Video transcript
Plain English Speaking Award 2023 - NSW state final

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[intro music]

JUSTINE CLARKE: Welcome to the NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre for the state final of the NSW Plain English Speaking Award for 2023. My name is Justine Clark, and I am the speaking competitions officer at the Arts Unit of the Department of Education.

Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today. These are the lands of the Gadigal people, and I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future and extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today. While we listen to the voices of the young people in this competition today, I hope we remember that First Nations people are our original storytellers and instigators of the oral tradition.

It's wonderful to have so many family, friends and school supporters of the contestants here to be part of our audience today. We also have a number of special guests who I'd like to extend a special welcome to this morning-- Mr Ken Bock from the Australia-Britain Society, Ms Marilyn Jenner from the English Speaking Union, and Mr John Olsen from the International Churchill Society Australia.

From the NSW Department of Education-- Dr Sylvia Corish, Executive Director of Student Support and Specialist Programs; Ms Jordi Austin, Director, Arts, Sport and Initiatives; Ms Marianne Powles, Leader of the Arts Unit; Mr Andrew Lasaitis, Arts Programs and Partnerships Coordinator at the Arts Unit; principals and teachers of the finalist schools; members of finalists' families; members of our judging panel; and of course, the 6 finalists themselves, who we are all here to see.

The Plain English Speaking Award is a statewide competition in its 46th year. We were able to get back to in-person local finals this year for the most part, with students meeting up at host schools as far away as Toormina, Dubbo, and Armidale. A combination of in-person and online regional finals were held in May at Lewisham, and state semifinals were held 2 weeks ago in the offices of Holding Redlich in Sydney CBD. From the more than 200 contestants who began this journey, the very worthy 6 before us were selected for today's final.

I would like to thank all the schools that hosted the events leading up to today and congratulate all the students who participated in this competition at local, regional, and semifinal levels. I acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of teachers, principals and parents in supporting these events.

We would like to also acknowledge our sponsors, Holding Redlich, ACCO Brands Australia, the English Speaking Union, and the Australia-Britain Society for their support of this year's Plain English Speaking Award. We are grateful for their generous support and commitment to fostering effective communication. To all of these sponsors, thank you for your support in helping the young people in NSW raise their voices and speak about the things that matter to them.

Finally, I'd like to introduce you to our chairperson for today. Adrian Tran is a 2023 state semifinalist in this competition and will be our chairperson today, and our timekeeper is Arnav Lyengar. Both students are from Ashfield Boys High School.

With all of that said, please now welcome Adrian to take over proceedings from here.


ADRIAN CHAN: Thank you, Justine. My name is Adrian Chan, and I attend Ashfield Boys High School, and it is my great pleasure to be your chairperson for this state final of the Plain English Speaking Award for 2023. I would also like to acknowledge the Gadigal people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today and extend my respects to any Aboriginal people here today.

Before we get to our speakers, let me introduce you to the adjudication panel. Our 3 adjudicators for the final today are Micaela Bassford, Charlee Jane and Lloyd Cameron.

Charlee Jane also had a successful school career as a public speaker and debater as a student at Crestwood High School. Her team made the state final of the Premier's Debating Challenge for Years 9 and 10 in 2017. Charlee was a state finalist in the Plain English Speaking Award in 2018, and state and national champion of the Legacy Junior Public Speaking Award in 2015.

Charlee continues to adjudicate for the Arts Unit and has been on the panels for state finals for both the Plain English Speaking Award and the Legacy Junior Public Speaking Award, as well as a number of Premier's Debating Challenge state finals. Charlee has taken a break from her studies and is currently employed as an HR talent coordinator at Wipro Shelde. Please welcome Charlee Jane.


Lloyd Cameron retired as the speaking competitions officer of the NSW Department of Education's Art Unit in 2015. In that role he coordinated debating and public speaking in NSW primary and secondary schools for over 20 years. He was a national chairperson of the Plain English Speaking Award Association from 2000 until 2017 and has written over 30 study guides on senior HSC English and drama texts. It is a privilege to welcome back Lloyd Cameron.


Micaela Bassford was an accomplished debater and public speaker as a student attending Kirrawee High School. She was a state finalist in the Plain English Speaking Award in 2010 and 2011 and a state finalist of the Legacy Junior Public Speaking Award in 2007 and 2008. She was also a state finalist in the Premier's Debating challenge for Years 11 and 12 in 2009 and a member of the Combined High Schools debating team in 2008.

Micaela has adjudicated both state and national finals for the Plain English Speaking Award and the Legacy Junior Public Speaking Award, as well as state finals for the Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition. Micaela holds a Bachelor of Economics with First Class Honours and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Sydney. She is currently Assistant Director at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, working on the ACCC's Childcare Inquiry. Welcome back, Micaela Bassford.


We now come to the prepared section of the competition. Each speaker will speak for 8 minutes on a subject of the contestant's choice. There will be a warning bell at 6 minutes and 2 bells at 8 minutes. A continuous bell will be rung at 8 and a half minutes.

Our first contestant is Caitlin Blanch from Peel High School in Tamworth. The subject of Caitlin's speech is 'Let Me Tell My Story'. Please welcome Caitlin Blanch.


CAITLIN BLANCH: Envision this-- you're sitting at home in your comfiest pyjamas with a bowl of chips in your lap in your prime procrastinating position. As you scroll on Facebook, you stumble across an image of a person suspended in water, their wheelchair behind them. The caption reads, 'The power of water.' In your state of laziness, you question, 'What is my excuse?'

Let me introduce you to the concept of 'inspirational porn'. I did say 'inspirational porn'. And no, it does not have its crude connotations.

'Inspirational porn' denotes the use or depiction of disability as something pitiful to evoke a sense of inspiration in someone without disability. Even when people with disability are doing their jobs, suddenly, just because they have disability, the work that they're doing is more exceptional. Or when you see kids in the playground or even public speaking, if we know that they have a disability, they become the symbols of overcoming adversity.

Now let me take you back to my earlier analogy and tell you that was conveniently me. Except I didn't question what my excuse was. I questioned why I was so frustrated to see that my best friend had re-posted it. Why is it that disability is epitomised so much in the media?

And thus I come across the TedX Talk of Stella Young, a disability activist, comedian, and writer who, at an early age, was diagnosed with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a rare bone condition affecting the substance of the bone, found in one in 20,000 people.

Stella surprised others with how brutally honest she was when discussing the taboo nature of disability, referring to herself as a 'crip' since she was 17. But through her humour, Stella humanised what it meant to be a person with disability and rejected these glorified and sensationalised versions of disability that we see in our media.

Stella coined the term 'inspiration porn' and used this analogy to describe it. It's the girl drawing with a pencil held in her mouth with no arms. It's the boy running through the field on carbon prosthetic fibre legs. These images-- there are lots of them out there-- they are what we call 'inspiration porn'.

But aren't these acts actually inspirational? Like drawing with a pencil in your mouth is not something that I'm very talented at. But what we do when we look at inspiration porn is we compare our immediate situations to that of the persons that we're viewing. We forget that people with disability adjust their lifestyles and their routines to fit their needs.

I use this analogy when speaking to someone about when they asked me, if I had the opportunity, would I cure my disability? I said, 'No,' and they replied, shocked and reasonably enough, 'Why?' Why would I willingly keep disability?

But I asked him, 'Do you actually feel like you're missing out on something by not having straight hair? The rigour of maintaining those curls is something else.' And he realised we place these expectations and exceptional standards of people with disability because we realise or see their routines as something extravagant or that they're adapting their lifestyles or normate standards of what lifestyle should be to fit some sort of additional requirement.

