Video transcript
Stop rebutting yourself! – secondary debating – 7. Anna-Sophia Zahar

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TONY DAVEY: Hey, how's it going?

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: Hi, Tony. I'm good. How are you?

TONY DAVEY: Excellent, excellent. It's been a fun isolation for me. So we're going to watch you give a speech, And first of all, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you and what are you up to in debate?

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: So my name's Anna-Sophia, and I really love debating. And I've been doing debating since I was in primary school. And when I was in primary school, my team won the Years 5 and 6 Debating Championships for The Premier's Debating, which is great.

TONY DAVEY: True fact.

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: And from then on, I did debating in high school. And in year 11, our team won the 2018 Year 11 Metro Championships, and I'll be watching my speech from that today, I think. And then I was on the New South Wales debating team, and now I'm at uni, and I study maths and economics, and I also do a lot of debating, which is lovely.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah, excellent. Lots of debating, but since you're in like Year 5. Crazy stuff.


TONY DAVEY: Yeah, so we're going to watch, I think, it's your third affirmative speech from that final. Do you remember what the topic was before we kick off?

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: Yeah, so the topic for that debate, I think, was--

TONY DAVEY: It's that broken politicians should trigger new elections?

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So when the prime minister changes, there should be an election.

TONY DAVEY: Oh, a change in prime minister should trigger an election. Of course, of course. All right, so you're the third affirmative speaker, and we're going to watch you now. And then you're going to give yourself a little bit of feedback, and finally, of course, rebut yourself. Exciting stuff. Are you ready to go?

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: Super exciting. I'm totally ready.

TONY DAVEY: OK, here we go.


Opposition was never going to win this debate because they had several massive problems in their case, but one specific tension, which was that the status quo they supported-- the status quo they wanted to say was stable, was perfect, had this interim stability that they lauded, which we also wanted under our side-- this status quo was not only incredibly theoretically realistic, but we were not living through it.

It did not exist. The events of last week have told us that this does not exist. And therefore, we urgently need a solution to sort out our political system. I'll be telling you three things in the speech-- firstly, why we give you a more representative government, secondly, why we give you more stability, and thirdly, why do we give you a better political process.

In this first point, why beget a more representative government, it's important to ask why a representative government was really important. And there were three reasons for this. So firstly, it meant that the needs of the majority of Australians were being met and respected. Secondly, it meant that your government had more legitimacy, and thirdly, it meant that there was more political engagement from the Australian public because they knew that their government was actually legitimately representing them.

So we did not see this right now because we had politicians who were not elected by the Australian public. They were elected in small rooms in Canberra by other politicians who were really sick of their jobs that kind of just wanted to go home. This was not representative governing.

And as opposition conceded, at first speaker, when there is a change in prime minister, you get a massive change in ideology because they have their own ways, their own values that they want the party to follow, their own direction. And they are able to introduce policies which they want.

We gave you pretty important examples of this. So firstly, the same sex marriage referendum, which Turnbull introduced, and secondly, Turnbull's different stance on climate change compared to that of Abbott. These are issues that literally affected millions of Australians and changed their lives, and we thought that was why it was very important that Australians should take seriously the changing of prime ministers and vote in an election again.

And it was very harmful that people were being represented by governments they did not vote for, for example, Turnbull and Scott Morrison. And so the negative agree with us here because they conceded this massive ideology change. And so we thought these governments were never going to be completely representative. What was their material here?

They said that people elect ministers who then make the decisions and, their constituents should trust the judgement of the MP. There were a few reasons why this is problematic. Firstly, the vote of the ministers was very close and not definite at all. And when you had, what, millions of Australians voting for very few people to represent them who then voted for one person, this meant that you weren't actually legitimately respecting the views of a lot of Australian people.

You were kind of just like caught up in this chain-like pyramid system where you've got someone who at the end of the day was probably not what the majority of Australians wanted. And I told you earlier on why politicians were not always likely to make the best choice, because they were probably tired, sick of the leadership spills, a bit embarrassed, and had to vote along with what they were told to do by their parties.

So those were a few reasons why this was really problematic and not legitimate at all. And so at the end of that issue, we saw that you would definitely get a more representative government under our side. Our current government is just not good enough.

On the second issue, so why we gave you more stability. Stability was incredibly important because without stability, people had no idea what the government would do in the long term. Even the government had no idea what the government would do in the long term. So they were not able to make policies which affected the long term. Things like climate change policy got no um, attention, and like broader education policy.

So we really wanted stability. This is incredibly important and the most important issue in the debate, we thought. So we gave you stability because there would be fewer changes in prime ministers in the first place. And why was this? Because people would want fewer elections. Two major reasons for this, firstly because elections are very costly and time-consuming, inefficient.

Governments don't want to take them. They don't want to go through with that. And secondly, because governments have an incentive to not have lots of elections because they know that at any point, they could not get re-elected, and this is very dangerous to them. So that is why we would definitively see fewer leadership spills.

