PARALLEL IMPORTS ON BOOKS – PC CRIT 2 – Culture and Learning

Dear Mr Rudd, Mr Garrett, Mr Bowen and to all supporters of the Arts and Culture in Australia.

I was pleased to see that on page XV of its report, the Productivity Commission acknowledges that books can be “tools of learning”.

But I have found the Productivity Commission’s whole debate on culture versus learning to be confusing and contradictory.

In reference to learning, the Productivity Commission states on page 6.12

Depending on the subject matter, it (reading) can also enhance a person’s awareness and understanding on specific topics as well as their cognitive capabilities more generally.

And in reference to Culture, the Commission had this to say on page XX:

Support of a larger publishing industry, and as a consequence, more Australian authorship results in a greater portrayal of Australian events, as well as stories that are told by Australian voices.

And on page 6.1

The PIRs, by increasing returns to publishers and authors, provide incentives for the creation of additional Australian books, increasing cultural and related benefits to Australia.

Yet two paragraphs further down, the Productivity Commission claims

The unpriced ‘externality’ component of the cultural benefits that is dependent on the PIRs is unlikely to be large…..

‘Unlikely to be large’ – what sort of conclusion is that – and on what basis is it predicated – where are the figures to support such a claim?

I’m not an economist, but I wonder how you can separate learning and culture – and the importance of both.

It’s not just authors and publishers who are arguing this point. Parents and educators have also expressed their concerns.

In her submission to the Productivity Commission (DR303), Doctor Deb Hull, an expert in education said,

It is important for children to see the language and idioms of their country reflected back at them in what they read. In order for them to develop a sense of national identity, they need to work with texts that reflect the history and culture of Australia.

In order for them to develop as citizens, they must read about issues that this country is facing.

In order for them to engage with literacy, they must have access to books that are directly relevant to them.

I freely admit to being no economics expert. I am just a writer, ploughing through the Productivity Commission’s 220 page report, trying to make some sense of it all. And trying to understand how The Commissioners came to the conclusion that culture is sort of important in our country – but not enough to preserve it in our literature.

Surely when it comes to the wellbeing and education of our children, we should not be basing our decisions on the assumptions of economists who believe something to be ‘unlikely’.  We should listen to people like Dr Deb Hull – people who know – people who have the experience to tell us that it’s not the price of a book that makes a child pick it up – and it’s not the price of the book that inspires them to read it.

In spite of people like Bob Carr’s assertions to the contrary, even the Productivity Commission notes on page B.6 that ‘reduction in book prices….would do little to raise literacy rate.

So why are we considering jeopardising our culture and children’s learning for the sake of a ‘possible’ but by no means guaranteed drop in the cost of a book?

Dee White


(Please feel free to leave your comments on this issue. My next piece, PC Crit 3 will be posted to this blog on Monday 27th July).