Asylum seekers

Past events

14 July 2022

Asylum seekers: towards a better future

Frances will provide an overview of the work of the Asylum Seekers Centre, the challenges many people seeking asylum face and the opportunities that arise from the newly elected government.

There are currently thousands of people seeking asylum living in Australia, awaiting the outcome of their application for refugee recognition. While they wait, people seeking asylum usually have a temporary visa which in most cases allows them to work and access Medicare. They are excluded, however, from accessing income support from the Federal Government, and from accessing resources from many other state and federal agencies.
People seeking asylum are valuable members of our communities, workplaces and schools, and Australia would be much richer if they were treated equitably and enabled to contribute more.

About Frances Rush OAM

Since becoming CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre in 2015, Frances Rush has ensured the continued stability and growth of the Centre. 
Frances has over thirty-five years of experience as a social worker in both the government and community sectors as well as a wealth of experience in advocacy and policy development. Her diverse public sector career includes senior executive roles with the NSW Department of Justice in Guardianship where she worked in advocacy and policy across government as well as the ageing and disability sectors. Prior to commencing with ASC Frances worked with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse.

Foreign Affairs Politics

Bates Gill

9 June 2022

China’s global ambitions under Xi Jinping

Increasingly powerful, prosperous and authoritarian, China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has become a more intense competitor across the globe – economically, technologically, militarily, and in seeking to influence people’s hearts and minds.
But what does China ultimately want in the world?

In this timely and illuminating talk, internationally renowned China scholar and local author Dr Bates Gill will discuss the fundamental motivations driving the China’s more dynamic, assertive and risk-taking approach to the world under Xi Jinping. 

Drawing from his current book, Daring to Struggle, he will address such issues as China’s convoluted stance on the Ukraine crisis, its likely actions against Taiwan, prospects for China’s economic future, U.S.-China relations, China’s efforts to change how we think about world order, and what it all means for Australia.

Daring to Struggle is available from Oxford University Press

About Bates Gill

Dr Bates Gill has a 30-year international career as an institution leader, policy advisor, consultant, and educator focusing on China. He is a Professor and Head of the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University, inaugural Scholar in Residence with the Asia Society Australia, and Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London.


Roy Green

11 May 2022

The challenge of Australia’s post-COVID recovery

Roy Green argues a post-COVID recovery must go beyond a one-off economic stimulus and address some fundamental questions about our outdated industrial structure.
He says relying on a commodity based economy will saddle us with long term productivity and wage stagnation. We would be better off to focus on building competitive advantage in the knowledge based industries of the future.

About Roy Green

Roy is Emeritus Professor at the University of Technology Sydney, where he was Dean of the UTS Business School.
He has a PhD in Economics from the University of Cambridge and has published widely in the areas of innovation and industry policy, including projects with the OECD and European Commission.
Currently, Roy chairs the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Hub and Port of Newcastle, and he is a board member of the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre and Australian Design Council.
He was recently asked to join the NSW Modern Manufacturing Taskforce.


Margo Kingston

7 April 2022

Independents’ movement: the candidates, the government response and the state of play

As the Federal election approaches, Margo Kingston will discuss issues on the ground, differences amongst the Independent candidates and what their presence suggests about the nature and future of national politics.

About Margo Kingston

Margo began her working life as a lawyer before joining the Courier Mail in Brisbane. She covered the Fitzgerald Royal Commission for the Times on Sunday’s Brisbane bureau then worked in the Canberra Press Gallery for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times and in Sydney for a year as Jana Wendt’s political researcher on A Current Affair. During a stint as  Chief of Staff at the SMH Canberra bureau she created and edited the mainstream media’s first interactive blog, Webdiary, and edited the site full time from 2001 to 2005, when she took Webdiary independent and retired with serious back problems late that year.

She has written two books, Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip (1999, 2nd edition 2001) and Not Happy John: Defending our Democracy (2004, 2nd edition 2007).

Margo joined Twitter in 2012 and now edits the citizen journalism website No Fibs, which covered the historic Cathy McGowan campaign for Indi in 2013. In 2019 No Fibs covered #IndependentsDay candidates standing in safe coalition seats and is again covering the #IndependentsDay movement for the upcoming election.

No Fibs: Independents Day website

Margo Kingston twitter


Ian McAuley & Miriam Lyons

10 March 2022

Good Government: What it does, why we need it and why small government won’t work

A pandemic has required the Australian government to take centre stage, both in terms of spending and regulating. But much of its spending has been without a clear sense of what governments should and should not do. The present government is committed to returning to the “small government” model, realising JK Galbraith’s dismal vision of private prosperity and collective poverty.
It doesn’t have to be this way.

