Wednesday, January 31, 2007


SILENCING DISSENT - Edited by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison Published by Allen & Unwin

Book Review by Allan Boyd

Silencing Dissent is an appropriate book for an appropriate era. At a time of increasing cultural homogeneity, collective apathy and lack of community participation in Australia, this book examines how for over ten years, John Howard's conservative Liberal-Coalition government has employed intimidation, deceit, obfuscation and conspiracy to silence and ridicule those who seek to dissent its policies.

Silencing Dissent reveals how our Australian democratic institutions, both government and NGOs are being eroded. The very heart of public participation has defected - and this book shows how and why. In John Howard's Australia in 2007, by contributing to the book - each Silencing Dissent contributor is a radical dissident.

The editors - well respected authors Clive Hamilton (executive director of lefty think-tank, The Australia Institute) & Sarah Maddison (lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of NSW) - and its 8 contributors have produced an entirely current and highly readable dire warning of a deadening Aussie democracy.

Currently a stacked Senate weakened by coalition reform is buckling under the boot of Mr Howard. The book examines a multitude of cases, all of which highlight Howard's master plan to systematically overthrow the authority of experts and individuals across the nation - in order to control public opinion and rewrite Australian history under the Liberal Party's grand vision. Academics, critics, public servants, social justice seekers and even members if its own Party are targeted and silenced galore - effectively dismantling the crucial checks and balances of government accountability and "weeding out those who are not sufficiently compliant". However Silencing Dissent also shows how those who toe the party line are sufficiently rewarded for their loyalty.

Citing glaring issues from as far back as 1996 (Refugees; Sadam's WMDs; the invasion of Iraq; the $300 million AWB scandal; the Tampa incident; the children overboard debacle; the gagging and guillotining to force through controversial legislative change) as obvious cases, the book delivers myriad evidence of an active hardline government intent on gagging critics of its neo-conservative rule. Silencing Dissent offers countless examples of how "the actions of the Howard Government have put democracy at risk".

Unable to tolerate 'frank and fearless' bi-partisan advice from public servants, NGOs and other highly reputable people, many boards and committees have been dissolved by an ideologically-driven government. Organisations are muted, quashed and conveniently populated with Howard's sycophantic political allies (as in the ABC). Indeed those who are submissive go on to receive obvious rewards, awards and accolades for their subjugated loyalty.

Silencing Dissent describes clearly and concisely how, under the Howard regime, only certain kinds of speech appear to be acceptable.

This book unveils the methods utilised by Howard and his colluders in the ongoing corrosion of democratic dissent. A timely collection of essays written by ten leading social justice experts, academics, thinkers, 'do-gooders' and whistle-blowers, Silencing Dissent will certainly be the target of an "inner circle of ideological warriors"; this "syndicate of right-wing commentators who receive favour from the Howard government". The likes of which determine the climate of public debate - which has arguably shifted a "long way to the right" over the past two decades.

The book, published in February 2007, at the precipice of an election year, details a litany of intimidation, public vituperation, funding cuts, provocation, increased bureaucracy, covert and overt manipulation, outright refusal to adhere to the appropriate tools of accountability etc etc. And the sufferers under the Howard years are people - workers, students, institutions, charities, academics, researchers, journalists, judges, public sector organisations - even defence force personnel are victims under the tyranny of John Winston Howard.

This poignant group of articles shows how since 1996, Howard has managed with much success to stifle critique of his policy and the manner of its implementation in this country. Silencing Dissent describes in detail how our media and public institutions are shaped, abused and dismantled in the pursuit of an ideological dominance.

All brave democratic Australians need to consume this book.

Read it. Steal it if you have to. Make a noise. DISSENT!

ISBN 9781741751017
Price $24.95
Paperback, 300 pages
Allen & Unwin Feb07

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