Part 1 transcript

Belinda Probert:

Welcome  everybody. And as I said, it’s great to see so many people here for this  important and obviously significant debate. I’m Belinda Probert, the Deputy  Vice-Chancellor at La Trobe University and I’m here to chair the session. Can I  say before I go any further that we’d like you to make sure that your phones  are turned off and that the event is being filmed which is why we are  uncomfortably sitting up here in this glare and you’ll all look a bit  invisible, and so bear with us if there’s any glitches because it is quite  blinding. But the importance of the filming is that that means that enormous  numbers of other people will be able to see a version of this on the internet  and that’s a very important way of communicating with a much wider audience.  But I’m welcoming you to (all laughing) yes, we’ll just ... want to welcome you  very warmly to La Trobe’s University’s Ideas and Society program which is a new  initiative which is being co-ordinated by Professor Rob Manne and which is  designed to provoke and promote vigorous discussion by staff, students, the  wider community around important and often difficult current topics about the  environment, the economy, social relations, the things that we know we need to  be talking about. Today’s event is presented with the support of La Trobe’s  Institute for human security and takes the form of a debate about a matter of  fundamental importance to human security, namely racism and in particular,  racism in Australia and it’s a topic that’s never far from the surface but it  is of course, very much I think on our minds given the renewed media coverage  of our approach to asylum seekers. We are not here attempting to provide a  political platform for argument, that is not what this event is about,  especially when the issue is one which is often felt as deeply personal and  very divisive. We’re a university and our role is to provide a space for  scholarly reflective debate where the focus is on the quality of the argument  and the more politically the sensitive the issue, the more important that we  provide this space for reasoned and unflinching debate. And we are extremely  fortunate in having four of Australia’s most eminent historians and social  scientists to give us their perspectives and to be unflinching and honest in  their approach to this topic.

It’s been billed as a debate but it is not  a debate in the sense of winners and losers, obviously this is a topic that  could not be treated like that, we’re not going to be taking a vote, but we do  of course ... people when they’re making presentations do want to know what  people think of their arguments and that is what of course we will allow for.  That each speaker will address us for about 15 minutes and there will be an  opportunity for questions from the floor, because I’m sure there will be immensely  complex and interesting ideas being presented here and the questions should be  questions, it’s not ... as I say, we’re not trying to create a political  platform here, which isn’t to say that people don’t ... shouldn’t feel you know  that this is terribly important and feel very much it’s a matter of values. And  also I’m hoping that there’ll be an opportunity for our speakers to comment on  each other because they’re going to have very different views and I think some  of the most interesting things might come from that.

So, just a brief  introduction to the speakers and then I’ll introduce them more formally as each  one takes their turn, the speakers are Ghassan Hage, Judith Brett, John Hurst  and Henry Reynolds.