5 Apr 2012

Good Riddance To The QLD Literary Award

By Mark Fletcher
The literary world is up in arms about Campbell Newman nixing a major literary award. Come off it, says Mark Fletcher, state-based awards are vanity projects for media hungry premiers

Not a single tear should be shed for the Queensland Premier's Literary Award.

Founded in 1999 by the Beattie government, the Award came to a swift end shortly after the election of Campbell Newman. Axing the award — which covered about 15 categories including an award for an unpublished manuscript, a science writer award, an award for best film script, and the David Unaipon Award for best unpublished Indigenous writer — will save the Queensland Government about $250,000.

The literary world's reaction to the news has been fierce. On Meanjin, Chad Parkhill wrote: "The cost in terms of Queensland's cultural reputation is impossible to calculate, yet already inevitable comparisons between Newman and Joh Bjelke-Petersen been aired."

Regarding the loss of the Unaipon Award, novelist Sam Watson told the ABC:

"In Queensland we have such a rich culture of storytelling. I don't think Campbell Newman has got the mandate to close down the awards and to sever a very important artistic artery that will feed future generations of Australian and children globally with the richness of Queensland stories."

But the harshest criticism was vented by Overland editor Jeff Sparrow:

"The abolition of the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards represents a harbinger of things to come. Not just in that state, though you'd have to say that Campell Newman's decision to cut a major book award bang in the middle of the National Year of Reading does not bode well for arts funding in Australia's north."

"No, one rather suspects that we're also getting a preview of the priorities of Tony Abbott, Prime Minister."

Before we get out the sackcloth and rub ashes in our hair, are the wails of the eloquent doomsayers and pithy apocalyptists credible? All signs point to no.

When Peter Carey (born in Victoria) won the Award in 2001, he'd been a resident of New York for some 11 years. When Tim Winton (born in Western Australia) won the Award in 2005, he also won the New South Wales Premier's Literary Award for the same book. When Richard Flanagan (born in Tasmania) won in 2009, he'd also picked up the Western Australia Premier's Award the previous year.

There's a theme emerging here: in what way, in what sense, in what universe was the Queensland Premier's Literary Award in the interest of Queenslanders?

The state-based literary awards are vanity projects for premiers. It is their annual opportunity to hobnob with the literati and get a photo with a person who wrote an unreadably good book. The award harks back to an imaginary age where leaders would be cultured and refined arbiters of taste.

Can anybody — with a straight face and a head full of working brains — honestly say that if it weren't for the Queensland Premier's Literary Award, we wouldn't have such Australian masterpieces as Fredy Neptune or The Volcano? Was winning the opportunity to meet Anna Bligh face-to-face the reason so many non-Queenslanders took quill to parchment to scratch out their novella? Did the fine people of Queensland rush out to bookstores immediately after the nominations were announced in order to discuss the merits of the eventual winner?

Fundamentally, the various premiers' awards are irrelevant and the coordinators of the awards seem to know it. Last year's decision to nominate David Hicks' book, Guantanamo: My Journey, was a fairly transparent attempt to stir controversy in the face of waning relevance. I've heard McDonald's jingles with more literary merit.

What seems to be missing from the commentary so far is that there are more significant funding opportunities for the arts in Queensland than the award: the end of the award does not mean the end of arts funding in Queensland. Arts Queensland, a division within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, runs a swag of statutory bodies and state-owned companies dedicated to supporting the art community. Instead of merely shaking the hands of people who might otherwise have never visited the Sunshine State, Arts Queensland provides meaningful ways to nurture and develop cultural endeavours in Queensland.

But even if we ignore Arts Queensland and the huge number of projects they support through grants, there is still an amazingly good reason to axe the Premier's Award: money.

Brisbane-based novelist, Nick Earls, wrote:

"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 per cent 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."

This misses the point. You don't make savings in a budget by cutting only a few massive programs; trimming smaller programs means you don't make larger cuts into major items. There are going to be severe cuts to the Queensland budget whether Queenslanders like it or not. It's an extra $250,000 the Newman government doesn't have to find from services, from education, or from police. It doesn't even have to be as significant as those. Given the choice between cutting $250,000 on a prize awarded to non-Queenslanders (who might not even live in Australia) and cutting $250,000 on a program which, say, provides grants to emerging artists, surely Queenslanders would prefer the former.

