Broomstick, the reflections of Dame Leonie Kramer on her life and times, does not begin at the start of her brilliant career but at the end — or at least at the end of her formal duties at Sydney University, with her forced retirement as Chancellor in 2001. It is a fitting place to start because the explosive public controversy accompanying her retirement was the most dramatic of the many controversies in a long public career. The episode was also the most hurtful. The wounds are still raw. She calls the opening chapter ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, but she is no detached observer. The words she calls up to describe her experience include duplicity, hypocrisy, effrontery, vindictiveness, malevolence, malice, misrepresentation, manipulation, insinuation, reprehensible, ludicrous, acrimonious. She quotes one of the putschists: ‘First we’ll get the bitch and then the Vice-Chancellor.’ Rarely have the machinations, personal and ideological, of a university senate been so bitterly exposed.
Dame Leonie had many prominent supporters during her ordeal, including the former Vice-Chancellor Sir Bruce Williams (see his Making and Breaking Universities) and Les Murray, the poet and ‘vernacular republican’ who declared that Dame Leonie’s republican enemies could not tolerate her conservative monarchism which is ‘now illegal in our universities’. Another was Fred Nile MLC, who moved (unsuccessfully, but with Coalition support) in the Legislative Council to disallow the new university by-law under which the University Senate intended to sack Dame Leonie. Others saw in her so-called authoritarianism her defence of academic traditions and values against the new barbarians. But none was as eloquent as Dame Leonie in her own cause. At the end of the chapter she tells a puzzling and ambiguous story about the then Premier Bob Carr, whose name the putschists invoked as a supporter. At a large public gathering at Government House on her retirement, he approached Dame Leonie and said, in the hearing of many in the crowd: ‘These people are my friends but they have gone down their own path, and I have had nothing to do with it.’ A pity he did not use his great influence with his friends.
Broomstick is ‘Personal Reflections’, not autobiography. Her emphasis is on issues not personalities, on career not private life. She is also selective and gives none of her reflections on, say, the Demidenko affair, the Quadrant wars or her non-academic engagements, which included service on more than 30 boards, from the Electricity Commission to the Corrective Services Advisory Council. Yet we are lucky to get as much as we do. According to her daughters Jocelyn and Hilary Kramer in their Preface, ‘Leonie completed her writing of Broomstick but, with the progression of dementia, became unable to finalise the manuscript for publication.’ She has been well served by her editors and advisors. Why the title Broomstick? The Preface mentions several possible reasons: a magical adventure; a feminist new broom; a witch. The catchy ambiguity has its own appeal.
When Peter Slipper was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives he decided to restore the traditional Westminster dress of the office, including gown, QC’s bar jacket, white long tie or bow tie in a variation of the lace jabot. Was it a good idea? Speaking last week at the Brisbane conference of the Samuel Griffith Society, John Paul was not sure. He believes a return to formal dress is a step in the right direction if we are ever to restore authority and dignity to the office of Speaker. But he also believes that the circumstances of Slipper’s appointment — including the government’s de facto sacking of Slipper’s competent predecessor, Harry Jenkins, to gain votes in the hung Parliament — may damage the cause. Paul also blames the High Court, which used to set a model for Speakers. In 1988 the court, in a fit of republicanism, scrapped traditional robes. Its judges now dress, Paul says, in body bags. The Federal Court judges followed suit and now dress in bath robes. Paul hopes that some future Speaker, properly appointed and robed, will shame those judges ‘who have affected such slummocky ways’.
Following the High Court’s validation of plain packaging of cigarettes, the Greens have again got stuck into the Future Fund for investing in cigarette companies. But where do you draw the line? What about whisky distilleries? Or breweries? Since the fund’s primary mission is to pay the superannuation of public servants, does it not have a duty to invest in any lawful company that offers a good return? If it does not, public servants would have a word or two to say. It would be helpful to hear from the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, David Gonski.
The full title of Peter Smith’s new polemic against Keynesianism, is Bad Economics: Pestilent Economists, Profligate Governments, Debt, Dependency & Despair (see review, page x). His immediate target is the Rudd/Gillard government, but it has been only part of the worldwide resurgence of Keynesianism, debt and fiscal stimulus to combat the global financial crisis. Smith is not primarily attacking Keynes (whom F.A. Hayek said was ‘the one truly great man I ever knew’) but Keynesianism — the simplification of Keynes for political ends. Keynesianism, Smith says, has become a cover for Big Government. There was no economic case for the huge fiscal ‘stimulus’ inflicted on us by the Rudd government, since Australia had hardly felt the GFC. It was all politics. When asked if he thought a change of government would change economic policies, Smith was doubtful. The influence of Keynesianism in the public service and universities is so great that it will be a long struggle to get back to rational economic policies.Tags: iapps