We'd see fewer elections, and instead what we'd see is politicians actually trying to work together to make legitimate policy, to make legitimate change, and not just fight and ignore the actual needs of the Australian public. Opposition's only material here was that there was some like er, already checks and balances, public accountability, and organic changes happening.

A big problem with this is that it actually wasn't working. Like, we never saw the results of any of these checks and balances, because what we had at the moment was one of the most unstable political systems in the world and a massive embarrassment. So they said that leadership spills could cause stability because they would force politicians to work together.

But it actually didn't, because leadership spills resulted from the fact that politicians weren't able to work together, and they had to fight because everyone wanted to be Prime Minister, rather than them just saying, OK, we're all going to work together because elections are such a big hassle, and we'll probably lose if we go into election.

So that's why we thought we'd get fewer elections. And stability was the most important issue of the debate, and it was the one we were definitively winning, because if we had a stable government, then no matter which government it was, no matter who was representative or not, that was the only way we were able to get legitimate change, and for people to think that Australia's politics was legitimate.

We'd get foreign investment. We'd get a better social welfare system. We'd get actual legitimate long-term political outcomes. So on this third issue of why we gave you a better political process, this is where the most sophisticated material came out. So they you a lot of reasons why people would vote badly in these elections.

So firstly, they said they'd vote hastily. So there are a couple of reasons why this wasn't the case, because you obviously already got massive media coverage in elections. We got that last week, the leadership spill. We get it every single election. Also governments have an incentive to make people informed so they'd vote for them, and that incentive was always going to exist.

And thirdly, they asked us if three weeks is enough. If they really didn't like this, we're totally happy to extend it. It could be a few more weeks. What we wanted was an election in general. This is the most important mechanism in this debate. So secondly, they said that people wouldn't vote rationally, but we trusted people. That was what the democratic system was about.

Because even if they didn't really like politics and weren't so into it, it doesn't matter, because they vote for who they want to represent them, and that's why we have a democracy. That's why we don't like ancient Greece where a few like old, white men who were like the only ones who could go to school and vote for our leaders, because everyone can vote. We give that right to people.

And so then they said that people would only vote along party lines, but we thought this was like fine. You just vote for what you want. You vote for the party you like. And then they taught us like this point about media bias, but this didn't really matter because this also existed on their side. If there was media bias, that was always going to exist. They also had elections. This didn't really affect our case that much.

And also, people had a lot of different sources in the media they could look out and get that information from. But at the end of the day, this whole point, which is that one day they pulled ahead in most, a better political process, didn't matter because what was the most important was that we had a representative government at all, and we had a stable government.

And it didn't even matter, really, how we got there, if people didn't always vote in like the best frame of mind, because what we had was a government who as we already proved, was representative, and would stay in power long enough to actually represent the people. And so what we proved to you was that we had this mechanism there.

We would introduce this mechanism so we would get fewer leadership spills, so we would get fewer elections, but so we would also have a more representative government which respected the needs of the Australian people. And additionally, in this issue we proved that the prime minister would be more accountable. They'd have more legitimacy, and there's a lot more international respect.

And because we have already proved to you that there would be more representative government, we would get more stability and we would get a better political process, we have shown you very convincingly that the only way we can improve Australia's government system is with our model I'm so incredibly proud to affirm.

TONY DAVEY: OK, yeah. Excellent speech. Congratulations. And I know you go on to win this debate. Must be very proud. So if you could go back in time and give yourself some feedback as if you were an adjudicator, what kinds of things would you say to you like two years ago?

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: Yeah, so I'd say, Anna, you have to be a lot more generous with the other team's points. And what I mean by that is, in your speech, you did what in debating is a lot of the time called straw manning. So you make the arguments sound a bit less good than they are, and you don't do that by saying, oh, this is really bad, but almost just the way you talk about them is sort of dismissive and a little bit rude. And I think it would make your speech be a lot more convincing if you took them at their best case and presented their arguments like they made a lot of sense, and then went on to say why they don't really make sense, or they're wrong.

So then secondly, I think something you did well was you did meta-debating. So you talked about the debate within the debate. So you said the way that your team were going to win, and that's what I think was the most convincing part of the speech. I think the way you could have improved on that is when you're talking about which issues are the most important, give reasons for why they're the most important like you would give reasons for an actual argument in a speech.

So another thing I'd say to you is that sometimes, you did what's called rebutting using substantive. So you said, oh, no, the way they see this debate is wrong, it's actually this, and rebutting that using your own characterization of the debate but not really giving reasons why theirs is wrong or yours is right, just sort of saying, oh, it's not that. It's this. And so that would be my main feedback for your speech, younger me.

TONY DAVEY: OK, yeah. I think that's an excellent feedback there for younger you, but also for anybody who's getting into debating. And now for the really fun bit. Do you think you are ready to rebut your former self as if you were the third negative speaker, try to get them a win this time?

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: Yeah, I'll see what I can do.

TONY DAVEY: Fantastic. All right, ladies and gentlemen, please now welcome the third speaker of the negative, also Anna-Sophia but a bit older, to conclude the debate. Yay, whoo, Anna. Whoo.

