An open letter from writers and readers regarding the Book Council of Australia

Dear Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,


Senator George Brandis, Minister for the Arts;
Ms Louise Adler, Chair of the Book Council of Australia;
Mr Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition;
Mr Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Shadow Minister for the Arts;
Senator Richard di Natale, Leader of the Australian greens;
Mr Adam Bandt, Member for the Australian Greens;
Mr Rupert Myer AO, Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts;
Mr Tony Grybowski, CEO of Australia Council for the Arts;
Ms Jill Eddington, Director Literature, Australia Council for the Arts

Re: Open Letter from writers and readers regarding the Book Council of Australia formation, strategic operations and investment, and future governance

We write this dragon resume review as a collective of Australia’s writers and readers, speaking together as one. This letter concerns the Book Council of Australia and its recent formation and management under both the current Minister for the Arts and the historic strategy groups who advocated for its formation.

As key stakeholders in the creative industries that the Book Council of Australia seeks to promote, we are disappointed by the lack of adequate consultation with those Australian writers, producers, editors and publishers best positioned to understand the challenges and hurdles currently facing Australian literary institutions and cultures.

The Book Council of Australia is currently funded at $6 million dollars to be distributed over three years. This funding was taken from the operating budget of the Australia Council for the Arts. We see this, collectively, as funding earmarked for individual artists (writers) and groups.

We recognise that funding is not guaranteed to go to any one of us individually, and that no funding model for the arts is capable of serving the diverse needs of all practitioners in the community. Nevertheless, we believe – as we hope that the Minister for the Arts and the Book Council of Australia also believe – that limited amounts of public taxpayer money must be set aside for writers to produce new work and create new projects, and that these serve the interest of Australia’s national culture, at home and abroad. This has been the belief of Australian governments, publishers and writers since the formation of the Australia Council over forty years ago.

The Book Council of Australia, as an industry group, sits within the Ministry for the Arts. Although we place no blame on any particular individual and do recognise the inevitable complexities of policy development in arts and cultural management, it has become consistently evident to stakeholders across Australia’s literary institutions that both the Minister and the members of the Council have been ineffective in communicating the purpose and values of the Book Council of the Arts. The Book Council was announced by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in December 2014 and no word of the formal structure of the Book Council was announced until last week. Ten months passed before a term of reference (totalling 400 words) and a list of invitees were announced. We do not believe that this gross procedural delay in the supply of information meets the minimal standards for a funding body interested in supporting cutting edge arts production, or in cultivating competitive Australian arts industries in a global context.

Lack of strong leadership or community consultation from the Book Council also risks damaging our emergent international market. Given the incredible international sales of works like Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, it is disappointing to discover that current literary funding models are unable to adequately support the professional trajectories for upcoming authors who have the potential to follow in Tsiolkas’ and Kent’s footsteps.

The Ministry and the Council have also been slow in transferring and administering funds, and have already done detrimental work to our literary output for the foreseeable future. The triennial period 2016-2018 will look radically different for readers because writers, editors, publishers and producers have not had access to these funds. The situation is not, of course, beyond repair. A clear, focused, and consultation-based arts policy in relation to literary production could still do significant work in rebuilding our relationship with the Federal Government and its policymakers in the arts. However, some immediate and decisive changes would be beneficial to all concerned.

Firstly, we call on you, Prime Minister, to take the opportunity of this weekend’s cabinet reshuffle to undo some of the damage caused by the Senator’s George Brandis’ non-evidence based changes to arts funding and to find a suitable candidate within your party. As currently demonstrated in the ongoing Arts Inquiry hearings around the country, he has alienated the vast majority of constituents within the arts landscape through reforms that are not tangibly grounded in any concrete evidence about which funding models work, how arts funding is linked to future outcomes for practitioners, or how audiences for the arts in Australia are formed. We will not stand by as the Minister for the Arts continues to wreck a fragile yet essential part of the Australian people and sense of nationhood.

We write as a disappointed literary community, yet we remain hopeful. The Book Council of Australia has good reasons to exist, and we believe that – with appropriate leadership and transparent funding processes – it could lead to positive and high profile transformations for the arts in Australia. As Louise Adler, the Council’s inaugural Chair, wisely noted, literature has been the ‘poor cousin’ to other art forms in Australia, ‘receiving only $9 million of the Australia Council’s total of $199 million in grants.’

This figure should not be surprising to the Minister for the Arts, given recent findings from the Australia Council (‘Arts Nation: Overview of Australian Arts’) that reading is the most popular way the arts is consumed in this country. In 2013, 87% of Australians read some form of literature, with over half of those respondents reading weekly. That’s over twenty million Australian citizens who have a stake in literature and its future in this country.

