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End of a chapter: Govt closes book on import -

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ELEANOR HALL: Caucus strikes back. The Federal Government has decided to ignore the advice from the
Productivity Commission and not lift the ban on importing books.

The commission had advised the Government to scrap the restrictions, saying they inflated the cost
of some books by more than a third and that Australian consumers were being ripped off.

But this morning, the Competition Minister Craig Emerson said the Government had decided to keep
the restrictions in place because Australia's printing and publishing industries are already coming
under competitive pressure from online book sellers.

In Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: This morning in Melbourne 200 people gathered to protest against import bans on books
being lifted. Some had travelled from Adelaide for the rally.

And they were greeted with news that their protest had become redundant, with the Federal
Government deciding to keep parallel import restrictions in place.

Labor MP Steve Gibbons, whose electorate of Bendigo is home to a large publishing firm, was at the
rally.

STEVE GIBBONS: Well the protest rally talked turned into a victory rally and that was probably a
delightful outcome.

SABRA LANE: In July the Productivity Commission recommended the scrapping of copyright laws that
protect local publishers and authors who hold Australian copyright to particular book titles from
competition from overseas suppliers.

The commission ruled the ban was effectively a trade barrier, resulting in some readers paying up
to 35 per cent more for their books than readers overseas.

The issue's caused great tension within Federal Labor, with the Labor Caucus split on lifting the
restrictions.

But the Government has avoided a revolt with the Competition Minister Craig Emerson deciding today
to keep the status quo.

CRAIG EMERSON: Well the Government made the decision because we believe it's the best policy. And
it is true that Caucus members have strong views on this, some one way, some the other way. I think
that's a good thing. I think that Caucus should be involved in these sorts of policy
considerations. Many in the Caucus will be happy with this decision, some might not be happy with
it.

The fact is we need to make a decision on what we regarded as the best interests of Australian
culture, of Australian authors, of Australian publishers. And given the availability of
alternatives through online book selling this is the decision that we've reached and it's a logical
consequence of those considerations.

SABRA LANE: But as a consequence, not good for readers.

CRAIG EMERSON: If readers are unhappy with the timeliness or the price of a book they have the
option of going online. And that itself provides competitive pressure to Australian publishers, to
Australian book sellers. They're fully aware of that and they will need to meet the online pressure
and I'm sure they're up to doing that.

SABRA LANE: Again, Labor MP Steve Gibbons.

STEVE GIBBONS: There was never going to be a Caucus revolt. Remember, what we have been advocating,
and in fact what's been achieved is already Labor policy. This is a policy put in place in 1991,
it's part of our national platform and the big decision is that there's not going to be a change in
that policy.

So there's no such thing as a Caucus revolt. So this is a great sign that the democratic process is
alive and well in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party,

SABRA LANE: The shadow attorney-general George Brandis spoke with ABC radio in Brisbane.

GEORGE BRANDIS: What this will mean is that the price to readers and consumers of books in
Australia will remain much higher, artificially much higher than it otherwise would have been.

SABRA LANE: Maree McCaskill is the chief executive of the Australian Publishers Association.

MAREE MCCASKILL: We're absolutely surprised but I guess we're delighted because I'm glad common
sense prevailed and that the Government understood that the book industry is a very innovative,
vital and important industry that is an arts success rather than a failure. It doesn't need
propping up. It just needs the retention of the existing rules.

SABRA LANE: Don Grover, the chief of Dymocks books, was part of the Coalition for Cheaper Books,
which lobbied the Government to scrap the restrictions.

DON GROVER: I'm extremely disappointed with that decision. It certainly wasn't expected. I think
the Government have made the wrong decision in this case. It is going to cost thousands of book
selling jobs and at a time when the industry needed reform the Government weren't there to assist
the industry and make, in such reform, so very disappointed with the result.

SABRA LANE: Are you prepared to put a figure on how many jobs will be lost as a consequence of this
decision?

DON GROVER: We have in, on a number of occasions, quantified it for the Government at approximately
3,000 jobs in the retail industry. You know, frankly, if it keeps, if the internet keeps growing to
the same degree that it has in the UK and the US, you'll see at least that number of Australian
book sellers' jobs go.

SABRA LANE: Why do you think then the Government has made this decision? Do you think it's been
guided more by politics than by helping the consumer?

DON GROVER: Well all I can say is clearly not by helping the consumer.

SABRA LANE: There are no avenues now for appeal, are there?

DON GROVER: The fight isn't over. I mean I can guarantee you that book sellers in this country
cannot continue to be forced into a position either to reduce their margins to an unsustainable
position or to keep watching their loyal customers go overseas to buy products because our
consumers are in an open market. They're buying on the internet.

Why the Australian Government didn't support book sellers is a loss to me. I don't understand it.
But I can guarantee that book sellers in this country will continue, once we've had time to digest
the implications of this because they are substantial for our industry, we will continue this fight
because the Australian consumer deserves a fair go.

SABRA LANE: The Productivity Commission has declined to comment on the Government's decision.

ELEANOR HALL: Sabra Lane in Canberra.

Productivity Commission report on book imports

Extra Audio

Listen to an extended interview with Craig Emerson

Listen to an extended interview with Don Grover