Yup, that’s all Winton below. Look, I was going to keep this post short, but the issue – the Productivity Commission report on “Copyright Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books”, in the hands of the government as of today – suffers from being crazy esoteric* while being indescribably crucial to whatever it is we call our culture. To see Tim Winton’s superbly delivered Miles Franklin acceptance speech, in which he dismembers the report, play the vid. But for the rest of you lazy lot, or narrowbanders, read the core of his speech here. (Any transcribing errors mine, but I’ve checked and proofed. And yes, ironically reproduced without Mr Winton’s permission, but this is in a good cause – his. Ours.) Winton tells it like it is.
“The single most important factor in decolonising Australian letters has been the advent and gradual acceptance of ANZ rights; I’m talking here about territorial copyright. It’s not unique to Australia – every American and British writer enjoys it in their home country, and after generations of sacrifice and struggle, Australians now have it it too. It recognises Australia as a distinct literary culture and a publishing market in its own right. It’s the unheralded basis of our literary success, the reason we’re finally considered as equals.
For our writers, Aussie rights are the bedrock of fair play. They’re the only hope we have of making a living here in our own country.
But thanks to an agency of our own government, Aussie rights are now in grave jeopardy. So tonight’s a timely occasion on which to consider the value we attach to our own accents and stories, especially given that for the past decade or so we’ve had the luxury of taking them for granted.
The Productivity Commission is hostile to Australian rights. The commissioners have displayed a touching faith in the implacable genius of the market. As an interim measure they want Aussie rights to be limited to merely 12 months. After that all bets are off. Under that system you might be interested to know Breath would already be out of local copyright, just in time for the nation’s most prestigious literary award. And the copies in the room around you with the lovely gold sticker wouldn’t in all likelyhood be Australian editions, they’d be foreign imports. Export editions or import editions for which I wouldn’t be paid a royalty. And who would object to that really? You work for three years, you get paid for one – the genius of the market.
Anyway, that’s just the first step, because the commissioners are keen to expunge Australian territorial copyright altogether when, as they say, the next opportunity arises. Which means, of course, when it becomes politically palatable.
Now, that opportunity will only come if Australians are complacent about the success of their own culture, or if they suddenly stop caring about fairness in the workplace. Or perhaps if they can be convinced, once again, as their forebears were, from colonial times until the 1960s, that to be Australian is, after all, to be essentially second rate.
Australian rights are fundamental to the maintenance of our literary culture: our publishing, our printing, our writing and teaching – God help me, even our reviewing. For writers, this is the cornerstone of our fair go. And the policy confronting us has become our equivalent of WorkChoices.
Australians have outgrown colonialism but the loss of territorial copyright will return us to a colonial relationship in literary terms to London and New York – and what a squalid surrender! What a waste of cultural capital that would be. My twenty-five-year-old son has never known an Australia of cringers and whingers, and snobs and bolters, a country where people are compelled to ape the accents of their “betters” from another hemisphere. And I pray that he will never have to, but I fear that he may, unless we stay awake.
So tonight let’s not be distracted by one novel and one writer. The gong is great, I’m very happy. But I’m anxious we stay awake.
Consider the distance we have all come since Miles Franklin’s day and think of what we now stand to lose. Our Brilliant Career really could go Bung, and if it does, the work of generations will have been wasted, and we will have brought dishonour upon ourselves. And I really believe we can’t, and won’t let that happen. So let’s drink to that, eh? Cheers.”
* You may have caught the discussion about this subject on Late Night Live on Monday night. In which former NSW Premier Bob Carr, in his role as champion of underprivileged kids who can’t afford books, and board member of the pro-Commission Dymocks, steamrolls both host Phillip Adams and fellow guest Louise Adler by simply talking over them. Henry Rosenbloom at Scribe Publishing takes a surgical knife to the ideology.