Past events

8 October 2020
Bruce Wolpe

One month from the US elections: An update

Bruce will discuss the state of the presidential election campaign and the strategies of President Trump and Vice President Biden; look at the national polls and the key swing states and the Electoral College; and provide an overview of the congressional elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives.

About the speaker

Bruce Wolpe is a Senior Fellow (non-resident) at the United States Studies Centre. Bruce is a regular contributor on US politics across media platforms in Australia. In recent years, Bruce has worked with the Democrats in Congress during President Barack Obama’s first term, and on the staff of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He has also served as the former PM’s chief of staff. He is author of The Committee, a study of President Obama’s legislative agenda in Congress (University of Michigan Press, 2018). From 1998-2009, Bruce was a senior executive at Fairfax Media in Sydney. He is also the author of Lobbying Congress: How The System Works (Congressional Quarterly Books, 1990, 1996).


Professor Sarah Palmer

17 September 2020
Prof. Sarah Palmer

Confronting Covid-19

What are the prospects for the Covid-19 pandemic in the months and years ahead? Should we be hopeful?

The new coronavirus, 1000 times more infectious than the flu and with far greater potential health complications, has now spread worldwide and caused the largest human pandemic since the emergence and spread of HIV in the early-1980s.

This presentation will discuss what makes this novel virus so dangerous, debilitating and deadly, how we can best confront and contain it, and the impact of the pandemic on those with compromised immune systems, such as the elderly and persons living with HIV. Looking ahead, the talk will also assess current progress toward a vaccine—the most likely pathway for getting back to a “new normal.”

About the speaker

Sarah Palmer is the Co-Director of the Centre for Virus Research at The Westmead Institute for Medical Research and a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney School of Medicine. She is a world-renowned HIV researcher who received her PhD at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden focussing on medical virology. She conducted her post-doctoral studies at Stanford University, Centre for AIDS Research. For 8 years Professor Palmer directed the core virology laboratory for the HIV Drug Resistance Program at the National Institutes of Health in the USA. Her expertise in identifying parts of HIV proteins likely to stimulate human white cell responses has now been applied to an on-going COVID-19 project at Westmead.


Brigit Busicchia

Thursday 13 August 2020
Brigit Busicchia

The question of food security

from household to global

There are many ways to think about food. You can think about political and cultural aspects, about natural or agricultural aspects, about ethics, or about economic activity. If food can provide pleasure and gratification, it can also be a source of anxiety particularly when access to food becomes problematic.

During the COVID 19 lockdown, Australia and many other economies experienced something very unusual: some market shelves were empty day after day, of staple items such as pasta, rice, sugar, flour. Why did this happen? What are the politics of and changes in food production and distribution highlighted in the context of pandemics such as COVID-19?

The government took the initiative to reassure us by reaffirming that Australia was food secure and there was no reason to panic. But how did everyday people feel?

This talk discusses these issues of food security using the example of flour to show what happens when the established order surrounding our basic food supplies are disrupted.

About the speaker

Brigit Busicchia PhD and Associate Lecturer in Sociology, Macquarie University.  One of her favourite research areas is the political economy of food where she tries to understand the key historical and political drivers organising the production and redistribution of food resources.  In addition to her lecturing and teaching appointment, she is also interested in the question of food justice.  Her latest research is about food insecurity among Australian university students.  She is a regular contributor to The Conversation.


Prof. Veena Sahajwalla

Thursday 16 July 2020
Prof. Veena Sahajwalla

The new microrecycling science and microfactories
for transforming waste into value-added materials

About the speaker

Professor Veena Sahajwalla is an internationally recognised materials scientist, engineer, and inventor revolutionising recycling science. She is renowned for pioneering the high temperature transformation of waste in the production of a new generation of ‘green materials.’

In 2018, Veena launched the world’s first e-waste MICROfactorieTM and in 2019 she launched her plastics MICROfactorieTM, a recycling technology breakthrough. She is producing a new generation of green materials and products made entirely, or primarily, from waste.

