The transformative power of words knows no bounds. Or so we are told. But if words are that great, then why is the world in the state it’s in? Led by team captains Annabel Crabb and David Marr and under the merciless adjudication of Jan Fran, some of our brightest writers and thinkers – including Osman Faruqi, First Dog on the Moon, Alex Lee and Robert Dessaix – will debate one brutal proposition: Words don't change minds. As society grapples with intransigent positions, trying to work out which facts, data and empirical evidence produce meaningful action, our two teams of skilled wordsmiths try to summon the right combination of nouns, adjectives, verbs and fiddly bits to triumph in our rhetorical arena.

This event is Auslan interpreted. Contact our ticketing team either by phone on (02) 9256 4200 or via email at to book the best sight line. Visit our Accessibility page for more information. 

Special offer: Two flagship shows for $75

The only thing better than seeing one star-studded stage spectacular is seeing two back-to-back! On Thursday 26 May, make a night of it at Sydney Town Hall. Buy a Premium A Reserve ticket to both the SWF Great Debate and The Chrissy Sharp Poetry Gala in the same transaction, and receive $25 dollars off. The discount will be applied automatically at check-out. Serenades, soliloquies and sparring – what more could a lover of words want?

Annabel Crabb (Australian)

Annabel Crabb

Annabel Crabb is a writer and presenter for the ABC. She's also a keen amateur podcaster and co-hosts the inexplicably popular Chat 10, Looks 3 podcast with her colleague Leigh Sales, who lends credibility to the exercise. Annabel has worked extensively in newspapers, radio and TV as a political journalist and won a Walkley Award for Stop At Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull. She published a bestselling book about gender and work, The Wife Drought, in 2014 and has published two cookbooks with childhood friend Wendy Sharpe, the latest of which is Special Guest. Her most recent Quarterly Essay is Men at Work.

David Marr (Australian)

David Marr

David Marr is a journalist and broadcaster who writes for The Guardian. He’s published a couple of biographies and a number of books about politics, censorship and immigration. Over the last 10 years he has written a number of Quarterly Essays. His latest is The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race. He previously presented Media Watch and appears regularly on Insiders and The Drum. His most recent book is My Country, an anthology of essays.

Osman Faruqi (Australian)

Osman Faruqi

Osman Faruqi is the Culture News Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Previously he was the host of Schwartz Media’s daily news podcast, 7am. He has worked as an editor at the ABC and was an award-winning reporter with the flagship audio documentary program Background Briefing. He has judged the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and is writing a book on race in Australia.

Robert Dessaix (Australian)

Robert Dessaix

Robert Dessaix is a writer of fiction, autobiography and the occasional essay. From 1985 to 1995, after teaching Russian language and literature for many years at the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales, he presented the weekly Books and Writing program on ABC Radio National. In more recent years he has also presented radio series on Australian public intellectuals and great travellers in history, as well as regular programs on language.

His best-known books, all translated into several European languages, are his autobiography A Mother's Disgrace; the novels Night Letters and Corfu; a collection of essays and short stories (and so forth); and the travel memoirs Twilight of Love and Arabesques. In 2012 he published the collection of originally spoken pieces As I Was Saying,and in 2014 the meditation What Days Are For. A full-time writer since 1995, Robert Dessaix lives in Hobart, Tasmania.

Alex Lee (Australian)

Alex Lee

Alex Lee is a comedian, television presenter and actor with a background in journalism. Alex worked on ABC News 24 and was a member of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery as a political reporter for BuzzFeed Australia. She has been a regular comedy guest on the triple j Drive program and the Free To A Good Home podcast.

Alex can be seen onstage several nights a week at The Chaser’s Giant Dwarf Theatre performing in a variety of shows. She also plays Dungeons and Dragons live on stage as the half-orc Philge in the hit comedy podcast Dragon Friends, which has twice sold out shows at PAX Australia, toured to Seattle, Melbourne and Adelaide and has over 5,000 subscribers worldwide.

Alex’s television credits include ABC TV’s The Checkout, The Chaser’s Election Desk, The Roast, Media Circus, Story Club, Saturday Night Rove and SBSVICELAND’s The Feed.

First Dog on the Moon (Australian)

First Dog on the Moon

First Dog on the Moon is Australia's only Walkley Award–winning marsupial-based cartoonist and has done all sorts of things including books (including The Carbon-Neutral Adventures of the Indefatigable Enviroteens and First Dog on the Moon’s Guide to Living Through the Impending Apocalypse), radio, stage shows and a lot of lying down.

Jan Fran (Australian)

Jan Fran

Jan Fran is a Walkley-award winning journalist, TV Presenter and internet commentator. She’s best known for her work on the podcasts The Briefing and The Pineapple Project as well as TV shows The Project and The Feed. Jan is also the creator, writer and presenter of the online opinion segment, The Frant, which has been viewed more than 25 million times on social media and which earned Jan a 2019 Walkley award for Best Commentary, Analysis, Opinion and Critique. Jan has shot and produced documentaries from all over the world and has appeared as a commentator on Q&A, The Today Show, Studio 10, ABC Breakfast, The Latest and The Drum. She is an ambassador for Plan International Australia where she advocates for women and girls and her strong reporting on women’s issues earned her a 2018 Walkley nomination for Women’s Leadership in Media.