The NSW Solicitor-General uses a legal term as the title for his latest book because, he explains, the collection of essays and reviews are “a departure from what might be characterised as the conventional wisdom”. He goes on in the preface to express concern regarding “the relatively recent phenomenon of political correctness” and “that this climate of conformity has had a chilling effect on public debate”.
In other words, a rebuke of “cancel culture” – in which case Mr Solicitor-General might be thankful he isn’t on Twitter. His pieces are certainly of a richness unlikely to be extracted in the 280-character tweet limit. This collection spans politics, free speech and public discourse, Brexit, modern history and sporting issues like drug testing.
Dissenting Opinions encompasses articles written over the past several decades, which means occasionally some show their age (a September 2016 political article suggests “it may be … that centre left or even further left parties are better placed in to win office in most Western countries in the immediate future”). Yet many others have only become more prescient. It’s by no means the most hard-hitting topic in the collection, but the piece on the singularity of voices at writer’s festivals and other literary events is spot on. Other highlights include his personal account of being a travelling university student on the ground in Munich when the Olympic terrorist attack occurred, woven with a review of the Steven Spielberg movie about the killings, as well as columns on Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, are particularly poignant.
As the state’s chief legal adviser, it is little wonder Sexton is such a clean and forthright writer who knows exactly how much judgment to exercise in his reviews; and he hopes for “much greater scope in the immediate future for the full-blooded public debate of social, economic and political issues in Australia”.