Come autumn, come the season of literary festivals starting with the Adelaide Writers’ Week on Saturday and followed by similar events in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, and more later in the year.

In contemporary Australia, literary festivals are best defined as occasions when a group of leftist or left-of-centre public servants get bucketloads of taxpayer money and invite like-minded individuals from home and abroad to pitch their views.

For the most part, the fiction area of writers’ weeks is unexceptional. Provided writers talk about fiction writing. However, the non-fiction part of a literary festival is invariably a leftist stack. In other words, they are an extension of the ABC in that they are conservative-free zones.

In 2023, the AWW (director Louise Adler) was a complete leftist stack. Nothing has changed this year – except for the composition of the stack. In my Media Watch Dog blog last Saturday, I listed some 40 participants taking part in discussions on national and international politics. There was not one political conservative in the group. Sure, former Liberal Party senator Amanda Vanstone is speaking at AWW, but she regards herself as a “liberal” in the North American sense of the term – not a conservative.

Without doubt, the big international and national story at the moment is the Israel-Hamas war. It commenced when, on October 7, Hamas broke a ceasefire agreement and engaged in a terrorist attack on southern Israel, primarily directed at civilians – including children, pregnant women and babies. Some were murdered, some were raped and some were taken as hostages – war crimes all.

So, how is the AWW handling this? Well, as Caroline Overington wrote in these pages on February 17 and 24, speakers on this topic lack any balance. All are critics of contemporary Israel. In short, there will be no debate, as the various writers essentially agree on essentially everything with respect to the Middle East.

It was much the same with AWW in 2023, also directed by Adler. On this occasion seven Palestinians addressed the function but not one Israeli. Some speakers hostile to Israel were on record as making vile anti-Semitic statements. Anti-Semitism is more prevalent in Australia than at any time since European settlement in 1788. Needless to say, this topic is not on the 2024 AWW program.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with a group of opponents of the state of Israel, including leftists, getting together to proclaim their cause. The problem here is that literary festivals are overwhelmingly funded by taxpayers and ratepayers. The 2024 AWW is primarily funded by the South Australian government and the City of Adelaide.

Its lack of balance does not merely focus on the Middle East. The only current politicians on the program are two Greens senators (Sarah Hanson-Young and Barbara Pocock) plus a left-of-centre teal (Zoe Daniel). This despite the fact a clear majority of Australians vote for Labor or the Coalition.

On December 4, Adler received a soft interview from Laura Tingle on the ABC’s 7.30 program. She used the occasion to complain that “we are being silenced” and that her concern “for peace and justice in the Middle East is suppressed”. Apparently, neither Tingle nor Adler saw the irony in someone complaining of being silenced while speaking on a major current affairs program with no opposing view allowed to be expressed. But there you go.

Moreover, as Michael Gawenda points out in the first chapter of his book My Life as a Jew (Scribe, 2023), Adler herself has called on the media to banish “discredited spokespeople” from the public debate.

The Melbourne Writers Festival is not due to announce its full 2024 program until later this month. However, it is already mired in controversy.

This week, Dr Leslie Reti, a retired clinician, resigned as MWF deputy chair. He objected to a planned poetry event that was described as: “Aboriginal and Palestinian solidarity has a long history, a relationship that is more vital than ever in the movement to resist colonialism and speak out against atrocities.”

Reti is reported to have said he decided to resign in protest at the “historically untrue and deeply offensive” statements in the program. He’s correct. It is arrant nonsense to depict the Jewish state as a product of “colonialism”. There were Jews in what some call the Holy Land well before the advent of Christianity and Islam.

As it turned out, Michaela McGuire, the MWF’s artistic director, refused to alter the title of the session – which was curated by Mykaela Saunders. Saunders is an Israel antagonist who is on record as blaming the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7 on “Israeli settler colonial dispossession”. This despite the fact Hamas attacked a part of Israel that has been recognised by the United Nations since 1948.

Once again, Saunders is entitled to state her case. The problem is that the MWF is largely funded by Victorian and commonwealth taxpayers along with City of Melbourne ratepayers. There appears to also be some funding from a property services company.

A number of prominent Indigenous Australians, including Marcia Langton and Nova Peris, are on record as rejecting the view that there is a causal connection between Indigenous Australians and Palestinians. Once again, the problem is that MWF lacks balance and is devoid of debate. Consequently, the views of Saunders are not destined to be challenged. It is a form of taxation without representation.

It’s much the same with the Sydney Festival, which precedes the Sydney Writers’ Festival (which in 2023 was yet another leftist stack). The SF features a function at the Sydney Opera House (which is heavily subsidised by taxpayers) titled “All About Women”. One of the curators is Israel antagonist Clementine Ford, who has accused Jewish women of being enthusiastic supporters of a murderous regime that has been killing children for over 70 years. It appears that no view critical of Ford will be heard.

Your taxes at work.