If book buyers have a limit on how many ‘Howard’s suppressing free speech’ books they’ll add to their shelves, it’s a pity Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison’s Silencing Dissent reached the bookshops before David Marr’s His Master’s Voice: The Corruption of Public Debate Under Howard.
They cover similar ground (indeed, some of the same ground, with Marr citing the earlier book) and ultimately have similar problems, but Marr’s book is much the better of the two: whatever his faults, he writes well; and he retains a sense of perspective lacking in Hamilton and Maddison.
According to its editors, Silencing Dissent:
paint[s] a picture of Australian democracy in serious jeopardy….The longer term picture is even more worrying: authoritarianism can only flourish where democracy has been eroded.
But according to Marr:
For a decade now, public debate has been bullied and starved as if this was an ordinary function of government. It’s important not to exaggerate the result. Suppression is not systematic. … There are limits.
But, as with Silencing Dissent, it’s not clear that all the examples really tell us much about the state of public debate in Australia. Read the rest of this entry »