It’s that time of year again when many VCE English students start brainstorming their oral presentation SACs—to help you out, we’ve collated some of the biggest names and issues in the recent Australian media.
Each heading represents a broad, ongoing issue, and under it are more specific debates within each issue. Going down a more precise route with your topic selection can make your speech a lot more engaging and current, so pick a broad issue that speaks to you, and ‘zoom in’ on a debate for your speech.
- Green New Deal
Originally, the “New Deal” was a bunch of economic reforms that restimulated the economy back into action after the Great Depression. The “Green New Deal” is a bunch of policies that combines this economic approach with the need to fight the climate crisis. It was first brought before the United States Congress by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in late 2018, but was ultimately voted down. It called for a 10-year transformation of the economy to provide green jobs, transition to renewable, zero-emission energy sources and eliminate pollution across sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture and transport.
Is this something that we need to adopt in Australia? Is now the best time for that conversation, given the political climate (not to mention the actual climate of the worst bushfire season in history)? And what exactly are the options?
“Australia Needs a Green New Deal” (3/Nov/2019)
“What could an Australian Green New Deal look like” (28/Nov/2019)
“Why the Green New Deal matters” (video; 29/Nov/2019)
“Let’s make the 2020s the decade that Australia gets its mojo back” (4/Jan/2020)
- Young people on strike
2019 saw the emergence of the School Strike for the Climate, an international movement of students skipping school to demonstrate and demand action on climate change. It took off after Greta Thunberg, a Swedish schoolgirl, began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in late 2018.
It sparked widespread discussion on young people, education and the merits of striking. Scott Morrison was drawn into the discussion, stating that he doesn’t “want our children to have anxieties about these issues”, while defending his government’s track record on renewable energy investment.
So—should young people be worrying about these issues at all? Are they missing out on crucial years of education by taking to the streets? And is what they’re saying really unreasonable at all?
“Global climate strike sees ‘hundreds of thousands’ of Australians rally” (video; 20/Sep/2019)
“The climate strike organiser who received a near-perfect ATAR” (18/Dec/2019)
“How Greta Thunberg’s school strike went global: a look back” (podcast; 30/Dec/2019)
- To Prime Minister or not to Prime Minister
Australia is already facing its most severe bushfire season yet with several months of fire season left to go. During these months, Scott Morrison took a holiday in Hawaii, staying there even after stating his intention to return. Even as he returned, he was shunned for perceived insensitivity and insincerity.
What should a Prime Minister do in a state of national emergency? While Morrison delegated much of the duties to state premiers, are these distinctions important in times of crisis? And is he the leader we deserve after his resounding, miraculous election victory in 2019? Where to from here?
“ScoMo, where the bloody hell are you?” (20/Dec/2019)
“Don’t dismiss our anger in Cobargo Scott Morrison, we are the ones living through a crisis” (2/Jan/2020)
“Scott Morrison, Australia’s singed prime minister” (3/Jan/2020)
“‘Bloodcurdling insanity’: real reason Scomo is under fire” (4/Jan/2020)
- Emissions trading scheme (ETS)
An ETS basically makes carbon gas emissions an economic good that gets bought and sold like any other—corporations that emit more gas will need to now purchase permission to emit, while corporations that emit less will be able to sell their permits. The debate for an ETS in Australia is old (surprisingly perhaps, John Howard first broached the idea towards the end of his Prime Ministership) but became political poison after Julia Gillard introduced it despite promising that her government wouldn’t introduce a carbon tax in the 2010 election. It has since been scrapped, making Australia the only government in the world to ever dismantle an operational ETS.
A decade later, is it now the right time to revisit this discussion? Just why are so many people opposed to policy that would stop corporations from emitting for free? And what does this mean for our international reputation and commitments?
“One of the world’s biggest emitters is trying to fly under the radar at Cop25” (6/Dec/2019)
“For 10 years, Australia has been in a climate-policy abyss” (7/Dec/2019)
“‘Not moving fast enough’: former head of Scott Morrison’s department criticises climate change policies” (18/Dec/2019)
- Homophobia in sport
So this is nothing particularly new, but it’s unfortunately still present even as we move into 2020. Should sports stars be penalised for their opinions when they’re exclusionary and harmful, or should we respect them for their sporting prowess? Maybe this speaks more broadly to the standards we expect sporting stars or public figures in general to set as role models…
“Israel Folau: Australian rugby star condemned for linking bushfires to ‘sinful’ homosexuality” (18/Nov/2019)
“Marcus Stoinis fined $7,500 for homophobic slur during Big Bash League” (4/Jan/2020)
Bear with me on this one—while she isn’t specifically a ‘social equity’ debate, Lizzo’s emergence as a breakout singer of 2019 intersects with a lot of social equity movements, from body positivity and feminism to racial justice and self-empowerment. Her upcoming shows in Australia sold out in minutes, which speaks to her newfound popularity as a global star.
