The not-always-reliable Oxford Companion to Australian Politics

For the last few days, I have been dipping into The Oxford Companion to Australian Politics, edited by Brian Galligan and Winsome Roberts. It contains over 400 entries on a wide range of Australian political topics. Many of the contributors are good choices: Ian Hancock on the Liberal Party, Murray Goot on public opinion, Galligan himself on federalism, Peter Coleman on political cartoons, Ian Marsh on think-tanks, and Judy Brett on political culture, just to name a few.

But the trouble is that Galligan and Roberts have also chosen as contributors people who are as much activists as academics on their Companion subject. A hardline lesbian feminist like Sheila Jeffreys is not the kind of person you’d ask to give a even-handed account of pornography or prostitution. But at least Jeffreys can tell the difference between fact and opinion, which is more than you can say for some other authors.

Take the ANU’s museum-piece Marxist, Rick Kuhn, who is given the entry for ‘class’. While unlike Clive Hamilton he probably isn’t ignorant of the sociological research on class in Australia, he does ignore it in favour of a straight Marxist account, right down to implicitly predicting revolution:

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