politics

Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

“The colliding of opinions will only lead to the emergence of truth if the force behind both is equal, if the playing field is level, if there is a commitment to truth rather than to an agenda that is self-serving.”

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... 

 

Defence Australia wants to know what we think. Help me tell them.

Ladies and Gents, occasionally we have to use the tools the system has given us to agitate some change. That time may be now...

Defence Australia is calling for submissions from the community to inform the Defence White Paper, which will guide Australia's Defence spending for the next 20 years. 

They want the community to send in thoughts - and if you have ever wished you could change the way Defence spends their money or thinks about things, this is the opportunity you have been looking for.

It is so important for marginalised and minority voices to be heard in this sort of forum.  I'd like to make sure, in whatever way I can, that these voices are heard.

Therefore, if you want to write a submission (or a short paragraph showing your feelings!), check out the links below:

WHITE PAPER (What on earth a 'white paper' is...)

COMMUNITY CONSULTATION (Some info about the consultation process)

PUBLIC SUBMISSIONS (Where you make a submission)

2014 PAPER (What the 2014 paper said).

If you don't want to write your own submission but want your voice heard, email me: yassmin@youthwithoutborders.com.au and tell me what you think, or we can have a chat in some other way.

Make sure your voice gets heard. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brisbane Times: Heightened Terror Threat a Time for Races and Religions to Unite

If you haven't seen it already, check out my piece in the Brisbane Times below.

***

It is said that dividing and conquering is an effective way to deal with an opponent.

With that in mind, the very last thing we should be doing as a community in the face of fear is become divided.

As a community, we are so much stronger than that.

They call themselves IS, and are known by a variety of names including ISIS, ISIL, or as Muslim leaders in the US have begun to refer to them, the Anti-Islamic State (AIS).

Irrespective of what its members preach, this group's actions are not Islamic, nor is it by any means an official state. Every time we refer to it as Islamic, we are actually legitimising a group which is essentially criminal in its behaviour. It is strategic and calculated in its actions, but this makes it similar to militant groups worldwide, rather than especially Islamic.

AIS was formally known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but it was seen as too violent even for them. The two groups are now competitors for a type of cruel dominance in the region. At its roots, support for the group is politically motivated. The area's history with Sunni and Shiites is complex to say the least, and AIS has capitalised on that tension and historic power imbalance for their own gains.

All of this has occurred half way around the world though. The question many Australians are asking is what has brought this to our doorstep, and how do we deal with it as a community?

The events of the last few days have been played over and over ad nauseam on our screens. They have shocked many. The allegations have been damning and the responses swift. In the face of all that has occurred however, it is imperative that we take a step back, reassess and regroup.

What is important to us as a nation? The concept of a fair go gets bandied about regularly as an Aussie value. So although there have been raids based on information that security forces have intercepted, if we really are about giving each other a fair go then we will treat those arrested as innocent until proven guilty. Although we may be frightened, there has to be a level of trust and support in the justice system and its capacity to deal with threats to our safety. This does not, however, provide permission for authorities to operate without limits. Due process must. be followed. If we are to allows breaches of justice in the name of fighting against what we fear, we are no better than the terrorists.

Our strength and resilience as a society is not measured by how we act in the good times but how we deal with the bad times and come together in the face of adversity. During the 2011 Queensland floods people around the world were shocked to see traffic jams because of people heading into the state, rather than out of it, so they could offer a helping hand.  Today should be no different. Faced with a threat - perceived or evidenced - it is imperative that we as a community support each other and stand united against fear.

The tricky line is not letting a stance against fear become a stance against a people because of their race, religion or dress code. The threat of terrorism must not become a chance for racial and religious hatred and ignorance to flourish. What it must not become is a conversation about us and them, because that leads us down a path we thrashed 13 years ago. Violence begets violence. For the cycle to be broken, the conversation must be reframed. Rather than basing it on race, religion or ethnicity, let's base it on intention, values and principles. We have come so far since September 11 and we must heed the lessons of history.

Us and them marginalises communities and makes people feel like they don't belong when Australia is all they have ever known. It pushes people away from the mainstream, particularly young people, when often they are looking to be valued and fit in. Marginalisation, as well as entrenched socio-economic disadvantage and language in the public arena that is isolating, fear mongering and cruel, are some of the many reasons people look for other answers. Groups like AIS are happy to be that answer. We cannot let that happen.

 If you are in favour of a society where people live harmony, within a system that is fair and just, then you are for peace and we stand united on that platform.  

So what can we all do as individuals? Have open conversations with one another. Learn about each other without prejudice. Smile and say hi to someone who looks different on the street. Stand up to behaviour that is prejudiced. Make a friend who follows a different belief system and ask them about their way of life. make a Muslim friend. Gosh, if all else fails, email me and I'll regale you with terrible puns and stories all about my car woes (never buy an Alfa Romeo if you're not ready for the towing costs and emotional heartache).

