Behind the Scenes at #QandA

IMAG0166 When I answered my ringing phone in early May, I had no idea that I was about to be offered the opportunity that every young politically-engaged Australian dreams of.

‘Hello Yassmin, I am so-and-so, one of the producers from QandA on the ABC…”

Almost had a heart attack!


The opportunity came up to be a part of the panel in mid-May, but a late confirmation from a well known politician (Queensland's own, Bob Katter) meant that I was briefly bumped from the line up. My rig job meant that the next two or three opportunities were also impossible. I didn't know if I should begin to despair: after all, one can only say 'no' so many times...

Eventually, we found a date that worked. August the 5th.

It was only confirmed a little over a week before the announcement: given the responsive nature of the show, panel members are drafted in quite close to the air date. The producers do an amazing job in this sense; sourcing and organising a new panel of people at such short notice week in, week out, must be exhausting.

So it was, on July 29th, the announcement of the 'next week's panel' that my name was announced...Ah! Let the games begin.

The ads were up and the news was out, but I still had no idea what to expect. I frantically began to read and research all manner of topics. I met with migration agents and department officials to learn about the true facts behind our asylum seeker and refugee policy, conducted little surveys via twitter and Facebook. Reading, reading, reading...

We were never given the questions that would be asked, but on the Friday before the show the producers send out an email with a variety of topic suggestions to the audience participants (related to the areas of interest for the panellists). This is to prompt questions from the audience. The topics were extremely varied - from the 'youth vote' (mine) to Fairfax to the umpiring decisions in cricket. My favourite topic of the moment, the PNG policy - not in sight!

At this point, I was simply holding my breath...

By some twist of luck, the election was announced on the Sunday afternoon. Just my luck :)

Monday rolled around and I hopped on the plane to Sydney (with 5 different outfit options to boot!). I dallied around a little, had a chat to the producers on the phone and began to get dressed. Admittedly, it took a few goes to settle on the option I did, but my op-shop-red-jacket is a favourite. The white dove brooch? Totes the statement piece!

So. Dressed. Break my fast (it was still Ramadan). Pray, ask for forgiveness and a little bit of on-screen luck.

Next stop, ABC Studios.

8pm - I head into the make up room. I say hello to fellow panel member Greg Hunt on the way in. 'He seems like a nice enough chap', I think. 'I wonder what he'll be like on the panel!'


The make up lady - Maureen - was fabulous. She was actually married to a race car driver who raced against the likes of Martin Brundle and so on in the UK.   Naturally, we talked cars and got on like a house on fire! It was ironic that two ladies in a makeup room were waxing lyrical about Chevvy Stingrays and Fastbacks. She highlighted my cheekbones, left my lipstick as it was and sent me on my way...

8.30pm - Green Room, meeting the fellow panellists.

I was clearly the new kid on the block - each politician had their handler ('media advisor'), and Pamela and Grahame had history with everyone else. I introduced myself to everyone ('shaking hands, hello hello), and they were all lovely.  I suspect Morris spent the time wondering when my parents (or babysitter) were going to arrive...


They all had a good yarn. I interjected every so often with not-so-wise pearls of wisdom ('Oh yeh! I know right?!') and wondered what lay ahead. Doug Cameron and Grahame Morris seemed to get on pretty well for ideologically diametrically opposed individuals. The scene reminded me of the idea 'enemies in the house, drinking mates once the business is done'. Ah, Australia! They laughed together and agreed on their roles. 'I need someone to fight with' Morris had said. Cameron was more than happy to acquiesce to be his on-screen-enemy.

(I am not sure everyone is that good natured about it all. Wong vs Pyne - I would like to see their Green Room interaction indeed!).

We were told we had 90 seconds to go. I left my bag, phone (!!) and got in line to head to the studio...


We got into our seating order and were individually introduced to the crowd as we took our seats. I was right next to Tony. This was it!

(Right next to Tony is a button. It's red, and has the label, 'The God Button'. Oh, I wish I got a photo. I wonder if he's ever had to use it? Probably at the shoe throwing incident...)

There were only a few minutes between us being seated and going on air. Maureen and the makeup army came back on stage and 'powdered our noses'... then 5, 4, 3...

Tony Jones' introduction began!

Oh wow. Can I be perfectly honest and say that my heart has never beat as fast as it did during that first question? I don't even remember what it was about or who asked it.

All I could think of was 'right now Yassmina, you're on TV!! Don't do anything stupid! Don't fidget! Stay coooooool!'. I am pretty sure Tony could hear the Da-dunk, da-dunk... In fact, I'm actually surprised it doesn't come up as background noise in the filming.

