October 2009

Comment

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

Elliot Perlman

Elliot Perlman is a writer. His books include The Street Sweeper, Seven Types of Ambiguity and Maybe the Horse Will Talk.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

U2 performing in the Las Vegas Sphere

Where the feats have no name: ‘U2:UV’ at Sphere

It’s no surprise it took U2 to launch post-stadium rock via a spectacular immersive show within the technical marvel of Las Vegas’s newest venue

Grace Tame running in the 2023 Bruny Island Ultra Marathon

Running out of trouble

How long-distance running changed the life of the former Australian of the Year (and earnt her a record win in an ultramarathon)

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Might as well face it

Lively discussions take place around the country every week on ethical non-monogamy, love addiction and how much sex is too much

In This Issue

In retreat

Gentlemen’s clubs

Mash-up

A short history of the media future

The insider

Paul Kelly’s ‘The March of Patriots’

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Frank Sinatra & Bob Hawke


More in Comment

Parliament House, Canberra, under a sunset

An executive summary

Labor’s pledge to depoliticise the public service is undermined by the government only hearing what it wants to hear on climate change

Image of Treasurer Jim Chalmers standing at lectern at Parliament House, October 25, 2023, taken from side stage

What kind of year has it been?

Was 2023 – beyond the referendum calamity – a year of government timidity or a demonstration of its ability to keep the national conversation on course?

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Truth after the Voice

The lost opportunity of the Voice referendum revealed Australians’ poor understanding of the Constitution, and the level of racism in the community

Empty seats with No campaign placards on them in an event venue in Melbourne, September 15, 2023,

True colours

What the outcome of the Voice referendum suggests about the future of reconciliation, and what it says about the national character


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality