Video transcript
Stop rebutting yourself! – secondary debating – 8. Elinor Stephenson

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[musical tones]

TONY DAVEY: Hi, there. I'm Tony.


TONY DAVEY: So yeah, welcome to the last in the series of 'Stop Rebutting Yourself.' We've been shooting these every week now for about nine weeks with different coaches who have kind of made it to our final and are now adjudicators, and they've been going back and rebutting themselves.

Of course, it started because we were in lockdown for COVID. But now with things easing, we're finally able to be back together in the same place. And so I thought we'd revisit the very first person who shot one of these, Ellie, for her Years 5 and 6 appearance and come back and watch her in her Years 11 and 12 triumph. So if you could tell us what this one's about.

ELINOR STEPHENSON: Yeah, so the topic of this debate is that we should have quotas for women in Parliament. And I'm speaking firm negative.

TONY DAVEY: Excellent. OK, are you ready to go?


TONY DAVEY: OK, here we go.


ELINOR STEPHENSON: So there was never just one female experience to talk about and never just one female experience that we could represent. The fact was that a rural indigenous girl was probably not going to see themselves represented in a rich, white, city woman in Parliament. But probably more importantly for this debate, ideology, religion, and other beliefs and values were also probably always going to be more central to the sort of political identity of women in Parliament than their gender.

And that was the opposition's mistake in this debate was to reduce the women in Parliament to their gender rather than to the beliefs and values that they espouse. Because if they thought that Julie Bishop or Michaelia Cash was ever going to side with a female employee over their male employer, they were wrong. The fact was that Julie Bishop and Michaelia Cash cared more about the free market than they did about women. And that was a facet of politics that they didn't really acknowledge. What that meant for their case was that when they framed progressive policy as the kind of measurement of the benefits of this policy, then they had to prove that representation was actually in reality something that would address deep-rooted systemic issues of disadvantage, and we don't think they did that in this debate.

Three issues that I'm going to look at throughout my rebuttal. The first is what outcomes this achieved women in politics. The second is what kind of outcome is achieved for women through policy. And the third is the kind of effect on societal perceptions that both of those things will have.

On the first, now, the main thing the opposition wanted to say regarding women in politics was that representation itself in Parliament was a way to make Parliament more female-friendly. They pointed to a number of really negative examples of sexist things that people like Tony Abbott had said and basically claimed that simply the act of having more women in Parliament was likely to be something that would make that better. We had a number of responses to that down the bench.

The first one was simply to say that it was unlikely that representation alone could change misogynist ideas. And that was because misogynist ideas are so deeply-ingrained in our culture, but also just looking back on the history of our Parliament, we didn't think that simply having Julie Bishop there had made Tony Abbott less misogynistic. That just wasn't the nature of things, because the nature of Tony Abbott's beliefs were such that the mere presence of a woman couldn't change them, couldn't turn him into a wonderful feminist ally.

The second thing to say was that what could counteract the idea that the women were lesser was when women succeeded on their own, perhaps against the odds. And that was why, for example, Julie Bishop was more popular than Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, and Tanya Plibersek was more popular than, say, Bill Shorten. Women who had been seen to have progressed through the Parliamentary system on their own, who have defied the odds, were seen as really excellent role models. They were seen as people to look up to. And they were taken really, really seriously in politics. And that was a really positive thing for the kind of place that women had in politics that happened more on the outside when women were seen as achieving on their own merit.

The third thing to say was that the opposition never actually structurally changed the nature of the party room because the fact was that simply having 50% representation in Parliament couldn't change the agenda of the faceless men who manipulated party room decisions. It couldn't change the union leaders who might be liaising with Labor. And it couldn't change the beliefs, values, and gender of the people who tended to vote in that party. So fundamentally, they couldn't change all the dynamics of the party and the fact the politicians still wanted to be re-elected. So it was doubtful that mere representation could ever change the dynamics of politics in a particularly meaningful way.

