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PM picks conservative panel for book prizes

25 May 2014 162 views No Comment

Tony Abbott has remade the $600,000 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in his own image, with a line-up of mostly like-minded judges, including his publisher Louise Adler, conservative columnist Gerard Henderson and former Liberal MP Peter Coleman.

The names were announced by press release after Mr Abbott spoke at the Australian Book Industry Awards dinner on Friday, ending a delay that stirred concern he might drop the awards started by Kevin Rudd. Mr Abbott chose the judges from a list of suggested candidates.

At the dinner in Sydney, Mr Abbott and his Arts Minister, George Brandis, were good-humoured about gentle ribbing from the satirical singing MC, Casey Bennetto (creator of the musical ‘Keating!’), who serenaded the Prime Minister, He’s an author too, and Mr Brandis as the publishers’ friend.

The crowd of publishers, booksellers and authors was polite apart from a few turned backs, despite rumours that some would voice their anger at budget cuts and other government policies. Several speakers called for extension of the GST to online booksellers such as Amazon.

Maxine Beneba Clarke, a young author of Afro-Caribbean descent, privately gave Mr Abbott a copy of her acclaimed short-story collection, ‘Foreign Soil’, with a petition signed by hundreds of writers that calls for more arts funding. He thanked her but said he didn’t get much time to read. As Mr Abbott left to catch a plane, Mr Bennetto mock-whispered to the audience, He’s gone!

Among the night’s presentations, Mr Abbott might have been amused by the award for general non-fiction to Kerry-Anne Walsh for ‘The Stalking of Julia Gillard’.
Book of the year was ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion, international book of the year ‘The Luminaries’ by New Zealander Eleanor Catton, literary fiction ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent, biography ‘The Crossroad’ by Afghanistan veteran Mark Donaldson, illustrated book ‘I Quit Sugar’ by Sarah Wilson, and children’s books ‘The 39-Storey Treehouse’ by Andy Griffiths and ‘WeirDo’ by Anh Do.

Other judges are historians Ross Fitzgerald and Ann Moyal, and psychiatrist Ida Lichter.

Susan Wyndham, ‘The Sun-Herald’, Sunday May 25, 2014, p 22.

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