Will the Book Council of Australia achieve anything for Australian authors? Regrettably, it is unlikely that authors will benefit. Authors seem to be ignored or completely misunderstood, not only by the Book Council in its proposed form but by cultural funding agencies such as the Australia Council.
So-called major performing arts bodies like the Sydney Theatre Company and Opera Australia with their lavish mostly foreign productions (the STC occasionally puts on a translation or original piece by its now former director Andrew Upton, but it is the performances of his wife in American plays that are the company's forte) continue to gulp down most of the Council's funding. Yet despite this so few people want to see sopranos warble Wagner or Strauss, those fine Australian composers (!), that Opera Australia is reduced to using the millions -- millions! -- it receives from the Australia Council to subsidise performances of musical theatre. By such famous Australian writers as Lerner & Loewe, no less! What admirable use of the money Australian taxpayers believe is assigned to foster Australian culture! I could have danced all night -- and still had time for more!
The advice the government has taken on board with regard to the formation of the Book Council is seriously flawed and whoever provided it should be sent to a gulag. How absurd that the Australian Writers Guild, a fine organisation representing dramatists and screenwriters but with no connection to book publishing in Australia, should be invited to be a member when writers centres, professional organisations such as the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, or more specific representatives such as Romance Writers of Australia and the Society of Book Illustrators and Writers are completely ignored.
The advice the government has received is one-eyed, sef-serving and undoubtedly fuelled by publishers. Authors are a token presence. It is even more absurd that the government has acted on the advice without querying it. This demonstrates the government's total lack of understanding of the Australian publishing industry. Given that a new Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield, now has responsibility, perhaps, perhaps there is now an opportunity for this seriously flawed advice to be overturned. Let us hope that this might be so.
Let us also not forget that authors are at the beginning of the creation chain -- and there lies the problem. The profit in writing does not reside with authors; publishers have their self-interested thumb and forefinger tightly holding, nay, grabbing, the cash. Government being government, and in Australia with both major parties subscribing to a 'free' market economy and the right for greed to overwhelm public interest, publishers represent themselves as the top dogs, which they are in author–publisher relations. They are the bullies who dictate terms and screw authors.
It is time for government to step in and protect authors, small businesspeople at the mercy of massive international publishing conglomerates. Contracts must be made to be fair. Reprographic and digital rights must be made inalienable to the author. Other measures must be put in place to protect the poor authors who are being bullied into submission.
Publishers still make BIG profits -- authors' incomes are dropping even further. These small changes should be what the Book Council is there to implement.
But I won't be buying a lottery ticket on it. I hear my publisher bashing on my door with a cricket bat.
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