These adaptations, like alternative communication or drawing with a pencil in your mouth, aren't actually inspiring acts. They're just people with disability just existing. Captions such as, 'What is your excuse?' or 'It could be worse,' or my personal favourite, 'The only disability in life is a bad attitude,' have painted a one-dimensional picture of what disability is, changing our own perceptions about and relations to people with disability.

We have this standard that people with disability are acting in spite of their disability or somehow overcoming the adversity of their disability. But in reality, we're living with the cards that we are dealt.

I went on an excursion in primary school to Canberra, and I did have a broken leg at the time, and I did use a wheelchair. My mum carried me up and down those bus steps like a champ. If anyone should have been awarded for that excursion, it was her.

But instead, when I returned the next week from school, I was given an award for my participation. I mean, there was 50 other kids that went on that excursion. Why the kid who used a wheelchair? I questioned why the need for the accolades. I can assure you I did nothing exceptional.

I realised that when people called me inspiring, they weren't talking about actually motivating. They were talking about the fact that they thought it was inspiring that I continue to live my life as a person with disability.

But when did we start to celebrate people for just existing apart from their birthdays? Like, isn't it this unaccommodating infrastructure, the historical institutionalisation of people with disability and an absence of alternative communication styles in the workplace that have created this category of limited and thus inspiration?

Today within Australia. There are 4.4 million people living with disability. That's equivalent to one in every 5. Additionally, disability can be visible or non-visible. Each factor influences whether a disability is lifelong, temporary, visible, or non-visible.

With the prevalence of disability so high and the definition ever-expanding, how do we still have this misconception that disability is inspiring? Our subconscious reactions and engagement to this belittling media have changed the way that we think about disability, the way that we engage with the disability community, and what stereotypes we have about disability.

People such as Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott are viewed as brave for putting themselves in such a public platform, their courage admired, and whilst Dylan has made remarkable achievements--

[bell rings]

--we aren't thinking about his achievements when we're saying this. We're thinking about the fact that he did it whilst using a wheelchair.

But take the use of Paralympians as the tokens for athleticism of people with disability. Articles like 'Paralympians Dare to be Brave' or 'Athlete Overcomes Barriers to Achieve New Heights' have changed the way that we think about people with disability.

The term 'inspiration' has degraded what the achievements of people with disability is without actually intending to. When we say people are inspirational, we're talking about the fact that we admire their achievements. Their successes are brilliant. But it becomes problematic when we celebrate people for just existing.

Stella Young had made many valuable points, one of the most valuable being, 'I want to live in a world where we value genuine achievement for people with disability, where we aren't congratulated for getting out of bed and remembering our own names in the morning.'

We have placed the achievements of people with disability on a pedestal. So what can we, what can you, and what can I do to get them off it?

Well, it starts with the way that we talk about disability in the media, the words that we use. Replacing 'inspirational' with 'motivational' is just a small, incremental change that has the possibility to change how society views people with disability. It starts with having disability journalists writing the news about disability. It starts with having training for journalists about how we talk about disability achievements in the media.

It also starts with your own connotations of disability. What about this talk has changed the way in which you value the achievements of people with disability? Who is in your circles? Do you have a person with disability as one of your friends? And if you don't, I encourage you to change it. Because we are some of the coolest people you will ever meet.

But it is these small changes, these changes in the way that we think about disability achievement, that can change--

[bell rings]

--what we do as inspirational. So I encourage you, when you're sitting at home in your comfiest pyjamas with that bowl of chips in your lap, don't ask yourself what your excuse is. Ask how we can make inspiration porn inexcusable and implement these changes into your life. Take this talk and rethink disability.

And remember that we don't want to be your inspiration. We certainly do not want to be your tokens. And we do not want to sit on the sidelines and watch as you tell our story.

[bell rings]

We want to be the authors. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Our second contestant is Oliver Misko. Oliver attends Sydney Secondary College Blackwattle Bay, and the subject of his speech is 'The Stigma Against Single Parents'. Please welcome Oliver Misko.


OLIVER MISKO: I remember back in primary school when it was the week before Mother's Day, and every single year, our classroom teachers would give us time to write cards for our mothers, cut out little decorations, make little coupons which said 'One free car wash' or 'Put away the dishes for free.'

This is such a distinctive memory, but not because I enjoyed it, but because back in my primary school classroom, I was the only student who would instead write Happy Father's Day.

I have grown up in a single-parent family, a story I don't tell many people. But that changes because growing up in a single-parent household, I have grown up with love, but with a different experience, and today I speak out against the stigma towards single parents.

At a young age, my mother left us, causing my dad to spend 8 years in court fighting for me and my younger sister, and for that, I am ever so thankful. But in being raised by a sole parent, I have watched the process and the toll that it has had on him and our family.

I have watched how it impacts them to such a significant degree, and I have watched a world which doesn't understand the plight of single parents.

In 2022, statistics showed that one in 7 Australian families were single-parent families. The 2 main things that I stand here to talk about today are the financial hardship experienced by single parents and how the sacrifice they bravely made takes a massive toll against their mental health.

With single-parent households often living off only one source of income, they are experiencing significant financial hardship. Single parents are 3 times more likely to live below the poverty line. Not only that, but data showed one-fifth of single parents were unable to afford necessities and other services, including dental treatment and childcare.

We are looking at thousands of single-parent families who are living by paycheck to paycheck, families who miss out on household essentials on a regular basis. We hear stories of single parents who skip meals to let their children eat, those who can't afford extracurricular activities or school equipment for their children, and growing up in a single-parent family, I have seen how widespread this issue is from my experience with financial disadvantage.

But no child, no family deserves to suffer. Yet we watch families, children, single parents who struggle to even scrape by, and yes, government assistance does exist. But it's a flawed system. Complaints are rising nationally that parent payments and other forms of child support aren't providing financial security, many not being paid properly.

The process of applying for such payments is difficult in itself, and an even more concerning problem is many single parents aren't aware of these support options, let alone those ashamed of accepting this help in fear of judgement.

But what is in common with all of these problems? Stigma-- the stigma against single parents, the fact that single parents are discriminated against because of their situation, many lacking job and social opportunities because of this. Take the case of single parents who have to pick up their kids from school at 3:00 PM but can't afford after-school care, hence being forced to turn down jobs by inflexible employers because single parents can't be in 2 places at once. But more often than not, they are expected to.

But of course, this can change. Because in addressing this, we can allow single parents to feel better equipped to handle the problems they are facing. Providing childcare assistance to allow single parents to re-enter the workforce, improving the welfare payment system, and educating those with the support networks in place will provide better economic security for single parents.

But I do have some good news. Last month our Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that single parent payments would be extended until the youngest child turns 14, replacing the former cap at 8 years old, and the fact that Anthony Albanese, a child of a single mother, has introduced these reforms gives me hope. Because, just like me, he has experienced the hardship faced by single parents and is attempting to make change.

However, this is only the start because while this has made much needed improvement, it is not effectively compensating for all issues experienced by them. The cost of living is considered to be the number-one issue affecting Australians. If this is affecting families with dual parents, think about how hard it is affecting single-parent families; soaring prices of groceries making it harder for single parents to put food on the table or, as we enter a brutal winter, to pay for heating due to increased electricity rates, the rent crisis, an issue experienced by an already large part of the population, leaving many single parents in poor living conditions. So yes, while the prime minister has introduced a reform, this is only a small win, and we have many more to come.

Furthermore, the economic insecurity experienced by single parents is leading to poorer mental health rates. But I want to shift to focus on single fathers now in particular. Because while only accounting for 20% of single parents, they are a growing denominator and one I find to be underrepresented.

In researching, a quick Google search on the experiences of single parents in Australia led me to articles that tended to focus on the experiences of single mothers. And while so vital to talk about, the stories of single fathers are struggling to be heard.

