17 July 2009

The Productivity Commission wants to take a thriving industry, cripple it, and then subsidise it. (UPDATED*)

Twenty-six years ago in Newport Rhode Island, John Bertrand and the crew of Australia II were up against the New York Yacht Club's 132-year America's Cup winning streak.

The America's Cup trophy is decided by the best of seven races. In 1983 the first two races were won by Dennis Connor's Liberty for the New York Yacht Club. The third was won by Australia II, the fourth, Liberty. John Bertrand and his crew and that famous winged-keel were down 3-1. To everyone watching from Australia, it seemed dire.

But at the press conference after that disastrous fourth race John Bertrand faced the media and simply said: 'Basically, nothing has changed. After Sunday afternoon, we had to win three boat races. Today we still have to win three boat races. Nothing has changed.'

History shows he held his nerve and went on to break the longest winning streak in sport.

It seems to us that the findings of the Productivity Commission are only a race lost, not the trophy. Basically nothing has changed. No laws have been passed. Parallel Importation restrictions remain. The trophy for us as a nation is to be able to continue to nourish, support and stand proudly behind not just our sporting heroes, but also our creative heroes and our cultural ambassadors. It is indeed a trophy worth winning.

The argument we are up against is cheaper books. And who doesn't love cheaper books? Not us. We love a book bargain as much as the next person. But we also like good books. And we love good Australian books. And we love being able to bring good Australian books into the world. And there is no evidence that removing the parallel importation laws will mean cheaper books for consumers. None. It is inconceivable to us that anyone would be willing to sacrifice a locally thriving, internationally respected industry that cultivates and champions its artistic and cultural health on the altar of an unsubstantiated claim about cheaper books. Let's get this message across. Clearly.

John Betrand's advice in times such as this is: 'You need to soften your touch on the helm, let your intuition take over and back your judgement. There is a fantastic array of talent on the boat.'

Perhaps we would be wise to heed his words. Let's take a deep breath. Let's not panic. Let's not tighten up and make poor decisions. Let's back our judgement. Let's have faith in the talent on the boat (writers, publishers, the APA, the ASA, the ABA, the printing industry, independent book stores, Australians for Australian Books). Let's work towards ensuring Kevin Rudd embraces the Australian book industry with the same enthusiasm Bob Hawke showed for Australia II on the day of our greatest yachting triumph.

Our title comes from Joseph Pearson's excellent, fewer than 140-character summation of the PC report.
In other news, we are delighted with the Greens position. And we reiterate our own thoughts and cheer the many bloggers taking up the cause, including James Bradley, Sophie Cunningham, Lili Wilkinson, Henry Rosenbloom and Nick Earls. Hurrah! And see here for a nicely bookmarked collection of parallel importation articles.

*UPDATE: We have just been alerted (thanks Tom) to an EXCELLENT article on The Aussiereviews Blog that clearly explains how the current parallel importation laws work, the fallacy of the cheaper books claim and the likely effect on the book industry and (importantly) the consumer if the PI laws are scrapped.


ClareSnow said...

Thank you for writing this. I live at pessimism central, but you just made me wonder if i should catch the next train out :)

miss elise said...

The lovely George Dunford says:

Sally Murphy said...

Thanks for this post. You are right, we haven't lost yet. We have to believe that raising our voices, and trying to get the general public to understand what is at stake here.

Oh, and thanks for referring to my aussiereviews blog post as 'excellent'. You made me smile.

of thieves said...

Lovely to meet you both, albeit briefly the other night. Great link round-up, too. So many great people are behind this issue with a lot to say.