Why We Must Listen to Hanson, Trump and Leave supporters.

So a couple of things have happened in the last few weeks that have caused my Facebook feed to lose its collective mind.

The first was Brexit.  The media post the vote (which apparently, no-one took seriously) bordered on openly derisive towards Leave voters.  

I love Trevor Noah as much as the next third-culture-kid, but he was just one of the many whose commentary post-vote was essentially, 'how could they do this, don't they know what is good for them?'

Now hold onto that thought, and how the tone might play out.

The second thing that happened was Pauline Hanson's election to the Senate. If you haven't heard of Pauline before, here is a taste of her world view.

Again, her supporters have been labelled as xenophobic, ignorant, racist, etc etc. 

She's tapping into the populism that has fed the Brexit, and the same that is supporting Trump! On this, the general commentariat is agreed.  

Now check out this video... and I want you to listen to what Pauline has to say about 'grass roots Australia'.

Hold on a minute... Start listening to grass roots Australians! ...I know what the people are thinking and how they’re feeling... Let’s get the kids jobs and pull it together as one!
— Pauline Hanson

Now I don't share the world views or policy platforms of Pauline Hanson, Drumpf or Leave voters in any way, shape or form.  However, I think it is incredibly dangerous to ignore and deride those we disagree with. When has derision ever worked to persuade someone to your perspective? 

The question then becomes - well, if we are not to deride and ignore, what to do? How do we deal with these vast feelings of frustration, hurt and exasperation? 

Honestly, I think what we *must* do is start by truly listening. 

Pauline is right on one thing. Leaders haven't been listening to what sections of the population have been trying to say, and so the 'unheard' have taken to yelling in the only way that seems to get the attention of progressives and intellectual elite (a social segment for the purposes of this argument) - by voting in ways that will hurt them - despite what said elite say is 'logical' and 'rational' and 'good'.   

Listening doesn't mean agreeing. But what it might help us to do is *understand* why populism is taking on the hold is has, and understand what needs to be done to tackle it.  

Who is this group? Well on that I don't have a definitive answer, and smarter people than me are working on nailing down the exact demographics. There are some interesting leads though... Check this graph out. 

Note the blue line; inequality within country groups.  It is relatively flat (although increasing slightly) during the industrial revolution, but takes a definite dive during the early 20th century. it gets pretty flat again during the period following the second world war... and then it starts rising in recent decades. The world starts seeing an increase in inequality within countries from about the 1970's. Globalisation has been around for a while by this point, but an interesting reflection is the change in the cost of flying.

According to the Atlantic, 'in 1965, no more than 20 percent of Americans had ever flown in an airplane. By 2000, 50 percent of the country...the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011.'

So the crudest way of looking at this is that in the last 40 or 50 years, people have started to increasingly look different in countries (because it was just easier to access different places on planes and thus the link to the anti-immigration sentiment), and coincidentally inequality within countries increased, yet everyone was being told that what was happening in the world was good for them.

What was happening in the world was good for the world, yes. The graphs above demonstrate that on the whole, the world is less unequal (there are less people at the super poor end of the spectrum). 

What hasn't changed though, is the fortune of the poorer people in the richest nations.  The people who globalisation (in the modern, airplane driven sense) hasn't really helped. The ones who have lost positions of privilege and power due to the improving status of the world but who have not been swept up with the tide. The ones who in some sense, feel like the world is forgetting them and leaving them behind. The ones who were once proud of their identity and place in the world, and are searching for that feeling once again. 

Their vote is equal to everyone else's, and they are some of the people that aren't being heard.

Being unheard - silenced even - is not a fun place for anyone to be.  

Inequality is frightening. I truly believe it is one of the most toxic ailments that can afflict a society and so much of what is at the root of the current wave of populism is due to the increasing levels of inequality within nations. Watch the video below (click through) to hear some of the reasons why I think we must keep talking about this deep disease. 

Why inequality is not okay.

Why inequality is not okay.

