasms, passions, ideas, and the energy of thinking” - rather than any recent controversy.

Williams has had an illustrious career as a media executive, heading high profile media organisations such as News Corp, Foxtel and the Australian Film Commission, as well as music-oriented organisations including Musica Viva Australia and the Sydney Opera House trust. He also studied the clarinet at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. “I had a very long and lovely relationship with the clarinet,” he said, smiling.

It is no surprise, then, that in his Sydney Writers’ Festival address he revealed that music is the central force in his life.

“Music is with you always,” Williams said. “I have music playing in the back of my mind all the time.” He was quick to clarify. “I never, ever listen to music playing while I work. I don’t understand playing music when you’re not really listening to it.”

He also believes that music helps with conflict resolutions. “Bach uses a series of discords that resolve themselves. Understanding the discipline of music is understanding the notion of tension and release.”

Williams’ passion for music underpins his disbelief that the Coalition federal government has no arts policy, and that creating one is not a priority. He believes that music is one of the things you acquire to lead a productive life. He said that, in particular, the lack of compulsory music education for children is concerning. “Children are among the most abused in society because they don’t have a say. Music should be compulsory for children; it’s fundamental.”

The reason for this, he insisted, is the growing inability to listen in order to make change.

Williams stressed the importance of listening in a world that is often too cacophonous. “There is a severe onslaught against listening,” said Williams. He traced this in part to the effect of the rise of social media and narcissism. According to Williams, listening is the key to rescue our future.

Drawing on history for a particular example, Williams praised Captain Cook’s leadership qualities. “[He showed these abilities in] endeavouring to engage and the way he documented. He is a role model for leadership, and made sure everybody came along. A splendid human being.”

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