Schwartz Media’s The Saturday Paper has swiftly walked back a decision to restrict entries to the Horne Prize essay competition about minority groups to people who belong to those groups.

The judging guidelines created by editor Erik Jensen initially stated that they would not accept “essays by non-Indigenous writers about the experiences of First Nations Australians”, “essays about the LGBTQI community written by people without direct experience of this community” or “any other writing that purports to represent the experiences of those in any minority community of which the writer is not a member”.

The Australian reported this morning that writer Anna Funder had quit her role as judge over the restrictions. Commentator David Marr announced he had also quit via a piece for The Guardian. 

Marr said that he immediately made it clear he couldn’t not be a judge under the guidelines (which the judges were only made aware of over the weekend): 

I messaged Jensen at once: “I’ve been a big critic of such restrictions. Men can write about women, gays about straights, blacks about whites. You judge, as always, by quality. That’s likely to be higher when there’s direct experience. But you can’t disqualify for lack of it. And if we’re not going to accept whites writing about Indigenous experience, how can we have whites judging Indigenous writing?”

The Saturday Paper and Aesop respect the need for diversity in storytelling and for people — especially people from minority groups — to tell their own stories,” the Saturday Paper said in a statement.

“This year, in the hope of addressing this need, we introduced several new guidelines for The Horne Prize. We acknowledge these guidelines were restrictive and should not have been included. They have now been removed.” 

Indigenous journalist Jack Latimore, said the decision was “baffling and disappointing” and the initial guidelines had been welcomed in Aboriginal communities.

“People have told me they only submitted because the guidelines were the way they were. They were submitting because they thought their work was going to be given proper, due consideration: so that policy had been celebrated”.

Latimore said Aboriginal writers were “absolutely sick and tired of their stories being ripped off by privileged white people”.

“These stories have been harvested by white people . . . it’s that sort of colonial approach of reaping the land of everything that’s valuable and leaving the people with custodianship over it with nothing.”

The statement from the Saturday Paper indicated that Funder and Marr had “chosen not to continue as judges”.  

“And of course, it sounds like Marr and Funder, who had the problem with it, are still gone, and they don’t have the guidelines. So, it’s all for nothing now.”