19 April 2019

Dominic Kelly’s Political Troglodytes and Economic Lunatics is an excellent history of the web of single-issue interest groups that drove a significant rightward shift in Australian politics, especially in the years of the Howard Government. They were: “On industrial relations, the HR Nicholls Society wanted to topple the arbitration system, abolish the minimum wage and strip trade unions of their legal privileges. On constitutional issues, the Samuel Griffith Society wanted a renewed federalism, and fought passionately against the Mabo judgment and the proposed Australian republic. On Indigenous affairs, the Bennelong Society opposed land rights and reconciliation, and argued for a return to the assimilation policies of the mid-20th century. On climate change, the Lavoisier Group joined with denialists around the world in discouraging governments from taking meaningful action.” Kelly meticulously and neutrally describes their views, methods, and influence. Their shared model — a tight ideological focus, clubbish culture, emphasis on shifting elite opinion, and use of dinner speeches and opinion columns to furnish conservative MPs with talking points — was remarkably successful across a number of policy areas, and understanding the current state of politics is not possible without appreciating how these groups operated.