Policy debate was firmly on the agenda when the NUSA Council (NUSAC) met on the 29th of August. Education Officer Michael Labone tabled a paper taking aim at the National Union of Students’ current cheaper textbooks campign. The campaign is collecting signatures in order to lobby the Federal Government to relax parallel import restrictions (PIRs) on textbooks printed overseas.
“The idea is that by removing the restrictions, the wholesale price of textbooks will be reduced”, Labone told Opus. “The argument is that once that price is reduced, the saving will then pass onto the students.
But it puts faith in the market, which is a fundamentally flawed position. Trickle-down economics just doesn’t work.”
NUSA Welfare Officer Mickala McMahon had a similarly negative assessment of the policy, releasing the following statement:
“As much as I respect the financial hardship students face, this campaign may not be entirely viewed as a positive one.
“Removing parallel import restrictions will destroy the Australian publishing industry, and job losses will go well into the thousands. Not to mention it will potentially fail to achieve the desired outcome; retail monopolies have no obligation to provide savings to consumers.
We need to protect our local talent, as the absence of an Aussie publishing industry would seriously impede our authors gaining exposure. As a woman writer myself, I understand how a lack of recognition within the arts has ongoing consequences.
Our authors are already some of the lowest paid workers, earning an average of only $13 000 a year. Taking away PIRs will only lessen their royalties and by extension, their ability to keep contributing to our wonderful literary culture.
A lack of Australian representation would also mean less locally relevant content in textbooks. We ought to be campaigning to have textbooks added to HECS, or for our campus libraries to be better stocked.”
McMahon refers here to the possibility that cheaper wholesale prices on imported books would make Australian-made books less attractive. In this hypothetical scenario, there could be less textbooks with Australian-centred content, which is especially important for sociology, social work, psychology, health and more.
Labone contacted the NUS Welfare Officer before bringing this debate to NUSAC. Opus understands that the NUS Welfare Officer, Robby Magyar, rejected Labone’s critique of the campaign, labelling it ‘factional’ in nature. Magyar was contacted for comment but has not provided it.