Australian political debate: the teenage years

Australia’s Federal Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, is never a man one could describe as “no drama”.    Apparently his histrionic side began very early, as this letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald recounts.   The letter-writer is Alison Lockwood of Katoomba.

“Can you do anything with this completely true reminiscence?” she writes. “In 1969 my family arrived in Sydney and I was enrolled at SCEGGS Darlinghurst in year 9 (age 13). As I was ‘academic’ I was required to be part of the debating team with our ‘brother’ school, Sydney Grammar. The topics for debate were contemporary and highly debatable subjects such as ‘Should women receive equal pay for equal work?’ and ‘Is ”no blame divorce” a good thing?’ It was, nevertheless, slightly risque for the times to propose the topic ‘Should the age of discretion (i.e. consent) be lowered?’ ”As designated first speaker I spent days preparing my arguments carefully, and my well-ordered palm cards referred to meticulously researched areas such as ‘Marriage in Hindu cultures’, ‘Underage marriage in Appalachian societies’ and ‘The menarche 1860 to 1960’. My English teacher, the enthusiastic Mrs Black, helped me refine the most pertinent points.
”I felt well prepared and as excited as any 13-year-old engaging in an activity at night time and in a boy’s school. The debate was held at Sydney Grammar and my opposite first speaker was a podgy school boy called Malcolm Turnbull. Unfortunately, there were two factors in this debate that the worthy Mrs Black had neglected to tell me were relevant.
”1. This was a mock debate; 2. I was prepubescent.
”When all the mostly male student and teacher body were assembled, and before I had any chance to speak, Malcolm Turnbull rose from his pew and announced, ‘As my opposite first speaker has obviously not reached the age of discretion I move that she be removed from this debate.’
”After which a pimply boy hooked an umbrella around my neck and dragged me into an adjoining room, to the accompaniment of loud guffaws from the audience.
”Mrs Black fussed around me uselessly, and I myself hadn’t much idea quite what had happened. I was vaguely aware I had been humiliated and that the debate was now continuing without me because …?
”As you can imagine, Ms Crabb, this was a seminal (excuse the double entendre) experience. Months later, I both reached the ‘age of discretion’ and read The Female Eunuch. I figured it out.
”Malcolm, I’m afraid, remains an opportunistic bully.
”Kind Regards, Alison Lockwood.

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