Thursday, December 08, 2005

Lionel Murphy, A Political Biography, by Jenny Hocking

As luck would have it, I heard Jenny Hocking being interviewed today on the ABC by John Faine. Her books are so intricately written and fine on detail that I found her speaking voice a bit of a surprise; she has a flat, broad Australian accent, one that doesn’t seem fussy or particular. Professor Hocking was talking about her Frank Hardy bio. Most interestingly, she said there were many parallels between the Latham Diaries and Power Without Glory. Exactly what I thought when I was reading Power Without Glory (I’m sure I made a reference to Latham in that post.)

Anyhoo, Jenny Hocking published this biography back in 1997. I barely recall Lionel Murphy. I would have been 18 when he died of cancer, months after all of his legal problems had been dealt with. Back in the early eighties, The Age ran a series of stories, alleging to have tape transcripts of conversations conducted by the Chief Justice, in which he blabbed about various shady dealings and crime involvements. The tapes could not be authenticated, nor could the transcripts. The whole campaign was pretty shoddy, and Murphy was pronounced innocent. What a tragedy that only months after having survived this apparent witch hunt, that Murphy came down with a virulent dose of bowel cancer.

As mentioned above, this book does not depart from Hocking’s involved and detailed writing style. Much of our court, political and democratic workings are pulled apart and examined in fine detail. One of the joys of reading Hocking’s work is how she puts all these aspects of our national life under a magnifying glass, giving us a clearer picture of how important it is to note that big democratic principles and questions can hinge on small details.

Hocking celebrates Lionel Murphy as an advocate of human rights and expanded democracy, as someone willing to stand up for their principles, even if it goes against the grain of his own political party.

Here’s a quote from Lionel Murphy that is apt for today:

‘Those not affected tend to assume that they will never be affected by the erosion of civil liberties. History shows otherwise.’

This biography reads almost like a tragedy. Well, actually, it is a tragedy. How can someone who spends so much of their life trying to do good – politically and legislatively – end up the victim of such a dreadful media campaign, only to be felled by disease months after clearing his name.

This is a good biography to read for small ‘l’ liberals wanting to look back to 30 years ago when like minded people were working for the public good. What such figures are there around today? In the Liberal Party one thinks of Petro Giorgiou and Judi Moylan. Can’t think of anyone in the Labor Party.

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