In regard to mental health, we look at the fact that 21 fathers commit suicide each week. And according to studies done, single fathers are twice as likely to report poor mental health to fathers with partners-- twice as likely. This demographic of single fathers is so vulnerable to mental health issues, yet we see so little representation of them in the media and so little support for them in the community.

And on a broader scale, this coincides with the issues surrounding men's mental health, such as the toxic expectations--

[bell rings]

--preventing men from feeling like it's OK to show their emotions. We are looking at how gender stereotypes are being perpetuated at a much larger level.

And while my dad stood strong, the one thing I wished for him was to have had more support networks to handle this issue, and the children noticed this.

On many occasions, I've witnessed my father overwhelmed when he's had so much to deal with, and with single fathers who are twice as likely to report poorer mental health issues, it is ever so important to raise awareness, to break down these gender stereotypes, and provide single fathers access to services they need.

Now, I could stand here and read statistics. But they are only numbers, and these families are real people. So as I stand here today, I realise the importance for more support. We all have the power to promote change.

Right now, we are seeing this issue, and I want all of you to take more from this speech than just the fact it's a problem. For the youth in this room-- because let's be honest. This issue won't just go away. And expecting it to be eliminated is, quite frankly, unrealistic. But in saying that, it highlights the need for a social conscience and how we all have the shared responsibility to address this issue.

For the youth in this room, you may be too young to vote but try to shift the conversation. Change your use of language to be more inclusive of those from single-parent households. Take this into consideration for when you can vote.

For the adults here today, discuss this issue with the people you know. Check in with the single parents you know and talk with them. But offer a hand if you notice them struggling so we can build an inclusive community. Because as a child of a single parent, I have grown up being a part of this issue, hearing teachers who told me that everyone has a mum, to having to explain over and over again my situation to classmates that it eventually became easier just not to say anything at all.

Because I, too, have a dream that in the future, I will see a world which has a better understanding of single parents and one which doesn't make kids like me feel forced to hide their story. Single parents are tired, overworked--

[bell rings]

--burnt out, yet they still do their best all of the time.

But we must work to improve the situation for these families, for my younger self, who sat in a primary school classroom and felt different and for the thousands of single parent families in Australia. I have lived in a society which doesn't understand this issue like I do, and for so long I have refrained from speaking out about it. But that has ended today.

Respect and empathy is so important, and that includes understanding the issues of single parents. So let's fight together for single parents and show them our support.

[bell rings]

Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Our third contestant is Tiaan Vamarasi. Tiaan attends All Saints Catholic College, and the subject of Tiann's speech is 'Rites of Passage'. Please welcome Tiaan Vamarasi.


TIANN VAMARASI: There's this rite of passage for Rotuman, Pacific Islanders. It's called a 'mamasa.' The word 'mamasa' literally translates into 'drying'. See, it's been undertaken for generations upon generations, long before the Europeans came sailing across the seas and in the time of the Polynesian voyagers. It was performed to celebrate an individual's first journey out into the wild, volatile unknown, a voyage out into the ocean. And when they returned, recognition of their rebirth would be signified with a mamasa.

Now, I've tried to imagine what it was like for my ancestors to take their first voyage, how it felt as their feet left the ground, what it was to harness the power of the winds, that inhale of a new world, and that bursting song sounding from deep within their soul.

No, actually how I imagined it would have started was with fear. Now we live in what has been lauded as the most successful multicultural society. The fact that almost 50% of Australians have at least one or 2 parents born overseas is commonly cited as proof of this.

And yet, as one of those Australians with 2 parents born overseas, I've come to realise that we-- you and I-- have our own rite of passage. Which I have come to call 'soieo'. Now, I call it 'soieo' because it literally translates into 'voyage', and that's exactly what we undertake as young Australians from immigrant backgrounds, a voyage in which we are swayed and rocked back and forth, as our cultural identity and our Western identity threaten to tip us over.

But I assure you, just like the Polynesian wayfinders did, we can master these waves, and the benefits of doing so far outweigh the challenges, and it all begins with that first stage, the questioning.

And it's not those small questions you use to pester your parents with. No, it's that much bigger question that would determine who you become. Am I enough? Am I islander enough? Am I Australian enough? Am I what I'm supposed to be?

Now, I've had these conversations ever since I was in Year 7, different ages, different genders, different backgrounds, but that same fundamental concern that we didn't belong. A study conducted by Southern Cross University found that a sense of belonging relied upon experiencing acceptance by the social group you identify with.

Basically on one side of the spectrum, it's avoiding being called those words like 'oreo' or 'plastic', and then on the other side, it's stories like Sela Atilola, who recounted to SBS years of snarky comments, which became swearing, which then turned into overt racism, punctuated with the remark, 'Go back to where you came from.'

So yes, this rite of passage begins with the questioning. But it also begins with the fear to find the answers to those questions in the first place.

Now, wait a minute. Let's just take a step back. So the idea behind a rite of passage, firstly, is that we're transitioning from one stage to another, from the naive to the wiser. We're growing up.

So when we begin to question our cultural identity, our national identity, it's simply a sign that our place in the world as an adult is being found. So it's normal to have those questions.

And it's also very normal to be afraid at first. Because that's how it started off for the wayfinders as well. It's that fear of first setting off, setting out into your own undecided, your own ocean. But eventually, you do. Eventually, it's just you and your canoe, braving the roaring, surging, violent waves until that moment of clarity, that moment of tranquillity, that moment of revelation.

And that's when we get to our second stage of this rite of passage, the decision. A study called 'Multicultural Identity Integration' states that is this-- number 1, we can exclusively belong to either our cultural group or our mainstream group. Number 2, we can belong to neither. Or number 3, we can belong to both.

Out of all 3, the one that I advocate the most for is the third option. Of this I am convicted that the benefits of reconciling these 2 conflicting identities far outweigh the discomfort, the fear, and the rejection of that first stage of questioning.

Now, another study, 'Self-esteem, Ethnic Pride, and School Belonging', found that by encouraging ethnic pride, we could increase self-esteem and, therefore, enhance that feeling of belonging to Australia, thus contributing to creating this more inclusive and welcoming society. And while this is already exercised somewhat through Harmony Day, it's important that we take that next step to encourage that internally. Because only then do we get to see the benefits that it will have for our future generations.

And as I said before, the idea of us going through this rite of passage means that we're growing up, which means our roles in society are shifting, which can make this process of reconciling all that much more complex but also that much more crucial. There's a report, 'Pacific Island Communities in Australia', that details how cultural factors can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.

For instance, in the West, knowledge is power. But in the islands, it's family, which means that education isn't as emphasised because the first priority is to get a job--

[bell rings]

--be financially stable, and support your family. So reaching your full potential isn't necessarily your first priority. This translates into lower participation rates in tertiary education, which then becomes an invisibility of Pacific Islanders in a certain part, and might I add, a higher earning part of the workforce.

And yet that same report details how engaging in your cultural heritage through faith, singing, and art can act as protection factors for those at risk of living a life of crime and imprisonment. So there we see how reconciling these 2 identities, mastering the waves of your identity, is so crucial to be able to broaden the scope of our lives and to be able to improve its outcomes.

In fact, one of the most fulfilling parts of Year 12 has been being able to throw myself into the research of academics and writers who are doing what I'd like to do, Pacific Islanders with their thick froes of curly hair, their accents, their bula shirts and sulus, but fundamentally, not performatively, as Pacific Islanders with that spirit of joy, humour, and community.

Now, the solution isn't as simple as donating or raising awareness, but an internal reflection of the beliefs that surround us and that have been handed down to us, deciding what resonates with us and who we choose to be, even if those same things didn't resonate with our parents or with those around us. This reconciliation isn't cookie-cutter. Instead, we're called to be like the Polynesian wayfinders. A mamasa doesn't celebrate the fact that these wayfinders have taken the exact same path as those before them, but rather celebrates the fact that they've gone out into the world with the unique conditions that were before them, and yet they returned as who they've chosen to be.

