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MANNER, MATTER AND METHOD

A good debater should be able to speak for or against a proposition at any time, and as experience grows, with less and less preparation. Debating is the art of persuasion. If it is adjudicated, it is traditionally marked on Manner, Matter and Method. Manner is individual. One can always improve.
These notes are mainly about Matter but with a little Method thrown in. They should enable anyone involved in the debate on this issue to argue for or against any of the major propositions in the constitutional debate now exercising Australians.

For every proposition, there is an answer, a counter-proposition, a telling quotation or a method of invalidation of the proposition. Sometimes debaters do this by avoiding the issue by changing the ground rules of the debate, by a closer analysis of the terms used, the assumptions made or even the emotions employed.

The result in a debate is usually decided by an independent adjudicator or an unprejudiced audience, especially if the topic is non¬controversial, e.g. 'Venus needed more Milo', 'Gender difference is an illusion', 'Might is right', 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet', and so on. But with the debate on possible changes to the Australian Constitution, debaters will run into hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) prejudices that no amount of logical argument will alter, influence or overcome. At one Melbourne Writers' Festival debate, I had a heckler for my ten minute speech repeat again and again 'The Irish hate the Queen!' There was no way round his solution to the debate, even had I claimed (correctly) Irish family connection with the ancient Irish King Dermot McMurragh. Whatever I said would have made (and did make) no impression. His mind was made up.

Whether he was citizen, visitor, migrant, Irish national or just sozzled, I never found out. As the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson had recently enjoyed afternoon tea with the Queen, I guess he was wrong in that instance at least! Much of the prejudice you may encounter is anti-Royal or anti-British, but there is also a lot which is anti-Irish, anti-multicultural or racist. Much depends on perspectives of the debate and prejudices which are deeply ingrained and sometimes the opposite of that of other participants.

So, I say to all those entering the debate—be truly sensitive to the feelings of others! Argue the issues not the personalities. Avoid abuse. Avoid silly claims of 'patriotism'or 'racism'or 'xenophobia'. Nearly everybody I have encountered in the debate has wanted the best outcome for Australia, they just disagree on what that is to be.

Finally, the issues are complex. Make sure that whatever argument your opposition uses, you confront it fairly, while still advancing your own. Remember that to win a debate, you must attack as well as defend. And make no mistake. Whilst'removing the Queen' may seem a simple emotional objective, its results will be very wide-reaching.

The powers of the Head of State go to the very root of government. If they are to be politicised by giving them either to a political president or to the Prime Minister, rather than leave them in the hands of our impartial Governor-General, then the debate about changing the Constitution is about power and substance as well as about emotion!

Lloyd Waddy, RFD QC
National Convenor
Australians for Constitutional Monarchy
Sydney NSW February, 1998

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