- Tony Abbott, the Shadow Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. An uber-conservative politician from the religious right who had some ardent supporters in the crowd. He’s also the author of Battlelines, his view of the Liberal Party and his policy ideas for the coalition to consider for the next election. The book was much maligned at the session, with another panel member saying that she was currently using it as a drinks coaster.
- Lindsay Tanner, Finance Minister. Obviously an intelligent seasoned media player – he was articulate and said much without giving too much away. I was very impressed at his ability to express opinions without seeming to sit on the fence or polarise the audience (or potential voters).
- Richard Flanagan. One of my favourite Australian authors (I loved reading Death of a River Guide after my Overland Trail hike, and the semaphore scene I still think is wonderfully erotic and poignant) and from this session, seemingly a polemic lefty.
- Kamila Shamsie, author of Burnt Shadows and a finalist for the Orange Prize. An intelligent UK/Pakistani author who offered a different perspective on the Australian focused questions and the general concepts of assimilation and what constitutes a nation’s history.
- Tara June Winch, author of Swallow the Air. As a young Australian author of Afghan and Indigenous heritage, she added a youthful perspective on the discussion of Australian history and reconciliation, but to be honest I found her a bit rambling and her arguments were not well-structured. Her lack of polish contrasted sharply with the politicians’ ability to pose arguments, so I assume it will just come with practice – I’m definitely interested to hear what else she has to say.
Out of the questions asked by the audience, I particularly enjoyed the discussion which related to books, rather than the general discussion about social and political issues which I thought started to descend into a slanging match which was a bit difficult to follow. More importantly, the lively and at times heated debate left me with lots of stimulating thoughts to chew over on the walk home.