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Book Reviews


Latest reviews this page.
The earlier 20 titles refer here.

Australian History in 7 QuestionsAustralian History in 7 Questions
by John Hirst, Black Inc, 2014, 224pp, RRP $24.99

Reviewer: Ken Turner is a former Head of Department and Associate Professor in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.

The most stimulating historians do not just search out fuller information; they also suggest trends, pattern, meaning. Inevitably this is contentious; different viewpoints and questions influence what material is selected as relevant. At its best, the subsequent discussion of rival interpretations is interesting and constructive.

John Hirst's flair for productive debate has already been demonstrated in important books like Convict Society and Its Enemies, The Strange Birth of Colonial Democracy, The Sentimental Nation, and Sense and Nonsense in Australian History. All but two of his seven structural questions here are further treatment of such earlier theories.
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Diary of a Foreign MinisterDiary of a Foreign Minister
by Bob Carr. UNSW Press, 2014, 502 pp, RRP $49.99

Reviewer: David Clune is an Honorary Associate, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney.

In a seminar paper in 2006 Bob Carr talked about what he saw as the essence of diary keeping: 'Diaries have got to have a dailyness about them … they are about the events and the moods and the fleeting impressions of the day'. He quoted some 1990 extracts from his diary and commented:

In those entries there is the dailyness, the quotidian component, colossally wrong-headed at times, a totally selfish perspective, a self-centred perspective, and the immediacy and the wrongness of the daily view. I think moderately useful to historians.

Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister is, in fact, extremely useful to students of history, politics and foreign policy and rarely wrong-headed. It is unfortunate that those who have come to this book with negative preconceptions and taken extracts out of context do not have as sophisticated an understanding of what diary keeping is about as Carr. Anyone seeking a panoramic primer on foreign policy issues facing Australian could do no better than to read this book.
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Cradle of Australian Political StudiesCradle of Australian Political Studies.
Sydney’s Department of Government
by Michael Hogan. Connor Court 2015, 296 pp, RRP $39.95

Reviewer: Jennifer Aldred is a public policy consultant and former Editor of the Australasian Parliamentary Review.

In what comes through as the desire to give back to an organisation with which he has been associated since 1967 – and to mark the centenary of the establishment of the Department in 2017 – Michael Hogan has produced a reflective and insightful read, particularly for those of us who are products of the University of Sydney’s Department of Government. The book documents the development of the academic study of government, the contribution of the various individuals that made it happen and the pressures over time on the institution that was, arguably, first to house it.
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Australia 1901-2001Australia 1901–2001: a narrative history
by Andrew Tink. NewSouth Publishing, 2014, 432 pp

Reviewer: David Clune is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney.

Tink has been a successful barrister, senior NSW MP and, more recently, the author of several well-regarded works of Australian history. There is much talk at present about the decline of the political gene pool. Reading Tink’s book makes one think that some new historical DNA might not go amiss. He writes in an unashamedly evocative, narrative style that a traditional academic historian would find difficult to bring off. Yet Tink does not sacrifice accuracy for effect.
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Rogue ElephantRogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India's Unruly Democracy
by Simon Denyer, Bloomsberry Great Britain, 2014, 440pp including endnotes and index.

Reviewer: June R Verrier is former head of the Parliamentary Information and Research Service.

Democracy is a messy business and perhaps it is most messy in this largest and least likely of democracies. Would Narendra Modi have taken it on if he had read this quite shocking book? If he is an optimist, he will see much to encourage him beyond the model of his own success in Gujarat in this account, not least the mobilising of a new middle class replacing caste, empowered by new technologies. If he is a pessimist, he will be overwhelmed by what it reveals about how much has to be done in so many spheres.
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Murray Gleeson – The SmilerMurray Gleeson – The Smiler
by Michael Pelly. The Federation Press, 2014, 296pp
Reviewer: Professor Andrew Lynch, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales.

