Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Health of Australian Literature

Since July of last year, I’ve closely followed heated discussion surrounding the Productivity Commission’s investigation into the estimated costs and benefits of lifting parallel import restrictions (PIRs). This highly contentious territorial provision currently provides “publishers and/or authors, who hold the Australian rights to a title, protection from competition from foreign editions of that title”.

Discussion draft submissions from Peter Carey, Nick Earls, and Tim Winton have been published recently by the Commission, and all of them suggest that the quantity and quality of Australian literature will deteriorate markedly if these import restrictions are lifted. This foreseeable deterioration is directly linked to the financial health of the Australian publishing industry, which may come under threat if faced with a flood of competitively priced imports. Our publishing houses are viewed by many stakeholders as an essential “part of a delicate ecosystem, where the seeds of our culture need protection”. Carey, twice Booker Prize winner, is just one of many authors who have benefited from this kind of protection. He remembers the "Australian publishers who accepted [his] work when it was rejected in London and New York. One just has to browse through the submissions from UQP and The Queensland Writers Centre to understand the vital role Australian publishers have played in the exposure and support of new Australian authors who have gone on to achieve national literary iconic status.

After hours of wading through these submissions from Australian publishers, booksellers, and authors, I can detect a thread of frustration in trying to accurately assess the cultural value of a healthy local publishing industry. As an undergraduate English student who has had the privilege of exploring our nation’s literary classics, I know it’s near to impossible to quantify the cultural benefits associated with reading works by the likes of Patrick White and George Johnston. These books are invaluable tools of reflection, which foster deep and imaginative analysis of historical events that have shaped the lives of Australians. They allow space for reflection on ourselves, as Australians with our own idioms and values, and I see this as the unique purview of our national literature. This is why all efforts should be made toward its growth and preservation for the sake of generations to come.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw this article in The Age