Politics

William Darrah Kelley – a Republican congressman from Philadelphia – stood at the front of a stage in Mobile, Alabama, watching as a group of men pushed and shoved their way through the audience towards him. It was May 1867, Radical Reconstruction was underway, and Southern cities like Mobile were just beginning a revolutionary expansion and contraction of racial equality and democracy. The Reconstruction Acts, passed by Congress that year, granted formerly enslaved men the right to vote and to run for office in the former Confederate states. Northern Republicans streamed into cities across the South in 1867, speaking to both Black and white, to the inspired and hostile – registering Black voters and strengthening the already strong links between African Americans and the party.

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Doom by Niall Ferguson & The Premonition by Michael Lewis

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August 2021, no. 434

One of the disconcerting aspects of this pandemic is that there was no shortage of warnings. For decades, virologists foresaw the coincidence of urbanisation, human proximity with animals, climate change, and globalisation as ideal conditions for spreading deadly pathogens. Science journalists wrote books with titles such as The Coming Plague (Laurie Garrett) and Spillover (David Quammen), whose conclusions were amplified by TED-talking billionaires. SARS, MERS, Ebola, and swine flu were further clues. Yet come January 2020, authorities worldwide were slow, indecisive, and ill-prepared.

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Peter Job, a former East Timor activist, has written a careful, dispassionate account of the stance of Gough Whitlam’s and Malcolm Fraser’s successive governments in relation to Portuguese East Timor. He has consulted a commendably wide range of oral and written sources, interviewing, for example, several retired senior Australian officials formerly engaged in the design and implementation of Timor policy. His story ends in 1983, with Bob Hawke’s election to office. Job should be encouraged to complete his account in the future to acquaint readers with developments up to at least the UN intervention in 1999 that gave Australian diplomacy a new role.

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Leadership by Don Russell & A Decade of Drift by Martin Parkinson

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July 2021, no. 433

In 1958, the Australian political scientist A.F. Davies (1924–87) published Australian Democracy: An introduction to the political system, one of the first postwar attempts to combine institutional description with comment on the patterns of political culture. It introduced a provocative assertion: Australians have ‘a characteristic talent for bureaucracy’. Disdaining the myth of Australians as shaped by the initiative and improvisation of our bush heritage (Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend was published in the same year), Davies argued:

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To write of Herbert Vere Evatt (1894–1965) is to venture into a land where opinions are rarely held tentatively. While many aspects of his career have been controversial, his actions during the famous Split of 1955 arouse the most passionate criticism. Evatt is attacked, not only on the political right but frequently from within the Labor Party itself, for his alleged role in causing the catastrophic rupture that kept Labor out of office until 1972.

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Following 200 pages of at times harrowing detail in which former Labor MP Kate Ellis outlines the extent of the sexist and misogynist behaviour she endured as a member of the Australian Parliament, she asks herself: ‘Is it worth the hard days, the unnecessary crap?’ ‘Yes’, she replies. ‘Every. Single. Second. No question.’

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How Good Is Scott Morrison? by Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen

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June 2021, no. 432

Flash back to that election night in May 2019, when Australians, depending on their party affiliation, were either overjoyed or appalled at the Coalition’s return despite the opinion polls. That evening, Scott Morrison – a man little known to Australians until assuming the prime ministership just nine months before after an ugly leadership coup – summed up Coalition sentiment and his own Christian faith: ‘I have always believed in miracles,’ Morrison said, before asking, rhetorically, ‘How good is Australia?’

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Facing the ‘global refugee crisis’, politicians in Europe and Australia claim they are protecting their countries from the arrival of untold multitudes. Yet the ‘crisis’ is not global but highly specific. In 2019, seventy-six per cent of refugees came from just three countries (Congo, Myanmar, and Ukraine), while eighty-six per cent of refugees are hosted in a handful of countries in what is known as the Global South (especially Turkey, Jordan, Columbia, and Lebanon). Despite the significant contribution of Germany to hosting refugees, only ten per cent of the global refugee population live in Europe, comprising 0.6 per cent of the continent’s total population. There are 2,600,000 refugees in Europe today, compared with 11,000,000 at the end of World War II. The European Union’s challenges can scarcely be said to be at ‘crisis’ levels.

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David Kemp, formerly professor of politics at Monash University and minister in the Howard government, has a fairly simple thesis about Australian politics in the years between the mid-1920s and the mid-1960s. Put crudely, Australians were offered a choice between socialism and liberalism.

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Late January 2021 brought a moment of anger and anguish for many liberal Australians. Margaret Court, the erstwhile tennis champion turned Pentecostal Christian preacher, had just received Australia’s top honour. Court may have won more grand slam tournaments than any other player, but her record cannot erase a history of derogatory comments about gay and transgender Australians. And yet, I wonder if most Australians didn’t just mentally check out of this latest chapter in a thirty-year kulturkampf over sexual identity. This is a country increasingly willing to live and let live – but not obsess – over such matters.

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