So if you find yourself in the middle of this rite of passage, whether it's navigating the questioning or contemplating the decision--

[bell rings]

--it's important to remember that what lies behind those roaring, surging, violent waves is the rebirth of what our future could be, undefined by cultural barriers. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Our fourth contestant is Jose Corcio from St. Dominic's College. The subject of Jose's speech is 'Talent'. Please welcome Jose Corcio.


JOSE CORCIO: I think it's safe to say that each of us here has a memorable sporting moment. Mine is my Under 13's Grand Final when the local fields felt like the State of Origin. But it could be as simple as a Friday Night Footy, setting the alarm to get up at some ridiculous hour and watch the World Cup, or hanging out for the pinnacle of international sport, the Olympics.

Naturally, we admire the golfer, the diver, the swimmer, the sprinter. We praise their talents and congratulate them on their accolades. Our message is full of love and support. Unless the golfer, the diver, the swimmer, the midfielder-- unless they're transgender. Then are they no longer talented but a tranny, a freak, a biological mess with unfair competitive advantages? Our cries of celebration rescinded with pleas of disqualification, and all of a sudden, our platform of world peace and inclusion is turned into a binary battlefield, crippled by this one question, 'Are you talented, or are you just transgender?'

It's an answer we've been searching for since 1932, when Renee Richards became one of the first professional transgender athletes. Richards, as a talented American tennis player, sparked protests, declaring that all-female athletes under the United States Tennis Association be submitted to chromosome and hormone testing in the interest of-- would you believe it?-- equity.

Her refusal ultimately led to her inability to compete at an international level, setting a dangerous precedent for the world. Transgender athletes simply lacked the same humanity as 'the normal ones'.

Richards went on to prove that transgender peoples, as well as other peoples fighting social stigmas, can hold their heads up high by eventually being ranked the world's 20th-best female tennis player. But not before enduring significant legal battles and a little bit of social outrage.

Our intolerance seemed quite clear until 2004, only 19 years ago, when transgender athletes were first permitted to compete in the Olympic games. The controversial ruling imposed many restrictions on trans athletes, such as the removal of all external genitalia, legal recognition of the assigned sex change, and hormone therapy must eliminate any competitive advantages. However, this is subject to determination by the World Doping Authority following sample collection.

I'll draw us back to that one question, 'Are you talented, or are you just transgender?' Well, as of 2004, it was possible to be both. But you first needed to jump over the hurdles of the IOC to prove that by biological standards, you were 'normal'.

Tensions surrounding the inclusion of transgender athletes simmered throughout the early 2000s until public disdain eventually boiled over in 2014, following the mixed martial arts match of Fallon Fox and Tammika Bretts. Fox, a born male, fractured Bretts' skull within minutes of the match and continued to fight vigorously until a technical knockout was declared. She came under heavy criticism when Bretts reported, 'I have struggled with many women, but I have never felt the strength I felt in that fight.'

The interview catalysed prejudice towards transgender athletes in professional sport, with many radicalised feminist organisations implying that such involvement constituted a structured and a reckless approach to criminal assault. In 2014 it was clear there are those who are transgender and there are those who are talented but the 2 are not to be mistaken.

Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand Olympic weightlifter, challenged these dominant views towards transgender involvement in sport through her 2020 Olympic campaign. Hubbard, a born male, was selected to represent New Zealand at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the women's 87 kilo-plus category.

Before she even stepped into the airport to go to Tokyo, many questioned her rights to be at the games, particularly in a sport where it was argued that the biological effects of puberty would give her a competitive advantage. Hubbard's campaign was only sanctioned after she satisfied the 2015 criteria, and the leading medical science director of the International Olympic Committee endorsed her efforts as a 'trailblazer' of what the games could be.

There was very little backlash after Hubbard's symbolic debut, but notably, she didn't place in podium position. So 2 years ago, our response, or their lack of, implied that there is a place for transgender athletes amongst the talented so long as they do not outperform any athletes who naturally belong in that category.

There seems to be a common misconception involving transgender representation in high-performance sport. It is both scary and ridiculously common how many people believe that an athlete, let alone a human being, can wake up one morning and decide to assume the gender identity of a male, female, or gender of their choice, and this is simply not the case.

As the Australian Sporting Commission made clear last week in their reformed guidelines for Diverse Identity, this is a traumatic experience for all. But we mustn't forget the fundamental rights that underpin Australian democracy, the rights that were championed in the International Olympic Committee's Diverse Identity Guidelines of 2019.

The reformed guidelines conceded the IOC's former focus on hormone testing and promoted sport as a human right, stating that no athlete should be precluded or excluded from competition on the basis of an alleged, unsubstantiated, or suspected competitive advantage due to sex change or gender variation. However, many national bodies who select their international teams for these events are dismantling and disregarding this point of view entirely.

FINA, World Athletics, the International Rugby League Union, the International Cycling Union have all mandated the use of hormonal suppression drugs for transgender athletes. If they refuse, they are prohibited from competing--

[bell rings]

--within the unions entirely.

They have come under very little criticism for this. In fact, often, they're accredited with voicing the common opinion of society. They have then gone on to further defend their actions by stating that, although groundbreaking, none of their documentations explicitly include transgender athletes. They simply discourage exclusion.

And herein lies the complexity of this issue, an issue that I'm not going to attempt to solve in 8 minutes. I want to offer a radical solution. I won't take us back to the days of Jim Crow by standing up here and preaching for the establishment of a transgender league in professional sport. I won't insult a protected peoples who, as a male, I will never completely understand. Though I can certainly appreciate their right to be themselves. I won't play a social saviour.

At the bare minimum, I'll offer you this. It's time for a conversation, a conversation that silences the voices of radicals and far-rights, who hitherto have never been concerned with women's rights to start with, a conversation between trans athletes, female athletes, and sporting bodies, a conversation where we no longer consider those who are talented or those who are transgender, but a conversation, which at the core reminds us of what it means to be human. Maybe, just maybe, that's our best defence in this battle, rather than leaving the social media soldiers to fire their keyboards. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Our fifth contestant is Molly Hoogland. Molly attends Santa Sabina College, and the subject of Molly's speech is 'T-Shirt Feminism' Please welcome Molly Hoogland.


MOLLY HOOGLAND: When I was 7 or 8, my friend came to tennis training wearing a t-shirt that said, in big pink letters, 'Mummy's Little Feminist'. We were the only girls in a team filled with boys, and they were all extremely offended by this fashion statement. Naturally, I wanted to know why.

I asked her what it meant, that f-word on her t-shirt, and she told me it means you believe that girls can do whatever boys can do. That was when I realised that my capabilities weren't limited by being a female, that instead of waiting for Prince Charming to climb up my hair and rescue me, I could save myself. I decided then to call myself a feminist.

That is the story of my discovery of the women's rights movement. But the point of that story is not the bravery of the girl in the man's world of our primary school tennis team nor my burgeoning social awareness. The point of that story is the t-shirt. 'Girl Power', 'Girl Boss', 'You Go Girl', 'Smash the Patriarchy', 'The Future is Female'. Walk into a Target, an H&M, Dior fashion runway show, or your Instagram feed, and you will find yourself bombarded with catchy taglines and slogans that, in modern society, seemingly encapsulate the feminist movement-- a complex, nuanced, intersectional movement reduced to a line of text on a piece of fabric, a single-typed word.

