e-book Quarterly Essay 5 Girt By Sea: Australia, the Refugees and the Politics of Fear

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Although it is a periodical which wants subscribers, each number of the journal will be the length of a short book because we want our writers to have the opportunity to speak to the broadest possible audience without condescension or populist shortcuts. Quarterly Essay wants to get away from the tyranny that space limits impose in contemporary journalism and we will be giving our essayists the space to express the evidence for their views and those who disagree with them the chance to reply at whatever length is necessary.

Quarterly Essay will not be confined to politics but it will be centrally concerned with it. We are not interested in occupying any particular point on the political map and we hope to bring our readership the widest range of political and cultural opinion which is compatible with truth-telling, style and command of the essay form. Mungo MacCallum is hardly typecast as the chronicler of the story of what has gone right and wrong about the business of immigration, regular and irregular, to this country but this most larrikin and cold-eyed of one-time Canberra chroniclers brings to this story all his wit and dryness and power of mind.

MacCallum was famous in his heyday for the way he could raise the depiction of the follies of Canberra to the level of literature. He could tell his readers that there were moments when Bill Hayden irresistibly brought to mind the fact that he had once been a Queensland cop and he could quote Auden, at the drop of a hat, to illuminate, by contrast, the fatuity of some rambling condemnation of communist tyranny which was not wrong, just very silly.

Mungo Wentworth MacCallum

He caught the human face of politics, in the days of Gorton and McMahon and Whitlam and Fraser, and he made it seem, through the medium of his imagination and the sharpness of his eye, like one of the most high and mighty farces on earth. No one who has ever read his account of how the Easter Island Fraser, a man of indomitable personal dignity, was upstaged and made a fool of by a motorbike freak I think in Tasmania could doubt the genius of this jester at the court of the kings of Dismissal.

He did for Australian politics — from a vantage point that was at once insolent and engaged — what Gore Vidal did for the America of the Kennedys and Christopher Hitchens has done for the Britain of Thatcher and beyond. He wore his personal style like a scalpel but he remained terrific fun even as he was rehearsing a satire that gained its force from his sense of appal at the thing which was being mocked and the truth which politics was distorting. And if Mungo was a clown, he was a serious clown with a higher quotient of truth than most of his contemporaries could muster.

Well, a clown who is also a truth teller has many faces, some of them grave indeed. But it is not, for all its latent vehemence, a pessimistic essay.

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MacCallum takes the dimmest possible view of what John Howard did when, as he says, he made his play for power against the odds, or rather when the Tampa sailing over the horizon provided him with the kind of opportunity he might have dreamt of. He suggests that the true parallel to John Howard is not Robert Menzies, the patriarch of the Australian Liberal Party, but the Little Digger who set Protestant against Catholic during the First World War and owed fealty to nothing but the prejudices he could bequeath and bestir.

These are harsh insinuations though they have their precedent in remarks made by Malcolm Fraser during the election campaign though Mungo MacCallum also believes that John Howard was displaying the politics of conviction during the election a view shared by John Birmingham.

He begins by suggesting that we are all — probably even the Aborigines — boat people and then goes on, with a characteristic sideways motion, to tell the story, humorous and hopeful, of how that old ruffian Sir Henry Parkes reacted to a boat load of French and Italians in the light of his anti-Catholic prejudice. And it was not ever thus, even if there were ghastly tendencies.

The prejudice extended to the spouses of white Australians, though Mungo MacCallum also emphasises that the Menzies Opposition in could teach Kim Beazley a trick or two. MacCallum sees the crunch as coming under Hawke, partly as an ironic consequence of apparent liberalism. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem.

Return to Book Page. In the first Quarterly Essay of Mungo MacCallum provides a devastating account of the Howard government's treatment of the refugees as well as delineating the factors in Australian history which have worked towards prejudice and those which have worked against it; ranging from Calwell's postwar immigration policy to the recent revelations of beat-ups and distortions i In the first Quarterly Essay of Mungo MacCallum provides a devastating account of the Howard government's treatment of the refugees as well as delineating the factors in Australian history which have worked towards prejudice and those which have worked against it; ranging from Calwell's postwar immigration policy to the recent revelations of beat-ups and distortions in the election campaign.

