Staff spotlight: Passion for politics


Malcolm Mackerras is an unlikely member of the staff at ACU because he is not, strictly speaking, on the staff. He is a visiting fellow at the ACU Canberra campus, working in the Blackfriars building.

He has full use of all the facilities and even a modest allowance for secretarial work.  He behaves as though he is a full-time non-teaching academic.

These days he seems to spend most of his off-campus time lobbying politicians for his enthusiasms. When he next appears before a parliamentary committee he will describe himself thus:

“I am a 76 year old politics academic whose qualification to lecture politicians is based on having the letters AO after my name,” he said.

If pressed to say why he was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2006 he will quote the citation for his award which was: “For service to the community by raising public awareness of and encouraging debate about the political process in Australia and other western democracies, and through commitment to reform and improvement of the electoral system, and to education.”

He used to be a teaching academic. For thirty years (from 1974 to 2004) he taught politics to the future army, navy and air force officers of Australia and New Zealand.

His location was first at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, and then at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Among his former students are Andrew Wilkie MP, Stuart Robert MP, Senator David Fawcett and the current Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers.

His titles were lecturer, senior lecturer and then associate professor. People instinctively call him “Professor Mackerras” but when they do he corrects them by telling them that the PhD thesis he submitted in 1977 was failed by the examiners.

He has both admirers and detractors. One of his admirers is financial and economic guru Peter Switzer who was so impressed at the ability of Malcolm Mackerras to make good political predictions he was made the “politics expert” of the SWITZER television programme on Sky News Business.

Consequently when Mackerras feels he has an opinion to express he writes that opinion on the SWITZER website. Otherwise he writes academic and newspaper articles. For all these he describes himself as: “Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus.”

As to how he won this position is an interesting story. When he retired from teaching politics at ADFA his then actual employer, the University of New South Wales, made him a visiting fellow at ADFA for seven years. When that expired in November 2011 he offered himself to ACU where he has worked since.

When he has nothing better to do he writes a book which is designed to collect all his writings over the past 60 years. (His first published newspaper article was in August 1957.)

It is likely to be a magnum opus. He is not at all sure it will be publishable but he writes it nonetheless. He has already thought up a title: “It’s not the Voting that’s Democracy... " For those who do not know him that may sound a strange title. It comes from a play called Jumpers written by Tom Stoppard in 1972 in which one of the actors says: "It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting."

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