Can you believe it’s already 2021? To kick off the year in VCE English, you’ll probably be working on your Oral Presentation sometime soon. The past year has flown by, but so much has happened in that year - there are plenty of juicy and controversial topics to get stuck into for your SAC.
Each heading below represents a broad topic and each subheading under it takes you into more specific debates. A more precise topic can make your speech more engaging and current, so feel free to pick a broad issue that resonates with you but don’t forget to zoom in on more specific questions too.
If you haven’t already, check out our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for some general tips and tricks to get you started!
1. Working From Home
ICYMI, there’s been this global pandemic going around for about a year now. It’ll probably come up in a few speeches this year, but let’s work through some more specific ways of using it in yours.
First up is working from home. In 2020, a lot of people spent a lot of time working from home - but this hasn’t been possible for everyone, meaning that it could be worsening certain forms of inequality. ‘Essential workers’ like supermarket clerks and delivery drivers have not been able to work from home, which might put them at a disadvantage when it comes to the flexibility or even the conditions of their work. Conversely, a ‘tax on remote workers’ has been proposed which would see people pay a 5% tax if they chose to work from home instead.
Is working from home all that it’s chalked up to be? Is it a positive sign of flexibility, or a widening gap between the manual working class and white-collar professionals? What can we learn about working from home now that we can apply to the future? Is it the environmentally responsible thing to do?
- All workplaces, especially those with essential manual or physical labour, should provide paid health and safety training to staff who are for example more at risk of disease
- A working from home tax is a bad idea - it encourages people to commute and pollute. We should look to ways of promoting flexibility and sustainability instead
- Casual workers in manual professions should be given paid sick leave and other entitlements to make their jobs as flexible as remote office workers
You might’ve spent 2020 learning from home too. Everything happened pretty quickly right at the start of the year, but as the months wore on it became clearer that some students were adjusting better than others. In particular, ‘digital exclusion’ became a big problem for many students around the country. Inequality is once again a big theme: access to the internet and other technology is vastly uneven, and students who were already dealing with things like mental ill-health were set further back by remote learning. Even though the Victorian government applied special considerations to all Year 12 students in 2020, this is far from a long-term fix.
What can be done about the education system to make it fairer, or even just to make it work better for you? Is it an issue with technology, or are there underlying problems around, say, mental health and wellbeing? Maybe it’s time to axe the ATAR system - would a new scoring system solve these problems?
Coronavirus kept Victorian students out of class. This is what we know about long-term effects of school closures – 21/09/2020
Government must address barriers to education in rural and remote areas, inquiry finds – 12/11/2020
The ATAR Benefits No-One: Reflections of a ‘High-Achiever’ – 02/11/2020 (yes this is a shameless plug for my own piece)
- The government should supply public schools with tech for every student, including iPads and broadband devices
- The government should implement a needs-based approach to technology in schools
- Schools need engagement staff as well as teaching staff: COVID-19 has shown just how easy it is for students to disconnect
- Replace the ATAR with something that measures skills and interests, rather than just results
The Climate Crisis
1. The Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is an international agreement that was signed a little over five years ago. It binds every country to a commitment of carbon neutrality by 2050 - this means that everyone will be taking as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as we emit. Part of the Agreement is that countries have to commit to new, increasingly ambitious plans every five years, and this deadline has just passed.
How did we do, you might ask. While the mid-century goal still stands, the five-year increment isn’t looking fantastic - most countries, including Australia, haven’t strengthened their climate targets. The Prime Minister was even snubbed out of a speaking slot at a UN climate summit, some suggest because of his inaction on climate. None of this has really snatched headlines though.
Is this something that you’ve been following? If not, is it a problem that this news isn’t really getting out there? What can Australia do better with regard to the climate crisis?
The Paris agreement five years on: is it strong enough to avert climate catastrophe? – 08/12/2020
The Paris Agreement 5 years on: big coal exporters like Australia face a reckoning – 14/12/2020
Australia records fourth hottest year as it risks being isolated globally on climate change – 05/01/2021
- Australia needs to be proactive on the Paris Agreement, rather than doing the bare minimum
- Australia needs to transition away from coal
- Our country’s lack of climate action is a great source of shame, particularly for young Australians who want a better future
- The Australian media should take the climate crisis more seriously
2. Environmental Racism
One aspect of the climate crisis we’re starting to talk about more now is environmental racism. The term started in the US, where it was used to describe the disproportionate impacts of environmental problems like pollution on working class people of colour. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply in Australia though - earlier in 2020, a sacred Aboriginal site was blasted by Rio Tinto in order to expand a mine. Now, taxpayer money is being set aside for fracking in the Northern Territory. This will have an adverse impact on not only the climate, but also the local water quality on which First Nations communities depend.
What can be done about environmental racism? Is it about making changes in government, or about activism from outside the halls of power? If environmental racism is the problem, is there a solution that can tackle both problems at once? Is it even accurate to refer to them as two separate problems?
