Melbourne: Palaver, 2020
I’ve known Bill De Maria since the 1990s. He did pioneering research on whistleblowing, from the point of view of whistleblowers. I was involved in Whistleblowers Australia, including as president 1996–1999, and Bill’s work loomed large. Back then, Bill and I had many exchanges about whistleblowing. I’ve often cited his important book Deadly Disclosures (Wakefield 1999). He was passionate about injustice and about the failure of institutions to address it. He still is.
Trouble in the Land of Giving makes a valuable contribution to Australian debates and policy from two particular angles. The historical treatment of government welfare provision, especially its neoliberal retreat, offers insights not available by simply looking at contemporary charity and need. The second angle is fraud, both the illegal sort of direct stealing and the legal sort (not officially called fraud) of tax and other rules allowing the rich to benefit from charitable giving. Insights from Bill’s case studies, such as the Shane Warne Foundation and the epic saga of Eman Sharobeem, are especially disturbing because so many people make donations in good faith, yet too much of the money fails to get to those who need it most.
Bill’s work is rigorous in its scholarship, as shown in his detailed accounts of the cases he studies. Unlike most academic writing, though, Bill has a style that is engaging through a combination of hard-hitting analysis and vivid language, and the result is prose that is unusually accessible outside the academy.
Bill is an iconoclast. I say this in admiration. His career has not been easy because of his outspoken views. His capabilities as a scholar combined with his willingness to criticise both governments and business make his contributions especially valuable. Trouble in the Land of Giving is an initial expedition into uncharted waters. There is so much secrecy that only a great deal more work of this kind will reveal the full extent of the problems. Some of the cases Bill describes are ongoing. However, it would be a mistake to wait for the outcomes, because they are likely to be many years away.
Bill has shown the way. Others need to follow.
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