And the last thing to say was that the measure that they wanted to use as a success of women's representation in politics changing the nature of politics was largely progressive. And that relied on the idea that the kind of women who would be getting into politics were likely to be left-wing and diverse like they wanted to characterise. But that probably wasn't true. That was because the parties who were perhaps right-wing, parties like the LNP, were still likely to pre-select rich white women who met their ideologies, met their beliefs and values, and the kind of people that they thought would get elected.

But also, it meant that on our side, diversity wasn't seen as a negative. If you were, say, a woman of colour, you wouldn't be told you are just here because you're an Affirmative Action case. You would be seen as a success. And that meant that, ultimately, we were a better measure of success in terms of women in politics than their reductive single idea of looking at what women should believe.

Now, the next thing that they wanted to tell us about women in politics was that women could function really well in role models under their side. And it would be better under their side simply because there were more women. That wasn't good enough, because the volume of women really wasn't what made them good role models. It was the kind of policies they could enact, which happened best when you had a functioning democracy where people were voted in under the idea of their beliefs rather than their gender. But also, the fact was that women were perhaps the best role models when they had got in under their own volition.

And the thing was, it didn't actually matter if we lived in a meritocracy, and it didn't actually matter if we currently didn't live in a meritocracy because of systemic discrimination. The fact was, the idea of meritocracy was central to the Australian value system. And when the idea of meritocracy was perceived as not occurring, there was that backlash that existed, and people were seen as less legitimate. That was a problem even if it wasn't perhaps factual.

What did this do to... so at the end of this point, we thought that they probably weren't delivering better outcomes to women in politics, because they fundamentally weren't addressing the sort of structural problems faced by women. They were unlikely to be getting diverse women into politics. And we did it better on our side, because we allowed women to be appreciated when they did really amazing things in politics.

Second thing, what kind of policy outcomes did this have for women? The first thing to note here is that it was probably incorrect on their side to talk about direct representation is a perfect solution to getting the right policies for everyone, because you probably didn't need people who looked exactly like you to agree with you and your vision for Australia. And so that was why their case change third about a directly proportional Parliament was slightly weird. But also, we just thought that a more consultative attitude towards policy was probably the best way to approach this.

But what happened under their side? Well, we thought the kind of backlash that would happen under Affirmative Action, which was looking like media questions focused around a woman's agenda and the fact that she'd got in under Affirmative Action, women being taken less seriously by a party room and also by an electorate, would be likely to mean that women face a pretty bad choice. On one hand, they could face that backlash head on and try to push through really radical helpful policies for women. But that was likely to be a problem, because the party probably wouldn't let them.

And they kind of acknowledge that, because they told us that these parties were so sexist at pre-selection that they probably wouldn't even let a woman stand for election. So that hardly meant that once they were elected, the parties would then suddenly become really progressive and let those women have their way with policy. But the other thing was when they finally did get that policy through, their achievements were less admired. Because let's look at what the opposition's case really does to women.

By saying that representation is the solution to injustice and disadvantage, they're saying that the women in Parliament, essentially, are the counteractors of injustice and discrimination. And that places such a huge burden on those women to be able to change that discrimination. And so when women did anything less than that, their achievements were less admired, but also the kind of backlash that exists regarding so-called meritocracy meant that what they did was less admired. But then, if they decided not to go the hard way, and if they decided to cater to that kind of backlash, they were then forced to not benefit women and to betray their community in a way that was probably really unhelpful.

So at the end of this point, what probably happened under their side was that women were unlikely to be able to push through the kind of positive reforms that they wanted to talk about because they faced significant structural problems that continued to exist under their side. Because fundamentally, if 50% of the voter base was pushing for these progressive reforms, then they probably happened on our side too. But if 50% of the voter base was still conservative and still misogynistic, it was unlikely that politicians on their side would ever stop caring about getting re-elected.

So the problem with all this was that female politicians and aspiring politicians were treated badly by anti-Affirmative Action people who saw the fundamental value of meritocracy and democracy perhaps unfairly as being violated, thereby seeing these women as not legitimate players in politics. That meant that the kind of media questions they were offered, the kind of questions in Question Time, and the actions of the party room were ones which hurt them. And let's face it, it wasn't about the kind of qualifications that these women had. We never dismissed the fact that these women were actually really good politicians. It was about the way that they would be treated in the long-term that was harmful to women.

