It is difficult to write a measured response to something as outrageous, thoughtless and closed minded as Campbell Newman’s recent decision to scrap the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. Hard, though many have tried. Some responses worth a read (although a quick google search will turn up many others) are the media release and plea from the ASA to reinstate these vital literary awards in QLD and to hold onto them in other states, and Chad Parkhill’s musings on the Meanjin blog as to the political motivations behind the decision.

Frightening (as Parkhill mentions) that the NSW awards may also be under threat as they are currently ‘under review’ and ‘in limbo’. Will Melbourne be next? Do we really have faith that the premier of Australia’s ‘literary capital’ will respect awards which support, nurture and develop said literary community when he is busy campaigning for the Grand Prix?

What is especially frightening about this decision is the way the QLD premier has justified his decision – by saying that it is saving taxpayers by not using their dollars to fund $25,000 prizes to writers. For people not involved in the literary community, this turn of phrase could be just enough to make them think that the action is justified. But it would be worth considering the following points when wondering at the value of awards and government funded artist initiatives for each state.

1. This figure, taken out of context seems like a lot. It isn’t. Not to the government – who spend significantly more than this in many other areas, and not to authors – who are living in an increasingly unsustainable society. This cash prize (given to an emerging author as well as an established one) can be the difference between being able to continue writing or having to abandon the career altogether.

2. It isn’t just about the recipient of the prize money. The language used to justify this decision fuels the notion that authors and creatives are lazy layabouts who need to go out and get a job (see point 3). It pays no regard to the art itself – which plays a vital role not only in shaping and opening dialogues about national identity and individual awareness, but encourages literacy at all levels.

3. The creation of work takes time. I wonder why I have to pay someone $100 an hour (minimum) to tell me that my washing machine is beyond repair. But I pay it because I don’t know how to fix it myself. I can’t paint, but I enjoy looking at artwork because it inspires me and makes me question my own identity and significance. What I can do is write. And I know that it takes time. Unfortunately, more and more authors have to work full time jobs to support their ‘hobby’ of writing and publishing successful books. The debate waged over how much authors deserve to be paid is a shocking one, as is the notion that authors are constantly required to give up their time for free. Do we value our creatives so little that we are happy to do away with them? Will that be something that we can proudly present to the rest of the world when describing what it is to be Australian?

We should be ashamed.

Michael Gerard Bauer – YA author, recipient of the 2011 QLD premiers award and shortlisted author in the 2012 CBCA book of the Year shortlist says this.

I find this decision both shocking and incomprehensible. The money ‘saved’ is a pittance and yet the damage done is enormous. It sends the very clear message that writers, books and reading are not important or valued. And look at what we’ve lost. Premier’s Awards not only give a financial boost to writers, they also help writers get much needed recognition, in particular, new and emerging ones. On top of that they highlight, celebrate and promote books and reading as a vital part of our culture and who we are. As a Children’s and Young Adult author and ex-teacher I find this decision particularly distressing. Children need good role models to encourage them to read. You would hope our State Government would be one of those. To scrap the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards would be a shocking decision at any time. To do it in The National Year of Reading is a disgrace.

It is also interesting to note that Bauer was listed as one of Queensland’s most influential people in 2011 – the value of writing and writers is a noted and important one. So why is that value tossed aside by our political figureheads?

With the National Year of Reading hard at work trying to develop a reading culture in a society that is consistently bombarded with other activities, an initiative that is supported by sports people, media personalities and authors alike is is clear that the importance of reading is recognised by people in many fields at many career stages. It is unfortunate that this is not reflected in the political decisions of a single man.

You can protest the decision here.

2 thoughts on “Scraps

  1. You’re absolutely right – this is a disgrace. $25K is nothing to government, but a great deal to a struggling writer. To be honest, I’m not entirely surprised that this is in Queensland (there is, lets be honest, a bit of pride in being a philistine there! ;)), but very worrying that the trend may continue.

    • The overall prize is worth more as it’s awarded to several authors, but is still a splash in the pond of government spending.
      There are lovely quotes on twitter – one by Tara June Winch who credits her career to the prize.
      It’s great to see the writing community already relaunching their own prize independent of the Newman government, however that’s no excuse for the lack of support towards the arts by the government. A lovely quote found by another blogger cited Napoleon when he justified not paying for the war effort by cutting funding for the arts by saying ‘what then are we fighting for?’.
      The shame for QLD is that the many talented creatives living there get caught up in the backlash of a political move like this. Fingers crossed that this doesn’t set a precedent for the other states.

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