In focus: State of Our Nation

Each year, the Festival brings together some of the country’s sharpest minds from politics, journalism, academia and literature for open discussions on the most urgent issues facing Australia today. From the upswing in populism and the increasing distrust of our leaders, to the messy politics of immigration and the ongoing fight for Indigenous rights, we are living in a time of social and political upheaval.

What happens when we start to question once unshakeable power structures? What are the stories we tell ourselves about our national identity — and should we be wary of them? How can we address the violence and systematic racism of our past and work towards a more compassionate and cohesive future? And where do we fit in the global scheme of things?

Delve into this year’s program to unpack the state of the nation in these changing times...

If you’re interested in: taking an honest look at Australian identity,

Don't miss: Home Truths: Telling Australian Stories, a panel discussion on contemporary Australian fiction that examines and excoriates conventional narratives of our country’s past and present

This is a chance to: hear from Felicity Castagna (No More Boats), Melanie Cheng (Australia Day) and Claire G. Coleman (Terra Nullius), three authors whose work unflinchingly addresses issues of national identity and themes of migration, invasion and dispossession to powerfully illuminate uncomfortable home truths.


If you’re interested in: considering how Australia’s status as a former territory of the British Empire and current membership in the Commonwealth of Nations shapes our place in the world

Don’t miss: Commonwealth Now: End of Empire, a multi-national discussion about colonisation, occupation, independence and global power shifts, and how the Commonwealth shapes our past, informs our present and influences our geopolitical future

This is a chance to: examine the pros and cons of Commonwealth membership from a multiplicity of viewpoints — the panel discussion features novelist and post-colonial theorist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh and celebrated political scholar Jenny Hocking.


If you’re interested in: Indigenous agency and Indigenous rights

Don’t miss: Recognise, a meeting of some of the Festival’s brightest minds to discuss the contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience in the context of the broader political moment

This is a chance to: take a cross-generational view of Indigenous agency with three community leaders: playwright and actor Nakkiah Lui, journalist and author Stan Grant and anthropologist and academic Professor Marcia Langton (who has curated this event as part of a series examining rituals, taboos and the Indigenous rules of engagement).  


If you’re interested in: the economic, social and political impact of Asia on Australia

Don’t miss: The Changing Face of Australia, a panel discussion that considers our country within the context of its ties with Asia, and how issues of immigration, trade, political manoeuvring and diplomacy will play out in relation to our closest continental neighbours

This is a chance to: get a clear-eyed view of Australia’s future in the Asian region from some of the people best-qualified to comment —political expert and former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, author and translator Linda Jaivin and foreign correspondent and author Richard McGregor.


If you’re interested in: how politicians like Pauline Hanson, Nick Xenophon and Derryn Hinch are courting voters away from the majors

Don’t miss: The Rise of Australian Populism, a primer on how a perfect storm of economic instability, soaring living costs, anti-immigration sentiment and political disillusionment has given rise to a new wave of political players

This is a chance to: understand how populism might play out in the Australian arena — and whether there’s a way for the movement to reflect progressive viewpoints rather than reductive ones. Authors David McKnight (Populism Now!), Anna Broinowski (Please Explain: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Pauline Hanson) and Royce Kurmelovs (Rogue Nation) consider the domestic state of affairs.


If you’re interested in: how Australia’s uniquely harsh refugee policies came to be accepted as normal — or even necessary  

Don’t miss: Claire Higgins: Asylum By Boat, an illuminating account of how Australia’s policymakers went from welcoming refugees during the 1970s to our current moment of “deportation by destitution”

This is a chance to: discover how our past — from the legacy of the White Australia policy all the way through to the Fraser government’s stance that the just treatment of refugees was "was now an important part of our foreign relations" — has led to the current political moment. Historian and academic Claire Higgins offers a thoroughly researched, accessible, and timely investigation into a hot-button issue of our time.


If you’re interested in: hearing from someone who still has hope for the future

Don’t miss: Hugh Mackay: Australia Reimagined, for an informed but affirming take on where we’re headed as a country and how we can work towards a more inclusive, empathetic and functional society

This is a chance to: consider where Australia has gone wrong, but also take stock of the ways in which we can revise, reassess and reimagine our future. Don’t miss this session with one of our country’s foremost social researchers.