The young Indigenous woman fighting fracking in remote NT – 11/11/2020
$50 Million Hand-Out to Northern Territory Frackers – 17/12/2020
Fighting not just to survive, but to flourish – 21/12/2020
Making sense of Australia’s climate exceptionalism – 01/01/2021
- Indigenous land rights is not just a social movement: it could help us avoid environmental disaster as well
- Politicians are too reliant on fossil fuel companies: we need more grassroots activism around climate justice
- Fracking is dangerous, its impacts disproportionately affect BIPOC communities and as such it should be banned
3. A Carbon Price?
This topic was kind of on our 2020 topic list, but the debate around climate action has changed a little bit since. A carbon price would make the atmosphere a commodity basically - corporations would have to pay in order to pollute.
But maybe that’s still giving them too much power? If you can just pay your way out of environmental responsibility, who’s to stop you from polluting? Maybe there isn’t a capitalistic or free-market solution to carbon emissions - maybe we need to rethink our entire relationship with land and country. What can and should Australia learn from its First People in this regard?
Australia’s plants and animals have long been used without Indigenous consent. Now Queensland has taken a stand – 16/09/2020
‘As an Australian it will affect you. It’s your land as well’: Indigenous tourism’s new online travel agency – 03/12/2020
What is cultural burning? – 31/12/2020
The barriers to a carbon fee and dividend policy – 07/01/2021
- A carbon price is still necessary, but it’s a stepping stone in a larger conversation
- Putting a price on excessive pollution isn’t the same as creating laws to prevent it: as such, it is no longer enough
1. First Nations Justice
You might recall the huge impact that George Floyd’s death had on conversations about race around the world. Though this erupted in a wave of furore last June, the conversation has been shifting ever since. In Australia, we’ve been grappling in particular with First Nations justice. While the Prime Minister’s made attempts to unify the country through certain words and gestures, First Nations leaders such as Lidia Thorpe, the first Indigenous senator from Victoria, have been calling for something more substantive. In the meantime, police brutality against First Nations people continues.
Where to from here? What does the future of First Nations justice look like in Australia, and what is the role of leaders like Ms Thorpe? Where do non-Aboriginal folks fit into this? What could we do better?
Lidia Thorpe: Victoria's first Aboriginal senator urges end to deaths in custody and mass incarceration – 09/09/2020
‘We have the fight in us’: Lidia Thorpe’s incredible journey to historic place in the Victorian Senate – 23/09/2020
'Unfinished business': Senator Lidia Thorpe on fighting for Treaty for Indigenous Australians – 10/12/2020
Can we breathe? – 31/12/2020
- Reconciliation is an outdated term; it implies two parties are coming together as equals, when history would tell us otherwise
- Lidia Thorpe’s election is the first step in a longer journey towards representation, truth-telling and self-determination
- Even after the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2020, we still a long way to go with anti-racism
- Australia is far from a multicultural utopia: we need to learn to treat politicians like Lidia Thorpe with more respect
In 2019, the ‘medevac’ bill allowed refugees to be brought to mainland Australia for medical care. That bill has since been repealed, but it did allow some refugees to leave their detention centres and receive medical treatment. 60 of them have now been detained in various Melbourne hotels for over a year now. In December, they were moved to a former COVID-19 quarantine hotel, where they will continue to be isolated and detained.
What injustices (plural) are going on here? Did medevac force us to confront our out-of-sight-out-of-mind asylum seeker policy? And if this isn’t the impetus we need to shut offshore detention once and for all, what exactly will it take?
The Mantra 60 should be freed from torture. Here’s why the Coalition won’t do it – 15/12/2020
Former mayor among protesters arrested as police escort refugees and asylum seekers to new Melbourne hotel – 17/12/2020
Refugees and asylum seekers moved from Mantra hotel in Melbourne – 17/12/2020
‘We are human, we are not animals’: Mantra refugees transferred to another hotel – 17/12/2020
- Bring back medevac: it was a bare minimum policy to begin with, and it’s unconscionable that it would be repealed, thereby denying sick people healthcare
- Australia’s refugee policy is as lazy as it is harmful: something needs to change
- The hotel industry is profiting off detention and we should consider boycotting chains like Mantra
3. COVID-Related Racism
This could’ve gone in the first section, but it poses important questions about ongoing and future race relations in Australia. During 2020, Asian Australians and particularly those with Chinese heritage experienced a sharp increase in racially-provoked harassment. Towards the end of the year, Chinese Australians were asked in a Senate committee hearing to condemn the Chinese Communist Party, which many have described as race-baiting. Many Australians with Chinese heritage have no relation to the Chinese government, so it’s jarring that they’d be called upon to give an opinion like this.
How does race still impact civic life in Australia? If you’re Australian, should you be expected to have opinions about or deny loyalties to foreign governments? Does it matter what race you are, and if so, how is that problematic?