And then for those women's own community, it was likely that they were unable to push through much good policy. That meant they were seen as betraying their community. That meant that there was more of a lack of engagement with politics on behalf of, say, other women who no longer saw representation in politics as a particularly good way to go about more liberation and more justice for women.

So at the end of this case, at their best, the backlash might eventually fade. But ultimately, we had time on our side too. And we were able to change systemic disadvantage in a more constructive and organic way. Proud to oppose.


OK, cool. I kind of enjoyed watching that speech back. I think it was generally a pretty good speech. Not too embarrassing. Definitely improved a bit since my Year 5 final, I have to say. So I think in feedback, I'll start by talking about a couple of things that I think I did well. And then I'll go into a couple of things I think I could have improved on.

So in terms of things that I did well, I think one of the stronger parts of this speech was the framing that I used at the end of the debate to look back on the debate and depict it like my team had won. I think I did, generally, a pretty good job of talking about what things would never change in the world or would take a long time to change, for instance, systemic sexism in political parties, and therefore, what things that the opposition could not claim as benefits. And I think I used that quite strategically to suggest that under both sides, sexism would take a long time to challenge, but it was only under my side where that kind of backlash that I wanted to talk about did not occur.

The other thing that I think I did pretty well was my conclusions at the end of each theme. So you may have noticed, at the end of each theme, I have a bit of a spiel where I'm like, at the end of this, it was clear that x and y would change, but this wouldn't, and therefore, here is how our world looks compared to theirs. And that kind of summary I think is pretty good in the sense that it makes it really clear what the outcomes for the different stakeholders in the debate are. And I think that helped with the framing that I mentioned earlier.

In terms of things that I could have done better, I think that the structure or method of this speech was a little bit messy. So I think there's a couple of things that lead into that. The first is the themes.

So you may have noticed that I signposted three themes at the start of my speech and only actually discussed two. And then you may have also noticed that just discussing two was completely fine. I don't think this speech was worse because I only discussed two. In fact, I think that the third theme was a bit of a nonsense theme. And I should have realised that. I should have realised that, really, I just needed to talk about the women themselves and then how that would impact policy. And then what I wanted to do as my third theme, which was meant to be something about how society at large would view these women, could obviously just go at the start of the first issue as a preface for all of the consequences I talk about later.

And related to that, I think doing that would have actually made the speech a bit stronger, because throughout the speech, I vaguely reference backlash or people will just view these women as being there because of Affirmative Action. But it takes me a long time to really unpack and explain that. So I think it would have been better just from the first minute of my speech to be like, here is why we think these women will be viewed with suspicion, here is why we think they would not be taken seriously. And then that means all of the harms I wanted to talk about coming off from that later in my speech would have made a little bit more sense.

And then finally, I suppose, in things I could have improved on related to that, I think I got the timing in this speech a little bit off in terms of the balance between material that was mitigatory and material which was actively disproving the other team's case. So what I mean by that is mitigatory material is when you're just trying to make the opposition's benefits smaller. So I spend a lot of time saying things like, well, the parties will never change or these women might not be the most diverse. And those are not bad pieces of rebuttal. In fact, I think they were pretty useful in the speech, but I did spend an awful lot of time on them. And they ultimately don't disprove the opposition. They just make their benefits smaller.

So I think it would've been better to cut back a little bit on some of that logic and then spend more time, and more time at the start of my speech, on the backlash harms, which are much more active harms that show that the opposition's benefits are not just small, but they're actually harms. They're non-existent. So always try to characterise those concrete important harms before you get onto the more mitigatory material, because that means you won't run out of time to actually talk about the most important material in the debate.

Yeah. So I think generally a good speech. A little bit messy, though. And that's probably where some of the flaws in the speech stemmed from.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah. OK. Excellent feedback there and stuff that we can all learn from. But now for the funnest bit of 'Stop Rebutting Yourself.' For one last time, please welcome Elinor Stephenson, notionally the fourth speaker of the affirmative, to conclude the debate.

