Saturday 2nd of March 2024

Welcome passion in a barren landscape of political commentary (DAVID WRIGHT)

I read the book while on a plane to a conference in Ottawa. I finished it between Sydney & Honolulu. While in Canada and North America for only a few weeks I was surprised by the variety and sometimes the depth of critical commentary that is available. I read small publications primarily and remember in particular Mother Jones. There is little in Australia of this kind. This came to me very forcefully on my return.

Despite the often flippant Australian dismissal of American critical commentary it is alive and lucid over there in a way it is not in Australia. Passionate and committed political commentray is hard to find in Australia. This book is a welcome exception. Alan Ramsey's columns in the SMH are often another. There are few others.

There is no longer a Nation Review or any other equivalent small publication that is well written and prepared to state the obvious - that our political fortunes have been hijacked by big business; that our political leaders are complicit in this hijacking. The ideological left writes of this but in a relatively predicatable way.

This book - 'Not Happy John' - is by no means perfect. It has been hastily put together. It is segmented and the through lines are sometimes diminished but it is driven by an iconoclastic passion that we would like to think is abundant in Australia, but in reality, is rarely seen. Too much of the passion we encounter is vindictive, driven by the passionate defence of personal exposure.

This book defends something larger than personal vulnerability. It defends a naive sense of personal powerlessness and the fear that this gives rise to. That this is encountered by someone with significant access to media and political influence is quite remarkable. It makes me question who holds and generates 'public opinion' in Australia.

All too rarely do I find my interests and my concerns addressed. Margo Kingston makes a brave reach in this direction. Steven Sewell did it on stage in a play last year. And when this reach is made there is collective gasp - as there was in that theatre - that, at last, someone is speaking the unspoken. At last a collective rather than individual fury is being recognised.