WA literary awards cut to biennial

With international authors arriving for the Perth Writers Festival, one question on everyone's lips will be: why have WA's top literary awards suddenly been cut back to every two years?

The annual $130,000 WA Premier's Book Awards has been cancelled this year and will be held every two years, saving $65,000 a year.

The announcement was made by awards manager the State Library of WA.

"It's a tremendously disappointing decision," arts patron Diana Warnock said. "I would have thought the magnificent effect of The Giants on the community was enough to convince any government that spending money on the arts isn't wasted.

"In this so-called backwards Wild West, we are among the greatest readers and love to buy books. So this decision seems odd to me."

Award-winning author Amanda Curtin said the State Government seemed to be undervaluing the importance of literature.

"This kind of recognition is so important to an individual writer's career," she said. "But the arts are a soft target anyway and literature is the softest target of all."

State Library chief executive Margaret Allen said the priority was to support writers in the best possible way.

"We've just been looking at the way we can run the program as efficiently as possible with the resources that we have," she said. "The conclusion was to go every two years."

Culture and the Arts Minister John Day said the decision to have the awards every two years came after an internal review of the State Library's budget. "This decision is not part of a formal budget process, rather the result of a reprioritisation of library resources," he said.

The Chamber of Arts and Culture WA said the decision was a great surprise and had adverse implications for writers in WA and beyond.

It threatened to reduce the profile of writing and reading but also diminished the opportunities to recognise and celebrate the contribution of writers, chamber chairman Warwick Hemsley said. "The downgrading of the Premier's Book Awards from an annual to a biennial event could be seen as WA losing its literary AAA rating in the eyes of other States," he said.

WritingWA chief executive Sharon Flindell said she was disappointed. "It was a surprise announcement and we have a lot of concerns," she said.