Veena heads the ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for ‘green manufacturing’, a leading national research centre that works in collaboration with industry to ensure new recycling science is translated into real world environmental and economic benefits. In 2019 she was appointed inaugural Director of the Circular Economy Innovation Network by the NSW Government through its Office of Chief Scientist and Engineer.


Michael West

Thursday 11 June 2020
Michael West

The rising power of corporations in democracy

Veteran Journalist, Michael West reluctantly turned media entrepreneur, will talk about the crisis in media, the rising power of corporations in democracy and what we can do about it.

About the speaker

Michael West spend eight years at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and eight years at Fairfax Media (now Nine Entertainment) before striking out on his own to produce journalism of high public interest.
West is a Walkley-award winner and Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Social and Political Sciences.


Bates Gill

Thursday 14 May 2020
Bates Gill

How will Australia’s relations with its number one trading partner look in the post Covid-19 era?

As the political and economic disruptions of the pandemic become clearer, what impacts can we expect it to have on Australia’s critically important relationship with China?

This presentation will examine both the promise and perils of ties with our giant neighbour, and whether we  should expect Australia-China relations to remain the same or change dramatically in the years ahead.

About the speaker

Bates Gill  has a30-year career as a professional China-watcher. He is an  author, scholar,  policy advisor, and  internationally-respected expert on Chinese politics and foreign affairs.  He has lived and worked  in China, Europe, and the United States, and is now Professor of Asia-Pacific Security Studies at Macquarie University.   Dr Gill  co-authored  China Matters: Getting it Right for Australiaa go-to guide for understanding the risks  and opportunities ahead for Australia-China relations.


Kribo Ackerman

Thursday 5 March 2020

Acting locally on climate change

In this time of climate anxiety it’s more important than ever to take action in our private lives and local communities to create a low-carbon future.

Join Kribo Ackerman, Engagement Officer with the Green Living Centre (an initiative of Inner West Council), for an interactive discussion about the most effective actions we can take and how to connect with others taking action in our community.


Rick Emory McGary


Thursday 14 November 2019

It didn’t end with the Hougoumont –
The ongoing penal colonialisation of Indigenous Australia.

*The Hougoumont was the last convict ship to arrive in Australia – 1868

Rick Emory McGary is a legal academic and is currently obtaining a PhD in law at the ANU’s National Centre for Indigenous Studies on the topic of Racism in the Criminal Law of Australia studying under Professor Mick Dodson.

Rick has a long personal and family history of fighting institutional racism in the courtroom. He is himself a mixed race Texan with significant Cherokee Indian ancestry, a former researcher for the Innocence Project of Texas, the son of an international womens’ rights lawyer, and the grandson of the attorney who desegregated Texas public schools. Currently living in Canberra, Rick is incredibly grateful for the opportunities he is receiving in Australia, and hopes to help make a difference here as well.

more about Rick Emory McGary

Shayne Higson


September 12, 2019

Dying with Dignity: one small step or one giant leap?

For most Australians providing this compassionate option is a natural progression in end of life care but for others it is considered a ‘crossing the Rubicon’ moment for our society.

Join Shayne Higson, Vice President of Dying with Dignity NSW, in an interactive discussion about voluntary assisted dying laws, why they are needed, how they differ around the world and when we are likely to see the next Bill introduced in NSW.

more about Shayne

August 8, 2019 Philip Bray


Reflections on 50 ‘odd’ years of local politics & bookselling.

Philip Bray is well known as the proprietor of Brays Books and a champion of Independent Booksellers in NSW and VIC.

Books have changed the world and they change individual lives. Philip will reveal the four books which changed his life, brought him to Balmain and hence played a part in both changing and preserving Balmain and surrounding suburbs.

As Deputy Mayor for Leichhardt, Philip helped lead the movement for more open democracy and he has many activist tales to tell!

Balmain Institute Talk Transcript

Read the Transcript

Given the limitations of time, Philip has had to leave out many incidents and events. For this, he offers his apologies. What he has provided is an overview of his 50 years in Balmain.


July 11, 2019 Warren Yates

Thursday 11 July, 2019
Warrren Yates

Warren will give the Australian election result a broader context, presenting evidence that progress towards decarbonisation of the world economy is gathering pace and may well be unstoppable.