We will no longer stand, under any government, further cuts being made to what is already the smallest amount of funding, when we are delivering quality work to the largest audience in the nation.

We call again for George Brandis to be moved out of the Arts portfolio, but we must also question the intentions and conflict of interest of inaugural Chair Louise Adler, and communicate that we do not support her in this role.

Louise Adler’s conflict of interest as Publisher of Melbourne University Press does not serve the wider industry. Ms. Adler also currently serves as President of the Australian Publishers Association and as Chair of the Victorian State Government’s Creative Industries Taskforce and Expert Reference Group, causing one to question how much time she has to dedicate to each role independently of one another.

The lack of consultation with the wider industry to date by the Book Council of Australia involved in the formation of the Council has also damaged confidence amongst writers and readers. This has undermined the position of the Book Council of Australia with writers and readers alike – the creators (writers) and consumers (readers) of the products (books) it purports to be the strategic voice for.

We wish to express that we do not want to see the Book Council of Australia abolished. Instead, we recommend you and the chosen Minister for the Arts move the Book Council of Australia back to the Australia Council for the Arts, where it can be more effectively managed through the Australia Council’s peer assessment practices and accountable governance.

The Australia Council has a tested organisational structure that has produced strong results in the past, and is able to communicate its policies and guidelines in an effective manner to practitioners. This would also allow the Book Council of Australia to be informed by strategy and consultation with the literary industry and community. This also would ensure that administration costs are not unnecessarily duplicated, creating greater efficiencies in the arts funding process as a whole.

There is precedent for this. In 2012, the sitting government announced that the administration of the Australian Government Visual Arts and Craft Strategy (VACS) funding ($22.3 over four years from 2011-12 to 2014-15) would be transferred to the Australia Council. We believe that VACS is roughly equivalent to the Book Council of Australia.

In the words of the media announcement, regarding the transfer from the Ministry for the Arts to the Australia Council, this was part of a broader transfer of functions to the Australia Council that ensured:

  • Increased opportunities to consolidate Australian Government arts funding;
  • Improve service to the sector;
  • Achieve greater administrative efficiency;
  • Broaden the Australia Council’s engagement across the sector to help deliver the goals of the National Cultural Policy.

This was, of course, outstanding strategy, but also sound economic management. This transfer has clearly served the Visual Arts sector well. Literature requests the same consideration.

There is an opportunity, within your first weeks of your Prime Ministership, to achieve the same. We ask plainly then that you transfer the Book Council of Australia to the Australia Council for the Arts.

In doing so we hope that you review the Minister for the Arts and the current membership of the Book Council of Australia, as all these parties have all been complicit in one of the most ineffective strategic investments in the history of Australian literature.

We would be happy to meet you at a public forum at a date suitable to parties, in order to discuss and debate these matters. We thank you for your consideration on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

We sign with the shared designation, ‘writers and readers’ and we sign in no particular order:

