Video transcript
Stop rebutting yourself

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[music playing]

TONY DAVEY: Hey, Ellie. How's things?

ELINOR STEPHENSON: Good, yeah.

TONY DAVEY: So this is Ellie. She's going to be running through a bit of feedback and rebuttal of herself back when she was in Year 6 at the Primary Schools' State Debating Championship. So that's a tournament that we run at the end of each year for the best speakers in the 10 different regions of New South Wales. And back in 2010, she was selected to represent the Illawarra and Southeast team. Now, she's going to watch herself 10 years ago, give a little bit of feedback on that, and then finally rebut herself, and hopefully crush herself. So, how are things, Ellie?

ELINOR STEPHENSON: Good, yeah.

TONY DAVEY: What are you up to now in debating?

ELINOR STEPHENSON: So I'm in 3rd Year Uni. I've been doing some debating in Uni, recently won the Asian online BP tournament. And I'm also coaching at Kambala. And I do some of the Department of Education coaching as well, and a lot of adjudicating.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah, definitely. All right, cool. So the topic for the debate way back then was 'that political advertising should be banned during election campaigns' which is obviously much harder than we would normally set for the opening rounds of the Premier's Debating Challenge for Years 5 and 6. But yeah, let's watch that and see how we go. And then, when we're done, I'll get you to give the old you a little bit of feedback, first of all. OK, let's watch. Here we go.

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- Ladies, gentlemen, and adjudicators. We, the affirmative team, have listened carefully to the opposition's case. And we have decided that their main arguments were about political education. And they were also rebutting as well. And those are the things that we will be rebutting.

The opposition has mainly been talking about political education. But obviously there are more ways to learn about politics than advertising. So, there's no point to not ban this detrimental advertising just because it could inform young voters.

They rebutted our example about David Cameron, but that was an example. So, our argument leaves unchallenged. And we were actually speaking about leakages and private life. They were talking about how we don't want a bad role model up the top. But it's private what they do if they go into gay strip clubs. It does not affect how they do their job, and it should not make the news, or the ads.

They stated that there'd be an increase in donkey votes just because there were no ads and they couldn't learn. Well, you don't learn through campaigning. You learn how to vote in school. Around Year 4, children do a human society and its environment unit on Parliament, and they learn how to vote. Sometimes they even have a trip to Parliament House to learn how to fill in a ballot paper. The only thing that political advertising does is to make that ballot paper untrue.

And so, there's already lies, which makes donkey votes and the election unfair. That's why, if our model was carried out, this would stop, not increase. They stated that new voters were informed by ads. But new voters are informed by untrue ads, so they're being fed a pile of lies. I don't think that works.

The opposition seems to think that we will not let politicians talk about their policies. But what this debate is actually about is that we will stop them advertising during the time of the election, and that is what we intend to do. We intend to stop the lies. We don't intend to stop the information. People should be able to make their own decisions about the policies, so they need to be informed.

But, these campaigns don't inform them. They feed them a pile of lies. They state that the ads make youth interested, but since when have you been interested in ads? Ads are the things that you flick over so they can watch their favourite TV show. You'd think that ads are boring. They're not going to watch them.

And to make youth interested, that could be achieved anyway, and much, much, much, much easier at school. So, obviously, when we compare the fact that youth could learn to all the detriments of the ads, then obviously the learning is not that big. So remember, political ads show ... they stated that political ads show you what to do.

No. All political ads show you is to tell lies on television. I don't think that's going to help the young youth. They stated that the ads were like a big debate. But since when has a debate been all lies with lots of private things thrown in?

Back to the topic of new voters. They stated that new voters need to learn from the ads. But, Number 1 - new voters aren't so stupid that they can't research. Number 2 - at the age of that, they're old enough to ask an adult or an experienced voter what to think. So remember, to ban ads is to ban serious accusations and to reveal the real deal.

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TONY DAVEY: All right, so if you were able to give feedback to your younger self at third affirmative, what kinds of things would you talk to yourself about after the debate?

