In her first cultural event as Prime Minister, Julia Gillard presented the following speech at the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. She took the opportunity to talk about her support for the arts, the importance of the NBN as a way for the arts to expand their reach and the future of the national cultural policy in Australia.
It is a great to join you for the third annual Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.
A special celebration of ideas and the power of words in the life of our community.
This event today is special for me.
Not only because we are celebrating the best in Australian writing but because this is my first cultural event as Prime Minister.
I can’t think of a more appropriate gathering in which to express my support for the arts and my belief that a vibrant creative sector is fundamental to our success and identity as a nation.
This belief has led to my appointment of a senior and distinguished Minister, Simon Crean, to lead arts policy in Australia.
Simon and his wife Carol are not only longstanding patrons of the arts.
Simon has a deep interest in the linkages and opportunities that come from the arts –
– for example, in providing training and employment opportunities for young Australians
– discovering the possibilities that come with broadband,
– and unlocking the potential of the arts to unite and energise regional communities.
To support Simon, the Office for the Arts has been relocated to the heart of government in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
And together we will give renewed attention and impetus to the arts.
Simon and I both believe that the arts profoundly define the sense of who we are, how we see the world and how the world sees us in turn.
They attract talent to our shores and help cultivate a climate of creativity across society.
The arts also play an important role in building the attractiveness and amenity of our regional cities and towns.
And of course through the arts we celebrate the oldest continuous cultures on earth, those of the First Australians which are such a precious part of our human heritage.
Above all, it is the Government’s profound belief that the arts belong to every Australian …
And every opportunity must be taken to ensure the arts are open and accessible to all.
For those who seek a more pragmatic definition, we can also recognise the contribution that cultural industries make to our national prosperity and productivity.
The arts sector employs more than 200,000 Australians .
They promote and sustain employment and investment in tourism, exports, education and training.
They equip young Australians with skills of critical thinking, innovation and design that are so fundamental to the nature of the modern economy.
And the creative imagination is central to the success of our communications industry, in particular the National Broadband Network.
Through the NBN, arts and cultural organisations will be able to dramatically expand their reach.
Arts companies are already exploring the possibilities of digital media, for example with live broadcasts to digital screens around regional Australia and engaging young new audiences through Twitter and Facebook.
With the roll-out of the NBN, those possibilities will be dramatically enhanced for Australians, no matter where they live.
In all of this, the Australian Government and our partners in the states and territories and local government have a role, and that role is one of nurture and support.
The ideas, the creativity come from you.
And in the end, our cultural sector can only succeed though your commitment to excellence and the audience loyalty you can attract and sustain.
For Labor, our commitment to supporting and nurturing the arts has endured for a century, dating right back to Andrew Fisher.
Fisher was a music-lover, and a lifelong supporter of our first distinctively Australian school of painting, the Heidelberg School.
It is my desire to continue the tradition begun with Fisher and continued through the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments.
We will strengthen our support for the arts with the release of Australia’s first national cultural policy in almost two decades.
This is an important priority for the Government which will demonstrate our leadership in valuing a creative culture and the central place of the arts in our society.
Simon Crean will work closely with the arts sector to identify the priorities for a cultural policy framework.
We need to look at how we support this valuable sector and consider new models for promoting stronger engagement between arts organisations and the philanthropic and business communities given the very tight fiscal circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I look forward to the input of the publishing and literary community in charting the future course for the arts over the next decade.
In many ways it is literature which anchors and inspires the arts.
The distinguished Australian historian Geoffrey Serle called literature “the great civiliser.”
So often it is books that give life to other art forms such as film, theatre, even dance and opera.
John Marsden’s book Tomorrow When the War Began, for example, has been adapted to the screen to become this year’s highest grossing Australian film.
And of course books are a portable and affordable form of culture easily accessible to all.
For a nation so often defined by outdoor leisure and sport, we are also frequent travellers on the journey of reading and ideas.
New book sales stand at $2.5 billion per annum.
Eighty-four per cent of Australians are regular readers, including one in five who read poetry.
And despite the some real concerns over the future of publishing, remember we live in a golden age of Australian writing.
What a privilege it is to have living at the one time authors such as David Malouf, Peter Carey, Shirley Hazzard, Richard Flanagan and Kate Grenville.
And to witness a renaissance of historical authorship in the hands of such gifted writers as Peter Fitzsimmons, Evelyn Juers, Les Carlyon and Graham Freudenberg.
For myself, I was an avid reader as a child, forever cracking cases with Nancy Drew or going on adventures with Frodo Baggins.
These days I tend to curl up in The Lodge with a good briefing rather than a good book.
But a Tim Winton or Stieg Larsson novel is never far out of reach.
Of course reading is a gift that grows by being shared.
That is why I am so passionate about the importance of a good education in the lives of Australia’s children.
No part of a good education is more important than literacy and reading.
A glance at British social history, for example, will reveal how working class families prized having someone in the family who could read.
The “reading child” was a feature of many 19th century households.
One child, often the youngest girl, would read newspapers or novels out aloud to the family, keeping them informed and entertained, and perhaps also empowered as well.
One of the great reform journeys over the past century has been to make every child a “reading child”.
And why? Because the power of education is transformative.
As Tom Stoppard once said: “Words are sacred… If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little.”
I want Australia to be a community of readers.
I want every Australian to have the power of words and ideas at their command so that together we can “nudge the world a little.”
That is why it is so important to celebrate Australian writing and also Australian publishing.
And to ensure that in Australia, books and ideas always have a home.
These awards show the maturity of Australian writing.
Writing that transcends geographical and social borders.
Writing that reaches across genres and narrative faultlines to bring stories of humanity home to our libraries and bookshelves.
With the expansion of these awards to include children and young adults, these are now truly national prizes, backed by the office of the Prime Ministership in the same way that the various state awards have for so long been supported by our Premiers.
It is a simple yet powerful way of saying to our publishers and writers that we treasure what you mean for our nation.
And it is also by extension an opportunity to thank those who sustain our reading culture:
- the wonderful teachers and librarians in our schools,
- our booksellers,
- the literacy tutors in our migrant communities,
- the editors of our literary journals and our book reviewers,
- the lecturers in our creative writing schools,
- and of course our journalists.
That is why I am deeply proud of this year’s winners and nominees.
But I am prouder still of the industry and the society that has made them possible.
Australia truly is a reading nation.
Long may it remain.