UNSW student debating team takes national championship

29 Apr 2024
Lachie Doyle holding his Novice Best Speaker trophy, Liv Bishara holding the Australian Intervarsity Debating Championship trophy and Conna Leslie-Keefe holding her Overall Best Speaker trophy

Three UNSW students formed the winning team at the 2024 Australian Intervarsity Debating Championship.

A UNSW team has won first place at the Australian Intervarsity Debating Championship held in Brisbane in early April. UNSW last won the competition, known as the Easters, in 2001.

Final year Law and Criminology student Conna Leslie-Keefe, second year Law and Advanced Science (Neuroscience) student Liv Bishara and second year Economics and Arts (Politics/International Relations) student Lachie Doyle formed the winning team.

The championship is the peak national competition for UNSW debaters. This year, 62 teams competed for the title, with 10 UNSW teams taking part.

The win was the culmination of many years’ work for the team and UNSW debating.

 “UNSW has come so close, so many times. We had grand final appearances in 2019, 2022, 2023, but no one managed to convert it to a win,” said Conna, who was UNSW’s Captain.

“It means so much to me, as the UNSW Debating President Emeritus, to deliver this achievement for our UNSW Debating Society – which has been my home the entire length of my degree – before I graduate this year. It means so much to Liv and Lachie, as two younger debaters, to approach the rest of their debating careers at university with their heads held high, knowing they were the ones who got the job done.”

In addition to the team’s overall win, Conna was recognised as the Overall Best Speaker and the Finals Best Speaker, and Lachie was awarded Novice Best Speaker. UNSW student Nathan Choi received the Best Novice Judge award at the competition.

Unique debate format fosters new talent

The Easters competition format requires each team to have a maximum of one ‘pro’ debater and two ‘novice’ debaters. Pairing older and more experienced debaters with less experienced counterparts helps keep the Australian national university debating circuit healthy and competitive by ensuring new talent is continually developed.

Conna was the experienced debater for the UNSW team. She said that role is unique to this debating format. 

“The pro typically writes the case for the team during prep time, manages the team’s morale and guides the strategy for individual debates and the competition. It’s a mix, in my opinion, of mentoring, coaching and captaining.”

The topic for the grand final – ‘That we support governments creating publicly run gig economy platforms’ – was based loosely on a trend of local governments in the US adopting this policy. UNSW was the negative team.

Novice debater Lachie Doyle played a key role in the final win.

“We all have speeches we’re the most proud of, out of the 10 debates we did. For Liv, it was her first negative speech in the semi-final; for me, it was my third affirmative in the first round of the competition. For Lachie, it was his third negative speech in the grand final. Liv and I were feeling a bit shaky, given the stakes, but Lachie had this amazing confidence,” Conna said.

The grand final win followed an impressive run throughout the competition, with the team reaching the final ranked first, undefeated.

“Debates at Easters are judged by panels who all get their own say, and we only lost one judge all tournament, winning the grand final 8–1. Every other debate we did was unanimous and on clear point margins,” said Conna.

Winning the competition was particularly meaningful for Conna, who is in her final year at UNSW. 

“So much led to this moment,” she said. “Pushing through in the various ways we’ve had to over the course of our debating careers allowed us to capitalise on this perfect team and perfect opportunity to prove what we wanted to prove.”

UNSW Debating Society holds weekly social development debates, known as internals, every Monday night at 6pm during term time. The team’s internals and weekend tournaments are open to everyone. Only enrolled students, including postgraduate students, can represent the University at peak tournaments, but the team would love to talk with staff interested in collaborating on projects or events.

Find out more and get in touch with the team via the Society’s Facebook page.


Caption (L to R): Lachie Doyle holding his Novice Best Speaker trophy, Liv Bishara holding the Australian Intervarsity Debating Championship trophy and Conna Leslie-Keefe holding her Overall Best Speaker trophy.