War of words over University of Tasmania club’s debate about assassinating politicians
22nd August 2019
A spat has broken out between a university debating club and student Liberals over a debate about assassinating political leaders who don’t act on climate change.
The Society of Tasmanian University Debating has defended the topic of its gathering on Monday, but it has been accused of “insinuating violence as a means to solve political issues”.
“In a democracy, freedom of speech must be respected, not abused, and political debate should always remain respectful,” the University of Tasmania Liberal Students group said.
The debaters, however, said they were “indescribably frustrated” at the criticism and that the Liberals had missed the point of debating.
‘They’ve gone too far’
Long-time Liberal senator Eric Abetz weighed in on the issue and said the debating topic had done reputational damage to the club and the university.
“There is no doubt that violent language has the capacity to beget violence, and as a result those sort of slogans and topics need to be condemned for what they are,” he said.
“Clearly the debating club has gone too far and the people behind it, in debating an issue as to assassinating anybody is clearly unacceptable.”
Senator Abetz said it needed to be condemned by the university and the club should apologise.
“Talking about assassinating anyone is highly immature and undergraduate, but also potentially very inflammatory.”
In a statement, the Liberal Students said advocating violence as a means to solve political issues was “appalling”.
“Any attempt to justify assassination shows a clear abuse of freedom of speech,” it said.
“We are concerned with the discussion of political assassination in a representative democracy.
“In a time of such heightened threats of violence against political activists and politicians both here in Australia and internationally, the debate over the use of assassination to solve political concerns cannot be taken lightly.”
‘Liberals miss the point’
Vivian Imbriotis, chief adjudicator with the Tasmanian Debating Union, said whether the topic was morally wrong missed the point.
“The point of debating is to teach yourself how to be convincing while being agnostic about the subject matter,” he said.
“In learning to do that, you learn to dissociate someone’s oratory skills and how good their argument sounds prima facie from whether they are right.
“The point is to learn to argue things that are morally wrong, so when you hear people arguing things and they are convincing, you are immunised against them being convincing or also being wrong.”
Debating club president Johanna Ellis said the statement on the whiteboard was a topic that was debated and not a statement of belief.
“The debating society does not seek to promote a political agenda, but does seek to promote debating as a means by which individuals can develop the skills necessary to both defend and interrogate their own beliefs,” she said.
“The very purpose of debating is to discuss issues in a logical, reasoned and respectful way, in recognition of the fact that meaningful discourse requires more than rhetoric, spin and clickbait Facebook posts.”