ELINOR STEPHENSON: Oh, yeah. So, I think that there are probably 3 main things I'd tell myself. The first thing would be, I think that I really needed to emphasise and re-explain the detrimental stuff that I referred to a little bit more. So, I would often say things like, these ads are lies. They're so detrimental. But, I wouldn't really unpack that. I wouldn't really provide any examples.

And I think that made it a lot less powerful, because I was using that to respond to the opposition's best material about voters having enough information. And it was not enough to just assert, well, they're lies. I needed to really explain that a bit more. And even though I assume my team had probably explained this a bit, it's still really good to whip that material and bring it back into the debate so that everybody knows specifically what you're talking about, not just a point title.

The next thing I'd say is, I think that I needed to prove that there were alternatives more clearly. So I think a lot of the time I said, well, there are other ways for people to learn about voting. For instance, I gave one example, which was school. But I think I needed to be a lot more thorough about that, because a key premise of the negative team's case was that the problem was this was the best way for people to learn about politics and about how to vote. And that means that you need to have a pretty good alternative to undermine that premise.

And so I really think I should have been giving a couple of examples. I could have also said, by talking about it, but also because in Australia you are forced to vote. So, you probably want to do it well. You'll probably do a base level of research. Also, there's lots of information in the news, even if it's not campaign advertising. So, I should have just given a couple more mechanisms about how people can find out about voting. I think that would have been more persuasive.

The final thing is I think that I needed to prioritise material a bit better. So, I started off my issue about voter education with probably the weakest rebuttal, which was just things like, well, this example is not really relevant, or this example doesn't disprove everything. But that's not very strong. That's not actually proving that these ads are bad. That's just explaining why the opposition's rebuttals are not that big, or not that important.

So, what I should have started with is the stuff I finally got to later in my speech, which was actually talking about how they're lies and how they convince people of things that aren't true, because that's the strongest material. And that means that, even if these ads are actually educational and they teach things to people, if they are not true then that's a bad thing because they're teaching people lies. That material is the strongest idea in the debate, which actively goes against what the other team was saying. And so I should have started off with that and got to the weird example stuff a bit later.

TONY DAVEY: Excellent. All right. Now then, hopefully you're prepared to do a little bit of rebuttal and maybe crush your former self. And it's good. It's a chance for you to be on the winning team of that debate because I think you ended up losing. You went on to win a bunch of other Premier's Debating Finals, so you'll be fine.

ELINOR STEPHENSON: Only one. [chuckles]

TONY DAVEY: All right, so, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Elinor Stephenson, the third speaker of the negative to conclude the debate.

ELINOR STEPHENSON: The fact is that political ads make people interested in politics in a way that almost nothing else could. That was why we thought that political advertisements, even if they were imperfect, were so important that we should keep them around.

Two arguments or two questions in this speech. First of all, does this educate voters? And then, secondly, is it teaching them the right things? First of all on whether it educates voters.

What did we on the negative tell you about how these ads educated the voters? We told you that this was beneficial because it was an engaging format where parties were directly trying to get people to vote in particular ways, and therefore were trying to be particularly convincing. And that was something that brought politics alive in a way that really nothing else could, because the rest of political education was incredibly dry. It was HSIE units in Year 6 that you didn't particularly care about.

It was only these ads that were in a short, snappy medium that you really wanted to engage with. And we told you that this was really important because voter engagement was one of the most valuable things in a democracy. And getting people to really care about the issues that they were voting on was an essential part of the principle of democracy.

What did affirmative say in response? At the start of that third affirmative speech, affirmative tried to suggest that, actually, this just wasn't very important because, largely, this was not the only way to find out about political candidates. But also, that it was detrimental in other ways, that meant we shouldn't do it. So, let's deal with that claim first.

They tell us that it is detrimental, so we shouldn't do it, but they never really explained why it was detrimental except to say that it was lies, which I will deal with later. And we already thoroughly proved how it was beneficial to learn about politics. So, we don't think it's enough just to claim it's detrimental. Then they told us that these issues don't really matter.

