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The DAV is a non-profit association which exists to promote debate. It is the peak debating body in Victoria and runs large competitions for adults and for schools across Victoria. It provides training and resources for debaters, teachers and adjudicators.
Paul Mees, former DAV debater, adjudicator, trainer, coach and executive member died from cancer on the 19th of June 2013, aged just 52.
Paul was an international authority on urban planning and public transport. Both as an academic and as president of the Public Transport Users Association, he led the public debate on urban planning and transport in Melbourne for 20 years.
In an obituary The Age said that “Professor Mees for more than two decades repeatedly embarrassed Victorian transport operators and authorities with his research and commentary on the state's road, rail and urban planning systems.” The public comments attached that obituary are a reminder of Paul’s powerful and engaging presence.
As recently as a week ago, Paul was still engaged in public debate, lambasting the Napthine government's proposed east-west tunnel in a video for the Trains Not Toll Roads campaign. His brief but persuasive critique of the proposal had all the trademarks of a Paul Mees media appearance: a clear proposition, evidence, logic and a touch of sarcasm. He made many media appearances over many years. His face and voice were well known to his fellow Victorians.
Ben Richards was coached by Paul while in the Victorian Schools Team and later debated against him in A Grade. Ben recognised the debater every time he heard Paul Mees the public transport advocate.
“To understand Paul Mees the advocate you had to understand Paul Mees the debater. His instinct was always to work with the evidence, add a dose of withering humour and set out to excoriate hubris surrounding public policy.”
Paul learned to debate at school (St Kevin’s College, Toorak) before joining the Melbourne University Debating Society (MUDS) in 1979. He studied Arts / Law in his undergraduate years, and would go on to complete a PhD.
Paul debated in the DAV A Grade competition at a time when that competition represented the pinnacle of Victorian debating, and involved university students, inmates from Pentridge Prison and speakers from Apex and Rotary. He was a member of winning A Grade teams and represented Victoria at the National Championships. Paul also represented MUDS at intervarsity competitions.
Penny Wright, now a Senator for South Australia, debated with Paul in A Grade. She recalls a formidable debater.
“He could speak at length without a note or a stumble, make a totally credible, compelling argument and infuse it all with wit and - sometimes scarifying - sarcasm. He was often at his best in impromptu debating.”
Another DAV and MUDS member, Philippa Brear recalled his manner and matter:
“I do clearly remember his style: his humour - it was the first thing that struck me about him; and his incredibly quick mind - so good in rebuttal. He had an amazing general knowledge - a real asset, especially pre-internet.”
“The thing about Paul - obvious is his later life - is that for him argument was about the issues. While some people took his criticisms personally, they were not meant that way. His interest was in substance - not form.”
Paul served on both MUDS and DAV executives. Along with contemporaries such as Robert Chappell and Olivia Grobtuch, he helped the DAV to become one of the strongest debating institutions in the world. It was during these years that the DAV moved into office premises, centralised the schools competition, started paying adjudicators and moved towards being the organisation it is today.
Paul coached or assisted in coaching the Victorian Schools Debating Team for many years. He continued to adjudicate schools debates as well, including finals. He attended some of the inaugural debating camps, assisting in coaching the young debaters. He was always willing to be called in to assist with public debates, and his amusing, erudite style was much admired, and even revered, by a whole generation of young debaters.
One member of the generation that followed, Chris Fladgate remarked that “Paul was an advocate and role model on so many levels. For debaters, for people who wanted to follow their beliefs, for everyone. He was always such an optimist.”
Paul Mees was an extraordinary man who used his considerable debating talent to campaign for better public policy. While our community will feel his absence, it has been enriched by his presence.
With thanks to Ben Richards, Olivia Grobtuch, Philippa Brear, Chris Fladgate, Michael Kingston, Greg Hunt, Dominie Banfield, Penny Wright and Robert Chappell for their assistance with this tribute – Ray D’Cruz