Australian writer Richard Flanagan has used his Man Booker literary prize win as an opportunity to denounce Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s environmental policies.
Flanagan told the BBC’s Newsnight program that he was “ashamed to be an Australian” when asked about Mr Abbott’s recent commentary that “coal is good for humanity”.
“I’m very saddened because Australia has the most extraordinary environment and I don’t understand why our government seems committed to destroying what we have that’s unique in the world,” Flanagan told the BBC’s Kirsty Wark.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. We can grow our economy but we can do so much for our extraordinary environment.
“There are so many things and, to be frank, I’m ashamed to be Australian when you bring this up.”
Flanagan won the $A91,265 Man Booker prize for his novel The Narrow Road To The Deep North, a book inspired by the Australians who worked on the Thai-Burma railway during WWII.
The committed environmentalist, who said he was staggered to have won the prize, also spoke about the destruction of Tasmania’s forests.
“I genuinely believe that people of Australia want to see these beautiful places, these sacred places, preserved, [but] the politics of the day is so foolishly going ahead and seeking to destroy them when there isn’t even an economic base to it, when there is no market for the woodchips that would result from the destruction of these forests,” he replied.
“I think it’s unnecessary and I think it’s just politics being used to divide people that could otherwise be brought together on all that is best and most extraordinary in our country.”
Australian Greens leader and Tasmanian senator Christine Milne, who calls Flanagan a friend, said the Booker win was great news for the island state.
“Richard loves Tasmania and he has now put us firmly on the global literary map,” she said in a statement.
Mr Abbott has reportedly sent Flanagan a note of congratulations but has not commented on the environmental comments.
Attorney-General and Arts Minister George Brandis also spoke kindly of Australia’s current literary hero.
“Richard’s book will now assume a place of great significance in the international book industry,” a statement from Mr Brandis said.
“This accolade recognises not only Richard’s wonderful writing and imagination, but is a reflection of the quality of Australian literature.”
Flanagan’s comments also came a day after Treasurer Joe Hockey was grilled on the BBC’s Hardtalk program about Australia’s environmental record.
Host Stephen Sackur put it to Mr Hockey that Australia was “one of the dirtiest, most greenhouse gas emitting countries in the OECD”.
Mr Hockey described this as “absolutely ridiculous”, even though the Garnaut Climate Change Review said that Australia was the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the OECD.
A novel of the cruelty of war, tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love. Read Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Buy it here.
August, 1943. In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma death railway, Australian surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever. This savagely beautiful novel is a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.