Julianne Schultz. Australia must act now to preserve its culture in the face of global tech giants. Brian Johns Annual Lecture

May 9, 2016


At the first Brian Johns Annual Lecture, Julianne Schultz spoke of the challenge to Australian culture by the global tech giants. In the summary of ‘what can be done’ she said:

So what can be done to join the dots in the Age of Fang?

We need to become better advocates of the value of cultural investment. We need to find new ways to put the case so we can win political and bureaucratic supporters with hard headed and sustainable arguments.

We need to find ways to embrace the particularity of being Australian in a global context and find new ways to express that.

We need to be willing to challenge the market if it is not delivering – adding our voices to those demanding that the Fangs pay their taxes, and not allowing them to unfairly distort the market.

We need to be prepared to use the legal and other means at our disposal to demand that laws are not broken.

We need to use the leverage we have as the generators of 2% of global GDP to get returns and opportunities to participate that are our due – a digital news initiative here for instance, or a major contribution to the digitisation of cultural assets without giving up the copyright.

We need to leverage 50 years of cultural investment to ensure our stories are told not only to ourselves, but the world.

If, as the scholars have identified, the dominant companies in the Age of Fang have the power to command attention, communicate news, give voice, enable collective action, hold power to account and influence votes, we need that to be done on our terms.

This power needs to be institutionalised so that it is civically accountable. The smartest Fangs understand that playing a civic role brings extra kudos and wealth, but there is a need for vigilance to sustain this.

Getting the settings of this institutionalisation will be challenge of the next decade. It will require a carrot and a stick.

Some Americans are suggesting a royalty should be paid on data mining of personal information, as is done with the mining of minerals, and returned to the country of origin.

Europeans are challenging antitrust and privacy. G20 is renewing attention on tax to examine ways to ensure that the wealth generated is spread appropriately, and not left to a few rich dudes to distribute to suit personal philanthropic ambitions.

The market alone won’t do this. We know from the process of creating cultural institutions that there is a role for the state – a place where in the words of Robert Menzies, the future and past can connect in the present.

Even in this rapidly globalising age, the nation state remains the best organising principle we have. I am not alone in feeling uneasy about the proposition we should give it over to a new oligopoly that is present every moment of our lives.

The purpose of cultural investment in the Age of Fang needs to be reiterated and maintained. As a nation, we need to take this seriously now if we are not to become an asterisk. The purpose of cultural investment in the Age of Fang needs to be restated, funding maintained and opportunities to innovate and export enhanced.

Otherwise we will become invisible at best and tribal at worst. If that happens we will be reduced as citizens and countries to passive consumers in a digital marketplace that values us only for our ability to pay.

The Brian Johns lecture was presented by the Centre for Media History at Macquarie University and the Copyright Agency.

A fuller version of Julianne Schultz’ address can be found at:


Julianne Schultz is Editor and Professor, Griffith Review.

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