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.



Tamara Winikoff


HeARTless – Arts funding in Australia

March 2017

Tamara is Executive Director, National Association for the Visual Arts.

She spoke about the directions and challenges for art practitioners and art organisation in 2017. Some issues she addressed were:

  • How are artists/arts organisations funded?
  • What was Brandis up to?
  • How did arts organisations counter this?
  • What’s happening now?
  • What should concerned citizens like us do?

Prof. Simon Chapman

Wind farms – what are they doing to us?

November 2016

While most recently ‘wind farms’ have been in the news for their capacity to disrupt (or not!) power generation in South Australia, at this event Professor Simon Chapman will provide an update on research into the human health impacts of wind energy and the role he has played in trying to bring some sense to the often emotional and ill-informed debates about it.


Past events


Richard Dennis

Econobabble: The Deceptions of Economic Rationalism (or neo liberalism)

October 2016.

Neo-liberal economics entered the global stage 30 years ago promising economic growth that would benefit us all. Instead it has delivered huge increases in inequality, leading to waves of political unrest across the world. In this presentation Richard Denniss exposes the deceptions of neo-liberal economics, providing practical advice for those who seek to oppose it.


Prof. Thalia Anthony

Lessons not learned from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

September 2016 

Professor Thalia Anthony discussed the high incarceration rates of indigenous Australians. After the Don Dale expose by Four Corners, after the replacement of a High Commissioner, after an election that has seen the decimation of the Giles government in the Northern Territory, and as another investigation into the treatment of Aboriginal youth in custody is about to begin, what, if anything, have Australians and their governments learned, and can we, finally, hope that things will change?


Prof. Bob Bowker

The Outlook for Syria

June 2016

Professor Bob Bowker will explain the context of the problems confronting Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries today. He  will discuss current developments, before sharing his impressions about what lies ahead for Syria in particular.
He has spoken often in the media on these topics and has commented on Australian policy. 

Peter FitzSimons

The Case for an Australian Republic 

May 2016

Journalist, historian, author, footballer, and most recently, Chair of the Australian Republican movement, Peter FitzSimons presented the case for an Australian Republic and why we should actively encourage our elected political representatives to pursue this goal.


Robyn Williams

After 40 years of science – why it matters more than ever

April 2016

Robyn Williams discusses his latest book, In Love with Olive the Crow.

In this lively account of forty years of ABC RN’s The Science Show, Robyn reveals in his inimitable style why science is important – touching on topics like the flakes and the heroes, propaganda, cosmic revolutions, our relationship with animals, women in science, and of course, the environment.


2015 – Selected speakers


Peter Manning – Us & Them: Media, Muslims and the Middle East (Nov)

Professor John Keane – Why we should be reading democracy (October)

Chris Sheil and Frank Stilwell – The Rise and Rise of the Super Rich (July)

Dorothy Hoddinott AO – Social Justice or Human Rights (June)

Dr Elizabeth Farrelly – “Starchitecture” – The Role of Architecture (May)