Ladies and gentlemen, elites and patriots, thank you all for coming here tonight, to this, a Gala event that is firmly on Australia’s side. Tonight, we have gripped the hot exhaust pipe of controversy, under the direction of the Navy of good sense. We’ve asked you to make little choices about big ideas and big choices about little ones.
We wanted to know what you really think.
And we need it.
Because we are living in strange times.
We live at a time where Hope is a popular inner city girl’s name, Despair is probably a coffee lab somewhere in Northcote, and where Today Tonight was cancelled for being too highbrow.
We are living in a country where before long the history curriculum will be just Robert Menzies and the Anzacs and our kids will learn citizenship by echoing their proud cry ‘Turkey out of the Pacific!’. A country where a poem’s no longer a poem unless it rhymes and Gina Rinehart’s welded it to a rock.
We are push-polled, prodded, sampled, smoothed-out, averaged and sorted and most of what passes for participation is actually marketing. We are a demographic. An audience.
The way things ‘feel’ matters more than facts or knowledge. We disdain our experts and have replaced empirical proof with a metric ton of opinion.
We are living in a society where a multi-billionaire who controls 70% of the newsprint can direct his editors to talk about ‘the elites’.
Where the idea of intellect is portrayed as the enemy of the people.
And the only bright spot on the horizon is that every few years we get to stand in a small booth and exercise our right to vote. Our democracy, our engagement, our citizenship, gets boiled down to one reductive choice: yes or no, goodies or baddies, this politician or that politician.
And it’s not good enough.
If our entire political and social system does turn on an individual examining their conscience in a polling booth or a jury room or a meeting of cabinet, we’d better make sure that our public discourse and all that supports it is in far better shape than it is now.
We need better ideas and more of them, and more places where they can be expressed. We need to remind ourselves that eventually good ideas will always drive out bad, that there is always an appetite for better thinking, and that it knows no barrier of class, gender, race or any other sort of division.
That is what we are all here for, and what we come back for. That is what we do, and we should be proud that we do it, and not be cowed.
It is time for us to stand up and say ‘I am not a number’! I am not a number! Say it loud! Say it proud! Say it into your Iphone!
Ask questions. Don’t stop at twenty, don’t stop when you get an answer.
Ask ‘Why?’. And ‘How?’. And ‘Can I see the data that lead you to reach that conclusion?’. Ask ‘What the fuck?’.
Because our questions should be opening up a conversation rather than shutting it down. The way we participate in this thing we call a society should be about multiple complicated answers and endless troubling and persistent questions.
We choose doubt over certainty, argument over consensus, complexity over simplicity (cheese over chocolate). We choose these things except when we don’t. Because we cannot be reduced to a single answer with all the meaning and nuance and discussion sanded off it.
Let us be defined by the questions we ask and the conversations we hold.
Let us know that no matter how dark the times get, how greatly it seems we are being debased and corrupted, that good ideas will make us speak them.
Let us counterpose memory against forgetting, and speak truth to power.
Let us rise up into the night and take part in what’s happening out there.
Let us rise up.
Written by Guy Rundle with Michael Williams. Delivered by Catherine McClements. Photo by Gavin D Andrew.