19/11/2009 - 00:00

Take it as read ... this fight isn’t over

19/11/2009 - 00:00


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WESTERN Australians are often accused of being behind the times when it comes to regulations governing retail shopping hours, but national lawmakers aren’t beyond of bit that themselves.

WESTERN Australians are often accused of being behind the times when it comes to regulations governing retail shopping hours, but national lawmakers aren’t beyond of bit that themselves.

Last week, federal Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs Minister Craig Emerson announced the government had rejected a Productivity Commission recommendation to remove parallel importation restrictions on books.

The laws, brought in by the previous Labor government, protect local publishers from competition by overseas players.

Mr Emerson said Australian book printing and publishing was under strong competitive pressure from international online booksellers such as Amazon and The Book Depository, and the government has formed the view that that this pressure was likely to intensify.

In addition, he said the technology of electronic books (e-books) like Kindle Books would continue to improve with further innovations and price reductions expected.

“Compromise proposals were considered, involving reductions in the length of the 30-day publication rule and the 90-day resupply rule,” Mr Emerson said.

“In the circumstances of intense competition from online books and e-books, the government judged that changing the regulations governing book imports is unlikely to have any material effect on the availability of books in Australia.”

“If books cannot be made available in a timely fashion and at a competitive price, customers will opt for online sales and e-books.”

Which does make you wonder why the laws are there in the first place.

The Coalition for Cheaper Books said it would step up its campaign to scrap unfair import restrictions on books after the government’s decision not to reform the system.

The coalition claims to represent 40 per cent of national market, including retailers such as major book store chain Dymocks, as well as the discount stores of Woolworths, Kmart, Coles and Big W. That looks largely like the same retailers that WA laws aim to stifle.

Dymocks CEO Don Grover said sales to offshore internet sellers increased by 20 per cent last year and continued to grow.

“The federal government has said that it is ok for consumers to buy cheaper books from the internet, but not Australian bookshops. This is unsustainable. It’s only a matter of time before jobs are lost,” he said.

“The 30- and 90-day rules for supply and resupply were introduced in 1991, before the internet. Today they just don’t make sense and are costing booksellers business.

“We will continue to pressure the government to come up with a solution to save jobs in Australian bookshops. This is the fifth report from the Productivity Commission in almost two decades recommending the restrictions be changed – the government cannot continue to stick its head in the sand while Australian jobs are lost.

“The government has missed the opportunity to defend the rights of consumers who will be justly disappointed that they will have to continue to pay too much to buy books from Australian businesses.”

Defenders of the government policy say it has helped spawn a thriving publishing sector.

“As a direct result of the introduction of the 30/90-day rule in 1991, Australian publishing has grown into a strong and vibrant industry — and it keeps growing,” say publishers and authors on the Australians for Australian Books website.

“This vibrant market allows publishers to make long-term investments in authors — to identify them, foster their development, publish their books and promote them individually.

“Australian books are the last bastion of our unique culture — our books have Australian language, spelling and illustrations. This is particularly important in children’s book publishing — who wants to read about mom, sidewalks, diapers or dialling 911 instead of 000 for emergencies?

“As one of the largest English-speaking book markets in the world, we need territorial copyright in order to play on a level field with the big two (US and UK). Without territorial copyright we will wither.”

Garrett surprises

FEDERAL Environment Minister Peter Garrett made headlines for blocking a big development, something that has been unexpectedly rare since the one-time hardline conservationist took the important cabinet position.

Mr Garrett’s move to block Queensland’s plan to dam the Mary River to supplement drinking water supplies has waged science against science, Labor versus Labor and environment department against environment department.

The minister, it was announced, “has made a proposed decision to reject the Traveston Crossing Dam project, after deciding the impacts on threatened species would be too great”.

“After carefully considering all the information put before me and advice from my department, it is very clear to me that the Traveston Crossing Dam cannot go ahead without unacceptable impacts on matters of national environmental significance,” Mr Garrett said.

“I have based my proposed decision on the science presented to me, and the science shows that this project would have serious and irreversible effects on nationally listed species such as the Australian lungfish, the Mary River turtle, and the Mary River cod.”

This contrary to advice Queensland had accepted in going ahead with the dam proposal last month based on work by some of Australia’s foremost scientific experts on the Queensland lungfish, Mary River turtle, Mary River cod and giant barred frog – advice that was peer reviewed by the CSIRO.

“The experts believe environmental measures for the Traveston Crossing Dam Project will improve the situation for these species, through extensive work to improve their habitat and research at the $35 million Freshwater Species Conservation Centre to be run by the University of Queensland,” Premier Anna Bligh said in October.

Lobster plot

FISHERIES Minister Norman Moore came out fighting against a coalition of green groups who called for WA’s $400 million a year rock lobster fishery to be closed, claiming it had collapsed due to overfishing and mismanagement.

Mr Moore said his advice from the Department of Fisheries was that there was evidence to suggest the puerulus (immature lobsters) count was beginning to slowly increase after several years of record low counts.

“Here are two significant environmental groups – the Conservation Council and the Wilderness Society – saying we should close the state’s commercial rock lobster fishery tomorrow,” Mr Moore said.

“This demand simply highlights a serious disregard for the livelihoods of workers in a very important industry; ignorance about how the puerulus figures relate to the fishery’s current state; and a simplistic approach to management, at odds with scientific rigour.

“It is regrettable these groups think it acceptable to peddle claims that the fishery is being mismanaged and to focus on one aspect of it, rather than the fishery in its entirety.

“We have taken the precautionary principle of leaving an extra 1,000 tonnes in the ocean this year, in order to ensure that next year and the year after there are catches of about 5,500 tonnes.

The green groups said priority must be given to protecting the Western Rock Lobster both as a species and for the health of its marine ecosystem, as lobsters probably play an important role in the waters off WA.

“The collapse of Australia’s ‘best managed’ and most profitable fishery must trigger an inquiry by both state and federal governments into the adequacy of conventional fisheries management approaches in modern Australia,” the groups said.




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