Melissa Lucashenko
J.M. Coetzee
Christos Tsiolkas
Nick Cave
Richard Watts
Kerryn Goldsworthy
Judith Beveridge
Geordie Williamson
Hannah Kent
Jaya Savige
Emily Bitto
Robert Adamson
Emmett Stinson
Marieke Hardy
Penelope Benton
Peter Robb
Antonia Hayes
Marion Halligan AM
Sophie Cunningham
Ron Pretty AM
Sam Twyford-Moore
Gillian Terzis
Michelle De Kretser
Brian Castro
Gideon Haigh
Lian Low
Benjamin Law
Peter Goldsworthy AM
Lynda Hawryluk
Tara Moss
Kelly Lee
Sarah Holland-Batt
Fiona Wright
Izzy Roberts-Orr
Jessica Friedmann
Stephanie Van Schilt
Lefa Singleton Norton
Karen Andrews
Luke Ryan
Craig Hildebrand-Burke
James Tierney
James Robert Douglas
Kate Richards
Wayne Macauley
Juno Gemes
Maria Tumarkin
Alison Croggon
Carmel Bird
Clare Wright
Elizabeth Webby AM
Kate Callingham
Anna Dunnill
Pip Smith
Ellena Savage
Berndt Sellheim
Jessie Cole
Madelaine Josephine Lucas
Benjamin Solah
Amy Gray
Joshua Barnes
Tom Doig
Johanna Featherstone
Katerina Cosgrove
Shane Jesse Christmass
Toby Fitch
Sophie Allan
Aden Rolfe
Kavita Bedford
Leigh Rigozzi
Omar Sakr
Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
Ramon Glazov
Fiona Hile
Justin Wolfers
Jack Vening
Brigid Mullane
Sam Cooney
Eloise Ross
Josh Santospirito
Amelia Lush
Dan Christie
Samantha Van Zweden
Matthew Lamb
Stefan Laszczuk
Amy Middleton
Cathy Tran
Eric Gardiner
Chelsea Avard
Ben Walter
Dominique Wilson
Beth Driscoll
Astrid Lorange
Andrew Brooks
Chris Somerville
Julia Tulloh Harper
Veronica Sullivan
Sophie Langley
Anna Spargo-Ryan
Keri Glastonbury
Bronte Coates
Pat Grant
Francesca Rendle-Short
Jason Childs
Else Fitzgerald
Claire Albrecht
Steph Harmon
Laura Stortenbeker
Christopher Currie
Connor Tomas O’Brien
Geoff Orton
Sam George-Allen
Alan Carter
Dom Amerena
Samantha Forge
Harry Lloyd
Thomas Banks
Rebecca Giggs
Alan Vaarwerk
Michael Sala
Emily Laidlaw
Lily Mae Martin
Summa Durie
Stuart Richards
Amanda Bridgeman
Lou Heinrich
Luke Preston
Dave Sinclair
Danielle Binks
Clare Atkins
Rebecca Lim
Kate O’Donnell
Bec Kavanagh
Christine Keighery
Robyne Young
Nikki Lusk
Melaine Ostell
Kate Holden
Paddy O’Reilly
Owen Richardson
Jane Novak
Léa Antigny
Rod Morrison
James Ley
Alan Wearne
Susan Whelan
Kate Forsyth
Beth Yahp
Shalini Kunahlan
Melanie Joosten
Michelle Morgan
Jacinda Woodhead
Stephanie Convery
Fiona Drury
Kate Larsen
Anne Beilby
Nathan M. Farrugia
Shannon Burns
Sean Williams
Gerard Elson
Louise Swinn
Romy Durrant
Rebecca Starford
Claire Thomas
Phillip Edmonds
Khalid Warsame
Emily Stewart
Paul Mitchell
Thuy On
Nathan Curnow
Judith Crispin
Julian Novitz
Ed Wright
Laurie Steed
Bronwyn Mehan
Hannah Donnely
Martin Edmond
Ronnie Scott
SJ Finn
Adam Rivett
Melinda Harvey
Deborah Crabtree
Oliver Driscoll
Clare Moore
Bleddyn Butcher
Katie Williams
Mia Francesca
Kate Middleton
Bram Presser
Alex Bennetts
Fiona Dunne
Zoe Dattner
Sally Williams
Pip Harry
Vikki Wakefield
Sue Osbourne
Sarah Myles
Hoa Pham
David Musgrave
Myke Bartlett
Kirsten Tranter
Simmone Howell
John Newman
Steven Amsterdam
Jim Anderson
Lisa Sharkey
Stephen Edgar
Alan Weedon
Mitch Parker
Alexis Drevikovsky
Deanne Sheldon-Collins
Vikki Woods
Beth Caird
Daniel Golding
Jennifer Mills
Jack Colwell
Brodie Lancaster
Claire Zorn
Angela Meyer
Emma Viskic
Neika Lehmnan
Kate Blackwood
Fiona Hardy
Donna McRae
Kathy Charles
Jenny Ackland
Gerard Butera
Rochelle Siemienowicz
Ceridwen Dovey
Andrew Sant
Stephanie Guest
Susan Midalia
Amy Espeseth
Aaron Mannion
Simon Barnard
Bernadette Brennan
Kent MacCarter
Gig Ryan
Miles Allinson
Madeleine Dore
Michelle Murray-Beckman
Catherine Lewis
Marlee Jane Ward
Tyson Wray
Iris Breue
Eleanor Limprecht
Tristan Foster
Jessica Au
Kirk Marshall
Mark Smith
Tim Sinclair
Hannah Cartmel
Martin Shaw
Lili Wilkinson
