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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Book review: Rogue Nation, Royce Kurmelovs (2017)

This fussy little book dates the appearance of populist politics that is threatening the stability of Western democracies globally to the late 90s when the carrot-headed Liberal, Pauline Hanson, quit the party to set up her own operation, which became One Nation. The author furthermore worked for a spell up to the middle of 2017 in the office of South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon, who also set up a minor party, the Nick Xenophon Team. (Xenophon has now quit the federal Senate and instead will run in state politics in future under the banner of SA Best.) Given this set of circumstances you might think that you were in for an interesting ride but things don’t turn out exactly as planned.

Kurmelovs has a structural problem with the book and gets bogged down in an endless stream of details amid the politics of the minor parties in the Australian Parliament. The book is enticingly subtitled ‘Dispatches from Australia’s Popular Uprisings and Outsider Politics’ but the promise of purposeful action is largely unfulfilled.

Any firm narrative that he might have begun with is lost in the onward rush of minutiae, surely compelling enough in themselves but in aggregate an indeterminate mass that you constantly have to sift through for meaning, in the form of things like press conferences, policy decisions, and media releases. It’s a disappointing book that doesn’t really have a central core that you can rely on to carry you through to the other side. Kurmelovs is assuredly a competent writer and the words emerge with ease and efficacy, but I found the book’s dramatic arc not well enough realised to warrant the time and effort needed to finish it. I dropped out at about 25 percent of the way through, and this review is my response to it.

There are fruitful possibilities for the themes it raises about populism and the jettisoning of the political mainstream by large swathes of many electorates, such as the recent rise in the US of Donald Trump and the Brexit movement in the UK, but the author didn’t make much of them.

Hanson reemerged as a political force after a number of missed opportunities punctuated by a stint in the clink, but in the 2017 state election in Queensland – her home state – her party only secured a single parliamentary seat with about 14 percent of the popular vote. It did even worse in the 2017 Western Australian state election, securing about five percent of the vote and no seats. There are state elections soon in South Australia, where SA Best is expected by some to hold the balance of power in the lower house of the Parliament, and also in Tasmania and Victoria. The next federal general election will not take place until 2019.

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