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Joan Beaumont

Be warned! The commemorative tsunami is on its way. As James Brown put it recently in Anzac’s Long Shadow (2014), we are now witnessing an Anzac ‘arms race’, as Australians compete to find ‘bigger and better ways to commemorate our sacrificed soldiers’. The bill to the Australian state and federal taxpayers, Brown calculates, will be nearly $325 million. With a further $300 million projected to be raised in private donations, the commemoration of World War I might ultimately cost some two-thirds of a billion dollars.

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If you read only one book about Australia’s experience of World War I, as the deluge of commemorative publications marking the outbreak of the war becomes a veritable tsunami, make it Broken Nation, an account that joins the history of the war to the home front, and that details the barbarism of the battlefields as well as the desolation, despair, and bitter divisions that devastated the communities left behind.

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Ministers, Mandarins and Diplomats: Australian foreign policy making 1941–1969 by Joan Beaumont, Christopher Waters, and David Lowe, with Garry Woodard

May 2003, no. 251

Important political issues sometimes cut across traditional party lines, making it harder for us to confront and debate them. The ‘children overboard’ affair, for example, raised important questions about the relationship between public servants and their ministers. Some of these questions were blurred in the subsequent debate, however, for a simple reason. Since the 1970s, governments from both sides of politics have had, in effect, a common policy of restricting the independence of the public service, especially of heads of departments, in the name of accountability and responsiveness. Ministers now have departmental secretaries who can be dismissed for no stronger reason than that they have lost the minister’s confidence. The powerful mandarins who, it used to be said, ruled Australia from the lunch tables of the Commonwealth Club in Canberra are a distant memory. Political influence now affects appointments down to middle managers in ways that those mandarins would have thought totally improper.­­­

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