About the speakers

Ian McAuley and Miriam Lyons are authors of Governomics: Can we afford small government?  (Spoiler – we are paying dearly for the “small government obsession.)

Ian McAuley

Ian McAuley describes himself as having lived and breathed public policy. He has been an engineer in a manufacturing firm (in the days when we had a home-grown manufacturing sector), a trade commissioner, a policy analyst and a manager in the federal Department of Industry, and until retirement a lecturer in public finance at the University of Canberra. His writings, and his weekly update of links to economic and political commentary, are at his website

Miriam Lyons

Miriam Lyons is a policy analyst, writer and commentator. She was co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Policy Development, in which role she became well-known on ABC media, including Q&A and The Drum. More recently she ran climate justice campaigns at GetUp, and she is now working to support campaigners across the country to repower Australia’s economy with renewable energy.
more about Miriam Lyons


Sean Kelly

11 November 2021

Playing to win – how politics became a trivial game

For too many politicians – and too many voters – politics has become a game, a trivial contest without consequences for the real world.

How did this happen? Why have we accepted it?
And what is it doing to our country?

About the speaker

Sean Kelly

Sean is a former adviser to two prime ministers, and author of a new book about Scott Morrison, examines the current political culture, and asks whether we are all complicit in what politics has become – and whether there is any way out.

more about Sean Kelly


Edwina MacDonald + Alison Aggarwal

14 October 2021

Women in Australia – How safe? How equal?

With recent reports of the gender pay gap widening, greater numbers of women dropping out of the workforce, and the ongoing reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic and family violence, Edwina and Alison will reflect on the current status of gender equality in Australia, specifically for people living in poverty. They will explore the impacts of COVID on work, caring and families, responses needed for women’s safety, and how economic decisions can entrench or challenge gender inequality.

About the speakers

Edwina MacDonald (she/her)

Edwina is Deputy CEO at the Australian Council of Social Service, the peak body for the Australian community services sector. She has over two decades of experience in driving change on social issues and social justice, human rights, gender equality and civil society, and has worked on research, policy and advocacy in government, university and community sectors.

more about Edwina MacDonald

Alison Aggarwal (she/her)

Alison is a feminist human rights advocate and activist is currently the Director, Policy Advocacy and Research at Chief Executive Women. She has previously held policy roles promoting gender equality and human rights in the federal government, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and in community legal centres. She has also promoted gender equality and human rights through international development projects, and through her work with feminist movements and organisations across the Asia Pacific.

Arts and culture

Sue Butler

9 September 2021

Weaponising Words
How to insult people effectively

In a world of media and political ‘spin’ we need to be aware of the ways words are weaponised to influence the reader and listener.

There are several ways of influencing debate with words. There is the blunt-weapon approach. Then more subtle ways which turn straightforward and positive meanings on their heads by the application of irony. Finally, to empty a word of all meaning and fill it with the meaning you want it to have against your opposition.

About the speaker

Sue Butler

Sue was the Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, Australia’s national dictionary, and, as Editor, was largely responsible for the selection and writing of new words. In 2017 the Seventh Edition of the dictionary was published, with a revised and updated range of dictionaries in print, online and in digital and app forms. Susan retired as Editor at the end of 2017.

She has written The Dinkum Dictionary published in its third edition in 2009. In 2014 she wrote The Aitch Factor a commentary on usage matters in Australian English. She published an e-book called New Words Changes in Australian English in early 2020 and has published another book on language matters, Rebel without a Clause, in October 2020.

She is also a regular commentator on Australian English on radio, television and the internet and was a TEDxSydney speaker in 2015.
In 2021 she was a speaker at the Adelaide Writers’ Week. She is, as of June 2018, an Honorary Lecturer at the ANU in the College of Asia and the Pacific.
In June 2018, she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia.

more about Sue Butler

Arts and culture

Ray Kington & Bruce Spence

12 August 2021

COVID-19 & the Performing Arts

Performers such as actors and musicians are being particularly effected by COVID-19. We have two speakers who will brief us on what their respective organisations are doing to help address the plight of performers during the pandemic.

Bruce Spence, as Chairman of the Actors Benevolent Foundation, will explain the foundation’s work of providing assistance to actors, young and old, while Ray Kington, Station Manager at 2MBS Fine Music Sydney, will discuss how his radio station is supporting musicians and composers through awards, music education and the delivery of workshops and showcase broadcasts.

