Reviews »

[26 Mar 2021 | No Comment | 44 views ]

Curious Obsessions in the History of Science and Spirituality
by Rachael Kohn.
ATF Press, 2020.
184 pages, $29.99.
For author and broadcaster Rachael Kohn spirituality is certainly a broad church.
Even though I am a confirmed atheist, Kohn’s inclusiveness led her to ask me to keep, and then read on air, a ‘spiritual diary.’ That was back in 2012 on her long-running ABC Radio National Program ‘The Spirit of Things.’ This daily diary of mine began on Christmas Day (my birthday) and finished on  Australia Day, which is when, in 1970, with the aid of Alcoholics Anonymous, I finally stopped drinking …

Columns »

[19 Mar 2021 | No Comment | 40 views ]

A Maoist, an anarchist and a Trotskyist walk into a bar. Make that a book. Add communists, socialists, feminists, two lesbians, a gay man, and three Indigenous activists; all appear in Radicals.

Sydney-based Meredith Burgmann and Nadia Wheatley are contributing editors of this often intriguing book they have dedicated to “all those comrades who were part of the radical Sixties” and who, “despite their differences, fought for a better world”.
Rather idiosyncratically, this critical decade is defined by Burgmann and Wheatley “as roughly spanning the years between 1965 and 1975”. In …

Columns »

[1 Mar 2021 | No Comment | 23 views ]

Like the poor, gambling will always be with us and it’s certainly a huge problem for our nation.
Although gambling undeniably brings pleasure to some,  it also greatly damages the lives of many gamblers and their families.
Hence compulsive gambling is a serious threat to the health and well being of Australians.
The Whitlam’s famously recorded a song about problem gambling aptly entitled ‘Blow Up The Pokies’, Tim Freedman’s response to the destructive affect compulsive gambling had on a close friend.
Gambling has much in common with alcohol and other drugs. Indeed, ‘Gambling …

Columns »

[23 Feb 2021 | No Comment | 15 views ]

With Covid jabs now beginning to roll out, my sense is that we’ll soon declare victory over the pandemic and conclude that “Australia had a good war”. At one level, there’s no doubt that we’ve done well. If minimising Covid deaths is the yardstick, our performance has been “world-class”, “gold standard” even. Still, I’m far from sure that our response has justified the self-congratulation now oozing from state and federal first ministers’ every pore.
For one thing, there’s a massive economic downside to the health upside. Sectors like higher …

Reviews »

[4 Feb 2021 | No Comment | 28 views ]

David Kemp,
A Liberal State : How Australians Chose Liberalism Over Socialism 1926-1966
Miegunyah Press, 601 pp, $49.99 (HB)
There are moments in Australian history when we might have gone down a more radical path.
In the fourth volume of a landmark five-volume Australian Liberalism series,  David Kemp explains how and why we largely rejected it.
A Liberal State: How Australians Chose Liberalism Over Socialism 1926-1966 explores the rise of political liberalism in Australia.
Kemp highlights the sweeping political triumphs of the conservative coalition during the time that Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978) founded the Liberal Party of Australia, and eventually became our longest-serving prime minister.
As Kemp explains, …

Columns »

[1 Feb 2021 | No Comment | 25 views ]

In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, there were almost 22 million international arrivals into Australia. That’s Australians returning from overseas trips and foreigners coming to this country. Twenty-two million international arrivals in a country of 25 and a half million people shows how much we take global travel for granted – or used to, before the pandemic, and rules designed to prevent COVID from coming to Australia made it all-but-impossible. 
From March last year, international arrivals that had been averaging nearly two million a month have …

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[29 Jan 2021 | No Comment | 29 views ]

Conservatism: The Fight for a Tradition 
By Edmund Fawcett, 
Princeton University Press, 554pp, $59.99 (HB)
Since its 19th-century origins, conservatism has represented an important segment of Western political thought and tradition. Especially in Britain, Europe and the US, conservatism, as Edmund Fawcett puts it, has “defied its reputation as a backward-looking creed by confronting and adapting to liberal modernity” from time to time. By doing so, the right has served long periods in office, effectively becoming a dominant force in Western politics.

Yet despite their electoral and political success, conservatives have …

Reviews »

[11 Jan 2021 | No Comment | 39 views ]

It has been fascinating to watch how different countries have dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic. Some nations have been nothing short of inspirational while the responses of others, the United States among them, have been disastrous.
Especially in democratic countries, these responses represent a profound turning point, the impact of which will be felt for decades in Australia and throughout the world.
In a nutshell, this timely book, published by the nimble Brisbane-based Connor Court, addresses the dramatic impact of recent governmental measures on our fundamental rights, particularly freedom of …

Columns »

[6 Jan 2021 | No Comment | 19 views ]


Joe Biden’s administration is likely to be more popular around the world than the Trump administration, but it’s far from clear that it will be more effective.

If, as seems probable from the incoming president’s appointments (such as former secretary of state John Kerry), Biden turns out to be Obama lite, there’s likely to be plenty of fine words but not much strong action.
As vice-president, Biden spent several days in Australia in July 2016, and gave an address on the Australia-US relationship at Sydney’s Paddington Town Hall. It …

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[31 Dec 2020 | No Comment | 26 views ]

John McEwen: Right Man, Right Place, Right Time
 By Bridget McKenzie, 
Connor Court, 180pp, $24.95 (PB)
Thirty-seven years a Country Party politician and 23 days the prime minister, John ‘‘Black Jack’’ McEwen was our longest-serving trade minister, where his primary commitment was protecting key elements of the economy.

An orphan who became a farmer, McEwen was born in Chiltern, Victoria, in March 1900. This brief biography of him is written by Bridget McKenzie, a Nationals senator for Victoria since 2010.
And although McKenzie denies it was her intention, this little book is …

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[19 Dec 2020 | No Comment | 40 views ]

Dissenting Opinions
By Michael Sexton, 
Connor Court, 315pp, $39.99 (PB)
Michael Sexton has been Solicitor-General for NSW since 1988. A specialist in defamation law, he has published widely, including one of my favourite books, On the Edges of History (2015).

As Sexton notes, the phrase from which his new book takes its title, Dissenting Opinions, is normally used in the law to describe the judgments of those members of appellate courts who take a different view in a particular case from their colleagues who form the majority and effectively decide the question …