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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1304

Mr COHEN (Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment)(6.03) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Public lending right is an internationally recognised concept of compensation paid to authors to recompense them for income lost by the free multiple use of their books in public lending libraries. Schemes embodying this concept first emerged in Scandinavian countries in the 1940s, and have since been introduced in eight other countries. In the English-speaking world, New Zealand introduced a scheme in 1973, Australia in 1974 and the United Kingdom in 1979.

The Australian public lending right scheme was introduced in 1974 by the Whitlam Government, following recommendations by the Literature Board of the Australian Council for the Arts. The Board had undertaken a study at the direction of the then Prime Minister, in response to representations from Australian authors and publishers seeking recognition of the principle that the community as a whole should compensate them, at least in part, for the loss of potential income represented by their books being borrowed, free of charge, from public libraries.

The public lending right scheme operated initially under the control of the Australian Authors' Fund Committee within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. An Australian Authors' Fund Bill was drafted to establish a statutory base for the scheme, but this legislation lapsed with the dissolution of Parliament in November 1975. From that time the public lending right scheme has continued to operate on a purely administrative basis, being funded within the appropriation for its administering body. In 1976, the scheme was placed under the control of the Australia Council, but this arrangement proved unsatisfactory and in 1980 it was transferred to the then Department of Home Affairs. The scheme currently operates within my Department under the control of a Public Lending Right Committee, appointed by me, comprising representatives of authors, publishers, libraries and the Government.

These changes in the organisational arrangements for the public lending right scheme, and the numerous reviews of its functions which have occurred in the last 10 years, have not allowed the establishment of a firm and clear basis for its continued operation. The scheme has lacked a coherent framework of accountability for the expenditure of the public funds allocated to it, and a clear source of authority for the decisions of the Public Lending Right Committee. These deficiencies have also induced great uncertainty among the various literary interest groups, who have maintained strong pressure for formal establishment of the scheme as a guarantee of its continuation. In 1983, before the Federal election of that year, the Australian Labor Party made a commitment to Australian authors and publishers that, if elected to government, it would place the public lending right scheme on a statutory basis. Within its first year of office, the Government initiated the legislative drafting processes necessary to fulfil this commitment.

I therefore take great pleasure in introducing the Public Lending Right Bill 1985 as formal recognition by the Government of the principle of public lending right. This Bill has been drafted with the advice of the Public Lending Right Committee, and contains the following provisions: It delineates the scope of the scheme, restricting it to compensation payments only in respect of Australian books held in Australian libraries; it describes the powers to be exercised by myself as Minister in approving and modifying the public lending right scheme as necessary, and in appointing members of the Public Lending Right Committee to advise me; it formally establishes the Public Lending Right Committee, describing its constitution and operation, including membership, terms of office, powers of delegation and conduct of meetings; and it provides appropriate mechanisms for review of decisions by the Committee, thus ensuring a right of appeal for claimants.

The operational details of the public lending right scheme, as it will function under this legislation, will be promulgated in a notice in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette immediately after proclamation of the Act. These details will include information on eligibility requirements, claim mechanisms, rates of payment and so on. This Gazette notice is currently being prepared by my Department, and I intend to invite the various literary interest groups to comment on its provisions, so that their views may be taken into account before the document is finalised.

The public lending right scheme, as it currently operates, has a budget of $1.78m and distributes payments to some 4,500 authors and publishers. For this financial year, I was pleased to be able to increase the basic rates of payment to 70c per copy for authors and 17.5c for publishers. These funds are provided as an item within the annual appropriation for my Department. There will be no change in the funding procedure or in the level of funding as a result of this legislation. Public lending right payment rates are reviewed annually in the Budget context, and may be increased should that be considered appropriate in the prevailing budgetary circumstances.

In the 10 years of its operation, the public lending right scheme has established wide acceptance and support from authors, publishers and libraries. The actual amounts of compensation range from the very small for part-time authors to larger amounts for recognised and full-time writers, but, whatever the amount, it represents a modest contribution by the community in return for the considerable pleasure and enlightenment provided by books, even in this electronic age.

The public lending right scheme applies to the whole spectrum of literary endeavour, imposing no restriction on content or style. The class of 'author' includes illustrators, translators, compilers and editors-anyone who has made a substantial contribution to the creation of a book. Honourable members will be interested to know that there are probably a couple of members of Parliament who have received such compensation. One is the Minister for Science, Mr Barry Jones. Perhaps the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) will write a book one day and gain the benefit of the scheme. The principal requirement is that the creator of the book be an Australian citizen, or at least resident in Australia, thus ensuring that the economic benefit of the scheme remains within this community.

I believe that the Public Lending Right Committee, as constituted by this Bill to represent the principal interest groups of authors, publishers, libraries and the Government, will ensure that the public lending right scheme remains accountable and responsive to changes in publishing and library practice. I would like to mention the names of a few people who have been major forces behind this piece of legislation. So often in our society people who struggle to get changes made to legislation are never recognised. Bodies such as the Australian Society of Authors and the Fellowship of Australian Writers and individuals such as Colin Simpson, the author, Nancy Keesing, Barbara Jefferis and my old friend Alan Ashbolt have all played a leading role in getting the legislation to this stage. I look forward to working with the members of the Committee and I hope that we will enjoy the support and confidence of the Australian literary community in our administration of the public lending right scheme under this legislation. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Tuckey) adjourned.