About the speakers

Bruce Spence

A renowned actor with a career spanning almost 50 years, including 100 films, multiple roles in theatre companies in Australia and internationally, as well as TV performances. Bruce Spence will tonight speak as Chairman of the Actors Benevolent Fund (ABF). He will explain the role of the ABF in providing multiple forms of assistance to actors, young and old, and all those associated with the Performing Arts during COVID-19 and beyond.

more about Bruce Spence /Actors Benevolent Fund

Ray Kington

A broadcast professional with a 23-year career in radio at stations including 4VL Charleville, Sun FM QLD, 3BA Ballarat, Hope 103.2 and most recently 2MBS Fine Music Sydney. In his role as Station Manager at 2MBS Fine Music Sydney, Ray is responsible for supporting music education and the promotion of Australian musicians and composers through a variety of award, scholarship and broadcast opportunities.

more about Ray Kington / Fine Music Sydney


Dr Jen Skattebol

10 June 2021

COVID-19 and its effects on children & young people

As we take a rear-vision view of the lock-downs of 2020, we know now that substantial inequalities opened up as our schools and early childhood centres closed. Families were unequally prepared for the challenge of teaching their children at home.

It was hard on children to be socially isolated, to learn online, and some children were confined to home environments that were not always safe. Many simply vanished from the school system and have not returned. All these experiences cast a shadow forward from 2020 into the future.

Teenagers have also faced a loss of work and earning opportunities. At a time when social engagement is so important, most are still learning online at TAFE and Universities.

Where will this new-normal take us? What social policies are required to ameliorate the problems that have been created?

About the speaker

Introduction by Margaret Vickers

Dr Jennifer Skattebol, Dip Ed (EC), B.Ed., PhD, is a Senior Research Fellow at SPRC, UNSW Sydney. She has worked extensively with government and non-government bodies on issues related to early years education, child and youth poverty and how service systems might better meet the needs of these young Australians and their families.

MORE ABOUT Dr Jen Skattebol


Mary-Louise McLaws

13 May 2021
Mary-Louise McLaws

COVID-19 update:
13 months after the pandemic began, we are adjusting to a ‘new normal’: closed borders, QR codes and caution about possible new outbreaks. Will widespread vaccination bring this situation to an end?

About the speaker

Mary-Louise McLaws is an epidemiologist with extensive national and international experience in disease control. Her COVID-19 related activities include: member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Health Emergencies Program Experts Advisory Panel for Infection Prevention and Control Preparedness, Readiness and Response to COVID-19 and member of the NSW Clinical Excellence Commission COVID Infection Prevention and Control taskforce



Geoffrey Watson SC

18 March 2021
Geoffrey Watson SC

Sleepwalking towards a cliff

Confidence in Government is shattered. How did this happen? How can we fix it? Why we need a National integrity Commission.

About the speaker

Geoffrey Watson SC specializes in product liability, professional negligence, general insurance and appeals. He has a national practice, appearing in the High Court, the Federal Court and the Supreme Courts of each of the States and Territories; his clients include governments both Federal and State, government agencies, all major insurers; and the major mining, industrial and banking houses. He was the former Counsel assisting in ICAC and the Police Integrity Commission. He is active in pro bono work for asylum seekers. Geoffrey Watson also pursues academic work and is an Adjunct Professor of Law at the university of Notre Dame. He is currently a Director at the Centre for Public Integrity.



Bruce Wolpe

16 December 2020
Bruce Wolpe

US Election Wrap-up

Bruce will discuss the Nov 3 US presidential election and the vote by the Electoral College that is to occur on December 14 in the US. This is a special pre-Christmas 1-hour event, with plenty of time for questions and discussion.

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).

MORE ABOUT Bruce Wolpe


Pat Anderson+Prof. Megan Davis

12 November 2020
Pat Anderson & Megan Davis

Uluru Statement from the Heart: an update

Professor Davis joins Pat Anderson in bringing to the Balmain Institute a recounting of the long tradition of Aboriginal activism leading to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, with an update of its current status, and take your questions.

About the speakers

Pat Anderson AO, is an Alyawarre women, who has a long and distinguished career as a champion for social justice and Constitutional recognition for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples. Her many accomplishments include being instrumental is promoting health services for First Nations peoples. She is currently Director of the Lowitja Health & Research Centre, and was formerly co-chair of the Referendum Council which facilitated 10 Regional discussions about forms of recognition desired by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples.

MORE ABOUT Pat anderson

Megan Davis is a Cobble Cobble woman from the Barrungam Nation. She currently is the Pro-Vice Chancellor Indigenous, Professor & Belnaves Chair in Constitutional Law at UNSW. She is known for her scholarly articles and her activism in promoting the rights & recognition of First Nation people. Professor Davis was part of the Referendum Council canvassing First Nations peoples in the ten Regional Councils resulting in the Uluru Convention leading to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017.



Bruce Wolpe

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-19What 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.