I am all in favour of programs which support cultural development in Australia, but the Premier's Literary Award is neither effective nor impactful. So long as the Queensland Government continues to support more efficient modes of facilitating cultural programs through Arts Queensland, nobody should care that a relatively insignificant vanity project was snuffed.

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Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 10:43

Err, I think you miss the point here Mark. The point, at least for me, is that this is symbolic of the LNPs disdain for arts and culture in Queensland. Why is this amongst the first things to go? Why are not other programs, such as the Queensland Premier's Design Awards, not also canned to save money? Will the Queensland Export Awards and other non-arts related awards also be shelved for the sake of saving money?

You talk about the literary awards as if it's one award - it's not - it's a suite of awards, that give exposure to a lot of Australians, many of them from Queensland.

Also, "Arts Queensland, a division within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, runs a swag of statutory bodies and state-owned companies dedicated to supporting the art community." - It's not anymore, it's been changed into a new ministry and buckled up with Science and Information Technology. That tells you how important that portfolio is to the new premier.

David Skidmore
Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 11:04

Wow, a saving of $250,000. Let the good times roll, Queensland. I bet if it was an award for Rugby League Newman wouldn't dare touch it. How pathetic!

Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 13:44

Talk about a lot crap and dysfunctional logic, the post above just do not get it.

1st how do you know that other such mis-use and non-relevant handouts of tax payers money is not being discontinued??

It's only because when it come to the Literary Awards the voices who want to yell and scream as if the end of the world is upon us get the media attention.

Perhaps it may only be a mere $250,000 in the scheme of things but you tell that to mothers who are living in cars with children, people paying huge power bills, people waiting for medical treatment and so on....

Perhaps if all governments took stock of wasteful and unnecessary spending of other peoples money government budgets would not have to charge tax payers for breathing air!

Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:04

Gosh, a sensible piece in NM. There is hope for NM yet

Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 14:15

See, this is the powerfulness of power. Already its arty non-resident farts versus single mothers living in cars. Mark Fletcher's article is only the beginning. The grinding down of debate to utterly ridiculous equivalances - either/ or. And the non-sensical economics of cutting little programmes and it will all add up. The politicians are laughing at you!

Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 15:31

By this truly stupid logic, you'd have to find 340,000 such projects in order to whittle away the state's debt. The cost was miniscule.

And of course cost wasn't the reason for abolishing it. This was ideological and it was malicious. This decision had to have been made before the the election. The announcement came just after the swearing in of the cabinet. It was before any cabinet meeting could be held. It was before the Arts (and all her other bits and pieces) Minister even had an office. And the announcement was made by Newman himself. There's been a lot of editorialising for a while now by conservative commentators about the selections in state Premiers Awards - David Hicks being the primary irritant for them.

You're also demonstrably wrong in referring to the awards as "spending $250,000 on a prize awarded to non-Queenslanders" - it's not one prize, but many.

You might have a point about established writers picking up a swag of State awards in one year at the expense of less well known writers, but many awards go to the less established writers. The logic behind keeping them open to all is that excellence is shown by comparison with the best. There might well be an argument for limiting it to QLD writers. If Newman went with that it would at least show some interest.

Don't underestimate its value to the rest of us. I was shortlisted in 2006 (for a play). I didn't win and therefore there was no money involved, but the kudos and the doors it opens are invaluable. There are plenty of people who won't consider an unsolicited script, but if you can say I was shortlisted for this, you're taken seriously and people will at least read a script and consider your ideas.

I've been shocked by the venom shown in some of the comments on this by readers of e.g. the Courier Mail - "hippie handouts", "truck drivers don't get subsidised why should writers" etc. No doubt some of these people are happy to put their hand out for breeding bonuses, benefits of various kinds, fuel subsidies, feed subsidies, drought relief and everything else they consider their due. Try comparing the average truck driver's income with the average playwright's.

Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 15:33

Well I heard on the ABC grapevine that the Premier's Literary Award will be continued, only with a different name and no prize money attached, only credos.
Apparently, it was the unpublished manuscript by an indigenous writer, that would have been missed the most, the only culturally valued award of its type in Queensland.
Good luck to the saviors of the literary awards.
Perhaps now some mega rich Queenslanders could step in and provide some prize money.

Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 16:21

Hi dbmurray,

You're not incorrect when you say it looks more than a bit suss that the Lit Award was the first to bite the dust, but what arts funding could be cut (especially when there was commitment not to cut arts funding) without accusations of philistinism being screamed? Or is the arts community just entitled to the money, ipso facto?

But we need to go a bit deeper into the question in order to make sensible judgements. Was the Lit Award a good use of money, especially when the draw card award (and I note in the second paragraph the different categories) was being handed out to people who, frankly, didn't need Queenslanders' money? Was the Lit Award a good use of money when Arts Queensland (also, thanks for picking up my error! I didn't realise it had moved) was supporting arts activities in more effective ways?

I'm the pro-Arts kind of conservative: I like my opera and theatre. I feel that it would be completely barbarian for funding to theatre houses, &c., &c,. to be slashed. But the Premier's Award? At quarter of a million dollars, I really can't see the point.

How much is a symbol worth to you?

(Thanks for your comment, btw)

David Skidmore
Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 16:42

Perhaps governments should take stock of wasteful expenditure. However, my opinion of what is waste is very different to someone else's. It is also clear that many Queenslanders support this prize. Moreover, they are taxpayers as well.

Why do idiots trot out the taxpayers argument as if they are the only taxpayers around? I guess I've answered my own question.

And speaking of idiots, how long will it take the new government to waste the $250,000 saved? Not long at all.

Posted Thursday, April 5, 2012 - 21:50

i amm a kweenslander and I dont' unnerstand wy we nede this stoopid awawd ennyway

I dunno wai the left wing politician's arr so cross!

iT is jist so unnesisurry.

These leftwing award's chust cost's us kweenslanders a lot of munny and we need to sav summ of that munny to pay four al owr houses wich ar droping in the globil maaket.


Kambil Numinn

Posted Friday, April 6, 2012 - 04:24

oh dear oh dear, Mark Fletcher likes theater and opera ,so that is not a waste of money at all. The fact that both absolutely depend on subsidy, opera enormously, and are heavily skewed to a) big companies and b) elite consumption and c) metropolitan audiences seems as irrelevant and the miniscule amounts of public funding awarded to writers who are mostly self-sustaining. This was a silly under research ignorant article.

Posted Friday, April 6, 2012 - 08:33

I have no problem with this being decision based on a combination of ideological and economic reasoning. The arts community are significantly to blame at all times for keeping Labor governments in power. They are the fiercest critics of conservatives at all times and are the most rusted on of ALP/Green supporters. They have therefore played a hugely significant part in the QLD Labor government accumulating an unbelievable $85 Billion debt. It's now time to pay the piper.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. ErikH
Posted Friday, April 6, 2012 - 12:22

If there's a problem with an out-of-stater winning an award, then change it so that only Queenslanders are eligible.

If you want to reduce spending, maybe cut $3000 from MPs' salaries. That would save more than $250,000 and would in reality only cost them $1500 after tax.

Posted Friday, April 6, 2012 - 16:13

I suppose we should thank NM for publishing this piece--as a matter of balance--because it shows just how poor the case for abolishing the awards is. Also I have no idea who Mark Fletcher is --NM could help us with a minimum bit of author attribution/bio. (And no, after reading this I am not motivated to google or wiki).

Although the author appears to believe he has presented an argument he has done nothing except express an unsubstantiated opinion. He is entitled to his opinion but not to the claim that he has justified it in any way. He has posed a series of rhetorical questions which he does not answer ("Can anybody — with a straight face and a head full of working brains...."), seemingl to assume that the mere posing of them is sufficient. (And several have been answered by some well known authors who he even cites!) Make up your mind MF whether it does or does not matter with respect to budgetary savings.