Ironically, and certainly undeservedly, this will be to Australia’s advantage.

About the speaker

After an academic career in electrical engineering at University of Technology, Sydney and a post retirement stint in local government as an elected councillor on Mosman Council, Warren’s focus has evolved towards environmental activism.

In the absence of political leadership he feels compelled to join with likeminded individuals in grass roots actions to hasten the transition to a more sustainable economy. He is public officer and treasurer of Clean Energy for Eternity and a director of the social enterprise ClearSky Solar Investments Ltd.

more about Warren Yates BSc BE PhD



June 13, 2019 Deborah Snow: On the Campaign Trail


Thursday 13 June, 2019
Deborah Snow

Can accurate reporting counteract the effects of dirty tricks & social media? Which of the many influences on public opinion seem to have the greatest impact?

Based on her first hand experiences, Deborah Snow will discuss the role of the print media in the recent election.  She will discuss how reliable mainstream media is more necessary than ever before.

About the speaker

Deborah Snow is a senior journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald whose work is also published in several other news outlets across Australia.She is a former Moscow and London correspondent for ABC TV and is the author of Siege,  a book that provides a compelling account of the Lindt Cafe events.



Read Sydney Morning Herald articles by Deborah Snow



May 9, 2019 Will Steffen: Climate Change 2019 – Rising Risks, Growing Challenges

Thursday 9 May 2019
Will Steffen

Will Steffen is an Earth System scientist. He is a Councillor on the publicly-funded Climate Council of Australia that delivers independent expert information about climate change.

About the speaker

Will Steffen is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University (ANU); Canberra, a Senior Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden; and a Fellow at the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Stockholm. He is the chair of the jury for the Volvo Environment Prize; a member of the International Advisory Board for the Centre for Collective Action Research, Gothenburg University, Sweden; and a member of the Anthropocene Working Group of the Sub-committee on Quaternary Stratigraphy.

Steffen’s interests span a broad range within the fields of sustainability and Earth System science, with an emphasis on the science of climate change, approaches to climate change adaptation in land systems, incorporation of human processes in Earth System modelling and analysis; and the history and future of the relationship between humans and the rest of nature.


Read Will’s reports on the Climate Council website

ANU logo

Read Will’s ANU profile



Dr David Smith


Understanding populism today – Brexit, Trump, Hanson and Le Pen

May 2017

→  The Brexit vote of 2016

→  Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election

→  The return of Pauline Hanson to Canberra

→  Marine Le Pen’s revival of the Front National

What do these things have in common?  The word “populism” is often used to describe them all, but does that make sense?

Every populist sees the world as divided between corrupt, self-indulgent “elites” and hard-working, virtuous “people”. Anti-immigration politics plays a role in all of them, because it raises the question of “who are ‘the people’?” All of these cases have also exposed painful political divides between major cities and rural hinterlands, divides that have been ignored for too long.

But the differences are just as important, especially when it comes to the different kinds of nationalism that go along with populism. British and French nationalists feel cold in the shadow of past colonial glory. American nationalists struggle with the idea that their nation may no longer be the greatest on earth. Australian nationalism is more relaxed—we don’t have the burden of seeing ourselves as being at the centre of the world. But it is still a powerful tool for politicians willing to use it.

From the perspective of the present day it is hard to say what the meaning of all this is. Only history will tell us whether we are at the beginning, the middle or the end of something. But in the meantime, we have much to learn from careful comparison of populist success and failure.

Dr David Smith is jointly appointed between the US Studies Centre and the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney. He is the academic director at USSC. His research examines political relations between states and minorities, with a focus on religion in the US. His book Religious Persecution and Political Order in the United States was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.




Jane Caro


Fake News

April 2017

Pope Backs Trump

Hillary sold weapons to Isis

SA lights go out due to renewables

Fake news is big news, with repercussions for journalism, political engagement and social cohesion.

Jane Caro is a celebrated commentator on public affairs. People appreciate her engaging forthright style and the strength of her convictions on social policy particularly education. She has a huge media presence and is a respected author and columnist.

We were pleased to welcome Jane to the Balmain Institute to talk about Fake News and its implications in the Australian context.