In an article in last Saturday's Australian, Beth Driscoll reminds us that the Prime Minister will be the final arbiter of his new and lucrative prizes for literature. The man who thinks Bill Henson's beautiful, powerful, emotive photographs 'absolutely revolting' will be having the last word on which books represent the country's best literature.
The judging panels -- Peter Pierce, John Marsden and Margaret Throsby for fiction, Sally Morgan, John Doyle and Hilary Charlesworth for non-fiction -- were, if their response to this news was anything to go by, invited to be judges without being told that their decisions would be subject to Prime Ministerial approval and/or veto, and were apparently not told until after they had already accepted and could not get out of it without looking bad from a number of angles.
That was a piece of appallingly bad management on the part of the administrators. And while one understands why the PM might want to have a say about the winner of a prize with his name on it, the inclusion of this very unusual and highly contentious condition suggests to me that whoever was developing this project behind the scenes knew less about literary prizes and the administration thereof than was required not to stuff it up before it had even got off the ground.
Pierce and Marsden voiced their disquiet at the time. Think how much worse they must be feeling about it now that we have so much more precise an indication of the Prime Minister's taste and discernment when it comes to judging the arts. What a good thing Vladimir Nabokov doesn't qualify for this prize, what with being Russian, not to mention dead. Clearly he wouldn't stand a chance.