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Writers sign open letter opposing Book Council chair, call on Arts Minister to move Book Council to OzCo

A number of Australian writers and book industry professionals have ‘questioned the intentions’ of inaugural Book Council of Australia chair Louise Adler in an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, which also calls for the Book Council to come under the auspices of the Australia Council.

Written by ‘a large collective of Australia’s writers and literary producers’, the letter began circulating on 17 September and has more than 270 signatories, including authors Christos Tsiolkas, Melissa Lucashenko and Emily Bitto, and author and musician Nick Cave. In a statement, Cave called on Turnbull to ‘heed this petition’. ‘Many truly gifted Australian writers are struggling, writers of vision and vitality. This need not be the case,’ writes Cave.  

The letter states that the signatories do not support Adler in her role as chair of the Book Council, an appointment announced on 11 September. ‘Louise Adler’s conflict of interest as Publisher of Melbourne University Press does not serve the wider industry. Ms. Adler also currently serves as president of the Australian Publishers Association and as chair of the Victorian state government’s Creative Industries Taskforce and Expert Reference Group, causing one to question how much time she has to dedicate to each role independently of one another.’

The authors of the letter also argue that a lack of consultation by Adler and others involved in the Book Council’s formation has ‘damaged confidence amongst writers and readers alike’. ‘The delays with regards to a term of reference, and indeed the announcement of Ms. Adler’s role as Chair, which was an open secret in the industry, does not give us faith in the ability of the Council to advise the government effectively on matters of strategy nor policy with any sense of timeliness on such matters.’

The authors also call for the removal of George Brandis from the Arts Ministry (Brandis has since been replaced in the position by Mitch Fifield) and ask for the ‘chosen’ Arts Minister to ‘move the Book Council Back to the Australia Council for the Arts, where it can be more effectively managed through the Australia Council’s peer assessment practices and accountable governance’.

Sam Twyford-Moore, a writer and former CEO of the Emerging Writers Festival, who has helped organise the open letter, told Books+Publishing the creation of the Book Council is an example of ‘cultural mismanagement 101’, and that recommendations from the Book Industry Strategy Group had been ignored. ‘[For example] there had been a solid remit for digital innovation,’ said Twyford-Moore. ‘Australia is so far away and a good digital strategy is one of the only ways to get on the international stage. We’re now five years on and we’re so far behind because there’s been no action and no strategy. It’s bad for industry and it’s bad for culture.’

Louise Adler declined to comment on the claims outlined in the letter.

As previously reported by Books+Publishing, another open letter, published on 2 September and signed by more than 40 literary organisations, called for the government to consult with the literary community on planning for the Council, and set out some of its aspirations for the Council.


Category: Local news