The cultural commissars have abused their power again, determined to do as much damage as they can before the regime changes. Described as A New Low for the Literature Board the Commonwealth subsidy to Quadrant monthly has been halved to $20K per annum following a reduction from $50K a few years ago.
Last month, the Literature Board of the Australia Council slashed its annual grant to Quadrant magazine by 50 per cent. The board reduced our funding from the $40,000 we received in 2012, to just $20,000 for 2013. This is a big chunk out of our modest operating budget. All our Australia Council grant goes to the writers of Quadrant’s literary content, that is, our book reviews, poetry, short fiction, and essays on literature, film, theatre and the arts. We have to account for every dollar of this expenditure. The Literature Board does not fund our opinion pieces, political commentary, administration, printing, Quadrant Online, or the books we publish.
The only other literary magazine that, like Quadrant, publishes monthly is Australian Book Review. For several years it has had a special deal with the Australia Council that has netted it more than $110,000 a year. This deal was done when ABR pledged to review all Australian published trade books in literature and the other humanities. Yet even though ABR no longer keeps this pledge, its funding continues unabated. It has never reviewed any of the works published by Quadrant Books, even those written by such well-known and acclaimed authors as Peter Ryan, Peter Coleman, Les Murray and Sophie Masson.
Another highly questionable decision by the Literature Board was to give a total of $60,000 to Meanjin and Griffith Review in April 2012 to create apps for their magazines to be used on iPad and computer tablets. The grants were for $30,000 for each publication, an amount that raises questions about their probity. When Quadrant commissioned the US firm, MagAppZine (now MAZ Digital) to create our iPad app in June 2011, we paid $3,696. If that was the market rate then, why did the Literature Board give grants of nearly ten times this amount to Meanjin and Griffith Review? On top of this, the board gave Overland magazine $15,000 at the same time to “optimise” its website and create an app.
And this brings me to the far bigger issue underlying last month’s Literature Board decision. When state grants are subject to the kind of overt left-wing politicking revealed by that decision then they definitely come with strings attached. With this move, the Australia Council abandoned any sense of fair play or dispassionate review in order to reward its leftist friends and cronies, and to demean its conservative enemies. If this happened to us, you can bet it has also happened to other organizations that do not toe the currently acceptable political line.
This is plainly not just a problem invented by the Gillard government and her brand of radical feminist socialism. The fact that the Literature Board can use our application for funding to treat us in such an audacious fashion – we’ll show these right-wing misogynists who’s on top – is evidence that there is something deeply wrong not just with the kind of people who get appointed to its boards and divisions but with their entire approach to the allocation of state funding. The Australia Council is overdue for a serious review that goes to the heart of what it stands for and what it should be doing.