Anna Kelsey-Sugg
Cassandra White
Dion Teasdale
Ben Etherington
Anna Krien
Catherine Lewis
Koraly Dimitriadis
Nicola Redhouse
Foong Ling Kong
Julian Leatherdale
Luke Fischer
Mark Roberts
Leonie Stevens
Geoff Page
Michael Sharkey
Gail Hannah
P.M. Newton
Martine Murray
Kevin Pearson
Philip Hammial
Gary Williams
Gary Williams
Evelyn Juers
Jen Jewel Brown
Michael Brennan
Mark Mordue
Rosanna Stevens
Chris Womersley
Tessa Zettel
Joan London
Angela Andrewes
Jennifer Mackenzie
Shauna-Marie Wilson
Nicolette Stasko
Meera Atkinson
Lucy Treloar
Gabrielle Tozer
Caroline Reid
Judith Bishop
Julia Tsalis
Vanessa Jo Kowalski
Alethea Kinsela
Ashley Haywood
Monique Ewen
Duncan Felton
Lucy Parakhina
Carol Jenkins
DP Jobling
Jenni Nixon
Wendy Fleming
Jen Craig
Tom Thompson
Ian Gibbins
Tricia Dearborn
Patrick Mullins
Michele Seminara
Zoya Patel
Bridget Lutherborrow
Toby Fehily
Elaine Lindsay
Erin Gough
Elmo Keep
Ashley Thomson
Mario Licón Cabrera
Susan Johnson
Alice Pung
Matthew Clayfield
Jim Minns
Lex Hirst
Nick Tapper
Tony Walsh
Bethanie Blanchard
Mireille Juchau
Julia Carlomagno
Julian Leatherdale
Greg Prince
Anna Solding
Alice Bishop
Lorelei Vashti
Julie Koh
Glen Hunting
Stephen Orr
Yvette Walker
Dave Mullins
Beth Spencer
Michelle Dicinoski
Emily Maguire
Oliver Downes
Tania Chandler
Christina Booth
Jemma Lambert
Ella O’Keefe
Tim Coronel
Nicholas Jose
Heather Delfs
Phillip Gwynne
A.H. Cayley
Philip Neilsen
Malcolm Neil
Meg Mundell
Ryan Darcy Sim
Ania Walwicz
Elizabeth Lawson
Pauline McLeod
Jo Burnell
Nicole Hayes
Marc Martin
Suneeta Peres da Costa
Lionel Wishart
Glenda Guest
Mark Gambino
Angus Cerini
K A Nelson
Miro Bilbrough
Kathleen Kituai
Anna Thwaites
Rachel Power
Craig Garrett
Wendy James
David Golding
Zoe Simbolon
Laura Elvery
Magdalena McGuire
Romy Ash
Pia Smith
Skye Kunstelj
Angela Stretch
Brooke Dunnell
Ian See
Veny Armanno
Rebecca Sparrow
Anna Maguire
Elisabeth Hanscombe
A. R. Levett
Helena Pastor
Jane Skelton
Jessica Currie
Jennifer Stapledon
Heather Taylor Johnson
Alysha Herrmann
Stephen C. Ormsby
Gretchen Shirm
Pamela Baker
Francis Wilkins
Paula Flynn
Natasha Lester
Kirstin Corcoran
Texas Fontanella
Khyiah Angel
Sabita Naheswaran
Julian Novitz
Con Anemogiannis
Alexandra Neill
Sally Gray
Simon Bedak
Clare Testoni
Margo Lanagan
Lauren Foley
Michelle McLaren
Kieran Stevenson
Claire Deak
Alexandra McCallum
Alice Godwin
Susan Hawthorne
Linda Jaivin
Benni Seidel
Gilmar Munoz
George Catsi
Kate Harrison
Eliza-Jane Henry-Jones
Paul Hotchin
Fred W Scholten
Carody Culver
Toni Bartlett
Shane Maloney
Suzanne Falkiner
Michelle Wright
Alexandra Payne
Luke Beesley
Bill Garner
Petra Bueskens
Sue Gore
Bronwyn Lea
David Whish-Wilson
Ruth Skilbeck
Scott E Rheuben
Hugo Wilcken
Kellie Higginbottom
Matt Blackwood
Rebecca Slater
Pip Lincolne
Di Bennett
Nour Dados
Aurora Scott
John Whiteoak
Hazel Hall
Robyn Cadwallader
Fiona McGregor
Chi Vu
Lisa Divissi
Jane Gleeson-White
Myles McGuire
Jacinta Le Plastrier
Roselina Press
Linda Brooks
Natasha Bassett
Francis Wilkins
Lachlan Rutherford
Catherine Therese
Rachel Brien
Hanna Schenkel
Sarah Attfield
Sara Foster
Jane Camens
Andrew Griffin
Belinda Griffin
Neel Goodwin
Steven Herrick
Nat Pree
Sara Dowse
Jane Zemiro
Esther Rivers
Pascalle Burton
Steph Harmon
Ruth Wyer
Sumugan Sivanesan
Mathew Abbott
Terri-ann White
Elaine van Kempen
Roni Askey-Doran
Stephanie King
Nadine von Cohen
Jane Messer
Shevaun Cooley
David J Oakden
Claire Potter
Patrick Hromas
Oscar Schwartz
April Newton
Robbie Arnott
Sally Breen
Gail Hennessy
Des Pensable
Pip Newling
Karin Hauser
David Carlin
Karen Pickering
Van Badham
Kate McFadyen
Lindsay Tuggle

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Header image by Connor Tomas O’Brien