Conversation Number One

Conversation with Nathan Rees

The Newcastle Institute, is hosting a ‘Conversation’ with the Honourable Nathan Rees, former Premier of NSW. This July event is part one of a two part series featuring conversations with politicians.

The second in this series, in September, will feature the Honourable Campbell Newman, former premier of Queensland.

Despite being from opposite sides of the political fence they share reputations of being courageous and standing up for what they viewed was right for their states. Both were young men when premiers of their respective states and both had short terms in office.

In an era when trust in the political process is seen to be under stress, this conversations series provides a unique opportunity for insight into the political processes and lessons learned from the time in office of each of our guests.

Nathan Rees was the 41st Premier of NSW between 2008 and 2009 and a member of the NSW parliament representing Toongabbie for Labor from 2007 to 2015. He replaced Morris Iemma as Premier and in late 2009, was replaced as leader of the Labor Party by Kristina Keneally. In his attempts to clean up the Labor party, he stood up to Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, a position which ultimately cost him his role as Premier.

His post political career has seen him in roles as the chief executive of the Public Education Foundation, and more recently as Deputy Leader of the Finance Sector Union,

Nathan Rees will speak about his time in politics, lessons learnt and implications those interested in participating in the political process. He will share insights about policy, the media and trust in the political system. In a time when Newcastle is changing dramatically he will provide insight into lessons for Newcastle and its leaders to ensure a productive and sustainable future.

The Newcastle Institute spokesperson Robyn Considine said the Conversations Series will provide an opportunity to gain unique political insight from two well regarded politicians. The Honourable Nathan Rees will share these insights next week at the important first event of the series.

The forum will be held at South’s Leagues Club on July 19 from 6 to 7.30pm.

This forum is open to the general public.

No RSVP is necessary.

Entry is at the door and a $5 donation to cover costs is appreciated.

Navigating the Truth in the Post-Truth Era

Post-truths, alternative facts, fake news. These terms are thrown about in the traditional and social media, by politicians and by people wanting to discredit statements they disagree with. The post truth era is described as when objective facts and scientific evidence are less influential than a narrative and appeals to emotion and personal beliefs. In a democratic society with freedom of speech at its core, how do we distinguish facts from fiction and navigate the truth in this post-truth era?

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute – to be held at 6pm on June 14th at South’s Leagues Club – will focus on the challenges of navigating truth in the post-truth era.

These questions will be answered, and followed by a vibrant discussion with a diverse multi-disciplinary panel of experts. The panel will be made up of a health scientist, a political scientist, a communications expert and a philosopher. The panel discussion will be facilitated by Mr Brad Webb, an experienced local senior executive.

The expert panel will be presented with a number of scenarios relating to: the Australian economy and in particular debt and deficit; managing the threat of terrorism; and decisions in health care. The panel will    not be required to comment on the facts but on how we navigate truth when confronted with a range of often conflicting statements. They will be challenged to explore how we as citizens validate statements made by media and politicians. Importantly the impact of alternative truths on trust and on the future of democracy will be explored.

This interactive evening will provide an opportunity for participation and exchange of ideas on one of the most significant challenges facing our democracy for many years.

What?     Public Forum:- Navigating the Truth in the Post-Truth Era

When?    6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 14th June 2017

Where?  Souths Leagues Club, Merewether

Who?  Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

What are the solutions to the electricity supply crisis?

Recent events in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria have shown that dramatic changes are needed if we are going to have a secure, reliable, cheap and sustainable power supply.

Intermittent renewables like wind and solar are becoming cheaper than conventional power sources like coal. But there is still the major challenge of energy storage.

New technology batteries may be one solution. What about pumped hydropower? Are there other solutions combining electricity, heating and cooling supply? Is it time to move away from the big power suppliers – will households soon go off-grid and save money?

The next public forum hosted by the Newcastle Institute will feature two leading researchers dealing with different aspects of the electricity supply challenge.

Assoc. Professor Steven Weller is from the University’s School of Electrical Engineering, where he teaches on sustainable energy. He will discuss the current problems with Australia’s National Electricity Market, and look at the technological and commercial realities of renewable technology. Could Tasmania become the ‘Battery of Australia’? He will look at the numbers.

He will be joined by Professor Behdad Moghtaderi, from the Newcastle Institute of Energy Research. The Professor leads a team of researchers that have developed ‘world-first’ power storage and management technologies. In two years they aim to have a fridge-sized power plant that could provide a stable and secure power supply to a household. It is an example of the promise of the high-end science and engineering being performed right here in Newcastle.

This interactive evening is a chance to move beyond the dysfunctional and politicised climate change debate, and to learn about the technological developments that promise to solve the energy supply crisis altogether.

