Asked why writers should be given special treatment over other artists or any award winner, Ms Rogers says the average writer earns less than $13,000 a year from their craft. She also argues there is a government funding gap between literature, which has a relatively high public participation rate thanks to libraries and writers’ festivals, and art forms such as ballet, which attract a smaller percentage of the population.
“Funding is always an issue in the arts but it’s particularly an issue in literature,” she says. “There’s not vast amounts [of money] coming in from other streams.”
Melissa Lucashenko, who won this year’s Miles Franklin for her critically-acclaimed novel Too Much Lip, says it is unfair for only the Prime Minister’s awards to be tax-free.
“It’s a bit of a kick in the guts to win a major prize only to learn you’re going to lose a third of it or maybe more for the government to waste on submarines,” she says. “I’m happy to pay tax. But most authors earn bugger all. It’s virtually impossible to live off your earnings as a creative writer in Australia.
“It’s this narrative of fighting for scraps. I know an award-winning Aboriginal writer literally living on mouldy damper. I was talking to her yesterday. Every extra few dollars goes a very long way when you’re living in the bush.”
Federal Arts Minister Paul Fletcher would not be drawn on whether he thinks more literary prizes should be granted tax exemptions. A spokesman for the Department of Communications and the Arts would only say the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards are worthy of the exemption because the prizes celebrate “the important contribution of Australian authors to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life”.
The awards, announced in 2007 under the Rudd government, honour the best fiction, poetry, non-fiction, Australian history, young adult and children’s writing from the previous 12 months. This year’s winners, awarded at a ceremony in Canberra last week, included novelist Gail Jones, poet Judith Beveridge and children’s author Emily Rodda.