June 2013

Arts & Letters

‘The Lucky Culture’ by Nick Cater

By Mark Latham
HarperCollins; $29.99

For as long as I can remember in Australian politics, right-wing commentators have been complaining about the rise of a new class of left-wing intellectuals. This cohort has carried many labels over the years, such as chardonnay socialists and the cafe latte set. Now Nick Cater, in his book The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class, has devised three further descriptors: cosmopolitan sophisticates, the graduate class and bunyip alumni.

In a 361-page work, one would have expected these people to be identified and dissected – outed for their unsavoury contribution to left-wing aloofism. There is, after all, little point in throwing around labels unless they can be supported by detailed research, giving examples of the offending elites and the things they have been elitist about.

I had great expectations for the intellectual firepower mustered in The Lucky Culture. In the book’s acknowledgements, it is clear Cater has collaborated closely with the best and brightest of Australian conservatism, most notably his News Ltd colleagues Paul Kelly, Christopher Pearson, Henry Ergas and Rebecca Weisser, plus fellow travellers Peter Coleman and Gerard Henderson. This was to be their magnum opus.

But the results are feeble. I have read the book thoroughly and compiled a list of the “lefties” supposedly in control of Australia. They are, in order of appearance: John Faulkner, Deborah Cameron, Peter Garrett, David Marr, Kevin Rudd, Barry Humphries, Liz Jackson, Catherine Manning, Fran Kelly, Marieke Hardy, Bernard Keane, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Christine Milne, Kerry O’Brien and Denise Bradley.

For a class grouping, this one lacks cohesion, given the time and intensity with which its members squabble among themselves. Its influence is highly fragmented and easily diluted. For the ABC presenters named, a democratic discipline applies. If the public does not like what is being said, they can switch to another channel.

Most of the other names on Cater’s list are left-of-centre politicians who have struggled to control their own parties, let alone the nation. None has exercised power with the same consistency as right-wing icons such as the Murdoch and Packer families and John Howard. For most Australians, these so-called elites are relatively obscure, with only Gillard, Rudd and Swan qualifying as “household names”. If this is a new ruling class, someone needs to tell the people they are ruling.

Cater makes his case by assertion, not evidence. Most of his arguments are imported from neo-con journals in the US and applied crudely to Australian circumstances. Thus his book becomes an exercise in right-wing political correctness, positioning activists like Gina Rinehart as above criticism because, in Cater’s world view, “wealth carries virtue”.

Mark Latham
Mark Latham is an author and former leader of the ALP. His books include The Latham Diaries, Civilising Global Capital and From the Suburbs.

From the front page

Image of fans taking a selfie with a photo of tennis star Novak Djokovic ahead of first round matches at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Image © Hamish Blair / AP Photo

‘Health and good order’

If Novak Djokovic is “a talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment”, what does that make George Christensen?

Image of Kim Philby (left) and Phillip Knightley

On Her Majesty’s secret disservice

The reporter who uncovered the truth about Kim Philby, the 20th century’s most infamous spy, and his warnings for democratic society

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Echidna poo has changed our understanding of human evolution

Citizen science is not only helping echidna conservation, but changing how we think about evolution

Image of sculpture by Jane Bamford

The artist making sculpture for penguins

How creating sculpture for animals is transforming wildlife conservation and the art world

In This Issue

Man united

Clive Palmer and his Palmer United Party

© David Moore / AAP

The cost of coal

The great Australian export is causing global damage

Dealing with online drug shopping

Travels on the internet’s Silk Road

Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, December 2012 © Luke MacGregor / Reuters

Senator Assange?

How the WikiLeaks founder’s Senate bid would change Australian politics


More in Arts & Letters

Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, circa 1977.

Oh, carols!

The music of Christmas, from the manger to the chimney

Image of Gerald Murnane

Final sentence: Gerald Murnane’s ‘Last Letter to a Reader’

The essay anthology that will be the final book from one of Australia’s most idiosyncratic authors

Image of The Kid Laroi

New kid on the block: The Kid Laroi

How Australia has overlooked its biggest global music star, an Indigenous hip-hop prodigy

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic


More in Noted

Cover of ‘Crossroads’

‘Crossroads’ by Jonathan Franzen

The acclaimed US author’s latest novel is a 1971 church drama modelled on ‘Middlemarch’

Still from ‘Yellowjackets’

‘Yellowjackets’

The US drama about teen plane-crash survivors is a heady mix of folk horror and high-school betrayal

Still from ‘New Gold Mountain’

‘New Gold Mountain’

SBS’s Australian goldfields series looks beyond colonial orthodoxies to tell the neglected stories

Cover of ‘The Magician’

‘The Magician’ by Colm Tóibín

The Irish novelist’s latest ponders creativity and the unacknowledged life of Thomas Mann


Online exclusives

Still from ‘The Worst Person in the World’, showing Anders Danielsen Lie as Aksel and Renate Reinsve as Julie. Image courtesy Everett Collection.

‘The Worst Person in the World’

Renate Reinsve is exceptional in Joachim Trier’s satisfying Nordic rom-com

Image of WA Premier Mark McGowan earlier this week announcing the state will reopen its border to the rest of the country on February 5, after almost two years of border closures. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Images

Family’s grief compounded by WA’s hard border

The awful predicament of a Melbourne family unable to bring home their son’s body shows the callousness of WA’s border policy

Image of Liliane Amuat and Henriette Confurius in Ramon and Sylvan Zürcher’s film The Girl and the Spider. Image supplied

The best of 2021 on screen

This year may have been difficult to live through, but it produced an extraordinary crop of films

Image of Rob Collins as Tyson in ‘Firebite’. Image supplied

Raising the stakes: ‘Firebite’

Warwick Thornton’s magnificently pulpy Indigenous vampire-hunter drama leads the pack of December streaming highlights