I hope you have heard of Silent Invasion, Professor Clive Hamilton’s 2018 expose on how Communist China was quietly and systematically subverting Australian democracy and society.
I bought three copies myself – one for myself, one to circulate around the office amongst my colleagues and friends, and one to give to a friend who is a book reviewer (and China expert) so he could get a review published.
As a responsible, civic minded citizen, I felt it was my duty to try and give this book and its critical message a boost.
Especially as it almost did not get published.
You see, Professor Hamilton usually gets his books published by Allen & Unwin (who, since 1990, are an independent Australian publishing house separate from the British parent company now owned by Harper Collins).
However, they declined to accept this book, as they felt nervous about the commercial risks they might incur from offending Communist China.
Obviously Allen & Unwin felt that these commercial risks outweighed any obligation they felt as book publishers in this country towards freedom of expression and making a positive contribution towards safeguarding our democracy.
Since that time, whenever I see that a book is published by Allen & Unwin, I do think twice as to whether I am going to buy it. [It is just as well that Tolkien is published by Harper Collins these days, having kept control of the publishing rights from when they bought Allen & Unwin UK 30 years ago, as my well thumbed copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings date back to the 1980s and need replacing.]
However Allen & Unwin seem to have finally grown a new backbone, as I discovered on Thursday 20th May, when I attended a book launch for ABC Journalist Bill Birtles’ new book about his experiences in China.
For those who do not know, ABC China correspondent Bill Birtles was, in mid 2020, warned by our embassy in Communist China that it would be best for his safety if he immediately left the PRC. This warning happened just before he was hauled in for questioning by Communist Chinese security police.
Birtles has now written a book about China, where he lived on and off for many years, and his experiences there.
Allen & Unwin, to my deep surprise, have published this book. After they turned down Silent Invasion, I had the feeling that the spinelessness of their publishing policy was something which could not be cured.
Obviously I have been proven wrong, and I do hope that Birtles’ book sells many copies, and shows Allen & Unwin that doing the right thing, rather than the cowardly thing, brings its own rewards.
By the way, being at the book launch was a bit of an accidental blessing, as otherwise it is very likely that I would have visited Highpoint Shopping Centre that night when it was a Covid exposure site, in which event I would had to undergo the nuisance of isolating and getting tested for Covid.