Summer reads on policy and politics

by Policy Innovation Hub

Dec 3, 2018 · 8 min read
“Summer reads on policy and politics” is a collaboration between the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) Queensland, Griffith Review and the Policy Innovation Hub.

t’s a challenge to stay across the social and political moments that have occurred in 2018. As the holidays season approaches, this list will help bring you up to speed on some of the most pressing issues and most compelling writing from 2018 — from the ongoing crisis of public administration that is the Trump presidency, to the shocking realities of life for refugees on Manus Island, to fiction set in in 1960s Sydney against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the building of the Opera House. Produced by the Policy Innovation Hub in partnership with the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) Queensland and Griffith Review, the “Summer reads on policy and politics” list presents books and essays from Australia and abroad that not only cut to the heart of contemporary and historical policy contexts and cultural events, but are also simply great reads.

2018 Summer Reads on Politics and Policy.

The Fifth Risk

by Michael Lewis, Allen Lane, October 2018

What happens when political leaders take office who neither understand nor respect the role of government? This question underlies best-selling author Michael Lewis’s latest book, which focuses on how three US federal agencies — the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce — each of which plays essential roles in protecting and caring for US citizens, have been neglected and undermined by the Trump administration. In addition to four identifiable risks this poses, the book identifies a fifth — ‘project management’ — as being the most significant. According to Lewis, ‘It is the innovation that never occurs and the knowledge that is never created… It is what you never learned that might have saved you.’ This detailed and highly readable account is an ode to the importance of professionalism and expertise to a nation’s institutional fabric. It confirms the chilling implications that ignorance and recklessness have for public administration, and for democracy at large.

‘Follow the leader: Democracy and the rise of the strongman’

by Laura Tingle, Quarterly Essay 71, September 2018

In the third of her ‘trilogy’ of Quarterly Essays assessing ‘Australian expectations of government, and our failing institutional memory’, Laura Tingle takes stock of the global crisis of political leadership. Leaders ought to be constructive, Tingle claims. They should attempt to negotiate through problems of national interest with groups and populations that are often divided and antagonistic. This she contrasts to the strongman style of leadership typically associated with the likes of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — and, closer to home, of Tony Abbott — which tends to focus on deconstruction, division, and the shoring up of power. This essay is a clear and thorough assessment of an issue that has been present across media for some time — but more than this, Tingle forces us to confront our own expectations, and challenges us to reconsider what we think it means to lead and be led.

‘The long road to Uluru: Truth before justice’

by Megan Davis, Griffith Review 60: First Things First, April 2018

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was a landmark call for constitutional reform in Australia. In this resounding essay, Megan Davis, a member of the Referendum Council appointed by the Turnbull government and Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous at UNSW, describes the exhaustive process of consultation involved in developing the statement, and the wide-ranging dialogues that took place among many of Australia’s First Nations to ensure that the proposals for change came directly from the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Davis sheds light on the May 2017 national convention at Uluru — a process that may have seemed arcane for many Australians — revealing it as a unique exercise in deliberative democracy and a momentous event in Australia’s political history.

Rusted Off: Why Country Australia is Fed Up

by Gabrielle Chan, Vintage, September 2018

The city–country divide has become a defining feature of Australian political discourse, and one of the most significant policy issues facing governments at all levels. Political journalist Gabrielle Chan experienced the realities of country living first-hand when she moved from Canberra to Harden-Murrumburrah, in southern NSW, more than two decades ago. In Rusted Off, Chan gives a nuanced picture of the people in her town — rural people, proud of where they’re from but often struggling to make ends meet — and why they feel excluded from most social and economic considerations that take place in the land of ‘Parliamentalia’. In identifying and championing the ‘neglected class’, Chan draws attention to a broader disconnect between Australian politicians and their constituents — of all demographics and locations. Essential reading as we contemplate community entrepreneurship and place-based policies, and their potential for mobilising Australians to reconnect towards shared prosperity and equality of opportunity.


by Kristina Olsson, Scribner, October 2018

Set in 1965 against the building of the Sydney Opera House and the early years of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, this book is the third novel from Kristina Olsson and the first in the Australian relaunch of renowned US publishing imprint Scribner. It follows the dual stories of Pearl, a Sydney journalist relegated to the women’s pages after being photographed at an anti-war rally, and Axel, a quietly reflective glass artist from Sweden attempting to craft a piece that will do justice to Jørn Utzon’s grand and controversial design. Olsson’s prose is a joy to read, and her treatment of past events and their characters is generous, far-sighted and humane. Shell makes new a small piece of Australia’s history, and reminds us of the transformational power of human intention.

