Politics and journalism
David Marr was, for a little while there, what I wanted to be when I grew up. We’re talking high school here, which I started in 2001, deep in the Howard era and quite shortly before the terror panic gripped much of the “western” world. For extra context, the first political protest I ever remember going to was one against the incarceration of refugees in the Woomera Detention Centre in 1999. David Marr was one of an assortment of public figures who espoused opinions aligned with my own, one who was just as angry as I was about everything Wrong with Australia.
This book is a collection of edited pieces by Marr in his capacity as a journalist, tracking the bloom and boom of several panics that have gripped the Australian public, focusing especially on the time since 1997. Even more especially, it focuses on the extremely vexed question of race as it pertains to immigration, in the wake of backlash against the revocation of the White Australia Policy, and to Australia opening its doors (kinda) to (hold onto your hats) refugees who are not white. But there are other scandals thrown into the mix too; Jim Henson’s naked children, drugs, hommus-ectuality and that kind of thing. The point Marr wants to make is that as a people Australians are pretty partial to getting in a flap about things. Unfortunately, we see as a consequence such draconian and often poorly drafted laws as 2006’s anti terror legislation, or anti bikie laws introduced in various states in the last few years*.
Marr is an accomplished journalist and author, with a sure hand. But in considering this book, it’s important to understand that it’s about rallying Australia’s left to fight back against the tyranny of the majority. He is open and honest about his biases, and the book is full of his famous righteous outrage. He knows what his opinions are, he knows most of Australia knows what his opinions are, and he knows if you are picking up one of his books you’re most likely already onside. Or you’re searching for attack points. Either way, Marr has little interest in converting others to his side of politics. Rather what he wants is to convert the left to the cause of an Australian bill of rights.
I am no longer Marr’s particular shade of left wing, but I do agree with him on a whole host of issues, not least refugees. It is easy, though, in reading this book to understand criticisms of Marr and Australia’s left as a whole as somewhat elitist. After all his time warring with figures such as Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, Marr seems to have little interest in trying to see the world as an average punter might. Marr, a former grammar schoolboy and Sydney University alum, is about as stereotypically elite left wing as you can get outside of Melbourne**. But he does point out, as I too believe, that racism both structural and personal underlies the white Australian psyche. Racism must be confronted before we can tackle the various issues that arise out of it.
Two very minor things irked me within the text. First, Marr’s concentration on Hanson’s appearance when discussing her. He does also describe Howard as looking like an old man towards the end of his term, but this doesn’t quite have the same societal baggage. If Hanson’s only identifying feature was her red hair, perhaps the 1996 election might not have gone as it did. Marr also consistently refers to “homosexuals and lesbians”, which is odd, given lesbians are homosexual women. I’m not sure what that was about.
Panic has so far failed to galvanise the left wing, let alone the rest of Australia. Marr will keep pushing. Others of his ilk will keep pushing. And hopefully one day, we’ll see some form of rights protection in this country.
* Some of which have been struck down or adapted, but many of which remain.
** Hah, do you see that self-referential humour there? Lawks!