ELINOR STEPHENSON: The negative in this debate wanted to rely on time being on their side, but that was not good enough, because their claim was basically that because sexism was hard to fight, you may as well just wait it out. But that did nothing to actually fight that sexism. That never tried to counter the sexist biases that they wanted to talk about. It was just basically sitting around and hoping for the best. That could not win them the debate. That was not enough. At least on affirmative, we did something to try to change those biases to try to address the way people are currently thinking and to try to change society.

I'm going to do two things in this speech. First of all, I'm going to talk about whether we help women in politics. And then I'm going to discuss whether we help women in society at large. Firstly, on the women in politics, the female politicians, negative has two key claims about why we might not be helping women in politics as much as we want to say.

The first is to say that there is a lot of deep-seated sexism in society that looks like, for instance, Tony Abbott making stupid gaffs. It looks like people in the Electorate voting on sexist biases. It looks like things like the faceless men in the Party Room just making sexist policy. And they wanted to just say that because these people are sexist, we could never change anything, because introducing women into those environments just would not challenge that sexism.

I think this is wrong for three reasons. First of all, it ignores the most simple and intuitive benefits that we can offer you in this debate, which is simply that giving women access to power and access to a platform is inherently good, because it means those women can do things like talk about their experience as women. It means they can start to lobby for policies that are good. And that means even if they do face a background or an environment of deep-seated sexism, we are still giving them access to more power than they would otherwise have had. And note that that sexism exists on both sides of the debate, so it is our side that gives you this unique benefit of women having power, and having agency, and having a platform.

The second response is that this is just a numbers game, which means that if you have more women in Parliament, they will be stronger. They will have more support. They will be able to stand up to this kind of deep-seated sexism. Which means, OK, yes, third negative is right, that Julie Bishop did not single-handedly challenge Tony Abbott's sexism. But having more women would do two things. First of all, it would probably start to challenge Tony Abbott's biases more, because he would see a huge number of women transcend those norms and those beliefs that he previously believed. But second of all, even if Tony Abbott is an unrepentant sexist, which he may be, we thought it was still probably better to have more women to support you when you had to deal with that sexism. And so having more women was necessarily good just by the by.

Thirdly, we thought at the point where you've got a critical mass in that numbers game, it was likely that you change things like the Party Room that the opposition wanted to tell you about, because, obviously, those faceless men or the majority in the Party Room were not impugned to ever being challenged... immune not impugned. not immune to ever being challenged. We thought when you started to have more women, it was likely those things could change from the inside. So deep-seated sexism obviously exists on both sides of the debate, but I think I've sufficiently shown that we could challenge it by having more women in Parliament.

Then their push is, well, there will be a backlash. The reason for this backlash is that people in the Australian community kind of like the idea of meritocracy, so they won't like Affirmative Action. I think there are a couple of reasons why this backlash is not that bad. First of all, I think women still have the capacity to disprove that backlash. So obviously, if you introduce a really good policy or if you're just an excellent treasurer or something, that is something which will show the media and the general community that, look, you may have got in on Affirmative Action, but the empirical facts of you being an MP have transcended that.

And while it is true that that media and that electorate might be initially sceptical of you, I think at the point where you do some really fantastic policies, that's the kind of thing that start to challenge those biases. But additionally, I really think this backlash material is good enough to win the debate, because while maybe, maybe women face marginally more backlash on our side of the debate, women always face sexism in politics, which they themselves admit. Julia Gillard did not become prime minister because of Affirmative Action, but she still faced a huge amount of sexism, which meant that, OK, the media was always going to be asking rude questions. It was always going to be somewhat sexist. But, on our side, we got more women to support you in facing that backlash. And we had more women to slowly disprove these social norms over time, which meant that we thought it was just incredibly unlikely that this backlash was as bad as the negative wanted to say.

But finally, we thought that this backlash probably just got better over time, because, obviously, when you have parties being obliged to put up women for election, the party has an incentive to defend those women from sexism from the media. The party does not want those women to be defamed, because they obviously, like they're part of the party. They're presenting that party's policy platform, which meant we thought we'd see those women defended on a mass scale. And that was something that would actually improve the view of women in society at large.

