What were Australians debating during the 1920s?

1920s art deco thinking cap (photo by Sacheverelle - CC-BY)

The Mosman Debating Society held regular Thursday evening debates in Sydney. I have access to only a few of the topics debated, but they open an interesting window into what was occupying people’s minds at the time. Here are some of the subjects of the debates of the 1920s.

That the system of proportional representation should be abolished

I find this one interesting, because the system of proportional representation is generally considered to have worked well in Australia. It’s one of the new voting systems being considered in 2010 for the United Kingdom House of Commons.

The motor car is a menace to society

It’s hard to deny the menace of the car, but it’s also hard to deny that the advantages probably outweigh the menace many times over.

Municipal rates should be abolished

Well I’m all for abolishing taxes, but municipal rates remain in force more than 80 years later.

An alliance with Great Britain is preferable to an alliance with the USA

Australia is aligned with both the UK and the USA, including through the ANZUS treaty (“America, New Zealand and Us”). With the UK in the European Union and no longer offering preferential tariff rates to Australia, and with the UK and USA acting together in warfare, there’s probably not much to choose between them nowadays.

The entente cordiale is unworkable

Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that the 1904 Entente Cordiale largely did “what it said on the tin”.

The White Australia Policy should be abolished

The White Australia Policy has long since been abolished. You might assume that the policy had something to do with the Australian Aboriginal people, but that’s not the case. It was about keeping out the “Yellow Peril”. The argument made on the night was that the vast mineral wealth of inland Australia could best be exploited by indentured Asiatic labor.

That bachelors should be taxed to pay for child endowment

Now there’s an interesting one: pay for children whether or not you have them. Hardly an appropriate policy in this overpopulated world, although there remains a whiff of public opinion in Australia that the country is too underpopulated for its own security.

That the system of modern advertising is detrimental to society (defeated)

This is surely a timeless topic that will never fade.

That Australia should return to free trade (carried)

The Australian constitution specifies that trade between the constituent states shall be “absolutely free”, and this has served Australia well over the decades. It’s not surprising that this motion, relating to world trade, was strongly carried.

That youth is an over-rated attribute (carried)

I presume that the outcome of this debate depended on the average age of those present on the night.

That the USA is the world’s greatest nation (defeated)

It would have been interesting to run this debate every year, and to plot the changes of opinion over the years.

That Australians are developing a pessimistic outlook (carried)

Australians are generally known as optimistic people, but bear in mind that this debate took place shortly before the Great Depression.

That this House welcomes the advent of a Labour government in Great Britain (defeated)

Australia is a former colony, and issues relating to the mother country are still considered important by Australians.

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