Our Write to Change the World

Sunday 13 September, 2015 – 1pm – 2pm

Jane Caro, Omar Musa, Julian Burnside with James Dryburgh

In a room of sparkling chandeliers and golden spotlights Tasmanian author, James Dryburgh presented three of Australia’s leading thinkers: journalist and writer Jane Caro, poet and rapper Omar Musa, and human rights lawyer and author and Julian Burnside. There was a packed afternoon audience.

The discussion covered public language, the intersection of spin, truth and lies, and the effect of this on individual and national character. Jane Caro said that there is “a transformative power of slogans” that can turn sinister when “used to demonise and separate groups of people.” She said, “Now when you are told you’re being politically correct it is designed to shut you up.” Julian Burnside said that the word “illegals” has had a profound impact on Australian Government policy. He said that the word entered circulation on September 11, 2001 – the day that the Tampa ruling was handed down nine hours ahead of the World Trade Centre bombings in New York. Omar Musa, a Malaysian-Australian from Queanbeyan, said he had personally felt the impact of that language shift post September 11. Musa said, “a generation of Muslims out there are traumatised by successive governments.”

Talking about spin, Caro told the audience that “All that spin does is it takes whatever it is and spins the positive to the front instead of the negative … It’s a human condition to spin … there is nothing wrong with good, intelligent spin.” But Caro also agreed with Burnside who said that, “Now spin is understood as putting forward a falsehood.” Musa spoke about the conflation of news with entertainment populated by “heroes and villains.” Caro described a tendency towards “gotcha journalism” where politicians are afraid to speak their minds or step outside of sound-bytes in case their words are used against them.

The panel wrapped up with the speakers addressing the power writing. For Omar Musa it is to give a voice to people who have “been spoken about but not to,” in order to share their stories. Julian Burnside described his writing about language as a passion that he thoroughly enjoys and his writing about human rights and the law as coming from a need to get correct information out there. Jane Caro spoke about the value in speaking your mind and being bold.

By Claire Jansen