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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.

Third speakers should be seeking in their speech to attack the main arguments raised by their opposition. Many third speakers do this by attacking each point in turn, which can often lead to a 3rd speaker giving a speech that contains about 10 separate rebuttal points, each explained only very briefly. This is not the most effective way to rebut! Often a team case contains overlapping ideas, or arguments that can all be rebutted with the same counter-argument.

Thematic rebuttal allows you to place the arguments of the opposition into themes, which summarise the general approach taken by the other team. In general, there should be two to four themes in every debate – if you think there are more than four then you may have too many themes.

Having identified the themes, you can now discuss the approach taken by your opposition and explain why it is wrong. This now gives you more time to deal with each argument because you have fewer points to discuss, so you can provide more detail and analysis of the themes. You can contrast the position taken by your opponents with your team’s approach in each theme.

Thematic rebuttal isn’t easy! It takes practice and experience to understand how to take a opposition case and condense it into three or four main themes. However we would encourage you to try to use thematic rebuttal as it is worth the effort! The best aspect of thematic rebuttal is that it allows you to deal with the main issues in the debate – it is easy to get sidetracked on less important arguments and miss the ones that are really hurting your team case.

Some tips on how to do thematic rebuttal:

Make sure you write down all the arguments of the other team down! Your whole team should be listening to the other team and helping you with this. You can use a piece of paper at this stage. Then, look at the different arguments and think of things that they might have in common, such as:

The role of government:
> The rights of individuals
> The economic issues
> The effect on the rest of society
> The model/proposal provided by the other team and its practicalities
> The effect on the environment

You might be able to identify the themes by looking at the team spit of the other team. A theme might also be posed as a question: “What is the current situation?” or “Why do people choose to vote a certain way?”. But the easiest way to identify the themes is to think about what the adjudicator might think the most important arguments are – ask yourself “which points made by the other team had the biggest impact on our case?”. You should make rebutting these your highest priority.

Here is a worked example of how thematic rebuttal might work in a debate. Note that this is merely a summary of the arguments used and all of the points below will need explanation, examples and linking to the topic.
Imagine that on the topic: “That Australia should accept radioactive waste” the Affirmative team makes the following arguments:

First Speaker:
1) Outlines a model for how and where the waste will be kept in Australia.
2) Current technology means that nuclear waste can be kept and transported safely, hence there is no reason why we should fear accepting it.
3) Australia is the most suitable location for the storage of waste due to its isolated areas and stable geology.
4) Nuclear power is good for the environment as there are no greenhouse emissions – and by accepting waste we are encouraging other nations to take up this option.

Second Speaker:
1) Australia is an exporter of uranium for use in nuclear power plants, hence we have an obligation to accept some of the waste that is produced by nuclear power plants
2) The waste dump will provide jobs and will be a boost to Australia’s economy as it will bring in foreign investment and create jobs
3) The Australian government will receive revenue from the waste dump through licensing fees and royalties.
4) It is better for the waste to be kept in remote areas of Australia than in other parts of the world

Hence the 3rd negative might say that there were three themes in this debate:

“Firstly, I’d like to look at whether or not the storage of nuclear waste will be safe for either the Australian people or the environment.

Secondly, our opposition have argued that Australia owes an obligation to the rest of the world to support nuclear power and to accept the waste from the uranium that it exports

Finally, I’d like to look at the affirmative’s argument that we should accept nuclear waste because it is good for our economy”

Looking at the arguments made by the affirmative the three themes should cover all eight points made by the affirmative.