What is it about Lizzo that resonates with so many people? What and who does she represent? And is the new decade also a watershed moment for diversity in entertainment?
“Lizzo taps into the real meaning of freedom in 2019” (7/Oct/2019)
“Lizzo, pop’s reigning phenomenon, brings her juice to Australia” (5/Jan/2020)
- Gender wage gap in sport
Again, this one isn’t too new, but a fresh wave of activism for equal pay in sport was sparked this year by Megan Rapinoe, the captain of the US women’s national soccer team (which won the World Cup in 2019). She, her team and the men’s team sued the national soccer federation for gender discrimination and other countries, Australia included, followed suit.
Why does the wage gap exist and what are the reasons for closing it? Is a preference for the men’s game enough to justify paying women less (despite the fact that preferences like this are usually rooted in misogyny and are subjective anyway)? And how does this translate between different sports such as soccer, AFLW and tennis (where Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have clashed over this before)?
“AFLW pay dispute is over” (28/Oct/2019)
“Matildas become first women’s team in world football to be paid the same as men’s team” (video; 5/Nov/2019)
“Australia’s women footballers get equal pay in landmark deal” (6/Nov/2019)
“‘We have to be better’: Megan Rapinoe and the year of victory and advocacy” (18/Dec/2019)
Newstart is Australia’s income support for those aged 22 to 64 who are unemployed. Though a form of social security, it’s fallen behind in terms of how much economic security it can provide recently, with years of no real increases (that is, increases which offset inflation—basically things are getting more expensive and even if Newstart increases, it doesn’t give you more purchasing power in reality).
Is it finally time to increase Newstart? There was some discussion around the holiday season being particularly expensive, but should an increase be permanent? How hard is it to get a job in today’s economy? And are the payments enough to live on if you can’t find a job?
“Morrison government defends Newstart amid criticism it is among lowest welfare payments in OECD” (8/Oct/2019)
“Report highlights social crisis confronting Australian youth on welfare” (14/Dec/2019)
“Survey finds two-thirds of Australians back a Newstart Christmas boost” (22/Dec/2019)
“The economic case for increasing Newstart” (1/Jan/2020)
- First Nations justice
“Voice” was the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s word of the year in 2019, in the context of Indigenous representation in the Australian parliament. A Voice to Parliament would enshrine Indigenous input into laws and policies on issues affecting First Nations communities, and has been called for by activists for some time now.
How does this tie into/is this distinct from other issues such as constitutional recognition? Why haven’t we seen a lot of progress or consensus on these issues? And what might it mean for those communities to be able to make autonomous decisions?
“There’s a 60,000-year-old way to help stop Australia burning” (16/Dec/2019)
“‘I feel unchained’: Mauboy adds her voice to Indigenous recognition campaign” (29/Dec/2019)
“The Voice to Parliament isn’t a new idea – Indigenous activists called for it nearly a century ago” (2/Jan/2020)
“‘It can be more controversial’: Costello warns on constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians” (2/Jan/2020)
- Teaching as a decreasingly popular profession
Australian teachers have been struggling with increasingly difficult jobs and flat-lining pay in recent years, and teachers’ unions haven’t been able to successfully find a solution to offset these concerns. Tertiary students are now turning away from pursuing a career in education, and there could be many reasons as to why.
What does this mean for the future of Australian education? In what ways do you as a student feel the impacts? And what could be some solutions—perhaps both from a teacher’s point of view but also from a student-centric viewpoint?
“Three charts on teachers’ pay in Australia: it starts out OK, but goes downhill pretty quickly” (2/Sep/2019)
“The epic failure at the root of Australia’s maths problem” (6/Dec/2019)
“Why male teachers are disappearing from Australian schools” (12/Dec/2019)
“A new voice for class teachers” (30/Dec/2019)
- Australia falling behind
Unfortunately, Australian students have been falling behind many of their global counterparts in terms of educational outcomes—we even hit our worst ever results in the OECD’s international student assessment in 2018.
What does this mean in an increasingly globalised world and is there a way to turn this around? How might a student perspective on this be unique from that of a politician, for example, or another stakeholder? And is education an isolated issue, or should we be looking at more holistic solutions that incorporate health-related, economic and/or social solutions as well?