There may be disagreement about beliefs, mindsets and ways of living, but this does not preclude us from living harmoniously together. After all, I continue to disagree with anyone who claims the Blues are a better team than the Maroons (however misplaced you may think that faith is…)  yet, I do still accept those from down south. We do say that sport is pretty much a religion in this country, don't we?

That is what makes us who we are. The ability to rise above and beyond prejudice, ignorance and hatred and truly be mates, especially when the going gets tough.

As Muslims we are told "since good and evil cannot be equal, repel evil with something that is better" (41:34). Let's all make sure we are better than the evil that we so abhor. Let's make sure it doesn't turn us against our neighbours, but rather brings us together to realise that strength lies not in our differences, but in our unity.

What is a moderate Muslim anyway?

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This post was originally written for the Attorney General's blog, 'Living Safe Together'.  Given recent events, I thought I would publish it here as well.  It seems a little incongruous now, given the urgency of the current discussion, particularly around young Muslims in Australia...but I will let you be a judge of that.

***

‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me...’

A fine sentiment, but one that is not quite accurate, particularly when it comes to being labelled by society. An entire life being pigeonholed by a set of criteria you haven’t chosen can be uncomfortable and at times, counterproductive. The effect may be quite unintentional; although words like ‘radical’, ‘extreme’, ‘fundamental’, are obviously polarising, even tags like ‘moderate’ or ‘mainstream’ are descriptors chosen by others to describe the Muslim community and individuals within it – tags that don’t necessarily sit well with Muslims themselves.

It’s easy to labele someone - myself, for example - a ‘moderate’ or ‘mainstream’, as if that is a compliment, as if that indicates that I am not like ‘the others’; those ‘crazier’ extreme types that wish harm on the country and culture we live in.

However, what does moderate or mainstream mean exactly? Does it mean that my brand of Islam or practice as a Muslim is inoffensive enough to not make those around me feel uncomfortable? Does it mean I have given up just enough of my beliefs and culture to become ‘mainstream’, whatever that means in Australia? Does it mean I don’t follow the ‘fundamentals’ of the religion, as otherwise I would be seen as a ‘fundamentalist?’ These are not necessarily easy questions to answer, and not meant to be taken as accusations, but the importance of semantics in this discussion should not be underestimated. Labels have a way of being a self-fulfilling prophecy, for better or for worse.

Being described as moderate stirs up conflicting emotions. On one hand, appreciation of the fact that ‘we’, as Muslims, pose no harm, juxtaposed against an annoyance that this is a sentiment that needs to be expressed. On the other hand, it arouses an uneasiness about being described as ‘average’, in intensity or quality. It implies that well, we’re not a very good Muslim at all. We are just average, and average is all that is acceptable. To be any more devout or religious would be straying into ‘fundamental’ territory, and society can’t have that.

It must be acknowledged that of course, in a land of policy writing and position statements, well-understood labels are the easiest way to describe a group. Labels are the symbolic monikers, shorthand for definitions the community understands. However, across the board that has the potential to make us lazy in our thinking about the people we are talking about. It poses the danger of giving us the space to fall into well-worn thinking patterns, patterns which will only ever produce the same results they always have. To change an entire discourse is no simple matter though, and so it requires careful reflection and a healthy dose of pragmatism. How do you change what a word means to a community?

What is needed is a fundamental shift in thinking. Underlying the conversation is the understanding that there are ‘extreme’ Muslims, and ‘moderate’ Muslims. However, perhaps it should be understood that there are ‘extreme’ Muslims, and then, well, just Muslims. In the same way that there are Christians and Jews, and then there are extremes in both - the same concept applies. There is no one moderate Muslim community. In fact, there is no one single Muslim community at all; that is part of the richness of the faith. However, one view that is widely prevalent among various groups is the reluctance to be framed by a label that has been bestowed on us in an effort to determine friend from foe.

What needs to be remembered is that we (Muslims) are all part of the community as well, and are in invested in seeing it remain a safe place for us all to live in. Rather than frame the conversation in a dichotomous fashion, we (Australian society broadly) should focus on supporting each other and the young people in our community. Empowerment can be found in fulfilment through education, religion, meaningful employment and providing reasons not to become disengaged and disenfranchised. Obviously there is more to the story, but we must start somewhere. It’s the same in any community - those who are vulnerable are those most likely to fall prey to manipulation. If they do, it is a failure on us as a society and as a community for failing to support and enabling growth in a constructive way.

Those that are currently feared may be the very ones that need our help the most.

Are you worried about the European elections?

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The recent European Union elections have given a legitimate seat to quite a few far right parties, prompting questions around where this level of extremism is coming from, and to what end it is leading?

