Hideout in the Apocalypse is about surveillance and the crushing of Australia's larrikin culture.
In the last three years the Australian government has prosecuted the greatest assault on freedom of speech in the nation's history.
The government knew from international research that when it introduced the panopticon, universal surveillance, into Australia it would have a devastating impact on the culture.
When people know they are being watched, they behave differently. Dissent is stifled, conformity becomes the norm. This is the so-called chilling effect.
Hideout in the Apocalypse, in the great tradition of The Lucky Country, takes Australia's temperature half a century on from Donald Horne's classic cautionary tale.
Now the future has arrived. Forced by a plethora of new laws targeting journalists to use novelistic techniques, in his latest book veteran news reporter John Stapleton confirms the old adage, truth is stranger than fiction.
Hideout in the Apocalypse takes up the adventures of retired news reporter Old Alex, first encountered in the book's predecessor Terror in Australia: Workers' Paradise Lost. But as befits the times, this book is more fantastical, intimate and politically acerbic in its portrait of his beloved country.
Alex believes believes he has been under abusive levels of government surveillance since writing a book called Terror in Australia, and as a natural empath can hear the thoughts of the surveillance teams on his track, the so-called Watchers on the Watch. Alex also believes he is a cluster soul sent with others of his kind to help save the Earth from an impending apocalypse, and has the capacity to channel some of history's greatest writers.
Australia might have the worst anti-freedom of speech laws in the Western world, but how can you sue a character like that?
Stapleton's essential theme: a place which should have been safe from an impending apocalypse, the quagmire of religious wars enveloping the Middle East, is not safe at all.
Ideas are contagious, and the Australian government is afraid of them. Australia is a democracy in name only.The war on terror has become a war on the people's right to know, justifying a massive expansion of state power.
Alex's swirling head, lifelong fascination with sociology, literature and journalism, and his deep distress over the fate of the Great Southern Land, makes him the perfect character to tell a story which urgently needs to be told.
Hideout in the Apocalypse
A Sense of Place Publishing
Author: John Stapleton
Question: What inspired the story of Hideout in the Apocalypse?
John Stapleton: I have worked as a journalist all my life, including more than 20 years on staff at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian, and am currently a contributor with The New Daily.
I wrote a book last year called Terror in Australia: Workers' Paradise Lost, after which I personally felt like I came under some unwanted and undeserved surveillance.
That got me interested in the subject of surveillance in Australia.
Since September 2014, the government has passed eight separate tranches of national security legislation that have either amended existing offences, created new ones or extended far-reaching surveillance, arrest and control powers to security agencies.
ASIO has publicly boasted that it is placing both Muslim and anti-Muslim groups, such as Reclaim Australia, under surveillance. This is a new frontier of policing, where people are being targeted not for what they do, but what they think.
Both Terror in Australia and Hideout in the Apocalypse put forward the thesis that the stifling of debate has been a significant element in the lurch to the right in Australian politics.
They use novelistic techniques to "take the temperature of the country", with the central character a retired news reporter.
Australia has traditionally been a democracy which valued the role of journalists.
The books argue that touchstone issues including migration and multiculturalism should be openly discussed ; and that the stifling of debate is leading directly to the street disturbances we have seen in both Sydney and Melbourne.
The rapid growth of groups such as Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front is a major concern to the authorities, but whether or not the approaches in trying to crush this dissent, including placing them under surveillance, is the correct approach to the issue remains to be seen.
Professionals journalists who raise these issues should not become the target of intimidation.
Question: What will readers learn, from Hideout in the Apocalypse?
John Stapleton: I believe t he Abbott/Turnbull government has launched the greatest assault assault on freedom on speech in Australia's history.
Most people have little sympathy for journalists, but the massive increase in surveillance of journalists, and the corresponding crushing of dissent and open debate impacts on everybody.
I believe that readers will discover that the Australia they think they know is not it at all, that things are not as they seem.
Most people believe Australia is a free society, but do not understand that there is no right to privacy and no freedom of speech written into law in the Australian constitution or elsewhere.
The public know almost nothing about Australia's ultra-secretive national security agencies, including ASIO, ASIS, and the Australian Signals Directorate.
But Australia has more such agencies, and has passed more counter terrorism legislation, than any other Western country.
The public should understand that the war on terror has unfortunately become a war on the people's right to know. The more the government beats up the terror drum, instilling fear into the population, the more anti-immigration and anti-Muslim groups grow in strength and popularity. And the stronger and more wide reaching become the security agencies, essentially, as some critics describe them, secret parallel police forces.
There is a toxic mix in this country of incompetent policy , failure of political will and oversight, ever expanding bureaucratic power and heavily manipulated media which is having a serious impact on what was once a free-wheeling, fun-loving, anti-establishment culture.
Question: What's next, for you?
John Stapleton: I continue to do some daily journalism, mostly for The New Daily, and this year would like to complete the third and final book in the series which began with Terror in Australia: Workers' Paradise Lost, and was followed by Hideout in the Apocalypse. The next book is called Dark Dark Policing, which addresses what happens when a democracy loses its way, and we enter the realm of The Surveillance State.
After which, if all goes according to plan, I would like to rent an apartment in the centre of Madrid, which I first visited during the Franco era of the 1970s and there really was a book called Spain on $5 A Day.
And live happily ever after.
Interview by Brooke Hunter