So what does this have to do with not laughing at Pauline Hanson's voters?  

It's about reminding us to think about the long game. To think about why people are at the stage they are at, and realising that rather than derision, they deserve - like anyone else - to be listened to and heard. That is the minimum we owe. We may disagree, but what is more important is then to tap into that and dig deeper - why are you feeling the pain you are feeling? What in our systems is causing this entrenched and divisive societal ailment? What can we change?

Our societies are meant to be built to protect the lower income ends of society.  It is not supposed to exploit them until they have no way of speaking out and thus turn to being societally destructive.

The world is being served some timely reminders. It is also worth noting that the relative peace and harmony we have been working on and have enjoyed for the past few decades has only occurred because people worked at it.  Harmony doesn't just happen; social cohesion is a constant project and we all need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into it, on the daily. A socially cohesive society starts with understanding and respect, and a vision that is about the greater good and systems that reinforce that belief. 

We've got some work to do. Khair inshallah... 


Free Trade Agreements: Handle with Care

  File:Anti-ACTA-Demonstration in Berlin 2012-02-11 (08).jpg

Just posted a piece on Free Trade Agreements on the fabulous Future Challenges blog!  Click to see more of my pieces on Future Challenges :)


Like many other structural policies, free trade agreements are a tool used by governments to achieve their objectives.

Now tools can be used or misused, and in this case the tool is not being used to its fullest potential. Free Trade Agreements need to be handled with due care if they are to achieve the economic benefits they have the capacity to deliver. Let me explain why.

Free trade is a concept that arouses much opposition around the world but that still seems to be an accepted part of the global economic state of play.

Let’s take the case of Australia.

The terms of the Australia – United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) proved much less favourable than expected for Australian companies.

The influential key industries of sugar and beef at best saw only a modest improvement in terms of access.  A survey of exporting companies conducted by the Australian Industry Group in late 2009 indicated that less than half of companies surveyed saw any direct benefits from AUSFTA while almost 80 percent of respondents said the FTA was not very effective in improving export opportunities. As AI Group chief executive, Heather Ridout said at the time:

“The survey shows that FTAs alone do not motivate companies to seek new export opportunities but do provide some advantages to those already exporting to that market.”

The New York Times also shed an interesting light on the agreement, saying that it:

… sends a chilling message to the rest of the world. Even when dealing with an allied nation with similar living standards, the administration, under pressure from the Congress, has opted to continue coddling the sugar lobby, rather than dropping the most indefensible form of protectionism. This will only embolden the case of those around the world who argue that globalisation is a rigged game.

Yet at the end of the day, AUSFTA has neither substantially benefited nor severely disadvantaged Australia.  The huge growth in trade predicted for the United States failed to materialize, but neither did the fears over intellectual property and the PBS.  It is almost a neutral situation.

The AUSFTA was one of the first significant FTAs that Australia entered into, coming into force under much controversy on the first of January 2005.  The Howard government of the day supported by the Center of International Economics heralded it as a major success.  According to CIE modeling, Australia’s annual GDP would increase up to $6 billion in a decade thanks to the agreement.

It was the first of such agreements and Australia has now sealed seven of them with various nations from Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Thailand to the ASEAN bloc.


Signing a Free Trade Agreement in1935 by Wiki Commons. CC C-031017

Could it be that the political role played by Free Trade Agreements is more important than all other considerations? Are they nothing more than just an accurate reflection of the politics of the day?

In this piece by fellow Future Challenges Blogger Aylin Matle, the ‘real’ merits of these agreements are interrogated.  Perhaps, as Alyin mentions, Free Trade Agreements are part of a government’s economic toolkit but also have a subtle but equally important political effect.

On the other hand however, there are examples of when trade triumphs over politics (and vice versa) and perhaps, suggests that the two concepts should not be treated with the same broad brush.

The concept of “free trade” is not in itself inherently bad or negative.  As such, we should switch our focus away from the idea of free trade to the details of the agreements being forged, in an effort to ensure they are as fair and mutually beneficial as possible.

