Marr, David. Panic

Black Inc., $29.95

Panic-driven opinion

Australians are not the easy-going, tolerant souls that we’d like to think we are.

From One Nation to Cronulla, we are a nation easily whipped into frothy peaks of intolerance. Whether it’s due to asylum seekers or gay marriage, a certain public panic is politically useful.

In Panic, David Marr analyses the political forces that exploit our country’s fears, manipulating them to gain power or votes.

The rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in 1997, race politics, Wik, Howard’s hard line, the shame that was the Tampa incident, Alan Jones’ role in the Cronulla race riots, Bill Henson’s child photographs, asylum seekers and people smugglers: David Marr charts the unhappy course of the events and the politicians who swayed public opinion – or tried to – over the past decade and a half. This is a collection of older essays, supplemented with three new ones: ‘My love of drugs’; ‘The dark materials’, a sad analysis of the nasty politics that exploitsAustralia’s response to refugees on boats; and ‘Fear itself’, an introduction to the collection and the concept. Marr writes in characteristically clever prose, with the occasional oddity (what exactly does “almost the same day” mean, anyway?).

Is it worth revisiting the recent past to dwell upon the more miserable facets of our nation’s character? Well, yes. To inform awareness of the shaping of public opinion, to dissect and understand how a gestalt of twisted information turns quasi-rational parts into an irrational whole.

Reviewed December 2011