Open to the Public – All welcome

What?     Public Forum:- Solutions to the Electricity Supply Crisis

When?    6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 10th May 2017

Where?  Souths Leagues Club, Merewether

Who?      Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

Renew Newcastle:- Now and Then

One of the most exciting stories in Newcastle in recent years has been the success and achievements of ‘Renew Newcastle’.  What started as an off-beat idea to revitalise Hunter Street has gained international recognition and is being applied in many other cities.  Enabling creative individuals and groups to work together has been shown to be an effective and successful strategy to deal with the problems of decaying business centres in modern cities.

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute – to be held at 6pm on April 12th at South’s Leagues Club – will focus on Renew, and will look to the future of this remarkable organisation.

Why was Renew established?  What have Renew achieved?  Where is Renew heading now?  These questions will be answered, and followed by a vibrant discussion with one of Renew Newcastle’s most experienced participants – and now an integral part of the Renew team – Edwina Richards.

For 4 years Edwina headed up the successful maker collective Make Space based at over 5 locations in the Hunter St Mall. Make Space was one of those projects that made under-utilised spaces look really appealing. They were so successful that they got moved out and relocated 5 times to allow for fully paying commercial tenants to move in.

For the last 2 years Edwina has been working as part a Project Advocate for Renew Newcastle. Her role involves facilitating professional development and business incubation opportunities for project participants. She is also the company photographer and was a board member for 3 years.

This interactive evening will provide an opportunity for participation and exchange of ideas with this extraordinary urban renewal experiment that has become Newcastle’s biggest cultural export in the last 10 years.

What?     Public Forum:- Renew Newcastle:- Now and Then

When?     6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 12th April 2017

Where?     Souths Leagues Club, Merewether

Who?         Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

Contact:     Speaker is available to the media (Contact Ross 0401 522875)

Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

The election of Donald Trump as the 45th US President confounded most political experts. Not only was his rise wholly unanticipated by the political class, speculation about his ‘inevitable’ demise – right up until election night – was grossly exaggerated. So why and how did Trump win?

In the Newcastle Institute’s first public forum for the year, leading national commentator on american politics Professor Michael Ondaatje will consider these pressing questions to get to the heart of today’s ‘Trump Phenomenon’.

Professor Ondaatje will deal with issues broader than just the election of Donald Trump himself. What does his victory tell us about US politics? Are the factors that led to Trump’s victory as relevant in other countries, particularly Australia? And what will his presidency mean for America and the world?

Michael Ondaatje has been a popular speaker at previous Newcastle Institute events. He is a regular commentator on US politics in the Australian and international media. Academically, he is National Head of Arts at the Australian Catholic University, a prize-winning researcher and teacher, and a recipient of the Max Crawford Medal. Recently he was selected by the United States government for an International Leadership professional exchange program.

As always, the evening will include plenty of time for questions and discussion.

This forum is open to the general public. A $5 donation is suggested.

What?    March Public Forum: Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

When?     Wednesday March 8th, 6-7.30pm

Where?   Souths Newcastle Leagues Club

Llewellyn Street Merewether

The Politics of Indigenous Organisations

The final Newcastle Institute forum for the year will be on Wednesday November 9th, 6pm in the usual venue at Souths Newcastle Leagues Club, Merewether.

Supporters will be aware of recent controversy surrounding the Awabakal Land Council, which has recently been placed into administration.  There have been persistent rumours of internal tensions within the organisation.  This is of particular interest because of the councils success in claiming title of the old Newcastle Post Office, and plans for development of some of its landholdings.

Many other indigenous organisations have been thorough periods of internal tensions.  In this they are no different from most organisations with a varied membership.  Indigenous organisations, however, are viewed differently by the broader Australian community.  There is considerable confusion about their roles, function, legal status, funding and governance.  There may be ignorance of the cultural differences between the various organisations.  The political tensions inevitable in any group may be misunderstood.  And occasionally, criminal individuals will emerge who will exploit organisations for their own gain.

Recognising these issues and misunderstandings as being widespread, the next forum of the Newcastle Institute will discuss ‘The Politics of Indigenous Organisations’.

The leading speaker will be Professor Steven Larkin, of the Wollatuka Institute at Newcastle University.  Professor Larkin was recently appointed as the University’s first pro vice-chancellor for Indigenous Education and Research.  Before coming to Newcastle, Professor Larkin was a leading academic at Charles Darwin University, having previously held senior leadership roles in both government and non-government organisations.  He is uniquely placed to discuss the internal politics of indigenous organisations and their interaction with the wider Australian community.

As always, the forum will include plenty of time for discussion – which may even include reflections on the results of the US elections.

The forum is open to all who are interested.

