There is the making of history, and then there is the manufacture of history. In Australia, the Left has always been more prolific in the area of writing, which may explain why much of the culture slews that way, especially at the elite levels. But since the demise of the Labor government last year the process has gone into overdrive, with books pouring onto the groaning shelves.
The latest is The Good Fight by Wayne Swan, which goes to great lengths to explain why everything that went wrong was the fault of someone else. Other books from former ministers are The Fights of My Life by Greg Combet, Hearts and Minds by Chris Bowen, A Letter to Generation Next: Why Labor by Kim Carr, and – the one that wins the prize for sheer self-indulgence – Diary of a Foreign Minister by Bob Carr.
Then there are The Biography by Tony Windsor, The Independent Member for Lyne by Rob Oakeshott, and Optimism by Bob Brown, as well as Glory Daze by Jim Chalmers (a former Swan adviser, now an MP) and Battlers and Billionaires by MP Andrew Leigh. In the hangers-on category, there are Gravity by Mary Delahunty, Dog Days by Ross Garnaut, and Political Bubble by Mark Latham. Books from Julia Gillard and Peter Garrett are on the way.
This parade of self-justification would seem almost comical if there were not a more serious concern. While it would be wrong to ascribe any sort of unified intention here, the long-term effect of all these books will be to portray the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd period in terms very different to the chaotic, incompetent facts of the matter. Consider, for example, what it would be like, ten or fifteen years from now, when undergraduate students studying politics visit the university library for material, to be confronted with all these books. From this cascade, they will form a very different view to what occurred – a view fuelled by intentions rather than outcomes, selected information rather than comprehensive data, rhetoric rather than reality.
On the non-Left side, for these hypothetical students, there will not be much else. True, there are newspaper and journal articles, but they do not carry the weight of books.
Perhaps the answer, for those on the conservative side of politics, is to look towards a way to balance, in a very real way, the books – with works of their own, whether about the debacle of the 2007-2013 period or looking more deeply, about their own values and ideas. Make no mistake: writing books is difficult, time-consuming work, and there is little money to be made from it. But the intellectual field should not be ceded. Choose the ground, plant the standard, fight and defend.
No doubt, such books would attract the ire, and even the ridicule, of the ABC, the Guardian, and the twitterverse. So be it; that might be worn as a badge of honour. And there is an inherent obligation to look to the future, to those who will come after us. The process of making history is, in the end, too important to be left to the manufacturers.
Derek Parker is a Melbourne-based freelance writer. His work appears in Australian Spectator, the Financial Review, the Australian, In the Black and American Review.
He is the author of a non-fiction book, The Courtesans: The Press Gallery in the Hawke Era and, just published by Conor Court, This Tattooed Land. Parker does not have a blog. He is not on Facebook. He does not tweet.