The reason why this action is so worrisome is indeed because it has nothing to do with budgets, but is instead an arbitrary unilateral action by a single person (Newman) which reveals a tendency to rule by fiat, caprice and vindictiveness. And whose party was elected with less than 50% of the primary vote. The comparisons with Joh B-P are quite valid as clearly there were zero consultations with anyone, including his own party and his own Arts minister who revealed that she only found out about it from a Courier Mail journo. I'll bet there are some in the LNP who are worried by the arbitrariness of the action and what it bodes for the future running of the state, and what role they will play in creating careful policy (guess what guys, zilch unless it happens to completely coincide with the Major's preformed ideas.)

It reinforces everything they and all Brisbanites know (or should, if they have paid attention these past 6 years), that this guy still thinks he is in the military and is now top of the heap and expects to make absolute decisions with no one to query them. But for that reason I welcome them. Bring it on, I say. Because he cannot help himself and the sooner Queenslanders understand the better.

David Grayling
Posted Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 07:56

Newman is a typical capitalist Philistine. The fact that he has an army background makes it even worse.

And that he has such a majority will bring into play the old adage that 'Power Corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. The add to this the fact that most State and Territory leaders are of his ilk and the scene is set for catastrophe.

What happened in Queensland shows clearly that democracy isn't working. Then what is happening in the world shows that humans cannot regulate or govern themselves. Collectively, they are a greedy rabble led by psychopaths.

Stop the world - I want to get off!


James In Footscray
Posted Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 10:11

Mark Fletcher raises an interesting point. Does holding the Premier's Literary Award result in more people reading and writing literature?

Along similar lines - do the ARIAs get young people interested in listening to and creating pop music? Do the Logies get people interested in watching and creating TV programs?


Posted Saturday, April 7, 2012 - 14:28

Was thinking that it was time to get out of Queensland in order to retain some sanity. But where would I go?
Looks like the Raving Loonie Right will control every State and the NT soon, the Philistines sitting in every controlling seat, with Trogs and Trolls and other netherworld creatures beating at our doors.
No point in going to the USA, it is already owned by the Absolute Nutters.
Europe is backsliding into Nazi-ism, fast.
Russia is owned by the Russian Mafia, which is controlled by Putin.
The Islamic Nations are controlled by Fundamentalist Religious Nutters, just like America.
I am thinking hard. Where is the Interstellar starship when you need one?


Posted Monday, April 9, 2012 - 12:00

What you need is a time machine to go back and see what real socialism is really like.

How on earth do you get the NLP mixed up with Labor philosophy, Labor are socialist, same as Nazism, Communism and fundamentalism. All these have one thing in common - 1 party control.

Labor are by definition are a 1 Party control machine, that is they always believe in bigger government (more bureaucracy) and more regulation.

Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 08:59

NM should think twice before publishing nonsence such as this article.

Dr Dog
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 15:26

How are we supposed to pay the piper IanD, when there is no money for the arts? Huh?

Ozzydazz perhaps you should go back and have a look at what real Labour is really like, because the current group don't deserve the name, any more than the socially controlling Liberal Party deserve theirs.

But dazza's implication that the LNP are nutters who have an oppressive agenda for the way we live is correct. The LNP is the party of racial, financial and class discrimination. The only surprise is that they get so many of those they despise to vote for them.

Now to the literary awards. The majority of fine writers tend toward the left and progressivness. They are despised by the right, especially by right wing writers funnily enough, who seem to feel quite comfortable denigrating their more talented peers.

This is a no lose proposition for Newman, who gets to kick his critics in the nuts while pandering to some talk back notion that illiteracy is a positive and desirable Australian trait.

And it is desirable to Newman and his cohorts, for whom an informed and socially progrssive public is anethema. Reading makes you think, and thinkers don't vote for clever hillbillies with a chip on their shoulder.

Let's face it, getting a literary award from Campell Newman is like getting a humanitarian award from Stalin. You would have to wonder where you went wrong.

David Grayling
Posted Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 19:13

Dr Dog. Your comments are exemplary, pertinent, insightful, compassionate, clever, and demonstrate deep understanding and caring.

I hereby award you with the CANINE GOLD LOGIE for excellence and humanic dogmatisim.

Well done, friend!


Dr Dog
Posted Thursday, April 12, 2012 - 09:11

I am blushing under my fur.