SPEECH: Launch - Parliamentary Friends of Australian Books and Writers

At the beginning of this speech the Parliamentary Friends of Australian Books and Writers was half launched and I now get to complete the launch.

I would like to add to the acknowledgements if I may, Bill Shorten who is here as Leader of the Opposition and Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who is here as well.

There are lots of industries that employ a whole lot of people, but they don't all get a Parliamentary Friendship group.

We’re not here in such big numbers tonight simply because this is a big industry, we’re here because this is the industry that, in so many ways, tells the story of our nation.

We are frequently in discussion in this building about what is the authentic Australia story. Some people try to limit it to one version and some people going to many. The reality being there are at least 24 million authentic Australian stories wandering around right now.

What Australian authors do is make sure that we get to experience the story of the other.

Try for the moment, to continue on Mem Fox’s theme, I’m actually in Butlers Gorge in Tasmania with a Slovenian family; reading The Sound of One Hand Clapping.

Australian stories have taken us through every part of the nation. From the backstreets of Melbourne and Sydney, through Johnno’s Brisbane, Voss took us all the way across the continent bypassing the Coorong where Storm Boy was. To the polio ward in The Golden Age and Tim Winton’s beaches on the coast of Western Australia.

Australian stories aren’t always set in Australia itself. Just as Tom (Keneally) took us to Poland or to Versailles. Just as Hannah Kent more recently has taken us to Iceland and Ireland. Australian authors allow us to see the world with an Australian story teller through an Australian lens.

What all this comes down to and why the policy here is so important and why we need to look at it differently to how we look at most other industries is because imagination and stories are not a commodity.

To have Australian stories disappear and get other stories cheaper from other countries doesn't mean you get the same thing. It doesn't mean you learn about yourselves, your neighbours, the future or the past of this land we are privileged to be on.

So for the work that those of you do whether you pen the story, type the story, print the story distribute the story or sell the story, thank you.

We’re here as a friendship group, not particularly because we want to be friends with each other. We’re not really good at that here.

But we want to be friends with you.

We do our job better if we understand and know the stories you tell.

So from all of the Members of Parliament who are here, please know that the friendship is real.  You enrich our nation, our job is better done because of you and this group is now launched.

Tony Burke