It has been a bizarre month in politics. We’ve seen a speaker talk (or text) about dud roots, an MP allege union officials used his hotel phone while he was in the shower and an opposition minister for business declare he had the skin of a rhinoceros, the speed of a gazelle and was watching the opposition like a hawk (yes ladies and gentlemen, a one man menagerie voted in by the people for the people), sometimes politics can get you down.
What better way to exorcise the insanity that is currently going on in Canberra from your mind than with a book. Watching the evening news we can easily forget that Australia has a rich and interesting political history. We are one of the few nations whose sovereignty was established with words and deeds rather than bullets and blades.
Here are five of the best books on Australian politics I’ve read. They are sure to be more relevant and richly rewarding than what we currently have to contend with. I plan to read more Australian history. It’s time I stopped yelling at the TV and did something about fixing the mess. Maybe you’ll join me.
by Barrie Cassidy
You need to know where you’ve been to know where you are, and what better place to start than one of the best books of the last twenty years, The Party Thieves. Opening with Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull locking horns (doesn’t that seem like a long time ago) and ending with the incredible events of the 2010 federal election, author and respected political commentator Barry Cassidy lets you behind the curtain to dissect the key moments before the election that brought us the first minority government in almost 70 years.
Blurb: When veteran journalist and former Hawke media adviser Barrie Cassidy first started thinking about this book in December 2009, Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd were leaders of their parties. Within six months, both men had been deposed. Cassidy contends that both men stole their parties away: Turnbull by insisting on a climate change policy that the majority hated; Rudd by his authoritarian rule and disregard for MPs and party members. In the end, both parties came and took back their parties.
Cassidy contends that the removal of Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, in the lead-up to the 2010 election ranks with the Dismissal, the disappearance of Holt and the day Fraser called an election as one of the four big stories in Australian politics in the last 50 years. The Party Thieves is more than just a campaign diary of the 2010 election; it is an analysis of a tumultuous eight months in politics, and the impact on the party and the population.
by John Howard
Perhaps loathed more than liked by the end of his political career, John Howard will still cast one of the largest shadows on the Australia political landscape for many years to come. Howard entered politics at the age 34 in 1974 and ended it in ignominious circumstances in 2007. Arguably the greatest politician of his age, John Howard was able to boast the support of the working class and high earners alike in a way no other Prime Minister has before him. Lazarus Rising not only stands as the only memoir from the second longest serving Australian Prime Minister in history, but also casts a net across over a quarter of the entire history of Australian politics through the eyes of man who has been a backbencher, minister, treasurer, opposition leader and ultimately Prime Minister.
Blurb: John Howard′s autobiography, Lazarus Rising, is the biggest-selling political memoir Australia has seen. In it he talks about his love for his family, his rollercoaster ride to the Lodge and how – as prime minister – he responded to issues like climate change and the war on terrorism. Drawing on his deep interest in history, he paints a fascinating picture of a changing Australia.
In this new revised edition, he also analyses the cataclysmic lead-up to the 2010 election and the vexed political paradigm that emerged. From the future prospects of the Greens and Independents to the performance of Barnaby Joyce, Howard pulls no punches. No stranger to power struggles himself, he is uniquely qualified to note the remaking of the Nationals, decode Tony Abbott′s strategies and understand the pressures facing Julia Gillard and the comeback prospects of Kevin Rudd.
Essential reading for all followers of politics.
by PJ Keating
In a world where teenagers release 500 page memoirs, it’s refreshing when a public figure with the gravitas of Paul Keating states repeatedly he will never release one. After Words is the closest we’ll get to one from the former Labour Prime Minister, with Keating’s most important post-political speeches recorded fastidiously in this 2011 release. His vision of an Australia with strong ties with Asia now appears a beacon amongst other economical commentators of his day, and with his famous turn of phrase and lightning wit we are treated to the public reflections of a man who oversaw the downturn and overdrive of the Australian economy like few others.
Blurb: A unique volume of speeches and occasional pieces written entirely by former Prime Minister Paul Keating.
Books of speeches are rarely published as a compendium of work by one person. After Words is unique in Australian publishing by virtue of its scale and range of subjects, and that all the speeches are the work of one eye and one mind: former Prime Minister Paul Keating.
Each speech has been conceptualised, contextualised and crafted by Paul Keating. Subject to subject, idea to idea, the speeches are related in a wider construct, which is the way Paul Keating has viewed and thought about the world.
The speeches reveal the breadth and depth of his interests – be they cultural, historical, or policy-focused – dealing with subjects as broad as international relations, economic policy and politics. Individual chapters range from a discussion of Jorn Utzon’s Opera House through to the redesign of Berlin, the history of native title, the challenge of Asia, the role of the monarchy, to the shape of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, and more.
After Words contains an analytic commentary on Australia’s recent social and economic repositioning, in the minds of many, by its principal architect. The speeches, more often than not, go beyond observations, as Paul Keating sketches out new vistas and points to new directions. For those interested in matters that go to the future of Australia and the world, After Words presents, unmediated, a panoply of issues which the policy mind and writing style of Paul Keating has sculpted into a recognisable landscape.
