Four months ago, I moved to the state of Queensland. Two months ago, I turned eighteen. Three weeks ago (early, because I was to be away on holidays on polling day), I voted for the first time, in a state election. The Liberal National Party were voted in with a massive majority, with Campbell Newman as their great leader (he reminds me, so much, of Tony Abbott, who I am not fond of).
Ten days later, despite promising in the election campaign to preserve arts and culture, the Newman government made the decision to cancel the Queensland Premiers Literary Awards. Just get rid of them entirely. Without consulting anyone. In the name of controlling government spending and returning the budget to surplus.
Now, I care about the economy. I care about the great folk of Queensland, and the families, and the seniors, and the tradies, and the children, and the battlers, and the miners, and all of the other people that Campbell promised he would look after. (He was going to look after everybody, except the singles and the lefties I think.) I think a crazy amount of taxpayer money is wasted. But I'm not resentful about paying taxes - I live in a wonderful country! I want to make it better! I am all idealism and rainbows!
But really? The state government will save $240,000. This is an absolutely inconsequential amount of money in terms of the state's debt (I've linked below to articles with more exact figures). What the LNP have proven is that they don't actually value the arts. This doesn't disappoint me as a writer - I don't think about winning awards at all, there are plenty of other things I can get disappointed about, clearly - as much as it disappoints me as a reader and as someone who enjoys being part of a rich artistic community and as a resident of Queensland.
This is what I'd like: to live in a state I'm proud of. Maybe it's too much to ask that Queensland not totally screw up its environment (coal seam gas and mining and all that business). There's too much money and too many jobs tied up in that for me to even dream of a more environmentally conscious Queensland government. But it doesn't require a lot of money or effort on the part of Queensland to encourage us out of being a cultural backwater. And guess what? There are jobs in fields of writing and editing and publishing too! There are economic benefits to our existence! Maybe not as much economic benefit as an A-league soccer team or a mine can provide, but stories are such an integral part of the human existence. Stories define who we are in a way that elite sports cannot. To have so little regard for Queensland as a creative state as to scrap the state awards to save small change - it's incredibly disappointing.
The thing that really, really worries me, though, is what if most Queenslanders are with Campbell on this? I mean, people voted for this man, so obviously their values really don't line up with mine. I've met a lot of Queenslanders. And I am terribly afraid that the people who value arts and culture and stories and ideas and writers are perhaps the minority. I'm concerned that most of the Queenslanders I know view the loss of these awards in a very simplistic manner: of only being of benefit to the writers that win them, rather than to Queensland culture on the whole. The idea of living somewhere that creative fields are so lowly regarded - it's depressing. What next? Censorship? Book burnings?
Of course, it's politics. We live in a capitalist society. Arts and culture and stories will always lose out to cash money, especially when a conservative government is in power. I think maybe I should just get a slab of four-x and a job in the mines and be done with it.
There's a petition you can sign, if you like. Further reading, because other people have put it better than I have: excellent pieces by James Roy, Nick Earls,on The Australian, Meanjin and by Stuart Glover. That is a tiny selection. You should read a lot more and then write a letter to Campbell.