Reviews »

[9 May 2015 | No Comment | 17 views ]

Review of
‘Windsor’s Way’
By Tony Windsor
MUP, 246pp, $32.99
In the early 1990s Tony Windsor, as the independent state MP for Tamworth, kept Nick Greiner’s minority Liberal government in power in NSW. In 2001, he was elected the independent federal member for New England.
All in all, the likable, plain-spoken Windsor experienced 22 years in two Australian parliaments, and won seven elections as an independent. Moreover, his vote was pivotal in two crucial balance-of-power situations: one favouring Greiner; the other, in concert with the loquacious independent MP for Lyne, Rob Oakeshott, supporting the minority …

Columns »

[9 May 2015 | No Comment | 11 views ]

When John Howard said in 1996 Australians should aspire to feel “comfortable and relaxed”, he captured the aspirations of vast swathes of middle Australia. After more than a decade of Labor rule under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, most Australians aspired to such a way of life.
Nearly 20 years later, we as a nation need to work out how we want to feel. Does “comfortable and relaxed” capture the aspirations of the modern Australian household in 2015? In many ways, it still does.
In the time since Howard, some things have …

Columns »

[4 May 2015 | 2 Comments | 32 views ]

Today’s educators could learn a lot from Britain’s reformist Liberal prime minister, William Gladstone.
Four times PM, Gladstone had some fine ideas. In 1870 he introduced compulsory written examinations for recruitment to the British civil service. This was to avoid and overcome corruption and to ensure that candidates had the appropriate skills.
He succeeded admirably, and with drastically lowering academic and entry standards in our universities we might want to think about adopting similar measures. But these days, written exams seem very much out of fashion.
In 1970, …

Columns »

[2 May 2015 | No Comment | 22 views ]

The compulsory treatment of patients for alcohol and other drug dependence is a prime example of how seemingly good intentions often can lead to unfortunate human results.
The reality is that alcohol and drug treatment is very poorly funded in Australia. Bearing this in mind, it is important to understand that compulsory treatment is much more expensive than treating people who voluntarily choose to seek help.
Another problem with compulsory treatment is that it is often people with the least chance of doing well who are treated. This means the many people …

Columns »

[25 Apr 2015 | No Comment | 9 views ]

An astute observer of Bill Shorten’s political and parliamentary behaviour may detect a revealing pattern.
In 2013 Shorten was elected Labor leader under a process that recently has been brought into serious question.
Last year the Opposition Leader opposed virtually every reform proposed by the Abbott government, including $5 billion worth of budget reform that the ALP had proposed when it was last in government. Shorten bragged about this by saying that Labor that year had been defined by its resistance. Yet he promised that 2015 would be full of ideas.
Now, Bill …

Columns »

[20 Apr 2015 | One Comment | 34 views ]

Along with Gallipoli, this autumn sees the centenary of arguably Australia’s most controversial twentieth-century historian, Manning Clark, who was born on March 3, 1915. A genuine if flawed visionary, there is every sign that his presence may be felt well into the future. His six volume ‘A History of Australia’, though full of niggling factual errors, is highly readable and of great cultural significance. It embodies its author’s lifelong attempt to make sense of life and thought in Australia.
The Clarkian centenary has been marked by …

Columns »

[18 Apr 2015 | 2 Comments | 23 views ]

The recent bid by commercial television interests to increase alcohol advertising during prime time television, and in particular to allow more alcohol ads during major sporting events, deserves our vigorous condemnation.
As we should all know by now, to protect our children and their vulnerable developing brains, such TV alcohol ads should be substantially reduced, and preferably banned altogether. Unsurprisingly, peak health bodies are also outraged by plans by the liquor industry to make it even more difficult for us as citizens to complain about ads that we regard as breaching …

Reviews »

[11 Apr 2015 | No Comment | 18 views ]

Memoirs of a Slow Learner: New Edition
By Peter Coleman
Connor Court, 190pp, $29.95
Writing a memoir doesn’t mean you have to spill your guts. Sometimes what is left unsaid can be as interesting and even more intriguing than what is revealed.
When this book was first published 21 years ago, some reviewers complained Peter Coleman was far too reticent, especially about his personal life. This, it seems to me, is a misunderstanding of the nature of his memoir, which is neither a confession nor a listing of his individual achievements but essentially a …

Columns »

[11 Apr 2015 | One Comment | 37 views ]

The British established a prison colony in Australia in 1788 because they ran out of prison capacity in Britain, and America was no longer available after the 1776 revolution. But the fact incarceration had failed to dent Britain’s huge social and economic problems has not stopped successive Australian governments trying to solve our own problems by imprisoning more people.
It’s an admission of failure and a national disgrace. Recently in Australia, incarceration rates increased from 158.8 per 100,000 in 2004 to 185.6 last year. This is an area where growth is …

Reviews »

[4 Apr 2015 | One Comment | 48 views ]

Review of
‘Let My People Go: The Untold Story of Australia and the Soviet Jews 1959—89′.
By Sam Lipski and Suzanne D. Rutland
Hybrid Publishers, 273pp, $29.95
Meeting Jews who had been persecuted in Russia inspired Melbourne-born Sam Lipski to write about their struggle. In 1987 the distinguished journalist visited Moscow and was confronted with the brutal reality of Soviet totalitarianism through lengthy interviews with Soviet Jews who had applied to immigrate to ­Israel but were refused permission to do so.
As a proud Australian Jew, Lipski was sympathetic to the cause of these “refuseniks’’. …

Columns »

[4 Apr 2015 | One Comment | 13 views ]

One of the casualties of modern life in a technological age has been our attention span.
Some scientists maintain that our attention spans have halved during the past three decades. Instead of someone being able to pay attention for an average of eight seconds, it is now estimated to be four. Instead of paying attention for four minutes, it is now two. Instead of spending 30 seconds on a website, it’s 15 seconds. So what does this mean for politics and governments?
It means our attention span and consequently our tolerance of …