Tagged: John Birmingham

Bean-counters at the gates of Queensland

And here I was thinking that Queensland wasn’t about to return to the Dark Ages. That nice, “comparatively urbane” Campbell Newman wouldn’t do anything really dumb in his first fortnight, like, say, axe the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. Would he?

Oh, wait. He would. He has.

“…The Queensland government has decided not to proceed with the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards in 2012 which will save Queensland taxpayers $244,475, not including the cost of resourcing the awards.

“The government would like to acknowledge all the sponsors, judges, stakeholders, entrants and winners for their valued contribution to the program to date.”

Well, that’s nice. Clearly though, their contributions are no longer valued – or perhaps more to the point, their contributions are nowhere near as politically valuable as a holy budget surplus. I can only guess, given the speed with which the axe has fallen, that literary prizes fall under the umbrella of the “waste and mismanagement” Newman railed against while in opposition.

On one hand, it’s smart politics. Newman will guess that not too many people in the arts sector will have voted for him, and probably never will. This won’t be news for more than five minutes outside of the minority of Queenslanders that actually, you know, read books.

As for the even tinier proportion who spend years writing them, well, at least we’ve got something to write about again. Now the barbarians bean-counters have stormed the gates and are busily looting and pillaging our quaint little hamlet (i.e. rummaging around the back of the couch in search of any spare 5c pieces that might help put the budget back in surplus), get ready for dark warnings about the return of the spectre of Bjelke-Petersen.

Perhaps Newman can contract the Deen Brothers (“All we leave behind are memories”) to knock down GoMA at 4am. That has the makings of a good play, actually – too bad it’ll probably have to be made in Sydney or Melbourne. How about prosecuting the local indie record store for stocking obscene titles? Hey, it didn’t work when Joh’s finest sent their shock troopers into Rocking Horse in 1988, but like Bob Roberts said, The Times Are Changin’ Back! 2012: the Reactionary Revolution starts here!

Seriously, though, now that Queensland is officially the only state without a government-embossed book award – for heaven’s sake, even the Northern Territory, with a population not much more than a 10th the size of Brisbane alone, has a Chief Minister’s literary prize – Newman might like to pause for a moment to consider the wider ramifications for Queensland’s cultural reputation.

It’s taken a long time even to begin to convince the rest of the country that we of the Deep North aren’t (to use John Birmingham’s favourite phrase) a state of slack-jawed provincials whose idea of refinement is playing the banjo with our toes. Might I suggest there are better ways of pinching a few pennies than effectively saying that the state places no value on reading, or writing, or introspection. Or even the very idea that political and cultural life is a dialogue that can play out in longer and more meaningful form than the 24-hour news cycle.

It’ll be interesting to see where the axe falls next. The Brisbane Writer’s Festival? The Queensland Music Festival? And, is this a harbinger of what arts policy under an Abbott government might look like?

Perhaps I’d better add, by way of a disclaimer, that the Brisbane City Council, under Campbell Newman, put a not insubstantial amount of money into Queensland Music Festival’s staging of Pig City as an event in 2007, for which the near-as-dammit original lineup of the Saints were persuaded to reform. But this is just a dumb, retrograde, mean move that in the long term will cost far more than it saves. Here we are, Queensland: Stranded all over again.

Oh yeah, and did I mention this is supposed to be the National Year of Reading?