They say that the devil is in the detail and nowhere is that more true.  Each government decides how they will use this increasingly popular tool to further their own policy objectives.  To understand what these objectives are though, we need to take a closer look at the devil in the detail.

Check out the original piece here!

Global migration: Changing the way we define our identity?

This was originally posted on Future Challenges! Check out the [button link="" newwindow="yes"] Original Link[/button]

When my parents moved to Australia with me as a screaming baby in tow, the situation in Sudan was dire, true, but it was much more an economic and socio-political decision rather than one of safety. This type of migration is increasingly common, particularly to a migration based nation such as Australia. How a nation and its people – as well as migrants themselves – deal with these global flows currents of people will define attitudes and perspectives of our current generation and generations to come.

I describe myself as either a “global citizen” or “mongrel”, both labels of which I am proud. What exactly does that mean though, for me personally, for many others in similar situations and for our society as this becomes perhaps the norm?

Menschentraube on Wiki Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

From a purely economical point of view, there is no doubt that migration, particularly skilled and business based migration, is of great importance and benefit to a society. The introduction of policies such as 457 visas (officially known as the Temporary Business (Long Stay) Visa), which allow Australian companies to sponsor employees from overseas has allowed for the development of sectors where skills are required, for example the oil and gas industry. Australia is no stranger to migration by any means; more than a quarter of the population in 2011 was born overseas, we speak more than 260 languages and identify with more than 270 ancestries. With the ease of travel this century and the relative stability of our economy compared to the global status quo, it is no wonder that more people are looking to cross the oceans to call this land girt by sea ‘home’.

If we are to look at this from a cost-benefit point of view, there is no doubt that what is gained from migration – an increase in labour supply, national income, skills, development, cultural depth, awareness and exposure, heavily outweighs any perceived disadvantages; identity crises, housing and services, the cost of humanitarian arrivals (although this is an international obligation), possible rise in community tensions due to a lack of understanding leading to changes in social cohesion.

It can be said that from that point of view as well, Australia is lucky in the sense that it only stands to gain skills from migration. By and large, we are not suffering from the ‘brain drain’ affecting other nations; our Net Overseas Migration (NOM) is 232 000 (497000 arrivals and 265000 departures, ABS and DIAC projections, 2012). It should be noted that NOM is the net gain or loss of population through immigration to Australia and emigration from Australia.

Although the drivers and immediate economic benefits are known and recognised, the effects on the socio-political landscape are those that are more often talked about, highlighted and debated. Migration can be seen as a purely economical factor perhaps, however we must not forget that we are dealing with actual people, who have hopes, dreams, desires and families. Migrants not only bring economic impacts, but their very presence changes the fabric of communities, and it is this change that can turn the tide of opinion. Economic factors are enough to convince a company perhaps, but “not in my backyard” is also a term used…

A cursory look at headlines over the past year or two clearly indicates that migration and identity are in the forefront of people’s minds. The discourse hasn’t always been friendly:

Tony Abbott plans to block people from Australia, news

Australia is a nation based on multiculturalism, and we have a great untapped resource in our cultural diversity. It is important that we appreciate the value of our migration and cultural diversity, capitalise on its benefits and ensure that we do not neglect the socio-political effects that it has. We must ensure the communication lines are always open between migrants and those who have been settled for generations, and that we provide the space for young people to discover and mould their own identities to find the balance between their heritage and their current environment in a manner that is comfortable and familiar to them. It isn’t something that will happen overnight or be ‘resolved’ but more one that will change over time as influxes and migratory patterns change.

This level of cross cultural pollination has never been seen in history before, so we are at a unique point in human civilisation where we can create and mould identity based on more than just an accident of birth location – we almost have the choice and freedom to form whatever identity we want. What effects will that have on our society as a whole? Who knows yet. It could mean that nationalism no longer has the same power that it used to, or that it becomes based on something other than race, birthplace or religion. It could mean that cultures become based on hybrids of existing national traditions… who knows? All I know is that it is within our control.