At the end of this issue, note that we win because we give women a platform. We give them numbers that they never had before. And that gave them far more power than they had had before, and the level of sexism or backlash that they want to talk about is largely symmetric, so we're the ones offering you a unique benefit in this debate.

And this issue is really important, because while these women may sometimes be privileged, while they are just individual women, I think if we can prove that we help them, that's enough to win the debate, because they are the start of a social movement that changes norms over time that makes life better over time. But also, because I think we just owe women some level of reparations for the barriers that are there to stop them from getting into Parliament. And so if we could help individual women transcend those barriers, that was probably good enough to win.

But I'm going to win on the second issue as well, which is whether or not we help women in society at large. We give you two clear benefits on side affirmative. First of all, we tell you that we provide role models to young girls that show that you can make it in politics and in society at large. And secondly, we give you policy benefits in terms of making pro-woman policy.

First of all, on role models, what did we tell you? Basically, the more women you had, the more little girls could see women in Parliament and could understand that that was a part of society that they could be a part of. Opposition's response is quite simplistic. They tell us just that, oh, well, quality of role models is better than quantity. And it's good to see people defeat the odds.

A couple of responses to this. First of all, there was no real reason why these women were of lower quality. Penny Wong or whoever would presumably still be in Parliament, which means if you want to see women being a role model by proposing great policies or by making great speeches, that would still happen. But second of all, obviously there are dimensions to being a role model beyond beating the odds. You can hold someone as a role model just because they're good at their job, not particularly because they had to transcend any difficulty. So I don't think that's enough to suggest this role model effect disappears.

And this was really important, because that meant that our side was the one that got the long-term change that negative was so fixated upon, because our side was the one that showed girls that women could be in Parliament, not just as exceptional individuals, but women could just be in Parliament as a matter of course. And that was an important role model effect that I don't think ever received the response it deserved.

Secondly, on policy. So we essentially tell you that women have a series of important interests inherent to being a woman and experiencing sexism that mean that you are more likely to want to challenge that through policy. Opposition's response is to be like, well, yes, but someone like Julie Bishop won't fix every everything, because she also believes in the free market.

Look. That's probably true. It probably is true that Julie Bishop or Michaelia Cash will not single-handedly fix sexism. It is probably true that there are some sexist women who, in fact, will perpetuate sexism through policy. But I think there is a couple of things to suggest that our side is still far better than the alternative.

The first is that, OK, maybe we get more conservative women, but we also get more women on the left, which then suggests that those women will fight for the kind of progressive policies that both sides appear to care about. But the second and more important piece of logic here is that Julie Bishop is still better than Tony Abbott for the reason that she has experienced being a woman.

She has presumably experienced some sexism from the media. She presumably has experienced things like, for instance, periods. Many women in Parliament would have experienced things like pregnancy. And many women in Parliament would be just more likely to listen to women by virtue of being one, of knowing heaps of women, talking to their friends.

And opposition kind of admits that, because they're like, well, these women will have the expectation to represent women. Yes, that expectation is good. That means these women will likely think about their experiences. They will be more likely to think about the way they have experienced sexism. And they will be far more likely than men to put that into policy. Maybe that is marginal, but it is far better to have a marginally better policy for women than none at all.

At the end of this debate, I think two things are really clear. The first is we get more women in Parliament. We give them a platform they did not otherwise have. Opposition cannot claim that benefit.

The second is that women by virtue of their experience of being a woman were always more likely to care about those kind of policy elements that both teams agreed were really important. That meant we were more likely to get those policies done. That was good for women in society at large. I think that the opposition has very little left to stand on in terms of why they would help women. I think it is clear that affirmative is the side that defeats sexism in this debate. Proud to affirm.

TONY DAVEY: OK, yeah. Thank you for that, Ellie. I thought that was very, very thorough. And thanks to everybody for watching the 'Stop Rebutting Yourself' videos. Obviously, it's going to be way more fun when you're out there doing actual rebuttal in actual debates-- hopefully, really soon. Stay safe out there. And see you later.

ELINOR STEPHENSON: See you. Thanks for watching.

End of transcript