Remember our Prime Minister being applauded for promising a new national Book Council at his Awards ceremony last week? Looks as if it’s going to be funded by a cut to the Australia Council of $2 million a year for three years.
To make clear what this means: Ozco’s literature funding has been steady at around $4 million per annum for a ridiculous number of years, apart from a short-lived increase under the Rudd and Gillard governments. I was on the Literature Board for 3 years, helping spread the available funds as widely and wisely as possible among increasing numbers of grant applicants. $4 million sounds like a lot, but it’s bugger-all compared to what goes to other art forms, and it doesn’t go far. A lot of excellent work goes unfunded, which is why Ozco staff will always tell you to keep applying, because you never know what your chances might be next year.
And now FIFTY PER CENT of that money
is being may be taken to fund a new industry body. And nobody knows anything about this new council yet, but it’s safe to say it’s probably not going to directly support individual writers and existing writers’ organisations. [UPDATE: It's not clear whether the $2m is coming just from literature or from the Australia Council overall—good question to ask in your email! Can't imagine visual arts or the opera handing over $6m of their allocation, though, can you? UPDATE 2: Now it has been made clear that the money will come from the Aus Council's new work and strategic projects money.]
Just in case anyone’s thinking (and a surprising number of people do) that writers are wealthy whingers, ’cause just look at JK Rowling and stuff: According to Ozco’s 2007-2008 economic study of professional artists - http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/…/do_you_really_expect_t… - the 7,600 professional writers in Australia were the least well rewarded artistic occupation for their creative work. Their mean annual income from writing was $11,100. Even their total incomes (from all work including non-arts work) were lower than all occupational groups, including blue-collar occupations. Between 2001 and 2008, writers’ mean incomes from writing fell by 52%. A fresh study is expected in 2016, but no one expects things to have improved.
If you’ve ever received, applied for or considered applying for an Arts Council literature grant, I suggest you go to the Attorney-General's department's feedback page and ask for details about this new body (who will be responsible for it, what it will be charged with doing, where the money will come from and how and where it will be spent), and express whatever concern/outrage/disgust you feel at the idea of already meagre funds being taken from supporting artists to fund another layer of bureaucracy. Arts Minister Brandis needs to see that we are watching this and demanding some accountability.