Migration is not a crime

Migration is not a crime, by dkalo on Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0



The irony is never lost on the Indigenous population – apart from them, we are all migrants to Australia. So who is anyone to deny the benefits of a concept that brought them there in the first place?

Women in the Workforce: More to it Than Just Numbers

  I wrote this piece for, an awesome site. Check it out originally here.


The questions of women in the workforce and how that affects society’s fabric have been posed since the early days of the feminist movement.  The question of what is gained – or lost – as women assume a larger role in a country’s economic burden is not so much just about the economic aspect, but spans the issues of the political, social and cultural impacts as well.

Women on the job in Afghanistan, by United Nations Photo, on Flickr, 2012 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Women on the job in Afghanistan, by United Nations Photo, on Flickr, 2012 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As a young woman growing up in a Western country with heritage and cultural influences from the East, the question of women’s role in society more broadly has been of interest. The different cultural expectations of women, and the interestingly underlying and sometimes unexpected similarities give an indication of how far women have come, but also how far we still have to go.

In terms of what is gained, there is much to be said. From a numbers point of view, between 1984 and 2009, the number of working women has increased from 44 million to 72 million (in the US).  Not only do the sheer numbers of individuals contributing to the workforce make a difference, but women are said to bring particular skills to industry that change the tone.

Women are said to be more intuitive with different values, including empathy and support.  They are also said to be better team players and are able to look at problems more holistically.  On a more extreme level, workers in traditionally male dominated industries such as oil rigs have anecdotally welcomed women as they “make it seem more like the real world” and “bring a different mentality so we even end up talking about different things”.

These are all sweeping generalisations though; can it really be said that “all women are empathetic” and that is why they are good for the marketplace?  Is it fair to pigeon hole an entire gender into an expected set of stereotyped values?

Perhaps these generalisations are more damaging than beneficial and are part of the reason women are thought of in a particular way, limiting their ability to contribute in a meaningful manner.

An interesting article on the Financial Times also questions this focus on “what women bring”, concluding that perhaps it just comes down to the skill set of the individual and this is where the focus should remain. This particularly applies to women in senior and leadership positions in companies.

Or to put it another way, the women who “make it” perhaps do so because they are far better than the men. It might mean the focus should be less on “what women bring” and more on getting them into leadership roles in the first place.  (Source)

Generalisations aside though, the increase in the number and proportion of women in the workforce does have implications on society more generally. There is no more obvious platform for this societal shift than of the oft asked question “Can women have it all”. Interestingly, it is a question posed usually by women themselves.

“Busy Mom”, by gwilmore, on Flickr, 2005, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Anne Marie Slaughter’s well read essay in the Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in 2012 was a profound example of an ambitious, accomplished female role model who argued that women weren’t able to have it all – ‘all’ meaning an ambitious career and a fulfilling family life. The article, based on Slaughter’s personal life as a senior US Department of State employee, provoked responses from around the globe and shocked many, opening up a public conversation about what the result of having women in the workforce meant for our society.

It would seem that from a purely economic point of view, having women a part of the workforce and contributing to nation building in a corporate sense does nothing but improve, gain, increase and enrich productivity and our work place environment. Where things are perhaps lost is not in the office or on site but outside that world – in homes and within families. This is not to say that having women in the workforce is purely detrimental to families, but that society needs to accommodate the fact that women spend more time away from the home and the resultant shift needs to be accounted and allowed for. Society has accepted that women are part and parcel of the working world, now the cultural change needs to follow so that the overall outcome is of one positive benefit for all.

Women collectively breastfeeding for IWD - the right to work and family, by Amadeus Sanz, on Flickr, 2008 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Women collectively breastfeeding for IWD – the right to work and family, by Amadeus Sanz, on Flickr, 2008 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Sometimes images like this suggest that even with women in the workforce and contributing to our society, mentalities still have a way to go.