Ethics in the classroom – lessons from the first five years

pe_logoNewcastle was among the first regions to roll out the Primary Ethics program in 2011. What have we learned since then?

In the next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute we’ll be discussing the growth of philosophical ethics in the classroom and the challenges and rewards of implementing the Primary Ethics program.

Speakers include John Beach, recently retired principal of Newcastle East Public School. With a philosophy background, Mr Beach was quick to see the benefits of ethics education for students and was instrumental in implementing one of Newcastle’s first and most comprehensive Primary Ethics programs. We will also welcome two former ethics students, now both in year 10, who will reflect on their introduction to philosophical ethics.

Leonie Johnson was appointed CEO of Primary Ethics in March this year after having become involved in the not for profit organisation soon after it was established by the St James Ethics Centre (now simply known as The Ethics Centre) in 2010. Ms Johnson will discuss how ethics is taught, the process of ethical reasoning, examples from ethics lessons and the importance of individuals developing evidence based ethical reasoning skills. She will explain how parents, carers and volunteers from the broader community are involved in delivering the program to school students.

34 schools in the Newcastle/ Lake Macquarie region currently have Primary Ethics available for their students. Approximately 3000 students, aged between 4 and 12, attend ethics classes each week during the school term. More information about the program is available at

The evening is open to the general public, and will include a panel-discussion and audience Q & A. Anyone who has an interested in ethics education or the implementation of the program in schools is welcome to attend. No RSVP is necessary.

What?     Public Forum: Ethics in the classroom – lessons from the first five years.

When?    6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 12st October 2016

Where?  Souths Leagues Club, Merewether

Who?      Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

Cancer Breakthrough? – A Doctor’s Extraordinary Journey

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute will be very special.

Three years ago Dr Rhys Thomas was commencing his career as an Anaesthetist in Newcastle.  He had completed the difficult years of specialist training, and was planning to spend more time with his young family, as well as working as an anaesthetist in both Newcastle and in overseas aid hospitals.  His life was shattered when he was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma that had already spread through his body.  He and his treating Doctors – who were his own friends and colleagues – knew that his life expectancy, even with treatment, was a few months.

Just as the diagnosis was made, a new class of cancer drugs, that work through immunotherapy, became available.  Based on years of basic science research, these drugs are now undergoing clinical trials, including in Newcastle.  It is still early days, but for some patients, and for some cancers, the results are extraordinarily successful.

This is one of the most dramatic steps forward in cancer treatment in decades.
Some have described this breakthrough as a ‘Penicillin moment’.

For Rhys Thomas, after a difficult two-year journey, his cancer appears to be controlled.  He is now ready to tell his story.

This is a story of both emotion and science.  Dr Fiona Abell, Director of the Melanoma Unit at the Calvary Mater Hospital, will explain the science behind these breakthrough drugs and give an overview of the early research findings.  She will also discuss some of the other promising new drugs that are ‘in the pipeline’, which may also revolutionise the treatment of other cancers.

The evening is open to the general public, and will include time for questions and discussion.

Drug Myths and Realities: Medical Marijuana, and Ice

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute will look beyond the hype, and consider the facts, about two types of drugs.

Every week there seem to be a new story claiming that marijuana has benefits in a wide variety of diseases, and should be legalised for medical use.  Already the State Government is responding to community pressure, and changing the law.

But what is the reality?  Professor Jennifer Martin, the Doctor leading a team of researchers at Newcastle University studying medical use of marijuana, will speak at the public forum. Looking at the science, she is sceptical.  “There seems to be a sudden rush to make it available, as if the evidence to use it was newly available and overwhelmingly good. Sadly, none of this is a reality”, she says.

Professor Martin will talk about the research currently being undertaken. “It is possible that we will find some extract from the plant with benefits for some specific medical conditions.  But this will take time.”

She is also concerned about over-enthusiastic promotion of unconventional therapies.  “It may lead to unrealistic hopes that are then dashed.  Worse, it may divert patients from evidence-based therapies that may have less mystique and glamour, but have been shown to work.”

Still on the theme of drugs, the Forum will also hear from Dr Tarun Yadav, a psychiatrist working with Hunter New England Health, about the myths and realities of the ‘Ice Epidemic’.  How bad is the epidemic?  And just how bad is Ice, compared to previous drug epidemics, such as Cocaine or Heroin? What are the myths, and what are the facts?

The forum is open to the interested public, and there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion. There is no need to book.  We request a $5 donation on entry to assist us to cover venue hire costs.

What?     Public Forum:-  Drug Myths and Realities:-  Medical Marijuana and Ice
When?    6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 17th August 2016
Where?  Souths Leagues Club, Merewether
Who?      Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation