Review: Panic

PanicPanic by David Marr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t always agree with David Marr when he speaks or writes in the public forum. At times I find his pontificating just a tad smug and self-righteous, worthy of the kind of epithets applied to him by some of his opponents on ‘the Right’. At times, some of the topics he chooses to pontificate about are, in my estimation at least, red herrings.

That being said, however, it’s hard to fault his approach in this book to the politics of fear, the politics of panic, present in the Australian public discourse. It is, as Marr points out, something that has been part of Australian politics from the very beginning, as examples in this book surrounding the framing of the Australian constitution prior to Federation make clear. It is, also, something that defies the expected Left-Right political divide, having been used by politicians of all colours and all persuasions at various times across Australian political history.

This book is a collection of writings by Marr over a period from 1997 to 2013, with some of the older writings being ‘updated’ to reflect post-writing developments in the specific and larger narratives. When taken together they make a cogent case for the way in which fear and panic is used to permit any number of actions or policies that in any other context would grate against the sensitivities and proclivities of the Australian public. The topics covered by Marr’s writings is drawn from the expected topics – terrorism, asylum seekers, ‘illegal’ boats, drugs, etc – but that doesn’t ameliorate the power of the underlying phenomenon that Marr cogently outlines.

Touching occasionally on the on-off again campaign for constitutional or statutory protection of Australian’s civil and human rights, Marr mounts a very powerful argument against the power of fear and panic to be misused and the call for those who should and could do something about it – politicians, parliaments, the judiciary, to name but a few – to do something about it.

An enjoyable and thought-provoking book, one well worth reading by anyone concerned about the state of public discourse in contemporary Australia. Highly recommended.

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