The atmosphere among Australian electors lining up to cast a vote at a school, hall, or similar institution is generally relaxed and informal, a ‘vibe’ enhanced by the friendly banter of local party members handing out ‘How to Vote’ cards. But the casualness of the Australian way of voting cannot disguise the fundamental importance of each local, state, and federal poll. As the authors of Elections Matter generally agree, elections matter and voters matter: their collective decision-making has shaped the political, social, and economic nature of the Commonwealth of Australia since 1901.

Elections Matter is an edited collection of essays on ten federal elections that presented the electors with clear choices between different public policy approaches, styles of governance, and key personalities. Through compelling evidence and discussion of major electoral themes, each author generally makes a strong case for the inclusion of ‘their’ federal election as a pivotal moment in Australian political history. While the contributors vary in their conclusions, a general picture emerges of an Australian electorate that seeks to be represented somewhere near the comfortable centre rather than at left or right extremes. On the other hand, the book indicates that voters also don’t want to feel ‘behind the times’, which has often meant that a clever politician such as Labor’s Andrew Fisher (1910) or the Coalition’s John Howard (2001) can create an image of himself as the leader most ‘suited to these times’.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews Elections Matter edited by Benjamin T. Jones, Frank Bongiorno, and John Uhr
  • Contents Category Politics
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    The atmosphere among Australian electors lining up to cast a vote at a school, hall, or similar institution is generally relaxed and informal, a ‘vibe’ enhanced by the friendly banter of local party members handing out ‘How to Vote’ cards. But the casualness of the Australian way of voting cannot ...

  • Book Title Elections Matter: Ten federal elections that shaped Australia
  • Book Author Benjamin T. Jones, Frank Bongiorno, and John Uhr
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Monash University Publishing, $29.95 pb, 294 pp, 9781925523157

Back from the Brink is the second volume of a projected four-volume series that investigates the performance of the four Howard governments (1996–2007). The first dealt with the Liberal– National Party coalition’s election in 1996 and their first year in power. The work under review focuses on the period from ‘January 1997 when the Workplace Relations Act 1996 came into operation until the Aston by-election’ in July 2001. Back from the Brink is based on papers originally presented at a conference organised by UNSW Canberra, held at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House, on 14–15 November 2017.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'Back from the Brink, 1997–2001: The Howard Government Volume II' edited by Tom Frame
  • Contents Category Politics
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    Back from the Brink is the second volume of a projected four-volume series that investigates the performance of the four Howard governments (1996–2007). The first dealt with the Liberal– National Party coalition’s election in 1996 and their first year in power. The work under review focuses on the period from ...

  • Book Title Back from the Brink, 1997–2001: The Howard Government Volume II
  • Book Author Tom Frame
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio UNSW Press, $39.99 pb, 367 pp, 9781742235813

Born in 1825, Brisbane is an elderly lady who has been to a surprising number of ‘coming of age’ balls. Numerous historians, officials, speechmakers, and journalists for several decades have implied that Brisbane (as of 1982, 1988, or whenever) is now not only the belle of the ball, but she has thrown out all reminders of her daggy, embarrassing, and sinister past and is now a sophisticated city much like all the others. The end of the convict era (1842), the mass presence of allied troops during World War II, the 1982 Commonwealth Games, and the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art (2006) have all been used as symbols of a Brisbane shedding the old Queensland so as to blossom into the new one. Another popular candidate for Brisbane’s ‘coming of age’ is its successful hosting of World Expo 88, an international exposition that brought good publicity to the state of Queensland and was enjoyed and ‘owned’ by the people of Brisbane. Thirty years after the event, Jackie Ryan’s We’ll Show the World is a fascinating and well-researched account of Expo 88, admirably broad in its scope, although somewhat limited by its ‘coming of age’ narrative.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'We’ll Show the World: Expo 88' by Jackie Ryan
  • Contents Category History
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    Born in 1825, Brisbane is an elderly lady who has been to a surprising number of ‘coming of age’ balls. Numerous historians, officials, speechmakers, and journalists for several decades have implied that Brisbane (as of 1982, 1988, or whenever) is now not only the belle of the ball, but she ...

  • Book Title We’ll Show the World: Expo 88
  • Book Author Jackie Ryan
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $32.95 pb, 304 pp, 9780702259906

The Boy from Baradine is one of the latest Australian political memoirs to hit the shelves. Craig Emerson, a prominent minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments between 2007 and 2013, has some interesting stories to tell about life as a political adviser, a pragmatic supporter of the environment, and an ambitious Labor politician. Emerson comes across as genuine and down to earth. He appears not to have carried a grudge towards those who at times obstructed his political career. Indeed, one of the saddest implications of the book is the sense that political ambition tends to make political and personal friendships difficult to maintain.

