I'll be dropping copies of this in the mail this afternoon, to both the PM's Canberra and Queensland offices...
The Hon. Kevin Rudd
House of Representatives
Dear Mr. Rudd,
I write concerning the recent proposal from the productivity commission regarding changes to Australian Territorial Copyright laws. As a parent, an educator and a practicing, published, Australian writer, the ramifications of these proposed alterations concern me immensely, and I appeal to you and your government not to accept the commission’s proposals.
Mr Rudd, you were elected to office on the promise of (among other things) an ‘education revolution.’ I among many other Australians voted for your government. On the night of your election, I can still recall clearly the elation that I and my family felt as the numbers came in – the firm belief that ‘things would be different now’. I was similarly delighted a few days later when you named Ms. Gillard as your deputy and minister for education. Along with thousands of other Australians I stood on the lawns of Parliament house on the 13th of February, 2008, listened to and cheered at your apology to the Stolen Generations. As far as I am concerned, these were all positive and effective steps towards propelling this country towards a brighter, inclusive, educated future.
The proposal by the productivity commission, though, is not. It is the result of intensive and expensive lobbying by large corporations, using former Premier Bob Carr as their mouthpiece and spokesperson, and cynically disguised as the ‘coalition for cheaper books.’ It is a recommendation based on the broad principles of free market ideology, but without reference to the specific features of the market in question.
Mr Rudd, the Australian publishing industry is a thriving, competitive, creatively and artistically progressive one. Australian authors, despite what the letters page of The Australian would have us believe, are achieving disproportionate amounts of success on the world stage. In my own field of Children’s and Young Adult writing, Australian writers are highly sought after and regarded by the enormous United States and European publishers. We regularly win major international prizes in acknowledgment of this fact. Last year Melbourne Writer Sonya Hartnett was awarded the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize – the world’s largest and most significant award for Children’s and Young Adult writing. This year Melina Marchetta received the American Library Association’s Michel L. Printz Medal for her novel Jellicoe Road – again, one of the most prestigious prizes in literature.
One of the key reasons that writers such as Hartnett, Marchetta and many others including myself are able to compete and succeed on the international stage, Mr. Rudd, is because we live in a country where there is a vibrant and successful local publishing industry, which is in a position to be able to profitably nurture new writing talent, making a career in writing a viable – if not always lucrative – one.
The proposal to abolish territorial copyright laws will destabilize the foundations upon which this industry rests, if for no other reason than the fact that we will be opening our own market up to a marketplace which, for almost every other country in the world, is closed to us in return. This is not a free trade agreement which is being proposed here, Mr. Rudd – it’s an open invitation to the publishers of countries like the US and England, who themselves maintain stringent territorial copyright laws with regard to their own markets and show no signs of removing them, to have free reign within the Australian economy. It will funnel profits for Australian writing directly overseas, will put Australian writers in the position of having to compete for sales against cheaply produced and imported overseas copies of their own works, and will make it almost impossible for smaller Australian publishing houses to compete against the might of multinational publishers and retailers. It will destabilize the Australian publishing industry, remove the Australian content from many of the Australian books published to our children, and make the prospect of writing Australian fiction, which might not sell overseas, a distinctly unappealing one.
Additionally, despite Mr. Carr’s assurances to the contrary, there is no guarantee that this move will in any way effect the price of books. Dymocks practice of regularly charging above recommended retail price for its products would seem to suggest that they are not nearly so concerned with the bottom line for consumers as their marketing spin would suggest. Should this legislation pass, they will be under no obligation to drop their prices – the Australian market for books will remain unchanged in terms of number of consumers, competition, and price points. All this will do is open the door for Dymocks and their partners to lower their own bottom line at the expense of the writers and publishers who provide their product.
Mr Rudd, I urge you not to accept the productivity commission’s recommendations. Aside from the fact that they have been made against the advice of almost every Australian writer and publisher, the impact that they will have on Australian reading and writing culture will, if nothing else, serve only to undermine and weaken any possible long term effect of your education revolution.