Pelly had two things on his side in writing this book — and which have ensured its success. First, through his many years as a legal affairs reporter and columnist, he knows that while lawyers may not lead lives of action, they do lead lives full of stories — as many and varied as the clients they represent. And Gleeson, as one of the most sought after barristers in the country, offers a wealth of material in this respect. He appeared for the state of Tasmania in its landmark 1983 constitutional stoush with the Commonwealth over plans to dam the Franklin River, was counsel assisting the Australian Jockey Club during the Fine Cotton ring in scandal of 1984, successfully represented both the actress Kate Fitzpatrick in a defamation suit with News Ltd (after which she memorably described Gleeson as ‘the sexiest man I ever met’, an assessment she affirmed for Pelly as still standing three decades later) and National Party minister, and later leader, Ian Sinclair who faced serious charges of tax fraud.
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Taking God to SchoolTaking God to School: the end of Australia’s egalitarian education?
by Marion Maddox.
Reviewer: Tony Brown is Senior Lecturer, Adult and Organisational Learning, University of Technology, Sydney.

The key argument in this book is that the underlying tenets of Australia’s school system, which enjoyed a consensus for nearly 100 years, have been gradually undermined over the past forty years. The consequence is that the egalitarian education – that so many believe to be a feature of Australian life – is unravelling and at serious risk. The system that emerged in the latter 19th century was based on establishing compulsory schooling for all that was free and secular, and doing away with the sectarian divide that threatened the peace of the colonies. The chief threat to that system has been the emergence and growing strength of separated private, religious school systems that have been receiving increasing government aid and support for half a century.
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The Whitlam LegacyThe Whitlam Legacy
edited by Troy Bramston
Reviewer: June R Verrier, former head of the Parliamentary Information and Research Service.

Forty years on, this book tells a tale which is still exhilarating and devastating. Awe inspiring in what it reveals of the extent of policy preparation and shocking in its revelation of the failure to engage the processes to make it happen. Editor and contributor Troy Bramston himself is obviously torn by the heights and the depths to which his analysis of the Whitlam Government phenomenon – through its Cabinet papers – takes him. His summary says it all:

"Lifting off the pages is the tragic realisation that the circumstances which led to the loans affair – which in turn led to the dismissal – could have been avoided if public service advice was followed, if there were better oversight of Ministers, if Cabinet instructions were adhered to and if Cabinet processes were more effectively administered."
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Killing Fairfax bookKilling Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch and the ultimate revenge
by Pamela Williams. HarperCollins, 2013, 352 pp
Reviewer: David Clune, Honorary Associate in the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney.

Pamela Williams' account of the 1996 Federal election, The Victory, is a classic of Australian political history. She has now written Killing Fairfax, another classic about an equally ruthless and bloody arena, the Australian media. It is basically the story of the ignominious decline of the once mighty Fairfax empire. Steeped in tradition and a sense of superiority, Fairfax’s weakness was that it rested on one pillar, classified advertising which provided 56% of its revenue in 2004. With the rise of the internet, Fairfax was in a similar position to a medieval walled city with the advent of artillery.

Williams gives a fascinating account of the humble origins and subsequent huge growth of three internet 'pure play' companies: SEEK, and While Fairfax was slow and inept in responding to the challenge of technology, the scions of two media dynasties with hatred of Fairfax in their DNA, James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch, could see its potential.
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The Lucky CultureThe Lucky Culture
by Nick Cater. Harper Collins, 2013, 361 pp
Reviewer: David Clune, Honorary Associate in the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney.

It is hard to remain indifferent about Nick Cater's Lucky Culture . Readers tend to pan or praise it with equal vehemence. This is unsurprising as Cater has written a provocative, personal anti-left polemic — although he denies the last label preferring to say he wants to start a discussion. His book in some ways resembles a pamphlet in the racy, argumentative 18th century British tradition. By writing in a subjective, accessible style, Cater leaves himself open to charges of crude generalisation and oversimplification, sometimes justifiably. This is perhaps inevitable, if not entirely excusable, in a work that sets out to make a controversial argument rather than an academic case: to argue is to exaggerate.
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Keeping the Executive HonestKeeping the Executive Honest: the modern Legislative Council committee system
By David Clune. Legislative Council of NSW, Sydney.
Reviewer: Ken Turner, former Head of Department and an Associate Professor in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney.

This stylish monograph commemorates the 25th anniversary of the introduction of a NSW Legislative Council Standing Committee system. It is good news that the President of the Council, Hon Don Harwin MLC, welcomes it in his Foreword as the first instalment of a major history project. Clearly, those interested in the actual working of parliamentary institutions will value access to former MLCs’ recollections of this process of institutional reform.
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Why Human Security MattersWhy Human Security Matters: Rethinking Australian foreign policy
Edited by Dennis Altman, Joseph A Camilleri, Robyn Eckersley and Gerhard Hoffstaedter
Reviewer: Dr June R Verrier, former head of the Parliamentary Information and Research Service.

