About Ideas and Society

The Ideas and Society Program, convened by Professor Robert Manne, is a forum for discussion about the future of Australia and beyond. Last year we asked: Are there ways to build a better Australia? Guests included Kevin Rudd, Gillian Triggs, Tim Flannery, Noel Pearson, Megan Davis, Jane Caro, Tim Costello and many more distinguished Australian thinkers. We believe that Australia is in danger of following the example of the United States where the camps of 'progressive' and 'conservative' intellectuals speak only to those with whom they already agree. For this reason in 2019 we are hosting The La Trobe Debates, a series of discussions between those with genuinely different points of view about some of the most significant and polarising issues Australians now face.

2019 at a glance

March 6: Does China Pose a Threat to Australia? What Should our Policy Be?

One of the most critical and difficult questions now facing Australia is its policy towards China at a time when China’s economic and military power is growing steadily and when the international policy of the United States is nearly impossible to predict. The future of our China policy will be discussed by the thinkers responsible for two of the most important Australian interventions in this debate – Professor Hugh White, author of the seminal China Choice and the Quarterly Essay 'Without America', and Professor Clive Hamilton, author of the best-selling and controversial Silent Invasion.The debate will be moderated by La Trobe University’s international relations scholar, Dr Bec Strating.

April 9: Has racism in contemporary Australia entered the political mainstream?

Has Australia fully transcended the racist shadows cast over its history – the dispossession of its indigenous people and its once whites-only immigration policy? Professor Tim Soutphommasane, the former Race Discrimination Officer at the Australian Human Rights Commission and author of Reclaiming Patriotism, Tom Switzer, formerly the opinion editor at The Australian and presently the Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Studies, Tasneem Chopra, a cross cultural consultant on issues of cultural competence, gender, leadership and intersectional discrimination, and Associate Professor Chelsea Bond a distinguished academic who has worked in Indigenous health promotion, culture, identity and community development, are all close observers of Australian political culture have very different answers to this question. La Trobe University’s Dr Bec Strating, will chair this discussion.

June 11: What Kind of Feminism Do We Need? What Has Still to Be Achieved?

The feminist movement has fundamentally re-fashioned our world. There are however several different kinds of feminism and different answers to the question of what still must be done to deepen and complete the feminist revolution. Three of the most brilliant younger Australian feminists, Dr Clementine Ford, author of Fight Like a Girl and Boys Will Be Boys, Teela Reid, a Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, practising lawyer and a powerful advocate for the rights of Aboriginal women, and Dr Petra Bueskens, author of Modern Mothers and Women’s Dual Identities, will discuss these questions in a debate to be moderated by La Trobe University’s Dr Clare Wright, author of the Stella Prize-winning The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

July 8: Australia and the Refugees Who Come by Boat: What have we done? What can we now do?

Two of Australia’s most respected social justice fighters, Julian Burnside QC and Professor Frank Brennan SJ have been following Australia’s asylum seeker policy for decades. On many questions connected to asylum seekers who come by boat their viewpoints differ as they consider: What should be Australia's asylum seeker/refugee policy? Julian and Frank will be joined by Manus Island detainee and the great Kurdish writer, Behrouz Boochani who will speak via Skype about his six year ordeal. This debate will be moderated by La Trobe's, Dr Madelaine Chiam and introduced by La Trobe's Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar.

August 13: Does Australia Need a Charter of Human Rights?

In part as a consequence of her experience as President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, the renowned international lawyer and author most recently of Speaking Up, is a passionate advocate for an Australian Human Rights Charter. Professor Greg Craven, the Vice-Chancellor and President of the Australian Catholic University, disagrees equally passionately. This debate will be moderated by La Trobe's, Dr Madelaine Chiam and introduced by La Trobe's Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar

More events are to be confirmed. Download your Ideas & Society Program [PDF 126KB] to keep up to date with our events.