Nick Cave Asks Malcolm Turnbull To Remove George Brandis As Arts Minister

Australian musician and author Nick Cave has joined 262 other concerned writers, readers and artists in an open letter and petition calling on Australia’s new Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to remove George Brandis from his position as Arts Minister and to restore independent funding to the literary sector.

The most prominent out of the 263 writers to sign the lengthy open letter, Cave is also protesting against the leadership of the Book Council of Australia, an advocacy group which was announced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in December.

“Many truly gifted Australian writers are struggling, writers of vision and vitality,” Cave says (Via Fairfax Media).

“This need not be the case. Writers, like other artists, are the lifeblood of a nation, those bold few who dare reflect us back to ourselves, in all our beautiful ignobility.

“Prime Minister Turnbull, if you are truly, as you claim to be, an agent of democracy, I implore you: heed this petition.”

The petition which Cave has signed his name to calls on Prime Minister Turnbull to “undo some of the damage caused by the Senator’s George Brandis’ non-evidence based changes to arts funding and to find a suitable candidate within your party”.

“As currently demonstrated in the ongoing Arts Inquiry hearings around the country, [Mr Brandis] has alienated the vast majority of constituents within the arts landscape through reforms that are not tangibly grounded in any concrete evidence about which funding models work, how arts funding is linked to future outcomes for practitioners, or how audiences for the arts in Australia are formed.”

The petition, addressed to Prime Minister Turnbull, refers to a recent Australia Council study, which found that 87 per cent of Australians read some kind of literature in 2013.

“We will no longer stand, under any government, further cuts being made to what is already the smallest amount of funding, when we are delivering quality work to the largest audience in the nation,” the petition reads.

The petition also claims that the Book Council Of Australia has demonstrated a “lack of consultation with the wider industry”, which has “damaged confidence amongst writers and readers”.

The petition’s signees say they don’t want the Book Council Of Australia to be abolished, but recommend that it be moved 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”.

Daily Review have also reported that a protest organised by the Free The Arts group, National Association for the Visual Arts and individual artists in Sydney was set to take place outside Malcolm Turnbull’s Sydney office this week, calling on the Prime Minister to become Arts Minister in Mr Brandis’ place.

Open Book Council’s full letter to Prime Minister Turnbull can be read below. To co-sign the letter or provide feedback, visit the Open Book Council website.

An open letter from writers and readers regarding the Book Council of Australia (Via Open Book Council)

Dear Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,

CC:

Senator George Brandis, Minister for the Arts;

Ms Louise Adler, Chair of the Book Council of Australia;

Mr Bill Shorten, Leader of the Opposition;

Mr Mark Dreyfus QC MP, Shadow Minister for the Arts;

Senator Richard di Natale, Leader of the Australian greens;

Mr Adam Bandt, Member for the Australian Greens;

Mr Rupert Myer AO, Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts;

Mr Tony Grybowski, CEO of Australia Council for the Arts;

Ms Jill Eddington, Director Literature, Australia Council for the Arts

Re: Open Letter from writers and readers regarding the Book Council of Australia formation, strategic operations and investment, and future governance

We write this open letter as a collective of Australia’s writers and readers, speaking together as one. This letter concerns the Book Council of Australia and its recent formation and management under both the current Minister for the Arts and the historic strategy groups who advocated for its formation.

As key stakeholders in the creative industries that the Book Council of Australia seeks to promote, we are disappointed by the lack of adequate consultation with those Australian writers, producers, editors and publishers best positioned to understand the challenges and hurdles currently facing Australian literary institutions and cultures.

The Book Council of Australia is currently funded at $6 million dollars to be distributed over three years. This funding was taken from the operating budget of the Australia Council for the Arts. We see this, collectively, as funding earmarked for individual artists (writers) and groups.

We recognise that funding is not guaranteed to go to any one of us individually, and that no funding model for the arts is capable of serving the diverse needs of all practitioners in the community. Nevertheless, we believe – as we hope that the Minister for the Arts and the Book Council of Australia also believe – that limited amounts of public taxpayer money must be set aside for writers to produce new work and create new projects, and that these serve the interest of Australia’s national culture, at home and abroad. This has been the belief of Australian governments, publishers and writers since the formation of the Australia Council over forty years ago.