The most intense sections of the book concern Emerson’s formative years. While the author goes to great lengths to acknowledge the bond he had with his hard-working mother and father, it is clear that Emerson’s childhood was often traumatic. His honesty is admirable, but at times readers may feel they are intruding on what are essentially private matters. Furthermore, the searing quality of the early chapters contrasts rather sharply with the rest of the book, which adopts a lightness of tone and presents Emerson as a man of action, not of deep reflection.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'The Boy from Baradine' by Craig Emerson
  • Contents Category Biography
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    The Boy from Baradine is one of the latest Australian political memoirs to hit the shelves. Craig Emerson, a prominent minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments between 2007 and 2013, has some interesting stories to tell about life as a political adviser, a pragmatic supporter of the environment, and an ambitious ...

  • Book Title The Boy from Baradine
  • Book Author Craig Emerson
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe, $35 pb, 368 pp, 9781925322590

The Movement was a secret organisation which radically reduced the power of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) within the union movement during the 1940s and 1950s. Initiated by B.A. Santamaria, the Movement was very active in several Australian states and worked with the general knowledge and approval of key Catholic Church bishops. The Movement (or the Show) ultimately aimed to steer the Australian Labor Party (ALP) towards Catholic political aims. The ALP split in the mid to late 1950s was partly the result of the sectarian tensions exacerbated by the Movement’s activities. Following pressure from the Vatican, the Movement’s formal links with the Catholic church ended in late 1957. The Movement’s work continued with the creation of the National Civic Council (NCC), although as the decades progressed, its relevance and impact on Australian public life gradually faded.

Mark Aarons (with John Grenville) has produced an intriguing new study of Santamaria’s Movement, based on careful study of archival sources and the information and insights of labour movement figures and Santamaria associates. The focus of the study is less on Santamaria’s ideas and policies, and more on the Movement’s strategies for weakening the grip of CPA members on the labour movement, with some emphasis on the election of union officials. As the authors skilfully detail, in working to defeat communist influence in the industrial arena, the Movement gathered much intelligence (some dubious) on CPA figures which was shared with official intelligence agencies such as ASIO.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'The Show: Another side of Santamaria’s movement' by Mark Aarons and John Grenville
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Book Title The Show
  • Book Author Mark Aarons and John Grenville
  • Book Subtitle Another side of Santamaria’s movement
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Scribe, $32.99 pb, 282 pp, 9781925322316

Papua New Guinea is so close to Australia, and yet so far away. We rarely hear about our near neighbour, unless there is a crisis reported in the media. Julius Chan's highly readable memoir should encourage more Australians to develop more curiosity about PNG, its complex history and multiple cultures.

Twice prime minister of Papua New Guinea (1980–82, 1994–97) and now governor of the province of New Ireland, Chan has been involved in politics since 1968. He has also pursued an energetic business career. As an author, he proves himself to be thoughtful and committed to both family and nation, with very definite views on leadership: 'If you work with me and I happen to be the captain, then you just have to do it the way I think is right and if you do not, the greatest thing about democracy is that you are free to go.'

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'Playing the Game: Life and politics in Papua New Guinea' by Julius Chan
  • Contents Category Memoir
  • Book Title Playing the Game
  • Book Author Julius Chan
  • Book Subtitle Life and politics in Papua New Guinea
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press $32.95 pb, 256 pp, 9780702253973

All Fall Down, set in 1980s Queensland, chronicles the direct and indirect links between officials and local criminals exposed by the Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987–89). It is the last volume in a trilogy that largely focuses on police corruption between the 1940s and 1980s, but there is also some discussion of the cronyism, misuse of powers, and corruption within the Country Party (later National Party), which dominated Queensland politics from 1957 to 1989. Matthew Condon has constructed an entertaining and sometimes moving series of shifting narratives about crooked cops, honest cops, and dubious characters in the 'Deep North'.

