Comment: No need to bring Brandis to book

Tony Abbott and George Brandis in Parliament.

Let's not be too quick to condemn George Brandis and his taxpayer-funded library. Book-buying senators set an excellent example for the rest of us, writes Anne Treasure.

Arts Minister Senator George Brandis has been exposed by our national newspaper as a bibliophile. Did Rupert sanction this? Was not enough of the allowance spent on Murdoch-owned HarperCollins titles? Why would a journalist look at a politician’s expenses and ask “What you readin’ for?”

By all means take a senator to task for claiming the expense of his trip to a wedding, but exposing the use of a parliamentary allowance for publications on books? Don’t be ridiculous. Disparagement might be appropriate if Brandis was buying Fifty Shades of Grey with the public purse, but the index of books reads like a shopping list for the parliamentary library.

George Brandis is a senator for Queensland, a state that was only last year stripped of their Premier’s Literary Awards, and that has been haemorrhaging both bookstores and arts funding in recent years. Brandis is a vocal champion of the humanities, having lauded the benefit of his own arts degree, and lamented the degradation of the humanities in our universities.

Rather than simply paying lip service to the idea that culture and social analysis should be supported, he is personally putting resources behind it. Brandis is directly supporting writers, publishers, booksellers and Australian public discourse. This display of personal arts funding should be applauded, particularly from our new Arts Minister.

Being appointed to the office of Arts Minister and substantially executing the role are two different things, as we learnt from Peter Garrett.

Criticism of Brandis’ book buying habits on the public dime should be quelled by surveying the list – books like An Eye for Eternity by Mark McKenna (a biography of Australian historian Manning Clark) and The Party Thieves by Barrie Cassidy, both published by Melbourne University Press.

The truth is, it’s a good thing that politicians’ book-buying habits are being exposed. Book-buying senators set an excellent example for the rest of the tax-paying population on how to spend both their money and leisure time.

One thing that none of the reportage of this book-buying scandal has exposed is where the books were purchased. From the look of the list, they could all have been bought within the safe confines of the APH bookstore. One hopes not. Bookstores are an excellent example of the small business interests that the Coalition claims to represent, and Queensland’s bookstores need all the help they can get.

Are we really supposed to be outraged to discover a conservative senator has such a voracious reading habit? Should this type of bibliophilic behaviour be exclusively the domain of the far left - don’t think we’ve forgotten about your shameful bookshop-propping-up ways, Senator Ludlam of the Greens. Well, now the truth is out. The conservatives have a reader in their ranks too.

It appears only the ALP is free from such a representative, a politician who spends public resources on maintaining not just general, political and social knowledge, but also directly supports the humanities, small business and the book industry. Someone check Bob Carr’s receipts.

Anne Treasure is a recent survivor of the book industry.