This is a powerful account of how the government played on what was ultimately the race issue. In an essay which is, by terms, witty, dry and bitingly understated, Mungo MacCallum asks what epithets are appropriate for a prime minister who has brought us to this pass. He also raises the question of whether Australia's contemporary treatment of refugees has anything in common with the sane and decent policies that have characterised the better moments in our history.

It's a sad tale Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. More Details Quarterly Essay 5. Other Editions 2. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Girt By Sea , please sign up. Lists with This Book.

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Mungo MacCallum | Quarterly Essay

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Oct 26, Lee Belbin rated it really liked it. This Quarterly Essay is no exception. He outlines the history of 'illegal' immigration to Australia in recent years. He holds nothing back on the xenophobicPrime Ministers we have been so unfortunate to have. But with a Federal election looming, the Howard government decided to plumb the depths of the xenophobic vote by making an exception of this particular batch of asylum seekers.

Sabre-rattling rhetoric took the place of policy debate and the government made sure that there was always something on the front page to ignite the passions of the redneck in all of us. A fortunate escaped detention there as they were accepted by New Zealand, and a further 50 were sent to Ireland, but the remainder were stranded indefinitely. The implication here that we can hardly fail to draw is that on-shore detention centres like the now defunct Woomera were deemed inadequate to the specific exception-making needs of the government, even though they, too, strictly speaking, were already outside the law.

In contrast to our prisons, the detention centres for nonlawful entrants into Australia are outside the law because the Immigration Act places them under administrative control not adjudicative authority. Indeed, there is specific legislation in place to prevent the courts from reviewing, much less overturning decisions made by the department.


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The sad truth is the moment to oppose it, the moment to literally try to de-legitimise it passed with the election. As a result, Labor succeeded in doing what everyone thought impossible: it seized defeat from the jaws of victory and lost an election no-one gave the Liberals a hope of winning. He propelled Labor into the deadly middle-ground in an era, or rather a moment, when political vision and leadership was desperately wanted; or, to put it even more starkly, at a time when following September 11 the middle-ground had ceased to exist — evidence of its disappearance is to be seen in the way in the U.

But the problem runs deeper than that.

Australian Journal of Human Rights

Public outcry at this revelation was muted at best; certainly there were no resounding calls for an inquiry, much less any demands that Howard be impeached as would surely have been appropriate had it been shown he was in some way involved in the cover-up. On the contrary, the general feeling was that it might have happened the way it was originally narrated because it would just be like those people to do such a thing. Must one conclude, with Zizek, that democracy is in fact dead and that the only living politics these days is the Populist Right?


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  6. In spite of the fact that it was patently not the case that Australia was in immediate danger of either invasion by a hostile band of terrorists or inundation by vast numbers of asylum seekers, Howard nevertheless managed to act as though both of those eventualities were imminent. Without so much as a murmur of disapproval from the opposition, Howard was able to put in place a range of repressive policies designed to make the life of would be, but also existing, asylum seekers greatly more uncomfortable than it already was. Opinion polls backed him every step of the way.

    The unity the polls appeared to articulate took the paradoxically divisive form of one group of Australians pulling together so as to decide who can and who cannot consider themselves covered by the term Australian.

    The Sydney Morning Herald

    Of course, his hands were tied, to a certain extent, by the fact that the policy of mandatory detention for unlawful entrants into Australia was introduced by Labor. But we must ask, just what type of unity it is? Is it the dawning of some new form of collectivity long dreamt of by utopians everywhere? Or, is it something else, something more sinister? The asylum seekers appeared at just the right time to allow us, by power of their very exceptionality, to perceive the social totality of Australia as an organic whole.

    For the real social antagonism did not go away: wages were still low, job prospects poor, and so on, and large sections of the community felt dejected. But as I have already suggested at the outset, Agamben has shown that this opposition between those who are included and those who are excluded by a society is false. They used two terms that, although traceable to a common etymological root, are semantically and morphologically distinct: zoe , which expressed the simple fact of living common to all living beings animals, men, or gods , and bios , which indicated the form or way of living proper to an individual or a group.

    The political is, in other words, the product of an exclusion; bare life is excluded for the sake of bios. In day to day politics, the determining relation between ourselves as ordinary citizens and the government as the seat of sovereignty cannot adequately be thought in these terms.