“Murri School students experience social and emotional benefits from six-day nature camp” (13/Oct/2019—a bit of a reach, but an interesting read about education outside of the traditional classroom)
“No need to panic – we can fix Australian schools. But to rush the reform is to ruin it” (8/Dec/2019)
“Coalition to review Australian education curriculum in bid to reverse fall in student results” (11/Dec/2019)
“Aboriginal English recognition in schools critical for improving student outcomes for Indigenous Australians” (21/Dec/2019)
“We love to criticise the United States, but guess what? Their public schools are better than ours” (4/Jan/2019)
This is another one of those long-running debates, though it’s on the table again as the ACT has recently legalised recreational cannabis. This goes against federal law, which still bans the possession and use of weed, and makes Canberra the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise it. Canberra has also led the way on issues such as same-sex marriage, legalising it as early as 2013 (four years before the rest of the nation would follow suit).
Discussion about other drugs such as ecstasy has also been raised as a result, and this piece might be an interesting read on why different drugs have different legal statuses.
Still, is legalising pot the way to go considering how other Western democracies are already moving in this direction? Is it even a harmful drug at all? And what about the others, such as ecstasy? Or even alcohol, for that matter?
“Nation’s capital legalises cannabis for personal use” (video; 25/Sep/2019)
“Peter Dutton: government may overturn ‘dangerous’ ACT decision to legalise legalise cannabis” (25/Sep/2019)
“Australia could be the first country to legalise ecstasy – are we going too far?” (3/Oct/2019)
“Canberra women with endometriosis are medicating with cannabis, but legalising the drug might not help” (28/Dec/2019)
- Climate grief
This is an interesting and pretty recent phenomenon—climate grief or climate burnout are new terms that have come into existence to describe the mental health impacts of the climate crisis. In particular, it describes the frustration and despair that people may feel as a result, given that progress on reducing carbon emissions is frighteningly slow and natural disasters are becoming more frequent and devastating at the same time.
What is your take on it and who’s feeling it? Do you have to be affected by disasters, or can it also affect young people who feel pessimistic about the future of the planet? And what could be some strategies for overcoming it? What is the importance of seeing climate through a health lens and how might it inspire activism or change?
“Australian farmers muddled in mental health crisis” (26/Sep/2019; a good read on how climate issues intersect with economic issues as well)
“Australian town breaks record for mental health awareness following devastating flood” (16/Dec/2019)
“Australian bushfires could lead to a mental health crisis, expert warns” (3/Jan/2020)
- Mental health
2019 saw some other new developments in the conversation around mental health in Australia. A report found that mental health concerns are getting more widespread among young people, while government investment doesn’t really seem to be effective.
Meanwhile, we’re also seeing progress on destigmatising mental health issues within sport—overseas, athletes such as Paul Merson and Stan Collymore have shared stories of their battles, while Cricket Australia looks into ways of creating more supportive environments for their players.
How can we streamline the message around mental health, or the relevant support networks? What solutions haven’t we tried yet, and how might the discussion around this shift in the next decade? What are the implications if we don’t address thse issues?
Note that this can be a sensitive issue which may cause distress to some people.
“Mental health issues increasing among young Australians” (30/Sep/2019)
“Push to get wellbeing counsellors into schools as mental health bill costs Australia billions” (31/Oct/2019)
“What’s driving poor mental health among young Australians? We asked them” (20/Nov/2019)
“Kevin Roberts: Cricket Australia committed to better understanding mental health” (14/Dec/2019)
“People with mental illness less likely to get cancer screening” (3/Jan/2020)
- Abortions in NSW
NSW recently legalised abortions for pregnancies shorter than 22 weeks after one of the longest debates in their state Upper House. While the choice versus life debate has raged around the world for decades now (i.e. maybe don’t do a pro-choice speech that people will have heard before, and probably don’t do a pro-life speech in 2020), what is the landscape of the debate like in our day and age?
Who opposes it and why? What is the problem with making health issues criminal issues instead (e.g. drug policy as well)? And what other issues might be linked into this? Can someone who is pro-life also support tougher border restrictions that lead to refugee deaths at sea, for example?
Note that this can be a sensitive issue which may cause distress to some people.
“Why NSW is still fighting about abortions” (17/Sep/2019)
“Controversial abortion bill passes NSW Upper House after long-haul debate” (25/Sep/2019)
“Abortion is now legal in NSW after controversial bill passes Lower House” (26/Sep/2019)
“NSW abortion law: doctors say last-minute changes ‘unnecessary’ but manageable” (26/Sep/2019)