CLAPPING AND BOOING ensued, Peter Faris and Robert Mann were at loggerheads, and Malcolm Fraser spoke about the ramifications of a terrorist attack in the United Kingdom. These were some of the outcomes of last week’s hypothetical presented by the Law Institute of Victoria’s (LIV’s) Young Lawyers Section in an effort to fill a void in public discussion.
Guided by a belief that there is too much rhetoric surrounding the war on terror, the Young Lawyers Section of the LIV set its sights on hosting a public debate so that people can discuss the “controversial topic”, said the organisation’s president Iresha Herath.
Met by Phillip Adams, ABC Radio’s Late Night Live presenter, a group of nearly 1,000 Melbournians gathered together last week at the Melbourne town hall to hear what legal professionals, journalists, politicians and others had to say about the war on terror.
But the event did not go down without a hitch, Lawyers Weekly sources said. When Peter Faris QC started equating terrorism with Islam, the audience reacted “quite strongly”. Faris was interrupted by a silent protester, who came from the audience holding what looked like a baby’s dress covered in fake blood. Someone urged her away after some persuasion, but not before Farris tried to challenge her and engage her in conversation.
The Young Lawyers Section was hoping people would be able to discuss the war on terror in a reasonable way, Herath said. So it put together a panel comprising Julian Burnside QC, Brian Walters SC, Alan Anderson, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, Rod Quantock, barrister David Forbes, Felicity Hampel SC, professor and author Robert Manne, lawyer and 3AW commentator Peter Faris QC, World Vision Australia spokesperson Dr Sekai Shand and former prime minister the Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser AC, CH.
“The forum showed that it’s a very emotional issue, and a very controversial one,” Herath said. “In my view it is not a black and white issue. We seem to be splitting [war on terror discussions] into for against, good and evil.”
Herath said that although the debate moved away from the hypothetical, “got quite heated”, and there were strong positions on both sides, people were allowed to express themselves.
According to LIV president Chris Dale, the evening was a “bottler”. The variety of people made things more interesting, he said, including “conservative people…iconic people… Phillip Adams as the moderator… Malcolm Fraser who, like a good wine, gets better every year… and comedian Rod Quantock, who is always great for a gag”.
“It was one of those nights,” Dale said. “Everyone has been abuzz about it across the city, and it was great to see the Melbourne Town Hall packed and, most importantly, it was great to see a difficult topic like that properly debated with proper intellectual thought.”