Off it went. I wasn't asked any direct questions off the bat (thank goodness!) but by the time Hunt had finished his answer to the first question, my pulse had settled down slightly and I had forgotten about the cameras. 'This is just like any other random panel', I told myself 'Except I am surrounded by people that are talking and not making ANY sense! Let me have a word to them about this...'

It was a fair bit of electioneering, as one would expect. Being pretty disillusioned at the moment at the disgusting amount of partisan politics that is going, I had no agenda other than to say - 'no, stop! We (the people!) want wholesome, meaningful answers! Stop treating us without respect!'

A good friend/mentor/amazing woman in general, Anne Summers, who has been on the panel before, had given me the advice not to stay quiet. 'Just jump in if you have something to say, otherwise you won't get any airtime at all'. Another friend had said 'just smile', and my mother cautioned 'don't try be anyone you're not - just be yourself and be genuine, otherwise people will see right through it.'

Those are the three bits of advice I remembered and channeled - and boy, I was so happy to be there I had no problem keeping a smile on the dile Alhamdulilah! (I would actually call it a grin. A smile is much more demure...I was just flashing the pearls with pure abandon!). I jumped in whenever I thought they were talking rubbish (often) and tried to talk to the panel members in the same way that I would argue with the boys on the rig (perhaps with less invective though).

I haven't rewatched the episode or even remember what I said, but I remember feeling more comfortable as the night went on.  It only felt like 20 minutes had passed when Tony wrapped it up. 'That's all for tonight...'

It was all over!!

We shook hands and meandered back to the Green Room for liquid and solid refreshment...


The feedback from the panel members was lovely, and Tony Jones welcomed me to the 'QandA family'. It's a family I am darn well excited and honoured to be a part of!

So thank you Allah! Also to Tony Jones and the producers who were so kind - Amanda and Christine. To the fellow panelists, the make up ladies, my parents, mates (Richard from Richard's F1 who came along and supported!) and every single one of my mates - even those on the rigs! - who watched and wished me luck and supported :) I couldn't have done it without you all! Let's see where this crazzzy journey takes us next aye?!


If you missed the episode, you can read the transcript or download it here! :D

The Drama Around #SocialMedia and Politics.

During #QandA on Monday, a lady asked the question about social media that got tongues and fingers wagging.

[box] Leisa O’Connor asked: I have a 17 year old daughter who won’t vote this year but will next time – active debater, articulate, well’s clear she is influenced heavily because Kevin communicates so effectively in the world where she lives – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc...Even if she doesn’t agree with the policies – she is swayed because she feels Kevin Rudd is more in touch.[/box]

I completely understood where the mother and daughter were coming from, and was surprised (although perhaps I shouldn't have been) with the response from a fellow panel member.

[box]Yeah, look, I hear what you’re saying and I suspect it’s not this election that will be decided by social media but maybe the next one or the one after that but not this one... I can tell you most undecided people do not [tunes in to what Kevin Rudd is tweeting today]. They don't. They don't about care about politics. They are not interested. They are doing other things...You know, I'd like to educate your daughter.[/box]

What was more interesting was the response online.  On the #QandA discussion forum and on twitter, people expressed their disdain at young people basing their decisions on social media.

Examples of comments:

[box]Sadly if your daughter bases her votes on who she can see on twitter she won't be a very informed voter.  If people's preference is sitting back relying on social media to educate them on issues then they will not be well informed regardless of how well educated they are. It is also highly possible that it is not Rudd posting his tweets but one of his many media staff. Kevin Rudd is currently acting more like a show pony trying to win people over by popularity instead of proving he is a politician with any substance.  I hope for the sake of Australia that our youth are not that gullible and make the effort to research the track record of all parties before voting.[/box]

twitter 2

Clearly a little opposition to the idea that us young people have no idea...


'Social media' has been discussed, derided, lauded and dissected endlessly since it started taking off a few years ago and began to play a part in  'real' movements.

Perspectives are varied: some see it as the saviour and liberator of the East, some see it as proof of young people losing social skills and capacity to be able to communicate face to face.

At the end of the day, we must remember that social media is a tool, and should be treated as such. A tool itself does not hold any power beyond the power we bestow it through our use.  It has natural advantages and disadvantages but focusing on either at the expense of the other in a public role such as politics is not only foolish, it is ignorant.

I feel strange writing about 'social media' as a discernible 'thing': the fact of the matter is, the forum that other generations seem find so hard (by and large) to get their heads around is just part of the natural fabric of our lives.  It's not as if I grew up as a child-early-adopter either; my parents only allowed me an old school mobile phone at the end of grade 11 (and only because mum accidentally got sent two!).  However, as much as we sometimes hate it, my generation lives and breathes online just as legitimately as we do offline.

