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Former Foreign Minister takes tough questions from students

Max Chalmers attended the bi-annual Hedley Bull Memorial lecture


Professor Gareth Evans. Credit: Rafi Alam

A major Australian political figure has been met with applause and accusation at this year’s final Hedley Bull Memorial lecture. Having earlier in the year secured defence heavyweight Hugh White, the Politics Society did not disappoint with their second major speaker, former Foreign Minister and liberal internationalist pin-up boy, Professor Gareth Evans.

Though his C.V. could fill an entire GOVT1001 reader, Evans is best known for his 21 years in Federal Parliament and roles in founding APEC, developing the Cambodian peace process of the early 1990s, and bringing prominence to the concept of a state’s ‘responsibility to protect’. He is also a recipient of the Roosevelt Institute’s ‘Freedom from Fear Award’, presumably meaning he now has nothing to fear at all.

Evans’ reputation and political clout drew a strong crowd of students and staff. His address began on a light tone as he poked fun at the proliferation of technical classifications in the international relations (IR) vocabulary.

“When it comes to reading anything at all about international relations theory…I have the attention span of a gnat,” he told the crowd. Denouncing pessimism as undermining all schools of international thinking, Evans encouraged students in the audience to seek open and creative policy making agendas, should they ever enter his field. Those in attendance responded warmly and Evans’ jokes about his own ‘Relevance Deprivation Syndrome’, for instance, didn’t fail to win laughs.

However the talk took on a more sombre note after a question from International and Global Studies student Nathan McDonnell. McDonnell accused Evans of contributing to a tradition of appeasing Indonesia after the nation’s involvement in invasion and massacres in East Timor. McDonnell was evidently referencing John Pilger’s claim that this was done in order to maintain good relations with Indonesia and gain favourable access to petroleum reserves in the Timor Sea.

During Evans’ long response he appeared agitated and at several points adopted an aggressive tone. He pointed out that Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Timorese resistance leader José Ramos-Horta had praised his behind the scenes work on behalf of the East Timorese during his time as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

What’s sure is that, with a high profile pollie left defending himself against an under-grad, the night certainly lived up to PolSoc’s tagline of ‘balanced, accessible and meaningful debate’.