Review of David Marr’s “His Masters Voice” – QE26
Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-06-08
The current issue of the Quarterly Essay (Issue 26), with David Marr’s His Master’s Voice – The corruption of public debate under Howard is well worth reading.
It is shocking because while it discusses changes over the Howard (and to a lesser extent, the Keating) years, it concentrates on events over a few months earlier this year, many of which I had not heard of, including censorship of Hansard. The dispassionate account of specific events makes it all the more shocking.
Marr covers both legislative changes, administrative actions, and the gutless response of the public.
While I had realized that something was rotten, from the few events raised in the press, the sheer relentlessness of governmental attacks on what we consider standard parts of a civil society astounded me.
In a single month, embarrassing old intelligence secrets are protected, a text that offends Christians and frightens politicians is banned, animal rights campaigners are threatened with the law, and an academic critic is shamelessly slandered to try to destroy his reputation. What these moves have in common is a lazy, brutal assertion of power at the expense of public debate. Instead of allowing us to make up our own minds, the government resorted to insult, threats and suppression.
David Marr also offers an insightful review of the differences between the attitudes to freedoms and rights between the US and Australian republic, and correlates this with the form and content of the language of settlers and the English parliamentarians at the time. In some ways, he is more scathing of the average Australian’s indifference to democratic principles than the Howard government’s abuse of them.
We haven’t been hoodwinked. Each step along the way has been reported (…) We’ve known what’s going on. If we cared, we didn’t care enough to stop it. Boredom, indifference and fear have played a part in this. So does something about ourselves we rarely face: Australians trust authority. Not love, perhaps, but trust. It’s bred in the bone. We call ourselves larrikins, but we leave our leaders to get on with it. Even the leaders we mock.
Or another section:
We roll with it because we have come to expect his government to behave like this. We’re habituated. (…) So why doesn’t Labor rally the nation to fight Canberra’s bullying in the name of free speech? Because the party’s heart isn’t in it and Australians have only the patchiest record of becoming passionate about great abstractions – even the greatest of them, liberty.
Here, I’d pick a bone with Marr. The greatest abstractions are truth and the Good, but he is right that Australian’s don’t give a toss – deceit from leaders creates no outcry from the majority, at most the mere shrug of a shoulder.
In my opinion, while the QE is always an excellent read (a fifty page essay required to cover the issues adequately, and it’s satisfying get the chance to really sink your teeth into something meaty), this is the most informative and important issue of the QE since John Birmingham’s review of the changes to Australia’s military strategy and administration.
David Marr’s extract in the Sydney Morning Herald 2007-06-03 Careful, he might hear you
Q&A with David Marr about the essay by Readings
Other blog reviews of QE26:
Andrew Norton (a self-confessed "classical liberal)
Politically homeless (an ex-member of the Liberal Party).
(Funnily enough, neither of these blogs like the article as much as little-ol-lefty me, but at least they are rational and pertinent, … unlike …)
Andrew Bolt’s diatribe 2007-06-04 (and most of the comments demonstrate Marr’s comments about the Oz public’s apathy)
The IPA’s John Roskam (2007-06-05) knocks down the straw men (after pooh-poohing ILO conventions)
Sydney Morning Herald 2007-06-01
Labor eHerald: Book Details and, (by an author I totally agree with), a review of the essay.
External posts on related issues:
Sen Andrew Bartlett (Dem) : Shrugging our shoulders at torture (2007-06-18) on the lack of interest of both press and public in human rights.
Sen Andrew Bartlett (Dem) Government seeks jail for nonviolent protesters (2006-06-14) on how far the Howard will go to silence dissent.
New Matilda: The Australian, Free Speech and Hypocrisy (15 June 2007) which discusses the contradiction between the Murdoch press joining in a campaign (Australia’s Right To Know), and an The Australian Opinion Editor’s piece (2007-06-04) critical of Marr, and taking the same tack as the Andrew Bolt piece mentioned above.
BTW: Results for New Matilda quiz on why Rudd will lose the election agree with Marr.
Official Spin: Censorship and control of the Australian press 2007 – by Media Alliance c/-