Australian Reading

October 18, 2021

 (17:38): [by video link] Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I'm speaking to you from Sunnybank on Yuggera and Turrbal lands. I especially thank the wonderful member for Macquarie for moving this motion on my behalf, and the member for Curtin for her lovely words.

Since 2017 I have been co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Australian Books and Writers, along with Senator Hughes. When we could, we would meet face to face in parliament. This friendship group has had some memorable events. Trent Dalton attended one of our early events and spoke about his then-new book, Boy Swallows Universe, and what a treat that was. In 2018 we had an event to announce the short-listed authors for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. As a group we were really gathering steam and then 2020 hit and everything stopped—everything except reading. If ever there was a time when we all needed our books, as the previous speaker said, these last two years have been it. Whether you have re-read old favourites or found new friends through new authors, books have been a lifeline for so many Australians.

Australia Reads is the leading not-for-profit initiative to promote reading in Australia. Their mission is to get more people reading more books more often. They're passionate about Australian reading because they know through decades of research how reading improves peoples' wellbeing, improves cohesion in our community and stimulates growth in the economy. We know that reading books reduces stress by 68 per cent—more quickly than listening to music, or playing video games or walking. For 10 years, Australian Reading Hour has been the signature showcase for Australia Reads. Authors, booksellers, educators, libraries and publishers all celebrate the importance of reading in transforming lives.

This year, Australian Reading Hour was celebrated on 14 September, while we were in the winter recess, which is why we are talking about this a little bit late this year. The theme was 'Stories that Matter', and I wanted to share the top 10 stories that matter to me. It's always difficult to come up with just 10 Australian novels that matter, but it did make me realise what a breadth of talent we have spread across this great, brown land of ours. We have incredible authors whose stories have changed lives not only here in Australia but all around the world. I won't list all the 10 books again—you can check them out on my social media pages—but I will tell you my No. 1 Australian story that matters to me, and that's Tim Winton's Cloudstreet, a book I still love and could read again and again. This Miles Franklin Award-winning novel is recognised as one of the greatest works of Australian literature. I'm not the only one who thinks Cloudstreet is a special novel. Here's a quote from the wonderful Mem Fox, a living treasure herself and bestselling writer:

If you have not read Cloudstreet, your life is diminished … If you have not met these characters, this generous community, these tragedies, the humour … It is so wonderful.

Thank you, Mem. You can just hear the pure joy in that quote from Mem Fox. It captures Tim Winton's work so perfectly. Make sure you read it.

Reading books is such a special treat, but sharing our love of books with each other brings its own special delight. A love of books and reading is the best gift you can give your child. Research tells us that literacy skills don't just create educational gains; they promote strong family relationships, improved health choices and employability. But what is really interesting is that reading for pleasure has been revealed as the most important indicator of the future success of a child. I say that as a teacher. It's really that important. I mentioned Mem Fox earlier. Mem's books are often an Australian child's first experience of books and reading. Mem Fox has written more than 40 books for children, including one written in 1983, which I think is read by nearly every Australian child, Possum Magic—a delightful book that I read to my two boys. What an amazing contribution Mem Fox has made to educating Australian children. I'm also incredibly pleased to report that she's not done yet. Mem has just released a new children's book called Cat Dog with acclaimed illustrator Mark Teague. I'm actually a little bit envious that I don't have children young enough to be enthralled by a new Mem Fox book, but I am sure it will spark that passion for books and reading like all of Mem's books.

I would like to thank Australia Reads for their passion and their collaboration across the industry with public libraries, authors, illustrators, booksellers and publishers to get more Australians reading more books more often; it is infectious. My love of books and all things literature has been with me all my life. But, every year, the Australian Reading Hour initiatives make me think again about the wonderful books I've read and the ones I still have on my reading list to tick off.