The Book Council of Australia, as an industry group, sits within the Ministry for the Arts. Although we place no blame on any particular individual and do recognise the inevitable complexities of policy development in arts and cultural management, it has become consistently evident to stakeholders across Australia’s literary institutions that both the Minister and the members of the Council have been ineffective in communicating the purpose and values of the Book Council of the Arts. The Book Council was announced by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott in December 2014 and no word of the formal structure of the Book Council was announced until last week. Ten months passed before a term of reference (totalling 400 words) and a list of invitees were announced. We do not believe that this gross procedural delay in the supply of information meets the minimal standards for a funding body interested in supporting cutting edge arts production, or in cultivating competitive Australian arts industries in a global context.

Lack of strong leadership or community consultation from the Book Council also risks damaging our emergent international market. Given the incredible international sales of works like Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, it is disappointing to discover that current literary funding models are unable to adequately support the professional trajectories for upcoming authors who have the potential to follow in Tsiolkas’ and Kent’s footsteps.

The Ministry and the Council have also been slow in transferring and administering funds, and have already done detrimental work to our literary output for the foreseeable future. The triennial period 2016-2018 will look radically different for readers because writers, editors, publishers and producers have not had access to these funds. The situation is not, of course, beyond repair. A clear, focused, and consultation-based arts policy in relation to literary production could still do significant work in rebuilding our relationship with the Federal Government and its policymakers in the arts. However, some immediate and decisive changes would be beneficial to all concerned.

Firstly, we call on you, Prime Minister, to take the opportunity of this weekend’s cabinet reshuffle to undo some of the damage caused by the Senator’s George Brandis’ non-evidence based changes to arts funding and to find a suitable candidate within your party. As currently demonstrated in the ongoing Arts Inquiry hearings around the country, he has alienated the vast majority of constituents within the arts landscape through reforms that are not tangibly grounded in any concrete evidence about which funding models work, how arts funding is linked to future outcomes for practitioners, or how audiences for the arts in Australia are formed. We will not stand by as the Minister for the Arts continues to wreck a fragile yet essential part of the Australian people and sense of nationhood.

We write as a disappointed literary community, yet we remain hopeful. The Book Council of Australia has good reasons to exist, and we believe that – with appropriate leadership and transparent funding processes – it could lead to positive and high profile transformations for the arts in Australia. As Louise Adler, the Council’s inaugural Chair, wisely noted, literature has been the ‘poor cousin’ to other art forms in Australia, ‘receiving only $9 million of the Australia Council’s total of $199 million in grants.’

This figure should not be surprising to the Minister for the Arts, given recent findings from the Australia Council (‘Arts Nation: Overview of Australian Arts’) that reading is the most popular way the arts is consumed in this country. In 2013, 87% of Australians read some form of literature, with over half of those respondents reading weekly. That’s over twenty million Australian citizens who have a stake in literature and its future in this country.

We will no longer stand, under any government, further cuts being made to what is already the smallest amount of funding, when we are delivering quality work to the largest audience in the nation.

We call again for George Brandis to be moved out of the Arts portfolio, but we must also the question the intentions and conflict of interest of inaugural Chair Louise Adler, and communicate that we do not support her in this role.

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 lack of consultation with the wider industry to date by the Book Council of Australia involved in the formation of the Council has also damaged confidence amongst writers and readers. This has undermined the position of the Book Council of Australia with writers and readers alike – the creators (writers) and consumers (readers) of the products (books) it purports to be the strategic voice for.

We wish to express that we do not want to see the Book Council of Australia abolished. Instead, we recommend you and the chosen Minister for the Arts move the Book Council of Australia 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.

The Australia Council has a tested organisational structure that has produced strong results in the past, and is able to communicate its policies and guidelines in an effective manner to practitioners. This would also allow the Book Council of Australia to be informed by strategy and consultation with the literary industry and community. This also would ensure that administration costs are not unnecessarily duplicated, creating greater efficiencies in the arts funding process as a whole.

There is precedent for this. In 2012, the sitting government announced that the administration of the Australian Government Visual Arts and Craft Strategy (VACS) funding ($22.3 over four years from 2011-12 to 2014-15) would be transferred to the Australia Council. We believe that VACS is roughly equivalent to the Book Council of Australia.

