James Walter reviews 'The Insider: The scoops, the scandals and the serious business within the Canberra bubble' by Christopher Pyne
In a long career talking to and about politicians, I have learned one thing. While many fantasise about being prime minister, the key driver is to get close to the centre. Christopher Pyne captures this immediately in The Insider, comparing the political world to the solar system in which the skill is to know one’s place relative to the sun (the prime minister), and the aim is to get as close to the sun as possible. To be an insider, to know how things work, with privileged information that few others share, is the allure.... (read more)
James Walter reviews 'Inside the Greens: The origins and future of the party, the people and the politics' by Paddy Manning
In 2016 John Kaye was dying. Once leader of the Greens in New South Wales, he had a final message for his party. ‘This isn’t and never has been about changing government … This is about changing what people expect from government.’ In our era, dogged by chronic distrust of parties and government, it might have served as a rallying cry for people to transform politics by demanding more of their representatives. But Kaye was a man of the left, and in the context of an impending election, as the Greens descended into vicious factional brawls over preselection for his seat, his words unleashed a storm of controversy over the direction of the party.
This is just one among many eruptions of internecine warfare over the purpose of the Greens chronicled in Paddy Manning’s comprehensive history. The survival of the party since 1992, despite the elaboration of a program, and despite its professed commitment to consensual democratic processes, has depended on its leaders: the iconic Bob Brown, then Christine Milne, and lately Richard Di Natale.... (read more)
James Walter reviews 'Tiberius with a Telephone: The life and stories of William McMahon' by Patrick Mullins
Billy McMahon, Australia’s twentieth prime minister, held the post for less than two years (March 1971–December 1972). In surveys of both public esteem and professional opinion, he is generally ranked as our least accomplished prime minister. He is also, until now, the only prime minister for whom there has been no ...... (read more)
John Curtin may be our most extensively documented prime minister. He is the subject of many biographies (including one by the author of the volume reviewed here) and countless chapters and articles, and is necessarily a central figure in war histories of the 1940s. John Edwards ventures into a well-populated field ...... (read more)
To celebrate the best books of 2017 Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser, Susan Wyndham, James Ley, Geordie Williamson, Jane Sullivan, Tom Griffiths, Mark Edele, and Brenda Niall.... (read more)
Gareth Evans is one of the more interesting figures from the Hawke–Keating governments, not alone as a high achiever in a talented team, nor in the tenacity that saw him remain so long in the inner circle, but unusual in forging a cosmopolitan career of such substance thereafter. His political memoir demonstrates the continuity ...... (read more)
Paul Keating has been much written about; his trajectory is familiar. His is a story of leadership and the exercise of power, about a man who led from the front and – like Gough Whitlam – was willing to ‘crash through or crash’ when following his convictions. No prime minister since has displayed a similar propensity. Troy Bramston’s biography conforms to ...
Stephen Mills reviews 'Settling the Office: The Australian Prime Ministership from Federation to Reconstruction' by Paul Strangio, Paul 't Hart, and James Walter
In the early years after Federation, Australia's first prime minister, Edmund Barton, was accommodated on the top floor of the Victorian Parliament in Spring Street, in a converted garret. At the end of a parliamentary day, the convivial Barton would invite ministerial colleagues up to the flat where they would talk long into the night. Then, as one senator later re ...
Paul Keating continues to fascinate. Influential commentators such as Paul Kelly and George Megalogenis now celebrate the golden age of policy reform in which he was central, while lamenting the policy desert of recent years. Still, it is not enough: Keating, the master storyteller, wants to control the narrative of his legacy. Yet he professes disdain for biography ...
John Howard has long been concerned with countering what he regards as the domination of Australian historical writing by the left. His project was initiated before he gained the prime ministership, most notably in his Menzies Lecture of 1996, in which he claimed that most of the distinctiveness and achievements of Australian politics were grounded in the liberal tr ...