The National Cultural Policy and the role of Writers Australia
1 February 2023
Among initiatives announced this week in the Australian federal government’s National Cultural Policy, is the formation of Writers Australia, a body that will, according to the policy document, “provide direct support to the literature sector from 2025.” Writers Australia will be part of a new peak arts investment and advisory body to be called Creative Australia, which will represent an overhaul of the current Australia Council for the Arts.
While the finer details are still to be made public, it is known Writers Australia will, among other things, administer the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, and make appointments to the (kind of) newly formed role of Australian poet laureate.
It can also be presumed Writers Australia will work to address remuneration for Australian authors, who according to recent research earn about A$18,000 per annum for their work. Australian workers need to earn at least A$25,675 per annum to be living above the poverty line. The income of local writers is a point underlined by Sophie Cunningham, Chair of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA):
“We’re thrilled to see the Government’s affirmation that artists and authors should be paid fairly for their work. This is fundamental to a fair and sustainable arts sector. As I and many other authors made clear in our submissions to Government, authors do not fall under the protection of awards or industrial agreements and, as freelancers, have to negotiate on a case by case basis to be paid fairly. We welcome the recognition of the ASA’s recommended minimum rates of pay in cultural policy.”
While supporting writers and literary organisations through funding, Writers Australia will take a proactive role in boosting incomes for writers and book illustrators, by raising their profile, and growing local and international audiences for their books. One way of achieving this could be to encourage broader promotion of Australian literary awards, in the same way the British publishing industry enthusiastically backs the Booker Prize.
In the meantime poetry can look forward to more prominence in Australia, through the creation of a poet laureate, an appointment Writers Australia will make. There has not been an Australian poet laureate since 1818, when Michael Massey Robinson, a British convict, held the role for about two years.
Poetry is a poorly appreciated form of literature in Australia, with just three and a half percent of local book readers indicating they are inclined to read works of poetry, according to recent research by Amazon Kindle.
Dropbear, a collection of poetry by Melbourne based author Evelyn Araluen, and winner of the 2022 Stella Prize, had sold in the order of fifteen thousand copies as of August 2022. In comparison, Apples Never Fall, by Sydney based novelist Liane Moriarty, was the bestselling book in Australia, with sales of just under two-hundred thousand copies, in 2021.