In the words of the media announcement, regarding the transfer from the Ministry for the Arts to the Australia Council, this was part of a broader transfer of functions to the Australia Council that ensured:

    Increased opportunities to consolidate Australian Government arts funding;

    Improve service to the sector;

    Achieve greater administrative efficiency;

    Broaden the Australia Council’s engagement across the sector to help deliver the goals of the National Cultural Policy.

This was, of course, outstanding strategy, but also sound economic management. This transfer has clearly served the Visual Arts sector well. Literature requests the same consideration.

There is an opportunity, within your first weeks of your Prime Ministership, to achieve the same. We ask plainly then that you transfer the Book Council of Australia to the Australia Council for the Arts.

In doing so we hope that you review the Minister for the Arts and the current membership of the current Book Council of Australia, as all these parties have all been complicit in one of the most ineffective strategic investments in the history of Australian literature.

We would be happy to meet you at a public forum at a date suitable to parties, in order to discuss and debate these matters. We thank you for your consideration on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

We sign with the shared designation, ‘writers and readers’ and we sign in no particular order:

Melissa Lucashenko

Christos Tsiolkas

Nick Cave

Richard Watts

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Judith Beveridge

Geordie Williamson

Hannah Kent

Emily Bitto

Robert Adamson

Emmett Stinson

Marieke Hardy

Penelope Benton

Antonia Hayes

Marion Halligan AM

Sophie Cunningham

Sam Twyford-Moore

Gillian Terzis

Michelle De Kretser

Brian Castro

Gideon Haigh

Lian Low

Benjamin Law

Peter Goldsworthy AM

Lynda Hawryluk

Kelly Lee

Sarah Holland-Batt

Fiona Wright

Izzy Roberts-Orr

Jessica Friedmann

Stephanie Van Schilt

Lefa Singleton Norton

Karen Andrews

Luke Ryan

Craig Hildebrand-Burke

James Tierney

James Robert Douglas

Kate Richards

Wayne Macauley

Juno Gemes

Maria Tumarkin

Alison Croggon

Carmel Bird

Clare Wright

Elizabeth Webby AM

Anna Dunnill

Pip Smith

Ellena Savage

Berndt Sellheim

Marisa Pintado

Jessie Cole

Madelaine Josephine Lucas

Benjamin Solah

Amy Gray

Joshua Barnes

Tom Doig

Katerina Cosgrove

Shane Jesse Christmass

Toby Fitch

Sophie Allan

Aden Rolfe

Kavita Bedford

Leigh Rigozzi

Omar Sakr

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Ramon Glazov

Fiona Hile

Justin Wolfers

Jack Vening

Brigid Mullane

Sam Cooney

Eloise Ross

Josh Santospirito

Amelia Lush

Dan Christie

Samantha Van Zweden

Matthew Lamb

Stefan Laszczuk

Amy Middleton

Cathy Tran

Eric Gardiner

Chelsea Avard

Dominique Wilson

Beth Driscoll

Astrid Lorange

Andrew Brooks

Chris Somerville

Julia Tulloh Harper

Veronica Sullivan

Sophie Langley

Anna Spargo-Ryan

Keri Glastonbury

Bronte Coates

Pat Grant

Francesca Rendle-Short

Jason Childs

Else Fitzgerald

Claire Albrecht

Laura Stortenbeker

Christopher Currie

Connor Tomas O’Brien

Geoff Orton

Sam George-Allen

Dom Amerena

Samantha Forge

Harry Lloyd

Thomas Banks

Rebecca Giggs

Alan Vaarwerk

Michael Sala

Emily Laidlaw

Lily Mae Martin

Summa Durie

Stuart Richards

Amanda Bridgeman

Luke Preston

Dave Sinclair

Danielle Binks

Clare Atkins

Rebecca Lim

Kate O’Donnell

Bec Kavanagh

Christine Keighery

Robyne Young

Nikki Lusk

Melaine Ostell

Kate Holden

Paddy O’Reilly