These slogans were crafted by modern feminists for a reason. They're catching, infectious. The fourth wave of feminism, the wave we are currently surfing in the early 21st century, is characterised by the use of internet activism, fitting for a digital age. Social media has been used by women's rights activists to propel change in many facets of the movement, hashtag #MeToo being a prominent example, as well as its sister taglines, #TimesUp and #BelieveWomen.

The key benefit of these hashtag communities is that everyone has the opportunity to vocalise their experiences of oppression. You no longer need to be rich or famous or an academic to be a change-making feminist. All you need is a phone, and the sky's the limit-- provided, of course, you've already smashed the glass ceiling.

Undoubtedly, the ability of the feminist movement to produce one-liners has fuelled the fire in the fight for gender equality. I'm sure that the aforementioned feminist slogan t-shirts and social media hashtags have born many a Bell Hooks and Emmeline Pankhurst. I myself, as a feminist, am a product of these products.

But alongside the truly groundbreaking consequences of the MeToo movement, we also see Kim Kardashian's 'Happy International Women's Day' post, featuring a not-so-subtle promotion of her mobile game, ironically captioned 'Anything is possible for a girl who works hard.'

We also see Dior debuting a t-shirt on the catwalk proclaiming, 'We should all be feminists', which is now selling for $1,400. In Jessica Crispin's divisive book, 'Why I Am Not a Feminist', she states that the feminist movement is now a self-serving brand popularised by CEOs and beauty companies transformed into merchandise by a series of influential profiteers.

She's not alone in this thinking. An article by 'The New York Times' stated that feminism is now a lucrative market for retailers and a source of corporate credibility because it is so mainstream.

The corporate exploitation of the feminist movement occurs within physical fashion retail, certainly, with companies profiting from a phenomenon of the feminist slogan t-shirt and doing little else to support the fight for gender equality. But this exploitation occurs more maliciously through what 'The Guardian' likes to call 'femvertising'. What their now-infamous article titled 'The Next Queasy Chapter in Feminism's Fourth Wave' began with hashtag #PrettyCurious, an ad campaign by a UK energy company seemingly aimed at getting teenage girls interested in careers in the STEM field. The subsequent skyrocketing sales suggested otherwise.

A slew of campaigns realised that the feminist movement was hashtag #trending and used this to their advantage, realising they could sell women more products by showing their support. In 2014, Pantene launched the viral hashtag #SorryNotSorry campaign, which focused on a woman's constant compulsion to unnecessarily apologise, ironic given the company's advertising had previously focused on telling women that their hair wasn't shiny enough.

I remember this wave of femvertising. I watched Dove campaigns with tears in my eyes, thinking how fantastic it was that these messages were being pushed, that these stories, my stories to some extent, were being told. I was also thinking that on the next supermarket shop, I would ask my mum and dad to buy Dove soap instead of our usual Dettol.

These companies became very good at playing on consumers' social consciousness. If you care about women's rights, they're saying, you'll buy from us because we care, too. And they do this by encapsulating their incredibly emotionally charged campaigns in a singular, punchy, shareable hashtag-- #PrettyCurious, #SorryNotSorry, #LikeA Girl, #GirlsCan.

The feminist movement is being taken from feminists by corporations, meaning feminist discourse is no longer about intersectionality or nuance. It is about how we can spread a very general message very quickly to the widest possible audience, and while this may increase the number of people who call themselves a feminist, it increases the likelihood that these people have no idea what they're talking about, which limits our capacity for real, tangible change-making.

And in the age of the internet, these slogans often become prey to what the BBC likes to call 'slacktivists', or less pejoratively, 'clicktivists'. This species of feminists are happy to change their profile picture, post to their Instagram story, or share the latest femvertising campaign, but their action stops there. The slogan becomes their sphere, their number of deleted hate comments, their daily tally of misogynist fatalities.

Ladies and gentlemen--

[bell rings]

--the feminist movement is no longer real. It is no longer ours, detached from the reality of female oppression. It has become a tool for corporations and clicktivists to grab onto opportunistic hashtags for personal gain.

But how are we supposed to create change when the extent of active feminist conversation for the everyday person consists of a hashtag? In a movement that has so much left to give and so much change still to make, relying on hashtags and t-shirts is just not good enough.

If we want to close the gender pay gap, if we want to remove gender-based obstacles to health care, if we want to fight rigid social expectations and violence against women, we need to look beyond our screens and our closets. As a feminist who is running out of things to believe in, I want to see a women's rights movement that fights with facts, not with fake.

Realistically, we can't single-handedly halt the exploitative actions of a multinational corporation. And we can't rely on clicktivists or influencers to lead the charge for us. Ladies and gentlemen, the onus is on us as individuals to stop giving in to the easy route to activism and start educating ourselves.

Because we can't fight for something we know nothing about. We can't smash the patriarchy or create a future that is female if we only think about these phrases as a way to buy in on the social currency activism has become.

At the risk of sounding cliche, you don't become a feminist by wearing a t-shirt that says 'Girl Power'. You become a feminist by realising that girls have innate power and that no hashtag can truly encapsulate how incredible that power is, and neither, sadly for my 7-year-old friend, can a t-shirt.


[bell rings]

ADRIAN CHAN: Our final contestant today is Alexia Rigoni from Cammeraygal High School. The subject of Alexia's speech is 'The Politics of Memory'. Please welcome Alexia Rigoni.


ALEXIA RIGONI: History is under attack. The Holocaust is being grossly distorted across the Western world in a bid to expunge the history of Jewish people and suppress public discourse to amplify nationalist narratives and crush dissent within supposedly liberal and democratic nations. The memory of the Holocaust, which occurred just 77 years ago, a mere wrinkle on the forehead of history, is being erased for self-serving purposes, with potentially devastating consequences. Our past is now political.

Explicit denial of the Holocaust is rightly dismissed by mainstream media and broader society as blatantly anti-Semitic and is largely relegated to the fringes of 4Chan and other online forums. Blatant Holocaust denial, while deeply wrong, is not a problem we should devote much attention to in our present context, as it influences so few people and is dwindling across the world.

Something much more insidious, much less detectable, and far more dangerous has replaced it-- Holocaust distortion. Defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as 'intentional efforts to excuse or minimise the impact of the Holocaust or its principal elements, including collaborators and allies of Nazi Germany,' Holocaust distortion has now become an element of internet culture and alternative media.

Branded 'soft-core denial' by American Holocaust historian and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, it entails accepting that the Holocaust occurred but grossly misrepresenting it to make it seem less barbaric. It exists in many forms, but as noted in the Alliance's 2021 report, most notably manifests as 'the gross minimisation of the number of victims of the Holocaust, attempts to blame the Jews for causing their own genocide, attempts to blur the responsibility of other nations or ethnic groups by asserting that the Holocaust was solely conducted by Nazi Germany, accusing Jewish people of using the Holocaust for some manner of gain, drawing inappropriate comparisons between the Holocaust and unrelated contemporary events, trivialising or honouring the historical legacies of people or organisations that were complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust, the use of imagery and language associated with the Holocaust for political, ideological, or commercial purposes unrelated to this history, and denying Adolf Hitler's knowledge of or participation in the execution of what he dubbed "the final solution".'

And unfortunately, people across the Western world are increasingly being hoodwinked by extremist ideologues propagating these anti-Semitic messages.

The numbers paint a horrifying picture-- in the US, 63% of young adults don't know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and 36% think the number was 2 million or fewer. About 1 in 10 isn't sure whether the Holocaust happened at all or denies that it did, and perhaps most shockingly, 19% of millennials and members of Generation Z in New York State believe that it was the Jews who caused the Holocaust.

The impacts of this are tangible and, at the same time, completely unfathomable. The World Jewish Congress notes in its Comprehensive Working Definition of Antisemitism that denying the fact, scope, mechanisms, or intentionality of the Holocaust is a form of antisemitism, and history has shown that antisemitism leads to violence, discrimination, hatred, and segregation, all aspects of life that have no place in our modern world.

