Posted 21/10/06



With Notes and Counter-Arguments



1.  "It's been tried before"

(and didn't work).  The oldest argument in the book.  "Before" will always be before you were a member of the body and probably before you were born.


Counter-Argument:  "Things have changed since 1853" or "There's no harm in trying again"


2.  "It's never been done before"  

Just as often used by the radical left as the conservative right.  Usually disguised by the use of any of 9 - 14.



3. "It's ultra vires"  

The lawyer's favourite argument.  Particularly useful if you don't know that ultra vires simply means "beyond power", i.e. not within the body's statement of objectives or terms of reference.  Even better if no-one has a copy of these.


Counter-Argument:  The traditional response was "Let them take us to court".  Robert Clark did and won: Clark v University of Melbourne [1978] VR 457.  Be careful.


4.  "It will cost too much"  

The treasurer's favourite argument.  "Too much" will always be slightly more than the body can afford.


Counter Argument: Establish that the matter is a priority and co-opt the treasurer into the process, getting them to find the fat in the budget.


5.  "To do this, we'll have to kill the sacred cow"  

The Washington Monument argument' basically a more sophisticated version of 4.


Counter-Argument:  Sacred cows are usually also red herrings.


6.  "I can't see this item on the agenda"  

Usually from the person who drew up the  agenda.


Counter-Argument:  "Oh, don't be so bureaucratic!"


7.  "Isn't that already being dealt with by committee X"  

where you have no representation on committee X


Counter-Argument:  If committee X wasn't, it certainly will now.  Try for a joint working group.


8.  "Isn't this rather a waste of everybody's time?" 

Invariably from the person who has just spent an hour discussing the petty cash expenditure.


Counter-Argument:  "Well then, it'll only take a minute to discuss"


9.  "This is such a complex proposal, we need to establish a subcommittee"

on which you won't be represented and which can bury the issue


Counter-Argument: "It's not that difficult really.  Perhaps I could go through the arguments again".  If it is referred, make sure you are appointed to the subcommittee.


10.  "We need more information.  Perhaps you could prepare a paper"  

A more short-term delaying tactic than 9, but similar in purpose.


Counter-Argument:  Supply the information there and then.


11.  "I think we need to look at this in a broader context"


Counter-Argument:  The classic method of introducing red herrings.


12.  "This is fine in principle, but the practical difficulties are insurmountable" 

Used when they are losing the principled debate.


Counter-Argument: Deal with the "difficulties" one by one


13. "What about the legal implications" 

Another lawyers' favourite, used when no one else on the body has any legal training.


Counter-Argument: Lawyers can always argue both sides of any question:  "This is most worrying. Perhaps you can advise us how to get round the problem".   The new version is "What about the industrial implications".


14.  "This raises important questions of principle.  We should establish a policy first"  Usually used in combination with 9, 10 and 11.


Counter-Argument:  Use your proposal to establish the principles, then apply them.


15.  "It's too late (soon) to do anything about that now"  Used when they have pulled (or are about to pull) a rort.


Counter-Argument:  Pull out the righteous indignation stop and (re) open the debate.


16.  "Don't be so bureaucratic.  This is a policy committee"  (or vice versa).  Used when you are raising a practical difficulty with an unworkble proposal (or trying to establish an important matter of principle).



17.  "Perhaps Professor X would care to comment"  where Professor X is the resident 'expert', implacably opposed to your proposal.


Counter-Argument: No-one likes resident experts.  Enlist the ordinary members of the body's sympathy.


18. "This is contrary to the fundamental tenets of our faith"  "Our faith" is whatever brand of dogma you are supposed to be espousing.  Usually used to intimidate less experienced members.


Counter-Argument:  Is this true.  If so, does it matter.  Maybe you should be joining a less dogmatic group.


19.  "The members won't wear it"  Particularly useful when there is no way of telling what the members actually think.


Counter-Argument:  "I thought we represented the members"


20. "Talk is cheap.  Let's do something"  "Something" will be some form of direct action designed to assuage the consciences of those present.  Only used when they are losing the debate.


Counter-Argument:  Will anything useful be achieved by the action proposed?