Owen Richardson

Jane Novak

Léa Antigny

Rod Morrison

James Ley

Alan Wearne

Susan Whelan

Kate Forsyth

Beth Yahp

Shalini Kunahlan

Melanie Joosten

Jacinda Woodhead

Stephanie Convery

Fiona Drury

Kate Larsen

Anne Beilby

Nathan M. Farrugia

Shannon Burns

Sean Williams

Gerard Elson

Louise Swinn

Romy Durrant

Rebecca Starford

Claire Thomas

Phillip Edmonds

Khalid Warsame

Emily Stewart

Paul Mitchell

Thuy On

Nathan Curnow

Judith Crispin

Julian Novitz

Ed Wright

Laurie Steed

Bronwyn Mehan

Hannah Donnely

Martin Edmond

Ronnie Scott

SJ Finn

Adam Rivett

Melinda Harvey

Deborah Crabtree

Oliver Driscoll

Clare Moore

Bleddyn Butcher

Katie Williams

Mia Francesca

Kate Middleton

Bram Presser

Alex Bennetts

Fiona Dunne

Zoe Dattner

Sally Williams

Pip Harry

Vikki Wakefield

Sue Osbourne

Sarah Myles

Hoa Pham

David Musgrave

Myke Bartlett

Kirsten Tranter

Simmone Howell

John Newman

Steven Amsterdam

Jim Anderson

Lisa Sharkey

Stephen Edgar

Alan Weedon

Mitch Parker

Alexis Drevikovsky

Deanne Sheldon-Collins

Vikki Woods

Beth Caird

Daniel Golding

Jennifer Mills

Jack Colwell

Brodie Lancaster

Claire Zorn

Angela Meyer

Emma Viskic

Neika Lehmnan

Kate Blackwood

Fiona Hardy

Donna McRae

Kathy Charles

Jenny Ackland

Gerard Butera

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Ceridwen Dovey

Andrew Sant

Stephanie Guest

Susan Midalia

Amy Espeseth

Aaron Mannion

Simon Barnard

Bernadette Brennan

Kent MacCarter

Gig Ryan

Miles Allinson

Madeleine Dore

Michelle Murray-Beckman

Catherine Lewis

Marlee Jane Ward

Tyson Wray

Iris Breue

Eleanor Limprecht

Tristan Foster

Jessica Au

Kirk Marshall

Mark Smith

Tim Sinclair

Hannah Cartmel

Martin Shaw

Lili Wilkinson

Anna Kelsey-Sugg

Cassandra White

Dion Teasdale

Ben Etherington

Anna Krien

Catherine Lewis

Koraly Dimitriadis

Nicola Redhouse

Foong Ling Kong

Julian Leatherdale

Luke Fischer

Mark Roberts

Leonie Stevens

Geoff Page

Michael Sharkey

Gail Hannah

P.M. Newton

Martine Murray

Kevin Pearson

Philip Hammial

Gary Williams

Gary Williams

Evelyn Juers

Jen Jewel Brown

Michael Brennan

Mark Mordue

Rosanna Stevens

Chris Womersley

Tessa Zettel

Joan London

Angela Andrewes

Jennifer Mackenzie

Shauna-Marie Wilson

Nicolette Stasko

Meera Atkinson

Lucy Treloar

Gabrielle Tozer

Caroline Reid

Judith Bishop

Julia Tsalis

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Ashley Haywood

Monique Ewen

Duncan Felton

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DP Jobling

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Wendy Fleming

Jen Craig

Tom Thompson

Ian Gibbins

Tricia Dearborn

Patrick Mullins

Michele Seminara

Zoya Patel

Bridget Lutherborrow

Toby Fehily

Elaine Lindsay

Erin Gough

Elmo Keep

Ashley Thomson

Mario Licón Cabrera

Susan Johnson

Alice Pung

Jim Minns

Lex Hirst

Nick Tapper

Tony Walsh

Bethanie Blanchard

Mireille Juchau

Julia Carlomagno

Julian Leatherdale

Greg Prince

Anna Solding

Alice Bishop

Lorelei Vashti

Julie Koh

Glen Hunting

Stephen Orr

Yvette Walker

Dave Mullins

Beth Spencer

Michelle Dicinoski

Emily Maguire

Oliver Downes

Tania Chandler

Christina Booth

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Tim Coronel

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Heather Delfs

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A.H. Cayley

Philip Neilsen

Malcolm Neil

Meg Mundell

Ryan Darcy Sim

Ania Walwicz

Elizabeth Lawson

Pauline McLeod

Jo Burnell

Nicole Hayes

Andrew McDonald

Marc Martin

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