They said things like being detected going to a strip club was just your private business, and the public didn't have a right to know about it. I think, very obviously, given that the taxpayers pay for those people to go to strip clubs and do things like that, but also that those people are meant to be representing the morals of their community, is obviously something that is in the public interest to report on. But also, this had very little to do with political advertising. We thought that largely these ads were things that were made by the parties, did not particularly attack anything except the other party's policies and general policy platform, and so that's what we should be dealing with in this debate.

Then they tell us, look, there are some alternatives that we can use instead. They said, first of all, that people could learn how to vote in school. For instance, in Year 6. And secondly, that voters could just research in their own time, and that voters were intelligent enough to do that. Two responses to this. Actually, three.

First of all, people forget about a Year 4 HSIE class by the time they're an adult and they can actually vote. It was unclear why you would remember that specifically, and definitely as a lost relevance throughout your teenage years. It was clear you would just forget it.

But second of all, the things you learn in Year 4 is just to do a ballot paper with peaches and pears at Parliament House. You do not learn about these specific candidates and parties running in an election. And that was the thing that was actually important. Because while you could perhaps fill out the ballot with your primary school political education, you could not fill it out in any meaningful way that voted in your interest.

On research, we thought, even though voters had the capacity to research, it was unclear why they would, particularly if they were not very invested in the political process. If anything, we thought it was these ads that would make them research because they now had a taste of the different parties' political claims and they wanted to weigh that up better. We thought without anything to invigorate their interest in politics, they simply would not do that.

The final thing they tell us is that, well, ads are boring, so people are unlikely to engage with them. They'll just switch channels. But we thought that, obviously, political parties had an incentive not to make these ads boring, to make people want to engage with them, because that is what will give them votes. And therefore we thought, these ads were likely not to be boring. But note that even if they were boring, there was very little harm to them because, obviously, people would just ignore them. So that is not how the affirmative team can win this debate.

At the end of this issue, we gave you a series of solid reasons why ads educated voters in really positive ways. We thought it was insufficient for the opposition to provide a couple of alternatives, but never really to engage with why those were better or more meaningful. On to whether or not this teaches them the right thing, because the main detriment that the affirmative team wanted to give in this debate is that these ads were lies.

Third affirmative didn't really explain why they were lies particularly, but let's engage anyway. We thought that this was really silly because political parties did not actually have an incentive to lie. They wanted voters to trust them in elections in the future. And if they lied in an ad in one election, we thought that when that particular promise did not come true, or was revealed to be a lie, voters would stop trusting them in the long term. So, this was not actually in the long-term interest of those parties.

But second of all, we thought that even if it was the case that these parties were exaggerating a bit in the ads, obviously, multiple parties had the capacity to run ads. And so you would get the same amount of lies on either side, and those would balance out. Which meant that, well, maybe there were some exaggerations in those lies. But, because you had them from both parties, you could now go and research them to weigh it up yourself. So our previous benefits would still stand.

But finally, we thought that even if it was the case that these were one sided and they were simply egregious lies, first of all, you as a voter would probably have an instinct that that was not true, and be empowered to research it. But also, we thought that these kind of ads would encourage you to talk about it with your family and friends, to read the news a little bit more. And so we still got the political education benefits that we talked about earlier.

At the end of this speech, then, we thought that the idea that these ads were lies was not sufficiently detrimental to prove all the benefits we told you about political education wrong, and therefore we're really proud to oppose.

TONY DAVEY: Yeah, excellent. Sucked in, young you.

ELINOR STEPHENSON: [chuckles] Sorry, Ellie.

TONY DAVEY: If you're watching that, obviously, as a primary school debater, you're not going to quite be able to do it as well as Ellie did. But yeah, it's something to aim for. And what you can also do is go and compare it to the speeches that actually happen. If you just google 'debating finals on Vimeo,' V-I-M-E-O, you can watch that whole debate and see how the whole thing actually played out.

All right. Thanks, Ellie, that was excellent. And yeah, we'll talk to you soon with more debating stuff. Cheers for rebutting yourself.

ELINOR STEPHENSON: Bye.

TONY DAVEY: Bye.


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