Relationships are announced on Facebook, elections on twitter.  Is it different to how it used to be? Yes. Does that make it terrible? I don't think so.

When the television was introduced, people cried the death of the radio.  When the internet was introduced, people feared the death of television.  Now, the latter is yet to be decided but the radio is still around.  Sometimes technology is replaced completely, but often new technology simply extends the reach and scope of information through avenues that were previously inaccessible.  That is the power of social media.

To the question of social media and politics.

Young people are not stupid. We are not completely ignorant, and although many like to believe it, we are not all as self obsessed as the selfie epidemic would have you think.  It is insulting to think that simply because KRudd has an account we will vote for him.  It isn't that he has an account, it is what he does and says with it that matters.

Not all young people are the same and are interested and engaged. This is true. However, the youth demographic is a powerful one indeed and ignoring them and their needs is done at your own peril.  Half a million young people are enrolling to vote this week.  The age bracket of 15-24 year olds is over 13% of the population (ABS, 2013).  There are a few marginal seats in that, I would imagine…

Gone are the days of obsession with and loyalty to a particular type of ideology.  We care about issues, issues that we feel are important.  Whether politicians like it or not, only a very small, engaged percentage of young people will spend the time researching policy and gauging whether or not a particular party aligns with their beliefs.  As such, politicians need to be able to effectively community their standing directly.

What better way to do so than through the forum we are all already on?

If you want to hold a party and everyone is already at one location, what is more effective: going to that location and starting the party there, or convincing everyone that they have to come to where YOU are because that's where you have always had your parties?

The same concept applies.  Young people are active and engaged on social media – Facebook largely, instagram and twitter for the more politically active.  For politicians to be able to communicate effectively, they need to be active on these platforms, and engaged with their audience.  We are the shareholders, the constituents.  We are electing you to represent us. Show us why you deserve our votes.  Earn it. 

We aren’t interested in endless press releases about obscure funding agreements and official statements on a Facebook page that is clearly run by a staffer.  I want to see the personality behind the politician, engage in discussion and debate that makes me convinced that this person is genuine, going to be a good representative, and eventually, deserves my vote.

In a way, it can be seen as ‘show ponying’ as a tweet described.  However, that is campaigning, is it not?

Policies are important, there is no doubt about that.  What wins though, is a combination of good policy, good service delivery and implementation, then good communication.

Using social media is simply good communication if you want to communicate with young people.

It may not win you the election, but at least we were hearing what you had to say.


Oh, and for all the baby boomers’ disparaging comments about the state of the youth if they are deciding who to vote for from social media let me ask: does your average voter not decide after conversations with their friends and family around dinner tables on these issues? How is this any different?


What do you think?


young people


It's #QandA Time! (and the Burka Avenger)


We sit in front of the television every most Monday evenings, cursing and celebrating in equal measure, the opinions stated by the panellists sitting on either side of Tony Jones.

"Oh what!" we yell, out aloud and on twitter.

We all think we would have the perfect answer to the questions being asked too ;)

Well on Monday, I have the scary honour of being one of those very panellists on the firing line and by gosh, with the election just called, it's going to be a fun evening indeed!

I'll also be heading into the studio early to be talking to the Australia Network on the new animation, the Burka Avenger...

I think the idea of the Burka Avenger is fantastic, but it is a little too early to call.

Burka Avenger is a Pakistani animated television series airing on Geo Tez. Created and directed by pop star Haroon and produced at Unicorn Black production studios, the show features Jiya, a mild-mannered teacher with secret martial arts skills who uses a flowing black burka to hide her identity as she fights local thugs. The Urdu language series first aired on July 28, 2013. [wiki]

The program seems to tick the initial acceptability boxes; written by a member of the community, it is clearly coming from within and is relatable.  Programs that cultivate and encourage creativity and artistry are in dire need as well, so that is a plus.

Furthermore, the aim of the program seems to be to encourage education as the superhero uses only books and pens as her weapons.  Encouraging education, particularly in the areas this Urdu-language program is targeted to laudable and required.

What will be important is whether or not this actually works in the community.  Will it be watched by young people and change their perceptions? More importantly, will their parents allow them to watch and be educated by it?  It will most definitely create controversy: given the attire of the 'villains' (very 'traditional', even 'Taliban' looking...) and the use of the Burka as a disguise rather than as a traditional religious garment used for modesty (and in some cases, for oppression, but that's another kettle of fish).  I think the fact that this program will create conversation though is a boon in of itself...

So let's wait and see on this one. I think it is a positive, but the jury is still out on the effectiveness on the outcome - and we judge by the outcome in this world, do we not?


So what about you? Ever wanted to be on the panel? What would you like to talk about?  What are your thoughts on le Burka Avenger?