And this misrepresentation of historical truth is not just occurring among uneducated young people consumed by social media. In 2018, Poland, an EU member state and a party to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, implemented the 'Amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance,' which criminalised public discourse claiming that the Polish nation was in any way responsible for the Holocaust.

Despite vehement international opposition from prominent academics and public intellectuals, the law is currently enforceable in civil courts. Polish historian Jankowski's book 'Night Without End', a 2-volume, 1,700-page long study that examined the entire World War II period, found copious evidence to prove that many Polish civilians willingly turned in their Jewish neighbours to Nazi officers. With the enactment of this law, it is now an offence to speak truthfully about the Holocaust in Poland.

Even progressive Western European countries are not immune from this distortion. Denmark is widely celebrated for its rescue of 99% of its Jewish population during the German invasion in World War II. But this albeit incredible story has obscured the large number of Danes who were complicit in the Holocaust, a number that is thought to be up to 300,000.

Research published by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs has revealed that from 1935, Denmark rejected Jewish refugees at its border, expelled Jewish refugees to Germany, used Jewish slave labourers, and exported agricultural products that helped to nourish the German army. But we are fed movies like 'Miracle at Midnight', 'The Danish Solution', 'Across the Waters and Into the Darkness', all of which highlight the saving of some Jewish people but not the widespread Danish antisemitism and Holocaust complicity that contributed to the mass murder of others.

This is distortion. Denmark has failed to acknowledge its role in the Holocaust and has implicitly perpetuated the unilaterally disproven narrative that it was solely German forces that contributed to the systematic murder of Jewish people. Along with the deep immorality of these actions, this also highlights the disturbing consequences of this Danish 'saviour complex,' which impacts the identity and self-actualisation of many Jewish people. Think about how you would feel when a country that aided in the murder of millions of people who were of your religion then claimed that it had saved you.

This distortion of the Holocaust has been compounded by the embrace of the notion of 'double genocide', which posits that 2 genocides of equal severity occurred in Eastern Europe, that of the Holocaust and that perpetrated by the Soviet Union against the local population. This theory has been widely refuted by reputable historians, as it has been established that the Ukrainian famine of 1932, the Holodomor, was the result of forced collectivisation that created starvation--

[bell rings]

--not a deliberate and systematic racialised genocide that is comparable to the Holocaust.

This argument has been perpetuated by books like Timothy Snyder's best-selling 'Bloodlands', which has been heavily criticised by historians for drawing a moral equivalence between the actions of the Soviet Union and the Holocaust but is still described by Penguin Books as a 'brilliantly researched', 'profoundly humane', 'authoritative', 'magisterial history'. It is no wonder, then, that this book has been weaponised by the Lithuanian government to justify making 2021 the Year of Juozas Luksa, a man who was a member of a far-right, anti-Semitic political party and was allegedly involved in numerous attacks on Jewish people during the 1940s. This has undoubtedly convinced millions of individuals that the Holocaust was not the uniquely barbaric event it was and was simply another episode of inter-ethnic conflict in Europe.

But we know that this Holocaust distortion can be countered. The Alliance noted that successful education programs implemented in schools and through the media reinforced the 5 core tenets of basic historical literacy, explaining the phenomenon of Holocaust distortion to young people and encouraging them to become more cognisant of it, teaching critical media and information literacy, generally inculcating the principles of diversity and inclusion throughout society, and introducing legislation known as 'memory laws' to prevent the Public denial of the Holocaust and prohibit the waving of swastikas and the propagation of narratives that run counter to the truth.

Dr Michelle Arrow, a professor of history at Macquarie University, has written extensively about how the chronic underfunding of crucial historical archives, specifically the National Archives and Library of Australia, has contributed to a lack of historical literacy and access to the past, to the extent where archives cannot be digitised because of a lack of human and technological resources, potentially leading to the damage and loss of numerous records pertaining to Jewish migrants who escaped the Holocaust--

[bell rings]

--and Australians that helped to conceptualise and facilitate the Nuremberg trials and all international human rights forums. Increased funding would help to abate this phenomenon and give the average person access to resources that would increase their understanding of antisemitism to reduce discrimination and ensure that history does not repeat itself.

The Holocaust must remain a central part of conventional histories. Its memory must survive, and it must continue to be remembered as the darkest part of our past. Together we must ensure that the most essential element of our social and political fabric is not torn or damaged-- the truth.

[bell rings]


ADRIAN CHAN: That concludes the prepared section. The finalists will now leave the auditorium and will return after morning tea to give their 3-minute impromptu speeches. The finalists will speak in the same order as they did for the prepared speeches. There will be a warning bell at 2 minutes and 2 bells at 3 minutes. A continuous bell will be rung at 3 and a half minutes if the speaker exceeds the maximum time by more than 30 seconds.

The subject for the Impromptu is 'Stuck in the Middle'. Please welcome Caitlin Blanch.


CAITLIN BLANCH: Often, in conversation, we find ourselves in this limbo of not being too certain, not saying too much, and not wanting to offend anyone too hard. We are simply stuck in this middle ground, even when we're trying to explain something to someone else, as speech is the most impertinent form of communication.

It is hard to be assertive. It is hard to state exactly what you need. It is hard to be opinionated in a world that values cancel culture so much, that values being moral and ethical all of the time. We can't say too much, and yet we still stay stuck in this limbo, stuck in the middle.

Speech being our primary form of communication, can often lead us to some very pointless conversations or not even making much sense, which is very convenient for this public speaking competition. But it's not helpful.

And when we always put so much pressure on each other to be perfect all the time, to say the right things, to convey the message the right way, we extend this pressure to people we have no familiarity with. Diplomats, politicians-- they need to be decisive. They need to be the leaders of our community. They need to say everything correctly to reflect our values to get our votes. They can't be stuck in limbo.

We find ourselves looking at people like Scott Morrison, dodging questions about his dodgy role, and even Gladys Berejiklian, fearing too much to say too much about what COVID means for us, what these lockdowns will be, how long these lockdowns will go on for.

We are still stuck in this middle, yet we desire so much from these people. We feed off their information. We need it every day to survive.

But how did we get to this point? And how do we lead ourselves to this expectation? Without context of politicians' roles, we don't understand how we always end up stuck in this middle.

We need to realise that politicians--

[bell rings]

--are made to be decisive or opinionated all of the time, that some of their role is just being pragmatic, not just getting votes. It is being stuck in the middle to appease both sides, whilst we know inside the curtain parliament doors, we don't see what they actually say or what actually goes on.

The voice has shown us the importance of being bipartisan, of taking a step back, of not saying too much, of being stuck in the middle of a yes and no vote. But here we are, coming to the yes and no campaigns. There is a brighter side. We did leave lockdown.

Yet stuck in the middle seems so frustrating for our immediate selves. What we need to do is take that step back, realise the societal pressures of cancel culture, and realise that these pressures that we put on ourselves, that we put on others to be perfect all the time so we don't end up stuck in the middle. Affects our own relationships with others, affects our interaction with our political system.

So it is time that we recognise that being stuck in the middle actually does have light at the end of the tunnel, that we can see the end of this. Being stuck in the middle doesn't last that long. It's time we take this pressure off, off our souls, off our diplomats, and step back. Let's enjoy just being stuck in the middle. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Please welcome Oliver Misko.


OLIVER MISKO: We are living in this continually technologically advancing world, which is a great thing. But we're positioned in a way where we have the good, and we have the bad, and in a way, this leaves us stuck in the middle, confused of whether we should fully embrace all these technological advancements.

