The Brisbane Scene

A brief survey of the"public intellectual" scene in Brisbane:

The universities play a limited role in high profile public discussions. Brisbane has only two small think tanks, in contrast to the substantial range and scale of those in Sydney and Melbourne. There are no events companies managing major speaker tours and the interstate ones cannot usually justify bringing international speakers to Brisbane. Read a brief survey of the Brisbane scene here.

The universities' STEM departments and interlinked, mainly biomedical research institutions are world class, but their public events largely reflect this specialised, technical focus. Their non-STEM public involvement or impact is limited, again, broadly speaking, reflecting an (understandable) academic stance. See public event listings at UQ, QUT and Griffith

A side bar on the universities: all are facing difficult practical questions about academic freedom and free speech, in the face of pressures like Chinese influence, government pressure to commit to a free speech code and funding negotiations and the threat on the ground of ideological activism and political correctness leading to self-censorship among staff and students.  They need to do as much as possible, not just to defend or protect with codes, but to actively promote free speech, if they are to fulfil their foundational purpose and maintain public support and funding. Participation in The Brisbane Dialogues in some form, however minor, could be a proactive, visible part of the universities' free speech "program".

There are some good public lectures outside the universities but they usually have a sectoral focus (business, law, architecture etc) and by definition are not discussions (notwithstanding some Q&A at the end). There are numerous private discussion and reading groups as can be seen on Facebook and Meetup, but these are of indeterminate scope and quality and by definition are not public intellectual activity. 

The Brisbane Writers Festival is admirable in its way, but it is only annual and after the withdrawal of invitations to Germaine Greer and Bob Carr last year and an earlier walkout controversy, there are question marks about how open and "across the aisle" discussions there might be. 

There is one small conservative think tank, Australian Institute for Progress (plus LibertyWorks which calls itself a "do tank") and a Labor-oriented organisation (TJ Ryan Foundation) doing some good things from their diametrically opposed perspectives, but Brisbane lacks the range and depth of think tanks and similar institutions in Sydney and Melbourne e.g. Lowy, Australia, Sydney, Grattan institutes, Ramsay CentreCentre for Independent Studies, The Institute for Public Affairs, the Chifley and Menzies research centres, CEDA and a host of other less prominent ones e.g. Centre for Policy DevelopmentMcKell Institute, (incomplete Australian list here - spot the Queensland ones).

 

Even The Samuel Griffith Society, named for a great Queensland premier and jurist, founded by another eminent Queensland judge, Harry Gibbs, is based in Melbourne!

Brisbane does not have anything like The Ethics Centre in Sydney, an inspiring model for moderated discussions, Oxford-style debates (co-branded with Intelligence Squared of London and elsewhere), "festivals of ideas"and other public intellectual events.

There are no Queensland-based speaker event companies like Think, Inc. and True Arrow Events. These interstate companies do bring major speakers to Brisbane from time to time, but are hesitant because of perceived market size.

Sydney and Melbourne have public lectures and debates of broader interest going on all the time, Brisbane not so much.

There are two organisations which might be described as development associations - the Committee for Brisbane and Queensland Futures - which arrange events on important civic subjects, but these by definition have a local or state development focus (although Committee for Brisbane has a broad vision for development - "making the Brisbane region the best place to live in the world"and, for instance, held an event recently highlighting the importance of the cultural sector in development).

Other organisations and activities might have been missed, but you get the gist.

Facilitating civil discussion about big ideas and issues.

"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that." J.S. Mill