Australian History in 7 Questions
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.
Diary of a Foreign Minister
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:
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.
Cradle of Australian Political Studies.
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.
a narrative history
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Rogue Elephant: Harnessing
the Power of India's Unruly Democracy
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.
Gleeson – The Smiler
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
Jockey Club during the Fine Cotton ring in scandal of 1984, successfully
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.
God to School: the end of Australia’s
The key argument in this book is that the underlying tenets of Australia’s school
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
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
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.
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."
Killing Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch and the
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, carsales.com.au and realestate.com.au. 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.
The Lucky Culture
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.
Keeping the Executive Honest:
the modern Legislative Council committee system
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Why Human Security Matters: Rethinking
Australian foreign policy
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
Arcadian Populism: the
Country Liberal Party and self government in the Northern Territory 1978-2005 by Robyn Smith. E-book,
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.
Year in My Father’s Business by James Button, Melbourne University
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...'.