On 17 July 1978, the ABC TV current affairs programme, Monday Conference, held a Parliamentary Debate at Sydney University with participants from the Honeywell International Inter-varsity Debating Festival, then being held in Sydney: universities represented included Auckland, Cambridge, Canterbury (NZ), Columbia, Glasgow, Harvard, Nairobi, Oregon, Oxford and eight Australian universities. Particularly memorable performances were given by Nicholas O’Shaughnessy (age 26) from Oxford and David Pash (age 19) from Harvard. Pash, speaking of O’Shaughnessy’s speeches, remarked:
They fall into three categories: the witty, the stirring, and the vast majority.”
Pash also said:
Where there’s smoke there’s fire. Or, in Latin, Nil combustio sic profumo.“
Pash is now an attorney in LA, and O’Shaughnessy Professor of Communication at Queen Mary, University of London. Ewan Sutherland, a participant from Glasgow and now a telecommunications consultant, has a short report of the Debating Festival here.
Following the Festival, the student newspaper of the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Woroni, reported on a visit to ANU by the Oxford University Union Debating Team (issue of 1 August 1978). This report (with obvious typing errors corrected, one ellipsis added, and one misplaced line – shown by [ ] – re-inserted appropriately) is here:
Complete with jokes generously supplied by the FitWilliam [sic] Museum of Antiquities in Cambridge, the Oxford University Union Debating Team visited Canberra for four days at the beginning of second semester. The team was in Australia along with teams from Cambridge, Glasgow, Harvard, Columbia, Oregon, Auckland, Canterbury and several Australian universities including ANU for the first Honeywell International Inter-varsity Debating Festival in Sydney.
Despite the fact that all four members of the team are part of Margaret Thatcher’s shock troops (she was described by one of them as Attila the Hen), they were almost human. Nicholas O’Shaughnessy wants to be Viceroy of India and developed an accent to match. John Harrison . . . found solace in the company of Greg Carman. Marie-Louise Rossi replaced at 4 hours notice a past president of the Oxford Union, Vivienne Dinham. Mark Sterling, in between drams, managed to defeat the cream sherry of ANU Law School mooting talent, Tom Faunce and Lee Aitken.
There were two debates in Canberra. The first, on 19th July, was against ANU, ably represented by Andrew Byrnes, Steve Bartos and Vivienne Bath. The subject was ‘That Only God can Save the Queen‘, which Oxford negated. By any standards it was a good piece of comedy, though not perhaps describable as a debate. Oxford were rather the worse for wear, having staggered off a plane from North Queensland just 1.5 hours before the debate began.
On 20th July there was a highly successful debate in the Albert Hall against a team from parliament. It proved very difficult to get any MPs at all. Most of the ALP were overseas on their compulsory annual junkets. Many Liberals were [ ] discreetly elsewhere on the date of the debate. No member of the National Party could be found who could string more than about three words together before collapsing in in exhaustion. In the end we found Michael Baume, Jim Carlton and Michael Hodgman, who turned on a very entertaining performance. They admirably proved that talent is in inverse proportion to one’s chances of becoming a minister.
On July 21 the Law School staged a moot and lost. Oxford left for Melbourne on July 22, having only managed [to see Canberra in the wet. Every time] that a trip was planned, the heavens opened.
On a marginally more serious note, the success of the Oxford visit has prompted the Union to try and re-establish Union Night Debates on a regular weekly basis. These debates are an established and popular feature of many English and Australian universities, and were common here until a few years ago. If anyone wants to help on the Union Debates Committee, go and talk to someone in the Union Office.
The article was accompanied by a photo of the 19 July debate participants, showing seated (left-to-right) under a portrait of the Queen and a British and an Australian flag: John Harrison, Marie-Louise Rossi (1956-2014), Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, Greg Carman (MC), Vivienne Bath, Steven Bartos and Andrew Byrnes. I attended the debate on 19 July 1978.
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