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February 7, 2024

ASA Board letter to members

We’re conscious that there is a lot of debate right now about the role and expectations of artists and arts organisations in political events, and specifically about the war in Gaza. While the ASA’s Constitution clearly states that it “will be non-sectarian and non-party political”, the ASA affirms that its members, directors, and staff have every right to hold and express their own opinions and ideas. 

We recognise that many of our members are deeply distressed and affected, directly and indirectly, by the violence and displacement experienced by so many people. We share the deep sorrow that so many writers, artists and journalists are among those civilians arrested, targeted, injured and killed in Gaza, Ukraine, and elsewhere: as of this week, 85 journalists and media workers are confirmed killed in Gaza, Lebanon, and Israel since 7 October  – 78 of those were Palestinian, four were Israeli, and three were Lebanese. We endorse the work of Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN in Australia, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and other organisations defending and supporting authors, journalists and artists who have been dismissed or arrested, and raising awareness of the many poets, writers and journalists killed. 

Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and a principle that underpins our literature. Australian authors should be free to express themselves: to show solidarity, sign open letters and petitions, and to do their work without fear of professional or personal repercussions. We are horrified by the news this week that pro-democracy Australian writer, Yang Hengjun, has been given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court. Dr Yang was arrested on a trip to China in 2019 on espionage charges. In a statement, Dr Yang’s children said, “He is in jail because he represents truth, democracy, respectful exchange of rational ideas.

The Board of the ASA notes with growing concern recent reports of writers, illustrators and artists in Australia facing repercussions for expressing their views, analyses or ideas in public and in their creative work.

Examples of recent actions affecting authors in Australia include the public pressure on Adelaide Writers Week last year to disinvite two Palestinian writers; egregious social media threats against First Nations authors and journalists, particularly during the 2023 referendum debates; pressure on authors in school visits not to mention books which contain LGBTIQA characters or themes; and attempts to restrict young adult books on sexuality and gender identity. In recent days, we have seen social media posts exposing a concerted effort to track and report statements and activism by pro-Palestinian authors, including First Nations writers, and attempts to influence their funding, employment and publishing opportunities.

The ASA is committed to the following principles: 

  1. Fair work and fair pay for authors 
    We advocate for the rights of authors to earn a sustainable living. Suppression of voices, campaigns intended to diminish professional opportunities for authors, and book banning interferes with those rights.

  2. Freedom of expression 
    We believe authors should be free to express their ideas and opinions, within reasonable limits set by anti-discrimination & other laws.

    Australia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which sets out the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression.  

    We oppose attempts to silence or intimidate authors by censorship, hate speech – anti-Semitism, anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab rhetoric – or trolling. 

  3.  Inclusivity and equity 
    The ASA respects and values diverse life experiences and heritages and supports all writers and illustrators from all backgrounds whatever their gender, sexual orientation or identity, race, ethnicity, cultural background, faith, age, or disability.


We deplore attempts to exclude authors and illustrators from publishing opportunities, bookshops, or events because of who they are or the stories and images they’ve created, to intimidate authors, or to affect their employment status, income, or funding.

Writers and illustrators are critically important in difficult times. They shed light, provide nuance, give expression to emotion, and build empathy. Authors have the right to safe, welcoming and inclusive spaces and platforms, and to participate in the free exchange of ideas in events and publishing, free of prejudice or pressure. The ASA will continue to support Australian authors to pursue their creative work and their careers, and commits to ensuring these principles are applied to its own programming and activities.