And on one hand, we see an increase, this fear of increase in artificial intelligence, commonly perpetuated in the all too well-known, too-common sci-fi movies about AI taking over and technology dominating the world. But then, on the other hand, we see where technology is actually doing really good things. So we're stuck in the middle, unsure whether to be afraid or to actually embrace technology and the importance that it has in these advancements, in improving social awareness, but also innovation and continual, steady growth.

I want to talk about a quite common thing that's just occurred in the news, and that's the pardoning of Kathleen Folbigg, who was falsely imprisoned. And we have seen that the increase in technology has led to her actually being found that it is unlikely that she did commit the crimes that she was alleged to commit, and she has now been pardoned for that.

Twenty years she sat in a cell for something she didn't do, and now we have this technology, which has advanced, and it has shown that she hasn't done this. It's brought her life back together. So we see the positives of these technological advancements.

And so the message that I want you guys to take away from my speech isn't to be afraid that technology is going to be taking over, that in the world we'll see all our lives threatened by AI and things like ChatGPT, but instead to understand the positives that technological advancements bring. By that, I'm referring to Kathleen Folbigg and how she, as an individual, had her life brought back together because of the increase in technology and also how it leads to our continual growth.

So as I stand here today, I stand in favour of innovation, in stand of an increase in technology, because I can address the positives which it does bring to our world and our society. So I think we need to steer away in a way and stop being stuck in the middle and start embracing these new technological advancements. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Please welcome Tiann Vamarasi.


TIANN VAMARASI: So I work part-time as a drug dealer.


Yeah. That's how I like to describe my job as a pharmacist. Well, not as a pharmacist, but working part-time at a pharmacy. Basically, a lot of what I do is just working at the cashier, just giving people's medication and checking them out.

But so often do I find myself stuck in the middle of explaining why their medication has suddenly risen. See, we have a lot of customers who are elderly, customers who are on pension, a lot of customers who are on concession.

Now, that means that the price of their medication matters a lot to them. Because you're essentially dealing with their life quality. And so often do I have to explain, 'I'm sorry, but this year the prices have just been raised.'

And it's an awkward situation to be in. It's one that's been greeted by anger, frustration, outrage. But even now, as we have laws being introduced on the changing to dispensing from 60 days to 30 days for pharmacies, once again, I find myself not the only person stuck in the middle because so are my patients.

Now, my patients have been stuck in the middle of rising costs. But now, with this new law, they've said that by expanding it to 60 days dispensing, this would allow them to be able to access this medication at a cheaper price, especially for those who are purchasing regular medication for chronic conditions.

But the issue with this is mismanagement of medication, and I can honestly quite say I've seen it happen. We had a customer one day who came in and literally passed out on the floor because he had mismanaged the amount of medication that he was supposed to take regularly. Now, this is one of the side effects of having an extended dispensing period because that's when pharmacists aren't able to monitor and regulate how much these patients are actually taking.

But does-- how does that weigh up against the fact that these patients have to be able to afford the medication in the first place? It's being stuck in the middle between costs and your life. Well, essentially, though, it's something we can't get past.

Now we're stuck in the middle between deciding affordability or our own life and death. But that affordability is also our life and death. So I suppose we're stuck in the middle of life and death itself, and I sadly cannot propose that there be a way to get out of it, but rather that we continue to be stuck in the middle and we continue to do our best in monitoring.

So while pharmacists might not be able to regulate those dosages anymore through dispensing, this doesn't mean that checkups can't be introduced, where pharmacists are able to call on their patients to have regular scheduled check-ins.

There are solutions to where we can stay stuck in the middle and get the best of both of these worlds. So at the end of the day, while we may be currently stuck in the middle of rising costs of medication but also the health of our own patients, it's important that we learn to deal with being stuck in the middle rather than just trying to escape it. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Please welcome Jose Corcio.


JOSE CORCIO: I'm a real sucker for Disney movies. I love them. But I always get stuck when I watch 'Beauty and the Beast', and it's the final scene when he's lying on the floor dead, and she's crying, saying she loves him and whatever, and he's lifted up like Christ, and he transforms into this beautiful male, and I hate that scene.


And I hate it because of the feminine expectation or our expectations that feminine qualities of compassion and empathy and kindness should purify dominance, that females should submit to the masculine stature of a man in order to make him better, and I hate that it reflects how stuck we are in the middle of rape culture.

Rape culture is an environment where sexualisation or objectification is excused by media or by those around us. The notions of rape culture are perpetuated through language, everyday behaviours, and literature.

And so I guess what we're stuck in the middle of is trying to discern what it is because it cannot often be difficult to call out. For example, is 'Beauty and the Beast' a happily ever after or an interplay of male dominance and female submission?

It can be difficult to discern what rape culture looks like. The 3 words that we most commonly associate with this culture are 'she wants it,' right? And we're stuck in this idea that if it's always someone else's fault, that if she didn't walk down that alleyway, that if she didn't wear that skirt, that if she didn't have that much to drink, that wouldn't have happened to her. It keeps her stuck in the idea that if we avoid those behaviours, we're safe.

It doesn't let us say the real problem. It turned us against each other rather than working towards a common goal and a solution.

The other phrase most commonly associated with this cultural phenomenon-- 'Boys will be boys.' And we're stuck right in the expectations of what it is to be a man. Because what is a man if it isn't for sex, alcohol, and sport? So a little groping, a comment about a waistline or the length of a skirt-- well, it can't be that bad, can it? Can it?

But it also keeps us from realising that men are victims of sexual assault as well. Rape culture and the way in which it's perpetuated within our society keeps us stuck. And it's time to become unstuck. It's time to realise that nobody wants it, and nobody deserves it. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Please welcome back Molly Hoogland.


MOLLY HOOGLAND: I'm at a crossroads. It's that time in my life where I need to decide what do I want to be when I grow up. I'm a little bit too old to continue to delude myself into thinking that marrying a foreign prince is a viable financial strategy.


And a recent realisation that I'm 100% tone deaf has ruined my dreams of becoming a singer-songwriter. My recent employment at McDonald's and the amount of cold fries and lopsided ice cream cones that I served has taught me the hospitality industry is probably not ideal, either.

My friends and family, frankly, have been unhelpful. But they do have one rule. There is one career they consider completely out of bounds, and no, it's not a stripper, a parking officer, or an accountant. They tell me, don't become a teacher.

Ironic because both my parents are teachers, all of my family friends are teachers, all of my aunts and uncles. In fact, I've lived on a school campus since birth, meaning I've been surrounded by teachers for my entire life.

I've been fortunate to have incredible teachers, apart from my kindergarten teacher who yelled at me for using scissors wrong. I'm bossy, can't survive without long holidays, and I love school. I would love to be a teacher, and I think I would be a great teacher.

But as I'm at this crossroads, I find myself stuck in the middle between my ideal version of what a teacher would look like, the version that I would aspire to achieve in my career, and the reality that faces many Australian teachers in today's society.

We know that the situation for teachers in Australia is pretty dire right now. In fact, recent studies have found that 50% of teachers are considering leaving the profession in the next year. How can this be when teachers are considered the most important profession in the world, as they are literally shaping the future?

But so many teachers find themselves caught, stuck in the middle between what they think a teacher should do and the ideal situation of a teacher workplace and what the actual reality is. Faced with crippling work shortages, working--

[bell rings]

--more hours with fewer resources, teachers find themselves facing unprecedented conditions.

There's been a lot of hope in the media recently when it was announced that some universities will be offering micro-credential courses, which means that educators will be able to educate in certain subjects that are underappreciated or don't have as many teachers teaching these subjects, which will relieve the burden on the teachers I see around me.

But the teachers I see around me have also seen the crippling mental health effects of this problem on Australian teachers. I've seen my friends, I've seen my family struggling under crippling workloads, having to cover class after class after teachers have quit, finding themselves stuck in the middle for just a bit too long.

