October 2009


Parrallel imports

By Elliot Perlman
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Dear Prime Minister,

In the February Monthly you wrote that “the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed … and the free-market fundamentalism it has produced, has been revealed as little more than personal greed dressed up as an economic philosophy … With the demise of neo-liberalism the role of the state has once more been recognised as fundamental … in the design of a national and global regulatory regime in which government has ultimate responsibility to determine and enforce the rules of the system”.

It is precisely this responsibility that you will be abdicating and precisely the free-market fundamentalism you reject that you will be giving effect to if you accept the recommendation of the Productivity Commission to abolish the 30/90-day rule that governs the parallel importation of books into Australia.

Legislated in 1991, the 30/90 rule defines an Australian copyright territory as a territory separate and distinct from the copyright territories of other English-speaking countries. The legislation states that a book may be imported by local booksellers if it is not published here by an Australian publisher within 30 days of its English-language publication in another country. If an Australian publisher cannot supply a copy of a book it has published here within 90 days of a request for it by a local bookseller, then the publisher forgoes exclusive rights to the book until it is back in stock.

The rule affords local publishers sufficient economic security to take the considerable risks inherent in publishing books, and thereby to make available works by both little-known Australian writers and more recognised ones. It can sometimes even offer Australian writers publication opportunities overseas, through the contracts our publishers negotiate with their overseas counterparts. The 30/90 rule does all this, while barely causing any delay in the importation of overseas published books into Australia and usually with little or no price disadvantage to the consumer.

Implementation of the Productivity Commission’s recommendation would render local publishers unable to compete with overseas firms, who can dump foreign-produced books here at cheaper prices due to the bigger print-runs permitted by their larger populations. Any ensuing gains to the consumer would be trivial and intermittent, while this last-ditch attempt to implement extreme deregulated market ideology would devastate the Australian book publishing and printing industries, lead to widespread job loss and strangle Australian writing.

Without a healthy Australian publishing industry to discover and nurture Australian writers, only a tiny number of our most commercially successful – and already established – writers would be published overseas. And, if the international popularity of those few writers waned then, in the absence of a viable Australian publishing industry to keep their books in print, the stories of a once vibrant and unique culture would become mere historical curiosities.

The narrative arts are the means by which a nation records and preserves its very identity, reminding us who we are and reinforcing the ways in which we matter. It would be a grave mistake to put this enterprise at risk for the sake of the slight and uncertain decrease in the price of books tentatively promised. Notwithstanding our small population and our distance from major population centres that share our language and broader cultural heritage, we have a unique culture that is worth preserving.

Australian writers invest years of their lives in refining and updating the nation’s narrative. Most consider themselves fortunate if they’re able to make just enough to get by – and keep writing. And Australian publishers pour their resources into grooming and promoting homegrown talent. They do it in the hope of profit, but also to maintain our collective sense of self. If Australian publishers were motivated solely by profit, they would sell fast food, alcohol and tobacco rather than books.

Prime Minister, do not let it be on your watch that Australian writing and publishing are critically damaged by the implementation of a discredited ideology that has led to the most serious global economic crisis since the Great Depression. Please reject the Productivity Commission’s recommendations and retain the 30/90 rule.

Elliot Perlman
16 September 2009

Cover: October 2009
View Edition

From the front page

Image of Suzanne Ciani

Tip of the pops: ‘This Is Pop’ and ‘Song Exploder’

Two Netflix documentary series only manage to skim the surface of pop music history

Image of Lieutenant General John Frewen. Image via ABC News Breakfast

The back of the back of the queue

Young people have waited patiently through the government’s slow rollout, but it’s now killing them

Image of Scott Morrison holding a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine. Image via Facebook

Vaccine resistance

Despite historically high vaccination rates, Australia has developed a significant anti-vax movement in the middle of a global pandemic

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Racing against time

The I-Kiribati Olympic sprinter hoping to draw attention to his nation’s climate catastrophe

In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Frank Sinatra & Bob Hawke

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Bad behaviour

‘Barley Patch’ by Gerald Murnane

Giramondo Publishing, 320pp; $27.95
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Death notice

More in Comment

Image of Scott Morrison at Kirribilli House, July 9, 2021

The coward’s pulpit

Scott Morrison is a leader who not only fails to accept responsibility but continually abandons his post

Image of vaccination centre, Melbourne


The disordered national vaccine rollout reveals systemic flaws in our politics

Image of Josh Frydenberg and Scott Morrison

Ignoring the gap

The budget shows that the government is not interested in lifting women out of poverty

Image of Minister for Women’s Safety Anne Ruston

Australia’s number-one law and order issue

Addressing the national scourge of domestic violence

Read on

Image of Scott Morrison holding a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine. Image via Facebook

Vaccine resistance

Despite historically high vaccination rates, Australia has developed a significant anti-vax movement in the middle of a global pandemic

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Jenny Morrison laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier during the Anzac Day commemorative service on April 25, 2020. Image © Alex Ellinghausen / AAP Image/ Sydney Morning Herald Pool

A rallying crime

For a country that loves invoking the virtues of wartime sacrifice, why have our leaders failed to appeal to the greater good during the pandemic?

Photo of installation view of the exhibition Camille Henrot: Is Today Tomorrow at NGV International. Photo © Tom Ross

Simultaneous persuasions: ‘Camille Henrot: Is Today Tomorrow’

Radical difference and radical proximity are hallmarks of the French-born artist’s NGV exhibition

Still from The White Lotus. © Mario Perez / HBO

Petty bourgeoisie: ‘The White Lotus’

Mike White’s scathing takedown of privilege leads July’s streaming highlights