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

by Behrouz Boochani, Picador, July 2018

Written entirely on a phone, and transmitted via text messages and WhatsApp, Behrouz Boochani’s courageous, heart-rending account of life in ‘Manus Prison’ may be the defining text of a debate that has been ongoing in Australia for the better part of two decades. After his boat from Indonesia to Australia began taking on water, Boochani — a Kurdish-Iranian journalist — and his fellow passengers were rescued by a British cargo ship, and promptly flown to detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru. Behrouz describes the daily life of the refugees on Manus, who are denied access to basic amenities, forced into competition with one another, and are neglected, shamed and abused by Australian staff. This book is remarkable not only for how it was written and the shocking things it reveals, but also for its depth of insight and lyrical, captivating style.

‘The great transformation: Hooked on migration’

by James Button and Abul Rizvi, Griffith Review 61: Who We Are, July 2018

James Button, a journalist and former political speechwriter, and Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary in the Department of Immigration, team up to examine Australia’s stance on immigration. Australia has the highest population growth of any OECD country, driven by high levels of migration. But it is struggling to cope, largely — as Button and Rizvi identify — because successive governments have ‘retreated from shaping immigration policy’ and have left the market to dictate its parameters. This has resulted not only in inadequate social, economic and environmental infrastructure to accommodate the influx of new residents, but also in populist backlash against policies that lack visible benefits for many Australians. This comprehensive essay is a call for Australia and its leaders to reflect on the overall success of the nation’s immigration policies to date, and to take the necessary steps to ‘confidently steer towards a future based on migration’.

We’ll Show the World

by Jackie Ryan, University of Queensland Press, April 2018

Brisbane’s World Expo 88 was many things to many people: a cultural revolution for a city yet to make a cosmopolitan name for itself; an ostentatious display of commercialism made possible by forced social dislocation; a long and elaborate party. Its planning and development took place at a time of great social and political unrest in Queensland, during which the state’s longest-serving and most controversial premier, Joh Bjelke-Peterson, was challenged, ousted, and faced trial for perjury following the Fitzgerald Inquiry. Jackie Ryan’s definitive account — which received both the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance and the University of Southern Queensland History Book Award at the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards — captures the many facets of Expo 88, combining meticulous research with a highly entertaining style to show just how much it meant for the nation, the city, and the people involved.

Adults in the Room: My Struggle with Europe’s Deep Establishment

by Yanis Varoufakis, Vintage, May 2018

After years of working as an academic in England, Australia, and Greece, Yanis Varoufakis was elected to the Greek Parliament as the member of a radical leftist party and served as finance minister from January to July 2015. This compelling and erudite book is his memoir of that period, when his party was tasked with the renegotiation of the harsh austerity conditions imposed on Greece by the European Commission, the EU, and the IMF after the country’s enormous economic downturn following the global financial crisis. IT documents Varoufakis’s struggles against these organisations, and is a vivid and candid portrayal of the tasks that face a minister, of negotiating the practicalities of economic policy-making under extreme national and international political pressure, and of how party politics and personal ambition can derail the mission of even an activist politician.

The Football Solution

by George Megalogenis, Viking, July 2018

Politics in Australia, according to writer and political commentator George Megalogenis, is ‘increasingly conducted like sport once was’. Obsessive media coverage and opinion poll quoting, and the cutthroat treatment of leaders, reflect the worst aspects of sport coverage and governance — but in recent years, Megalogenis says, Australian rules football has come to provide something of a model for ‘a new way to win’. Spanning the history of Australian rules football from the 1850s until Richmond’s premiership victory in 2017, this book shows how the social and political evolution of Australia has influenced the sport, and how the patience, empathy and inclusiveness that brought Richmond victory after decades of failure are what’s needed to break Australia’s political impasse. Megalogenis has not only produced an imaginative and highly compelling case for a different kind of politics, but also a vivid and detailed history of Australia through cycles of boom and bust.

The Machinery of Government

Independent analysis from Australia's best political scientists and policy researchers with a focus on politics, policy, and governance.


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Independent expert analysis and insights from Australia’s best political scientists and policy researchers.

The Machinery of Government

Independent analysis from Australia's best political scientists and policy researchers with a focus on politics, policy, and governance.

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