I sent the following letter to the Premier of Western Australia, Mr Colin Barnett, and WA’s Minister for Culture and the Arts, Mr John Day, following the announcement last week that the WA Premier’s Book Awards will be held biennially, instead of annually.
I’d encourage everyone—writers, readers, retailers, librarians, indeed any stakeholder or interested person—to write, too, and I’ve provided links at the end.
Dear Mr Barnett,
I’m writing to you about your recent decision to halve the WA Premier’s Literary Awards, changing them from an annual to a biennial event. It seems, too, that this decision has been made without consultation with stakeholders, and without explanation to the public.
Since 1982, these Awards have been held annually. Firstly, I want to know why, after 33 unbroken years, you’ve decided to make them a biennial event? Surely not for the saving of $65,000 per annum in a state that has a GDP of $213,563,000,000?
Secondly, I’d like to express my feelings about this decision:
You know how significant these awards are—to authors, to readers, and to booksellers. For an author, winning, or even being shortlisted for, an award such as this has at times meant the difference between being able to continue writing, or giving up. The recognition awards such as these give, the pat on the back and the boost to sales, can be the deciding factor.
In the past, these awards have shone a light on books that might otherwise have slipped through the cracks. They’ve brought attention to a struggling author’s book. They’ve given recognition to years of gruelling work in a very lonely job. They’ve recognised emerging writers as well as established ones.
These awards help bring an author’s book to the public’s notice not just in Western Australia, but Australia-wide. They help raise WA’s profile as a literary and cultural centre. They help show that stories and literature are valued here, that there’s more to this state than mining, oil and gas, and the Eagles and the Dockers. That Western Australia is not a cultural desert.
The savings are a paltry $65,000 per annum. That’s 4 cents for every person who lives in this state (based on a population of 2, 565, 600 in 2013-2014). Given the size of our GDP, I think we can afford 4 cents each.
The last thing I want to raise is the message you’re sending to people involved in the Literary Arts. You’re essentially saying that the government doesn’t value our work. That books and literature are not a priority. Authors work hard, often alone, and much of our work goes unrewarded and brings little financial gain. Yet our words bring a richness to the lives of many.
But I suspect you know all of this, Mr Premier. You saw how the people responded to the Giants—how they flocked to the city, one-and-a-half million of them. You saw how people were moved and followed the story of the puppets. You saw how, for a few days, the whole state bonded and lifted.
That is what the Arts does. That’s why it’s important to a society—it brings us together. It’s our soul food, and it’s as important and necessary to us and to our society as any food.
And don’t forget, our stories are also our legacy for future generations.
What will be your legacy, Mr Premier? Do you want to go down as the Premier who culled an annual award, like he tried to do with the sharks? Who punished our storytellers to save an insignificant amount of money?
Or do you want to be remembered as a Premier who appreciated and supported the Arts, and encouraged our artists?
Storytelling is important. We need our stories and we need our storytellers. We wouldn’t be much of a society without them.
Mr Premier, I urge you to reconsider your decision and reinstate the WA Premier’s Literary Awards as the annual event they deserve to be.
If you’re upset by the changes to the Premier’s Book Awards, please write to Mr Colin Barnett and Mr John Day to express your dissatisfaction.