Well I’m glad that’s sorted out, and congratulations to Campbell for getting us there so quickly. Insiders tell me there’s nothing more influential on the ratings folk at Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s than reducing your debt by 0.00028% through axing awards for writing. That’s how valuable the axing of the Premier’s Literary Awards is to the state’s finances. It’s a saving of $250,000 at the same time as the LNP is telling us the state is $85b in debt (and I didn’t even factor their extra $4b of new spending into my calculation).
It’s the difference between going $20,000 into debt to buy a car and instead being really smart about your finances and only having to borrow $19,999.94.
While I’ve had little personal reason to love the Premier’s Literary Awards, I’ve been glad they’ve been there. In the 90s, when just about every other state seemed to have them and we didn’t, it was yet another contributor to the perception that we were a backwater that hadn’t shifted since the mid-20th century (a perception I’ve tried to combat any time it’s shown its face). Peter Beattie’s introduction of the awards in 1999 wasn’t some bizarre act of state largesse – it merely brought us into line with the rest of the country.
If in fact yesterday’s decision cans all of the awards this year, it actually means this government will be doing LESS than the National Party government did in 1989. The David Unaipon Award was in operation then, and I think the Steele Rudd Award was too. (It was certainly well-established by 1993, when I remember failing to win it.)
The Unaipon Award is one that will be particularly missed. There is nothing else like it in the country – a national award for an unpublished manuscript by an emerging Indigenous author – and it has launched several major writing careers and unearthed some work of great quality. To name three: Samuel Wagan Watson’s ‘Of Muse, Meandering and Midnight’ (1999), Larissa Behrendt’s ‘Home’ (2002) and Tara June Winch’s ‘Swallow the Air’ (2004) – some brilliant poetry, a strikingly impressive first novel and one of the best collections of short fiction this country has produced. To name a fourth: Doris Pilkington Garimara won the Unaipon in 1990 for her first novel, and went on to write ‘Follow the Rabbit-Proof fence’, which became the acclaimed and successful film ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’.
The Unaipon Award has been important both in discovering new Indigenous voices and also in starting several significant writing careers. Tara June Winch acknowledged that herself yesterday.
Another significant loss is the Qld Premier’s Prize for an unpublished manuscript. This award gave a prize of something like $10-15,000 to the author and, at least as importantly, guaranteed publication of the book. Winners have gone on to have their books win or be shortlisted in significant national and international awards such as the Miles Franklin, Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and Age Book of the Year. I know of at least two manuscripts recognised by this award that ended up with significant US publishing deals.
Those two awards can make careers, and all of the awards can help sustain them. They’re partly about drawing attention to our stories and continuing to see them told, and they can have an industry benefit too, and an economic benefit.
If Doris Pilkington Garimara hadn’t been picked up by the David Unaipon Award, would she have written ‘Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence? I don’t know. But that award was the start of a sequence of events that not only made her a published author and saw her next book published, but saw $6m invested in making that second book into a film which took $16m at the box office and won 23 awards in 7 countries.
To the caller to talk back radio this morning who said ‘you don’t see the government giving money to apprentice plumbers,’ please when open your eyes whenever you’re ready to. An apprentice is eligible for $5,500 in Tools for Your Trade grants, $7800 Adult Apprentice Support in year one if they’re over 25 and $5200 in year two, up to $1000 a year in travel support and up to 13 other Centrelink benefits. Plus the government pays their employers to have them. I don’t have the figures for plumbers, but for apprentice brickies the employer incentives total $19,800 per apprentice.
It’s a rare writer who is good enough to win awards that might pay them an amount comparable to the tax dollars that go towards each and every apprentice training anywhere around the country. I want us to have apprentices. I want us to have plumbers and bricklayers and sparkies – I’m not for a second suggesting we wind their money back – but I also want us to have writers. And anyone saying we don’t put taxpayers’ money towards apprentices is just plain wrong.
To the caller who said ‘You don’t see governments handing this sort of money out to other industries,’ okay, you’ve got a point. The federal government recently committed a thousand times this much to one initiative in the car industry, for whom $250,000 proabably wouldn’t fund one meeting in Detroit. The government would never bother earmarking $250,000 for the car industry.
Governments give huge amounts to industries all the time, and we don’t notice much of it. A lot of it’s probably very useful, but it’s not there to be noticed. Writers’ awards are there to be noticed – it’s partly what they’re about. But don’t go saying governments don’t give out money to other industries.
A government has a chance at a pretty good return on $250,000 invested in writers’ awards, both culturally and in terms of fostering future writing (and tax-paying careers). Meanwhile, in the world that some people seem to think is more real than the creative industries, $250,000 doesn’t even buy a bus stop. We’ve got one down the road that was recently moved 50m at a cost of $300,000.
But at least Qld now has only 99.99972% of its ugly debt left, and only $84,999,750,000 more to cut. And there’s one fewer set of awards I’ll need to get bitter and twisted about not winning this year.