I think this problem points to a wider societal issue about the way we talk about teachers. We need to appreciate them for who they are and continue to foster the ideal workplace for teachers that they really should be experiencing.

[bell rings]

And hopefully, if we make this change and change the way we talk about teachers, that no one will be stuck in the middle like I am between choosing the teaching profession and being stuck with the reality that many Australian teachers face. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Please welcome back our final speaker for the Impromptu session, Alexia Rigoni.


ALEXIA RIGONI: In recent years, the NSW government has listened to the cries of frustrated students and parents, alarmed at increasing numbers of sexual assault within society by implementing consent education modules into primary and high school syllabi. This was in response to concerning statistics, revealing that one in 3 women over the age of 15 in Australia has been subject to sexual assault assault and one in 20 university students have been subjected to such violence while on campus.

Notwithstanding the milkshake debacle, the problem is not that we teach consent poorly. That will always be subjective and vary depending on the context. The problem is that through our myopic obsession with consent education, our refusal to take a step back out of the middle of debate about this controversial and sensitive issue, we have implied that sexual violence is a crime of ignorance, that people who commit sexual assault simply lack understanding of what refusal sounds like, how to behave appropriately, or how many drinks are too many. And that may be true in some instances, but certainly not always.

For too long, we have been afraid to ruffle feathers. We have been afraid to speak out about this issue honestly for fear of offending some or for backlash from talk show radio hosts. It seems that the men of our future generations are being taught that sexual assault is bad, but not why it is bad.

The harms of sexual assault are elusive and complicated, but nevertheless, we must embark on a frank conversation to genuinely lower levels of sexual assault within society and improve the lives of women and girls across Australia. We need to see sexual violence for what it is, not what those in the middle of the debate seem to think that it might be.

It is not a crime of ignorance but a crime of patriarchy, privilege, and power. We need to have a frank conversation--

[bell rings]

--about sexual assault in this country.

And that starts with doing 3 things. Firstly, it means stepping back from the middle of a controversial and convoluted issue and listening to the stories of those who have genuinely been affected by this abhorrent behaviour. That looks like explaining the genuine harms of sexual violence. It looks like explaining the physical discomfort those who have experienced it go through every day, how they feel disassociated from their bodies, how they have difficulty trusting others, how they find it difficult to set boundaries after there's have been so wholly violated.

Yes, this imagery is vivid. And yes, this kind of thinking is ethically demanding. But yes, it is necessary. And while I appreciate those who have genuine concerns for the welfare of those who have experienced this sort of behaviour, fearing that it might re-traumatise them, I say that our solution so far has been utterly insufficient.

Secondly, we need to genuinely--

[bell rings]

--we need to genuinely discuss the cause of sexual assault. And that stems from patriarchy and entitlement. We need to break down these structures in society. We need to have a frank conversation about why we think men are the number-one perpetrators of sexual assault.

And thirdly, we need to stop with the euphemisms. No more inadvertently dangerous and damaging milkshake and cup of tea metaphors. An unwanted milkshake is inconvenient. An unwanted sexual advance can be world-destroying. We need to stop with the euphemisms.

[bell rings]


ADRIAN CHAN: The adjudicators will now leave the auditorium to decide the winner of the Plain English Speaking Award for 2023. I would like to call on Charlee Jane to announce the winner and the runner-up of the Plain English Speaking Award for 2023.


CHARLEE JANE: All right, so I'd like to start by saying a very big congratulations to all speakers who have participated in today's competition. I think that everyone in this room can agree that public speaking is exceptionally hard, one of the biggest fears that a lot of people have, and to get up and in front of a big audience and to deliver a speech that's incredibly impassioned-- we heard some really great authentic voices in today's competition-- and then to present an impromptu speech with only 2 minutes or 3 minutes worth of preparation, it's no small feat. So round of applause again for all of our fantastic competitors.


So the Plain English Speaking Award is a persuasive public speaking competition, and whilst, yes, it is a competition, and I'm here to announce the winner and the runner-up, I'd like to remind everyone that competitions like this is not about winning. It's about getting up in front of an audience and talking about a subject that you are passionate about with the aim of persuading as many people as possible.

So in order to persuade people, it's important to speak in a way that doesn't put off half your audience. People don't like to be lectured. I'm sure that we can all agree. And it's also important to speak in plain English-- the title of this competition, right?

We want speakers to speak at a level that engages with that wide audience while still talking about a serious or complex issue, so speak in plain English. Oftentimes speakers cater their talks to an audience of academics or experts rather than the layman. And if the goal is to influence lots of people, we have to speak in a language that everyone can understand.

The way that we speak, however, is not the most important thing. Really it's what we speak about. And that's the main thing that we look at in this competition.

So speakers need to ask themselves the question, why will my audience care about the issue that I'm about to speak about? So we need to speak about an issue in a way that connects with the audience.

We need to use a mix of facts and logic while also adding a personal or empathetic and emotional touch so that the audience can put themselves in your shoes or in the shoes of others. If you can evoke that emotional response in the audience and the right kind of emotional response, then you've done a fantastic job at persuading people.

It's also important to take the audience on a journey. We love a good metaphor or framing device to tie things in nicely, and of course, the most important thing for a persuasive speech is to have a solution. So what can the audience take away from your speech?

And sometimes, and we saw it in this competition today, sometimes the solutions offered are not tangible or as tangible as we might like. So when those solutions are a tad cliched or when you give a bit of a politician's answer, you leave the audience slightly disengaged. So it's really important that we add that solution, that tangible takeaway for our audience. So then you persuade them to make a difference or to campaign to make a difference.

Last but not least, we have the Impromptu round. So it's important to note that the Impromptu section is equally weighted to the prepared. And the Impromptu section today was-- the standard was really, really high. All speakers did such a fantastic job with a very difficult topic.

The Impromptu section has to have focus and has to have a specific focus on a very specific issue. Because let's face it. We can't solve all the world's ills in 2 minutes.

It's also really important that speakers don't top and tail the speech with the topic. The topic has to be nicely incorporated throughout the speech. So making sure that we have that focus on a specific issue and that we're not topping and tailing our speech with the topic.

So now we've all been waiting for, I'll stop rambling on. I'd like to announce the runner-up for today's state final.


The winner of today's local final gave a highly engaging, prepared and impromptu speech that used a little bit of humour to deal with an important issue, and using humour and evoking that emotional response in the audience and making them really think about a serious topic is a fantastic way to persuade a wide audience. So congratulations to Molly Hoogland with 'T-Shirt Feminism'.


JORDI AUSTIN: Do you want to stand maybe with these guys here?

JUSTINE CLARKE: Yeah, maybe take a photo with them.

JORDI AUSTIN: Congratulations, Molly.

JUSTINE CLARKE: We'll put this one down.

JORDI AUSTIN: Congratulations. Well done. [general quiet chatter]


DR SYLVIA CORISH: And this is quite heavy. So just come and stand here, we'll-- Just come and stand here we'll keep it this way, hey?

JORDI AUSTIN: There we go. Alright, sure, we'll come this way. We'll come this way.

Thank you.

DR SYLVIA CORISH: Congratulations.


CHARLEE JANE: So, very big congratulations to all speakers, and a very special congratulations to Tiann and Molly. You should all be very proud of how well you performed in today's state final. Thank you.


ADRIAN CHAN: Congratulations to Molly Hoogland, who will now represent NSW at the national final of the Plain English Speaking Award to be held in August. Distinguished guests, ladies, and gentlemen, it has been a great honour and pleasure to chair the 2023 final of the Plain English Speaking Award. The official party contestants, their parents, teachers, and principals are invited in the foyer for lunch.


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