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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1923


Mr SPENDER(11.10) —Listening to the opening remarks of the honourable member for Jagajaga (Mr Staples), I had to ask myself whether this was an animated mummy who had been disinterred from some crypt, since he painted a picture of the Australian literary and cultural scene which would have us believe that nothing at all was done by the previous Government in this area. Might I remind him of three or four actions by the previous Government: First, the introduction of extremely generous-to my mind, far too generous-tax incentives for the Australian film industry; second, the implementation of the building of the Australian Art Gallery-a very expensive project which, had we been the Philistines he sought to paint us, we would have no doubt knocked on the head; third, the extensions to the Australian War Memorial; and, fourth, setting in train the Australian Museum.

As has been said by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), the Opposition supports the Bill. It is grounded in justice and it provides for compensation to authors for loss of potential income. Authors are not highly paid. Their income is intermittent and their effective working life is variable. It is notorious that some authors write themselves out at a very early stage; that inspiration dries up, and originality of conception becomes harder to summon up. It is only right that they should be compensated for the use of their books which are borrowed from public libraries. That is a use which is probably increasing, so that there is all the more need for the kind of scheme at which the House is looking now, which has been in place in an administrative form for some time. I know that the Australian Society of Authors welcomes the scheme. I have spoken to the Society which believes-and I think it is right-that it is better and more secure that this kind of scheme should be on a statutory basis.

I have a personal interest in compensation to authors for the use of their works when those works are not bought over the counter from a book shop. In 1975 I appeared as junior counsel for the University of New South Wales in the case of Moorhouse v. University of New South Wales. Some copying had taken place of a work of Mr Moorhouse at the University of New South Wales. Action was brought for infringement of copyright. The High Court of Australia eventually declared that copyright had been infringed. That is an example of an author-backed by the Australian Society of Authors-who took action to protect his own work and livelihood.

The rates of payment under the existing scheme will need to be looked at. I am sure the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) has those in mind. If one looks at what has happened, it is apparent that the authors have been losing out over the years. In 1975 the rates of payment per book were 50c for the author and 12.5c for the publisher; in 1983 they were raised to 60c for the author and 15c for the publisher; in 1984 they were 66c for the author and 16.5c for the publisher; and in 1984-85 they were 70c for the author and 17.5c for the publisher. I do not suggest for a moment that we should seek compulsorily to link the benefits provided by the scheme to the consumer price index, but it is perfectly plain that it is only just that compensation should take account of movements in the CPI so that the authors and publishers-but mainly the authors-are justly compensated for what is an actual loss of income, because when people go to public lending libraries and borrow books they do that in preference to buying the books.

There are one or two questions I want to raise with the Minister. The first is the length of the appointment of the Public Lending Right Committee. The Committee is set up to administer the scheme and, as I understand it, members can be appointed for up to eight years. It seems to me that an eight-year tenure is too long and I would be glad to have the Minister's views on that.

The second question arises out of the particular provision in clause 5 (4) (d) which, in effect, provides that where an author dies, the widow, widower or child of the deceased author or a person having relationship or association with the deceased author of a kind specified in a scheme is entitled to certain benefits under the scheme. I have no quarrel with the rights of people in this country to enter into whatever relationship they wish to do so-that is entirely a personal decision-but I do wish to know whether it is the intention of the Government that benefits under the scheme should go, for example, to de facto homosexual partners. What kind of relationship will the scheme extend to? We should know this. The Minister must have clearly in mind the kind of relationships that will be brought within the confines of the scheme and will receive the benefits under the scheme. For my part, I hope that it is not a case of the Government being afraid to describe in detail and to tell us who these beneficiaries will be. We are entitled to know this. We are voting on this Bill and we should know what we are voting on. We should know what kind of relationships will come within the scheme which will be promulgated by the Minister.

My next question relates to the scheme itself. Clause 5 of the Bill provides that the Minister may, with certain specific limitations, by notice published in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, approve a scheme and modify the scheme so approved. We do not know what kinds of schemes will be put for our approval. I would have thought it was perfectly simple to state in general terms in the Bill or to the House today the general outline of these schemes, even if the detail of particular matters has to be dealt with by gazettal or by regulation. It is, after all, asking the House to vote in support of a proposal which has, as a central part of it, a scheme about which we do not yet know. I ask the Minister to tell the House the general nature of the scheme that he will propose.

My last point is this: The scheme applies only to public libraries; it does not apply to universities or schools. I know that the Australian Society of Authors wants an investigation into the extension of the scheme to universities and schools. I do not express a view one way or another on the merits of whether the scheme should be extended to schools and universities. That may be something that the Minister has looked at. I would be very glad to hear his views on the subject and whether he believes it is worth while examining the question without, at this stage, expressing a view on behalf of the Government one way or the other. I wholly support the general concept that there should be a statutory code or statutory rights for authors so that they can be compensated for the use of their books when otherwise they would be compensated by the sale of those books.