The successful marriage of the theoretical with the real represented by this collection, is one good reason why Australia’s new Foreign Minister would do well to read it, especially chapters four and five, and to require her minders to consider their implications for the policy options which come across her desk. In the first of them, Joe Camilleri eloquently portrays the contemporary complexity of international affairs and the very much broader range of issues which could compromise Australia’s security which we now have no choice but to consider in determining Australia’s national interest and framing appropriate policy responses.  
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Arcadian PopulismArcadian Populism: the Country Liberal Party and self government in the Northern Territory 1978-2005 by Robyn Smith. E-book, Darwin 2013.
Reviewer: David Clune is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney.

It is a growing problem in the academic world that many worthwhile theses are unknown and unread. University presses, who formerly saw it as part of their role to publish theses, have either become completely commercial or defunct. Departmental thesis libraries are difficult to access, often uncatalogued and in some cases have regrettably been disbanded altogether. Robyn Smith has met this challenge by self-publishing her 2012 PhD thesis as an e-book. It is an example that others could usefully follow. University departments, in particular, could use new technology to make the results of their students' work more widely available. Smith says that her thesis has been lightly edited for publication. More editing could, however, have been done to prune the scholarly apparatus that inevitably accompanies a thesis and make the book more accessible. 
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Speechless: A Year in My Father’s Business by James Button, Melbourne University Press 2012
Reviewer: Dr June R Verrier is the former head of the Parliamentary Information and Research Service.

This hilarious (if it wasn’t so serious) picture of the way it was on those days when Prime Minister Rudd was giving a speech sums it all up. There was no rational approach to the Rudd speechmaking process. And even someone so cut from Labor cloth as James Button was not allowed into his confidence. Powerful though the message is about the chaotic style of government that Rudd ran, this book, perhaps surprisingly, is less about Rudd and just as much about the Public Service, the Labor Party — and his father, the much loved Minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, John Button. James Button found, or distils from his life so far, new and, to him, surprising insights into all of these worlds. It is all here: why Rudd failed, why there is a disconnect between policy, the Public Service, the press and the public, and why the Labor Party is floundering. It is all told sparingly, succinctly, eloquently, perceptively — and discretely — in James Button’s engaging and poignant story of his '...Year in my Father’s Business...'.  
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The earlier 20 titles listed below refer here.

  1. Carrick: principles, politics and policy by Graeme Starr.
  2. The Australian Policy Handbook: Fifth Edition, Catherine Althaus, Peter Bridgeman and Glyn Davis
  3. For the True Believers: great Labor speeches that shaped history edited by Troy Bramston
  4. Tales from the Political Trenches by Maxine McKew
  5. Politics, Society, Self by Geoff Gallop
  6. What is to be Done? The struggle for the soul of the labour movement by Jim Macken
  7. Minority Government: The Liberal Green Experience In Tasmania. Edited by Kate Crowley
  8. Justice: A History of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia by Fiona Skyring, UWA Publishing 2012
  9. Reluctant Democrat — Sir William Denison in Australia 1847–1861, Federation Press, 2011, Annandale
  10. Mr Big of Bankstown, The Scandalous Fitzpatrick and Browne Affair by Andrew Moore
  11. Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the wedding cake of old parliament house by Rob Chalmers, edited by Sam Vincent and John Wanna
  12. Come the Revolution: A memoir by Alex Mitchel
  13. From Carr to Keneally. Labor in office in NSW 1995–2011. Edited by David Clune and Rodney Smith
  14. The Ayes Have It; The History of the Queensland Parliament 1957—1989, John Wanna and Tracey Arklay
  15. The Fog on the Hill: How NSW Labor Lost its Way by Frank Sartor
  16. The Houses of the Oireachtas: Parliament in Ireland by Muiris MacCarthaigh and Maurice Manning
  17. Electoral Democracy: Australian Prospects by Joo-Cheong Tham, Brian Costar and Graeme Orr
  18. Gavel to Gavel by Kevin Rozzoli AM
  19. Australia The State of Democracy by Marian Sawer, Norman Abjorensen and Phil Larkin
  20. Ernest Gowers - Plain Words and Forgotten Deeds by Ann Scott
For the above 20 titles follw this link.


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