“It’s an argument of great subtlety” (or words to that effect) was how Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre described the debate about Wikileaks, held at Angel Place and which Sue and I attended.
The debate – that “Wikileaks is a force for good” (or words to that effect) – is one fundamentally defined by degrees, since rationally, you would be struggling to argue it was either completely a force for good, or completely not a force for good. There are certainly some good aspects to the Wikileaks phenomenon and some negative aspects also.
The two sides of the debate included Gareth Evans, a conservative-leaning journalist, and a former ALP policy person who argued there were certainly some positive aspects to Wikileaks, but that in essence it also runs the risk of revealing information we don’t really need to know (Gareth Evans had a wry smile about this, with his relationship with Cheryl Kernot famously revealed in the media), and that there’s also the risk of governments becoming even more secretive.
On the other side, there was the current spokesman for Wikileaks, a woman who wrote a book with Julian Assange, and a Sydney University professor who recently awarded Assange a prize for his work. Their arguments were about everyone having the right to know what’s happened, how they have only carefully released information, and how notions of “cabinet confidentiality” are routinely broken anyway by politicians themselves, although I think it may have been an audience member who made that point. Gareth Evans noted they were unable to articulate anything negative about Wikileaks, thus weakening their position in the debate.
In the end, the great majority of the audience thought Wikileaks was a force for good, as articulated by an audience vote. Notably, there was a big turnaround from undecided “voters” to those who disagreed with the debate topic. I put this down to the superior debating skills of one side – Michael Fullilove was excellent – but also to the way in which the first poll was done by randomly asking people as they came in what they thought of the topic.
Anyway, it was a fun night, and it will be shown on ABC TV’s “Big Ideas” at some point soon, I’m sure.