Oct 25, 2016

Plan to end restrictions on parallel book imports does not stack up – Opinion – Sydney Morning Herald

When governments consider big changes, they owe it to the community to carefully weigh the costs of those changes against the expected benefits.

The proposal to abolish parallel import restrictions in the book publishing industry does not stack up when the impact on jobs and culture are taken into account.

Current restrictions mean that if a book has been published in Australia and overseas, it is illegal to import overseas-produced copies of that book for sale in Australia.

The arrangements protect the Australian book publishing industry. They ensure Australian authors can make a decent living and continue to bring Australian stories to the world of literature, both here and globally.

But the Harper Competition Policy Review and a subsequent Productivity Commission review of intellectual property law have proposed to abolish parallel import restrictions.

The Turnbull government has indicated it is likely to adopt the recommendation.

The Productivity Commission position comes as no surprise given its consistent advocacy of open market positions.

But it is up to elected representatives to stand up for the national interest.

Booker Prize winner Peter Carey has warned that these changes would lead to job losses, profits going overseas and a “brutal reduction” in the range of books that are published in Australia.

“Australia will become, as it was in the 1960s, a dumping ground for American and English books and we will risk becoming, as we once were, a colony in the minds of others,” Carey has said.

Fellow Booker Prize winner Thomas Keneally said recently that when he was starting out as a writer in the 1960s, Australian novelists were a novelty.

“When I began writing, the idea of an Australian writing a novel was like a goanna riding a bicycle,” he told The Australian.

“Australia was under-examined … The national life was very skimpily covered.”

The message of Carey and Keneally is that a change in parallel import restrictions would reduce artistic activity in this country and thereby affect the depth and richness of Australian culture.

They are correct.

Out in the real world, millions of Australians place high value on the arts.

They buy books, attend concerts and watch Australia-made movies and television programs.

Australians want to read, hear and see our vibrant culture reflected in the books they read.

Beyond that, they want the best Australian writers to project our nation and our culture around the globe.

The economic costs resulting from a contraction in the printing industry must also be considered.

At least 4000 people work in the publishing industry. That figure reaches 20,000 when you add the book sellers and printers.

Their jobs are important.

For all these reasons, the former Labor federal government rejected a call to abolish parallel importing restrictions.

In the 21st century it is in Australia’s economic, cultural and social interests to nurture artistic endeavour as a critical descriptor of our national identity.

It should not only be protected, but cherished.

The application of the national interest test requires that we be proud and supportive of the authors and others who enrich our lives, not undermine them.

This piece was first published  in The Sydney Morning Herald on the 25th of October 2016 http://bit.ly/2dEB94r