peteg's blog - noise - talks - 2007 03 20 HamiltonMaddison SilencingDissent

Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison: Silencing Dissent: How the Australian government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate.

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A talk by the authours at Shearer's Bookshop in Leichardt. For mine the corrosive effect the Howard Government has had on Australia's public institutions is both its most important and most troubling legacy. Due to our general disinterest in matters civic, the manifest concern has been economic and occasionally social, rarely structural, perhaps because such things make few people relaxed and comfortable. I find this very irritating.

If one has a rough idea where these people are coming from (traditional liberal democracy, Westminster accountability, etc.) then I expect there is little that will surprise in this book. (I haven't read it yet, I'm going on past Clive Hamilton form.) One may then wonder what the point is in producing a record of the debasement of public institutitons if it will only be read by those who are worried in the first place.

(The authors were careful to note that the Hawke and Keating Governments also engaged in nepotism, neutering, playing favourites, etc. and spent a long time disavowing the "Howard hater" tag. Clive Hamilton made reference to Judith Brett, an academic studying the Liberals, and I think there is a lot they could learn from her about wrestling their way to the centre of the public political debate.)

John Pilger asked the final question of the night, asserting that the situation is not so very different in the other Anglo democracies. Clive Hamilton's response was that the democratic processes are much stronger elsewhere. I also think it's important to note that our party structures are so much more rigid than in (say) the U.S; from Peter Garrett of the ALP we get a toe-the-party-line cop-out, as if dissent on the issues that made him famous politically would be the most heinous and damaging act imaginable. The "broad church" of the Liberals can sometimes show evidence of an internal debate, but Howard is always calling for more discipline. Are people so scared of democratic processes?

There's a review in the Smage by David Marr. I note Peter Andren patronised the book launch at Parliament House, and that Marr will publish a Quarterly Essay in June this year entitled His Master's Voice: Public Debate in Howard's Australia.