Chinese Australians say questions from Senator Eric Abetz about their loyalties are not asked of other communities – 15/10/2020
Eric Abetz refuses to apologise for demanding Chinese-Australians denounce Communist party – 16/10/2020
More than eight in 10 Asian Australians report discrimination during coronavirus pandemic – 02/11/2020
Too many men in pin-striped suits – 10/12/2020 (this is an interesting one that also touches on gender and class in civic life)
- Politicians are increasingly out of touch with Australia’s diverse communities because they are just so overwhelmingly undiverse
- Again, Australia is not a multicultural utopia. When times get tough, the racism really jumps out
- Australians are yet to confront the reality that there are Chinese Australians (which sounds like a joke, but based on these articles isn’t really a joke) - their behaviour continues to ‘other’ people who actually really are Australian, telling them they somehow don’t belong
- More people of colour should run for public office; this starts with civic empowerment in schools
As it turns out, journalism isn’t a very diverse profession. When issues about disability come up, for example, they’re often covered by abled journalists in a “pity party” or “inspiration porn” manner. When issues about race come up, it’s also often white people who cover them, usually with racist undertones as well. We started seeing a bit of this in 2020: the stories that kept coming up about people breaking COVID restrictions were often targeting minorities - their names and faces would be splashed across newspaper front pages, while their white counterparts were afforded privacy and forgiven for making a mistake.
How fair is the media landscape towards people from minority backgrounds? What different forms might racism and ableism take in the media, and how can we overcome them? Is it as simple as allowing disabled people to tell their own stories, for example?
Muslims, Chinese Australians and Indigenous people most targeted in racist media coverage – 11/11/2020
‘Double standard’: Experts weigh in on publicly shaming only certain COVID rule-breakers – 22/12/2020
- The media landscape isn’t fair towards minorities: stereotypes can be subtle but persistent
- Journalism schools should create more scholarships for diverse applicants
- Australian media should adopt a code of ethics around representation of minorities
This may or may not come as a surprise to you, but young people are also one of the groups that are likely to be underrepresented in the media. A report from the Foundation for Young Australians found that there were not only less stories about young people in the media in 2020, but barely half of them actually quoted a young person.
Again, we return to questions around representation - does the media have an ethical obligation to let young people tell their own stories? How much do you, as a young person, trust the media to accurately depict you? What can be done about this?
- Young people can no longer trust the media, and this is detrimental to civic society
- There needs to be a national youth broadcaster, kind of like the ABC, run by young people for young people
Remember Kevin Rudd? The former Prime Minister has been making waves recently for starting a parliamentary petition for a royal commission into media diversity. The petition was signed by a record 501,876 people, and it looks like the commission - a bit like a government inquiry - will go ahead. The ‘media diversity’ in question isn’t about race or disability though - it’s more about media ownership. In Australia, Rupert Murdoch owns almost two-thirds of metropolitan media circulation. He’s also a climate sceptic, which means a large chunk of his media output is also climate-sceptic.
What is the role of media in democracy, and can it still fulfill that role if one person gets to own so much of it? What are some ways Murdoch has used his influence, and what have been the consequences for the Australian people? What should the royal commission look to now achieve?
Petition calling for media royal commission and setting Australian record tabled in Parliament – 09/11/2020
Rudd and Turnbull will be called to give evidence at Senate inquiry into media diversity – 11/11/2020
- Because the media holds government to account in the eyes of the people, one person owning this much of the media gives them too much power
- Australia’s climate inaction is a direct result of Murdoch’s media empire, and we need to break it apart to get honest debate and coverage
In December 2020, the Australian singer Sia was caught in a bit of Twitter beef. She defended casting Maddie Ziegler, an abled actress, in a disabled role for her upcoming film. Disability justice activists argued that autistic people should be able to portray themselves, and that roles for autistic people should be written by them as well. Sia later admitted this was “ableism”, but didn’t back down on her decision.
What is the appropriate way for celebrities and creatives to approach representation? Without debating anyone’s actual identity, how can the film industry do better here?
- Abled people shouldn’t write roles for disabled people, nor should they play these roles; if a disabled person can’t play the role, then it isn’t appropriate in the first place
- Cancel culture isn’t a thing, given how comfortable Sia feels admitting to ableism and then committing to her decision anyway
- We shouldn’t cancel people, but we still need new ways to really hold them to account: otherwise, they can still get away with discrimination
The Grammy Awards have been oft-criticised for racial biases, including once again in this year’s coming ceremony. Black artists like Beyonce are often relegated to subcategories like R&B and rap - of her 24 Grammy Awards, only one was awarded in a major category (Best Music Video in 2017 for ‘Formation’). Meanwhile, she was arguably snubbed for Album of the Year wins in both 2017 (Adele won) and 2015 (Beck won). Now though, the Grammys are hoping to #ChangeMusic and acknowledge the contributions of Black artists to the industry.
What should this look like? Are award wins all it will take? Is a change for the future enough to fix wrongs of the past? Maybe awards aren’t even that important - is cultural impact what really matters?
- The cultural impact of Bla(c)k artists can’t be measured through awards
- Awards are a necessary first step to acknowledging Bla(c)k talent in the music industry
- Radios stations should make more of an effort to diversify their sets, particularly when local BIPOC talent in Australia is at an all-time high (think Thelma Plum, Sampa the Great etc.)
Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Oral Presentations for more advice on how to write your speech, presentation tips and more. Or, if you really want to dive in further to make sure you absolutely nail your Oral, then you'll definitely want to check out our How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation ebook - it explores essay structure, the written explanation and even has sample A+ essays so that you can learn from past students who have succeeded in VCE!!