The former liberal Prime Minister, a grazier’s son, who attended the elite Melbourne Grammar School before receiving his masters from Oxford and entered the parliament at the then record age of 24. Sounds like a simple story of a conservative done good doesn’t it? Despite this hard right résumé Malcolm Fraser remains one of the most divisive figures in Australian politics, largely for his views since leaving the Liberal Party in 1983. While former Liberal frontbenchers like Peter Costello, John Howard, along with Labour contemporaries Bob Hawke and Kim Beasley continue to applaud any action taken by their former political parties, Fraser has remained neutral throughout his retirement and continued to be an important player in public life, playing a key role in persuading the USA Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa as part of the battle against apartheid. He was also the founding chair of CARE Australia, one of our largest aid agencies. Calling things as he sees them with his a savvy political mind and strong appreciation of the arts, Fraser reflects on the changes in the Australian political landscape, from the end of World War II to the events of today. A wonderful read.
Blurb: Malcolm Fraser is one of the most interesting and possibly most misunderstood of Australia’s Prime Ministers. In this part memoir and part authorised biography, Fraser at the age of 79 years talks about his time in public life. From the Vietnam War to the Dismissal and his years as Prime Minister, through to his concern in recent times for breaches in the Rule of Law and harsh treatment of refugees, Fraser emerges as an enduring liberal, constantly reinterpreting core values to meet the needs of changing times.
Written in collaboration with journalist Margaret Simons, Malcolm Fraser’s political memoirs trace the story of a shy boy who was raised to be seen and not heard, yet grew to become one of the most persistent, insistent and controversial political voices of our times.
The book offers insight into Malcolm Fraser’s substantial achievements. He was the first Australian politician to describe Australia’s future as multicultural, and his federal government was the first to pass Aboriginal Land Rights and Freedom of Information legislation, also establishing the Human Rights Commission.
After his parliamentary career, Fraser continued to be an important player in public life, playing a key role in persuading the USA Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa as part of the battle against apartheid. He was also the founding chair of CARE Australia, one of our largest aid agencies.
by Lloyd Ross
Australia has never known wartime on its doorstep since federation like World War II, and from the ashes of that conflict rose John Curtin, named in 2004 by a panel of writers and historians and Australia’s greatest Prime Minister. While only in power for a short time, between 1941-1945, Curtin led Australia in one of its darkest hours before tragically dying in office. A passionate man who held a minority in the senate for most of his term, Curtin was as complex as he was inspirational, constantly battling his own demons of the bottled variety. Author Lloyd Ross’ biography on the former leader sets the benchmark for all political biographies to aspire to. A truly great book about a truly great man.
Blurb: ‘A first-rate fighter, with the mild appearance of a curate’ Bulletin
This is an important classic biography of an Australian Prime Minister whose life still exerts an abiding influence on Australian society and national consciousness—a key figure in Australian history.
‘Curtin was a complex character. Warm and sympathetic, but cold and aloof; a comrade but a loner; a rebel and anti-conscriptionist but Prime Minister. Moody; irritable; uncertain; changeable; vacillating; temperamental; opportunist; sentimental; courageous; all are true of Curtin.’
Lloyd Ross sums up the character of the wartime Labor Prime Minister who fought Churchill to bring back Australian troops from Europe to defend our nation. An intense and passionate orator, Curtin inspired respect in cynical Australians by his unassuming dignity, straightforwardness and refusal of any personal privilege.
‘A natural Australian, impervious to imperial ideology. Labor and Australia were his twin causes.’ Geoffrey Serle
One positive to emerge from the ever-frustrating politics of modern day Australia is the seemingly bottomless array of events that have given birth to the incredible cartoons we see every day. As clever and witty as they have ever been, political cartoonists have been living in the land of milk and money for over a decade. They point their pencil and brush at some of the most memorable moments in Australian Politics with an eye for detail that is astounding. There is no greater reflection of the world of politics than these wonderful drawings and comments found in these pages. An absolute must.
Blurb: 2010 has been a year of reversals. At the start Kevin Rudd, the conscience of decent folk everywhere, was still enjoying an unprecedented run of popularity in the polls. Meanwhile, the Liberals were fast becoming a reactionary rabble who, after sacrificing most of their leadership talent, were left with only a mad monk to guide them out of the wilderness.
But by midyear Tony Abbott had become the iron man, smuggling in a new set of budgies to get the Liberals’ oppositional juices flowing. Kevin Rudd was looking as rattled as a clapped out third-termer, displaying a level of political expediency that would have made John Howard blush. Opinion polls indicated that without drastic action there was no way out, and Labor turned to Julia Gillard to bring them back to the light.
The election campaign was full of sound and fury, but — to all our costs — signifying very little. The result seemd to suggest an electorate profoundly pissed off with this cynical, content-free world of spin and obfuscation. Enter the three amigos, the resurgent Greens, and a former whistleblower.
See what Australia’s wittiest and most perceptive political cartoonists make of it all in Best Australian Political Cartoons 2010: your essential alternative guide to the year in politics.
With Dean Alston, Peter Broelman, Warren Brown, Matt Davidson, Andrew Dyson, Firstdogonthemoon, Matt Golding, Fiona Katauskas, Mark Knight, Jon Kudelka, Bill Leak, Alan Moir, Peter Nicholson, Vince O’Farrell, Ward O’Neill, Bruce Petty, David Pope, David Rowe, John Spooner, Ron Tandberg, Andrew Weldon, Cathy Wilcox, Paul Zanetti, and many more …
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About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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