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: In the Australian political system, it is not the prime minister that has total decision making power. In fact, the prime minister by themselves has almost none. It is the party that votes to pass bills. It is the party that makes decisions that affect the lives of all Australians.

There is a far more dangerous situation than the status quo, and that was like what we see in America, with individualistic politics as a result of people voting for a person and not for a party, the party that actually makes the decisions that will ultimately affect their lives.

In this debate, I'll talk about two things-- firstly, why our side was far more democratic, and secondly, also why we contributed to a system of much better politics that allowed for better and more representative policies to be made for the Australian people.

But firstly, let's look at this issue of what was best in line with our democratic principles. We thought that what prime ministers actually do was not very much at all. They act as the figurehead as a sort of symbol of their party, but apart from that, they don't have much decision making power by themselves.

And because of that, when you're voting for the person, not the party, you're voting more for things like charisma, like personality, but not for what that party actually stands for and the policies that they'll make. Because of that, you lose a lot of your democratic agency to make decisions and to vote about what will actually affect you, which is policy.

This is a problem for the affirmative team because their main strategy in this debate was to say that because the margin between the votes of the MPs that choose the prime minister in a leadership spill was small, and because it wasn't very many of them voting for the prime minister, Australians aren't actually voting for the prime minister.

But this wasn't really a huge problem, because the point of our democratic system is not that we vote for a prime minister anyway. So there was no harm under our side. We think what is a lot more harmful is when you introduce a norm of voting for a person and not a party, which means that candidates for the prime ministership are much more likely to try and present themselves as charismatic to Australian people, to have large personalities.

You get a lot more Trump figures and not figures that talked about their policy because they were representing their party, not just themselves. So we prefer this in this debate. But more importantly, we thought it was the most democratic way of having a political system because it meant that people actually had to focus on voting on policy for the party and not their person.

On the affirmative team's side, people lose their democratic agency and their ability to vote for policy because they're distracted by this caricature of a politician. So we win this issue of being more democratic, and that was really important in this debate. In fact, it was the most important issue in this debate, and that was for three reasons.

Firstly, because even just the appearance of a properly functioning democracy was essential for maintaining order in our society. That's because if you have a government that doesn't represent the people or doesn't even care about representing the people, then they can make decisions that are totalitarian, that do not reflect the interests of people.

But secondly, also, it was much better for political engagement, so just having people actually aware of politics and the importance of it, because they don't feel like they're locked out. But thirdly, also, it was better because you had better policy that actually represented what people needed. So we already win the most important issue in this debate, and we're already ahead.

But secondly now, let's look at why we got much better politics under our side. The main strategy of the third speaker of the affirmative team here was to say that stability was really important. But the way she phrased it sort of made it seem like in this debate, there was a trade off between one democratic person being in power for a really, really long time and then constantly changing prime ministers in many, many elections.

But realistically, what this looked like was an election every four years, which is not a very long time, and perhaps once in a decade, a leadership spill where the prime minister changes somewhere in the middle of that term. So this meant that you probably weren't going to get much more stability anyway.

The benefit wasn't very large, but we think what's actually a lot more realistic here is that because if you're voting for the person and you're not voting for the party, that meant that prime ministers or candidates for the prime ministership didn't really have to stick along with party lines. They could go out and advertise that they were going to do their own thing and pass policies that Australians might like, so really popular things that didn't necessarily agree with the party line.

What was much more conducive to stability was to have a consistent message throughout the party, was to have a consistent set of values that meant that policy that was passed always aligned with those values. This is like really important analysis, because when Anna-Sophia tried to tell you that their side would be better at solving climate change and other forms of long term policy, firstly, this was a bit silly, because if the prime minister changes every four years anyway under their side, the longest term they'll ever get is probably four years.

But also, it's much more realistic, like in any scenario, if you have one party who is committed whose values are to have climate change policy in the long run. So their last push on affirmative was to say that it didn't matter if people were voting for a particular person rather than their party's values because people can vote however they like, and that's democracy.

But this was a bit of an assertion. She didn't really give any reasons to say why this was true, because obviously, if you were being fed false information by a government, for example, then you voting was not you exercising your democratic right, because you were voting based on something that wasn't true.

Similarly, in this instance, you're not voting based on what the policies are actually going to be, because the person you're voting for or the reasons why you're voting for them then do not decide that policy, because policy is voted on, as I said before, by the party, and not the individual person.

Because they've clearly pulled ahead on this issue of stability, and in a realistic world, we are the side that gets the more stable government and better long term policy because we had clearer party values and not a system of cults of personality built around individual politicians, I'm very proud to negate.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah, fantastic. Sucked in, young Anna-Sophia. Well played. Very nice. Yeah, so thank you for doing that with us and giving us all those tips. I hope it wasn't too painful rebutting your former self.

ANNA-SOPHIA ZAHAR: My pleasure. Thanks, Tony.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah, stay safe out there. We'll see you around. Cheers, Anna.


End of transcript