Bevin Liu, Mark Kriedemann and Soofia Tariq were among the literary enthusiasts at “Know your place: The Politics of Identity”, “Dead Europe?”and “Sticks and Stones: Defamation law”.

The city’s week-long homage to the written word may be over for another year, but the wisdom of its 400 panellists continues to resonate.

The theme of this year’s Sydney Writers Festival, “Lie to Me?, was a popular discussion topic – sparking legal analysis, political commentary and family-friendly workshopping.

More than 200 events were staged at the State Library, Town Hall and in the Eveleigh cultural precinct, Carriageworks. Each featured local or international writers, journalists and academics examining lies in the “post-truth” world.


An Orwellian Utopia at Carriageworks (Photo: Mark Kriedemann)


Dead Europe?

Senior International Relations Lecturer at UNSW William Clapton, moderated this panel discussion on the European Union and whether or not it’s “dead”.

The panellists suggested that the shifting paradigm of right-wing populism was overwhelmingly responsible for the decline of belief in Europe.

Rated the third most influential person on Twitter, Turkish journalist Ece Temelkuran referred to the stages of development whereby populism and dictatorship overtake a country. This is reflected in her latest book “How to Lose a Country”.

She explained that the scale of the crisis is bigger than Europe – and Australia cannot escape the impacts of the crisis.

“Europe is an idea,” she said.

Ånd in these squares, where people protested the dictatorships and the oppression, their main slogan was solidarity, dignity, liberty, and justice.

“Since these slogans are shouted not only in Europe but outside Europe, then Europe as an idea isn’t dead at all.”

British-born Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer, also examines right-shifting populism, in his book: “Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu.”

He, and foreign correspondent Jonathan Pearlman, added to the debate with comparisons to the Israeli political sphere and the foreign policies of Australia and Pacific regions.


William Clapton (L), with panellists Jonathan Pearlman, Anshel Pfeffer and Ece Temelkuran (Photo: Bevin Liu)
Sticks and Stone: Defamation Law

Executive member of the International Publisher’s Committee Louise Adler, joined a panel of experienced journalists in discussing the “Frankenstein’s monster” of the Australian legal system – defamation.

Sydney University’s David Rolph, wrote the book “Landmark Cases in Defamation Law’.”  He warned the audience that the law can be used to: “stop people from talking about certain subjects”, which can also lead to censorship.

“Particularly in the context of media law cases, it can operate as an indirect and private form of regulation,” he said. “[which] is a problem, because in order to sue for defamation you need to either have the resources… or a defamation practitioner… so for a great many people, defamation law is really out of their reach.?

ABC Life’s Deputy Editor Osman Faruqi, recently won a defamation action against former Labor Leader and now One Nation Senator, Mark Latham.

He said that journalists are often undermined by defamation law in their pursuit for justice for victims.

“… how do we create a legal framework that allows journalists to do their job and hold powerful people to account that also acknowledges that there are powerful vested interests in our media, in the system and outside of it?” he said.

Having recently released his anthology “My Country”, multi-award winning Guardian journalist David Marr, described Australia as the country in which you can “come and win money and stop publication?.

“The most obvious reason Australia is facing such difficulties is that we do not have a Bill or Charter for Free Speech,” he said.

We are the only developed democracy in the world that does not have a national machinery for the fundamental protection of speech.

Former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs, was in the audience for this discussion. She countered that there is a limit to the right to freedom of speech.

“But we should have a free, transparent and open debate about these questions,” she added.


Panellists David Marr, Louise Adler, David Rolph and Osman Faruqi (Photo: Bevin Liu)


Know your place: The politics of Identity

Moderated by Roanna Gonsalves, this panel explored the reflection of each author’s identity within their writing – through the role of gender, race, class and religion.

Pakistani author Fatima Bhutto, who’s the granddaughter of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, referred to the strong, female lead character in her latest novel, “The Runaways”.

“Male writers never get asked why they created a character that’s so brave,” she said, while adding that film-makers have misunderstood how to represent Asians. “Why would I watch a Hollywood film with one Asian character when I can just watch an Asian movie.”

American-Filipino author Elaine Castillo, also writes about a Southeast Asian female, in her debut novel: “America is Not the Heart’”

She described her experience of being labelled a Filipino author and said she didn’t mind: “…but [then] everyone else should be labelled too?


Roanna Gonsalves (Centre), with Fatima Bhutto (L) and Elaine Castillo (R) (Image/Mark Kriedemann)


– Story and pictures, Mark Kriedemann, @KriedemannMark, Bevin Liu @JLiuBev and Soofia Tariq @SoofiaTariq