The strength of Condon's work is his fascination with the people he is researching. He has some interesting characters to work with. Condon is very effective at highlighting the dilemmas facing police officers who refused to take bribes or to accept a policy of 'going slow' in the investigation of crime when it suited forces within the police department. The reader is given a clear idea of how brave it was for these men and women to fight against the system. Perhaps surprisingly, the unambiguous criminals who appear in the text – the Brisbane vice barons and the officials they bribed – come across as boring and colourless, though undoubtedly ruthless. These shadowy underworld figures probably could not believe their luck at being in the right place at the right time.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'All Fall Down' by Matthew Condon
  • Contents Category True Crime
  • Book Title All Fall Down
  • Book Author Matthew Condon
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio University of Queensland Press, $32.95 pb, 584 pp, 9780792253539

After a substantial career as a minister in the Beattie government, Anna Bligh served as Queensland Labor premier from 2007 to 2012. She was the first female premier in Australia to lead her party to victory at a state election. These experiences have given her many interesting tales to tell about winning elections, retaining community and party support, as well as pushing through reforms. Bligh’s new memoir, Through the Wall, is partly framed as an inspirational text for future leaders, especially the women who will come after her:

I’ve always been bloody-minded about walls. Rather than being discouraged by them, I’ve felt an urge to break them down or jump right over them. Far from being discouraged by the doubters and the naysayers, I have been spurred on by a fierce desire to prove the bastards wrong.

While her leadership philosophy is clearly explained, Bligh’s writing is most compelling when she tells unpretentious and heartfelt stories about her early life and later career. The book has some affecting moments in which the reader is engaged fully with Bligh’s experiences of being a woman in public life and the attitudes and events which have shaped her career. She describes her difficult relationship with her father with remarkable sensitivity and restraint, and the importance of family to Bligh as an anchor and support is shown in some moving passages about her mother, husband, children, and siblings.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'Through the Wall' by Anna Bligh
  • Contents Category Memoir
  • Book Title Through the Wall
  • Book Author Anna Bligh
  • Book Subtitle Reflections on leadership, love and survival
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio HarperCollins, $39.99 hb, 336 pp, 9780732299538
Tuesday, 16 December 2014 09:42

The politics of Kevin Rudd

In modern Australia, politics and public policy appear to reflect a narrow range of managerial, political, and economic opinions. Even the much publicised ‘listening tours’ conducted by politicians seem designed to show that they are sensitive to community concerns, but not so sensitive as to want to change policy direction. What makes current discussion of political issues so dispiriting is that over the last three decades, economic measurements and business ideas have come to dominate public life. Citizens are now treated by the public service and their masters as ‘consumers’, former public goods such as education are now narrowly viewed as a form of economic productivity, and community service providers, such as Australia Post, are written about in the media as mere businesses ripe for privatisation. Between 2007 and 2010, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave the impression that he might become the ‘circuit breaker’: a leader whose professed faith in the potential for government intervention and community consultation might lead to a more engaged and empowered citizenry, as well as a government more in tune with the needs of the electorate.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews 'Kevin Rudd' by Patrick Weller
  • Contents Category Politics
  • Book Title Kevin Rudd
  • Book Author Patrick Weller
  • Book Subtitle Twice Prime Minister
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Melbourne University Press, $34.99 pb, 417 pp, 9780522857481
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 10:57

Dunstan the man

When I was commissioned to write this review, I assumed that this book would be a conventional political biography. I looked forward to reading about Dunstan’s career as premier of South Australia (1967–68 and 1970–79), as his record of achievements showed that our states and territories have the potential to be powerful players in social and cultural reform. However, the focus of Dino Hodge’s intriguing book is Dunstan the man, with an emphasis on the way in which his personal beliefs and ambiguous sexuality influenced his political life and legacy. Don Dunstan, Intimacy and Liberty makes a solid contribution to our understanding of Dunstan and the blurring of his private and public life, fanned partly by the media, but also, sometimes inadvertently, by the man himself.

While the author acknowledges the broad scope of the Dunstan Decade – such as support for the arts, urban planning, indigenous land rights, and multiculturalism – Hodge shows most interest in Dunstan’s commitment to the rights of homosexuals. The author spends a great deal of the early chapters of the book describing aspects of Adelaide’s evolving homosexual subculture, with a stress on the postwar period up to the 1970s. Combined with heavy-handed police persecution and entrapment, the illegality of homosexual activity and general homophobia in the community led to an oppressive environment where fear of exposure as a gay man was visceral. Hodge’s incorporation of oral history sources helps readers born in a more liberal era to understand how brave Dunstan was to champion the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1970s.

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  • Custom Article Title Lyndon Megarrity reviews the new political biography of Don Dunstan
  • Contents Category Biography
  • Book Title DON DUNSTAN, INTIMACY AND LIBERTY
  • Book Author Dino Hodge
  • Book Subtitle A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Wakefield Press, $39.95 pb, 428 pp, 9781743052969
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