The Huffpost reports on some of the most extreme, including the Dutch party which wants to rid the country of Moroccans (who were ironically brought in by the Dutch themselves to bolster their workforce), a group in Hungary who want all Jews to sign a register (sound familiar?) and a number of strongly anti-immigration and anti-European parties across the continent.

It is extremely disappointing to see such strong levels of hatred, downright racism and homophobic rhetoric coming out of so called ‘civilised’ nations.  We have been frustrated in Australia with the level of anti-asylum seeker language, but it hasn’t reached the levels of mainland Europe and the Tea Party across the pond.  Where is this all coming from, why is it so and how can we tackle it?

***

I’ve been fortunate to travel to Europe a number of times and cannot categorically say that I have personally experienced strong levels of racism, but that is obviously not completely indicative of the situation.  Firstly, visiting a European nation as an Australian is novel enough that people tend to overlook the colour of my skin and religion and focus on the novelty of being from a land so far away. Furthermore, by not being a migrant and simply a visitor, I do not pose a ‘risk’ in the same way that people fear immigrants are.  

It could be those reasons…or it could be that I am simply blind to the racism around me and chose not to see or be affected by it.  If people are choosing to believe their prejudices with force, what is there to do but continue living one’s life?

Anecdotally, discrimination in Australia happens on slightly different grounds.  Barring attitudes to the Indigenous Australians (which is a whole other discussion), prejudice is largely based on ignorance rather than true, steeped hatred of the ‘other’.  There are few exceptions, and there are pockets of population where research shows social cohesion to be at troublingly low levels (Western Sydney and Logan being areas of note).   However by and large (and making a huge generalisation), Australians tend to feel that if someone is trying hard and giving ‘being Australian’ a fair go, then they’re alright.  So if they’re trying to speak English, working hard and don’t take things too damn seriously, they’re alright mate.  We are too young a country to have the sorts of issues Europe is dealing with. 

What creates an environment that enhances social cohesion is well known.  Those who are well educated and well off are more likely to be tolerant and accepting than those from lower socio economic backgrounds, regardless of background.  A fascinating comment recently made me aware that even the Sudanese and other African migrants were irritated with boat arrivals in Australia.  

Why? One would imagine they would be willing to welcome people from similarly difficult circumstances.  

It was a case of survival: the perception was that these newcomers would be fighting for the same types of jobs and were seen to be coming in a manner that was cheating the system everyone else used (i.e. those who went through the UN refugee camp process). Fascinating right?  

So why are people moving further and further right in Europe?

They say in tough times people tend to close in and  fear the unknown significantly more.  It is a step down Mazlow’s hierarchy: people are no longer in the space of self actualisation and are more focused on the survival and work levels.  They are focused on providing for their family and any obstacles are just barriers to be able to protect what they love...

Regardless of whether there are legitimate reasons or not though, extremism is not acceptable in any shape or form.  The extremism seen in Europe is reflective of the extremism the West is so frightened of in the Middle East and North Africa, they are just based on different lines.  Extremism based on nationality is no less dangerous than extremism based on religion.  Both exhibit cult-like mentalities, and encourage behaviour that is downright barbaric.  Reason and logic doesn’t seem to work...

So the challenge is for the young, educated and informed young people who have grown up in a globalised society to ensure that extremism remains fringe and ridiculously laughable.  This is where a new generation can really leave a mark and share in a meaningful legacy.  By and large, I have seen this happen but the trick is to have it spread beyond just the educated upper and middle classes and move into the lower socio economic groups.  

Some young Europeans have said the fact that extreme groups have a legitimate seat at the table is good as it means they can argue their point and be shut down in a formal manner.

I am undecided.  I appreciate that this may be the case, but by allowing these types of ideologies to blossom in mainstream media, what else are we then accepting as a society?

It isn’t always easy being tolerant and accepting of what is different and unusual, but multiculturalism and globalisation don’t happen by accident. It takes well designed policy, implementation and maintenance to ensure it remains successful. 

Australia is doing okay, but we cannot be complacent. If we are to avoid an EU-like situation, let’s keep our eye on the ball and hope the Europeans can sort themselves out before things get too nasty.  

What do you think? Why are people moving to the far right, and is it something we should worry about?

On the Stalking of Julia Gillard

"How did we ever let her go?"

Those were my first thoughts.

The Julia Gillard who graced the stage with Anne Summers in conversation a few months ago now was charismatic, charming, engaging, articulate, wise (I could go on!) and pretty well looked like someone who would be a fantastic leader for our country.

The woman on stage in the Sydney Opera House for the hour and a half special seemed miles away from the Julia Gillard that the Australian people had become accustomed to.  Was this really the same women that the country so desperately hated while she ran the Government for just over three years? Was this the same Julia Gillard that graced our television screens for such a brief period of time?

So what happened? Where did this lady go in all the hullabaloo... and how or why did it all go so wrong?

the-stalking-of-julia-gillard-how-the-media-and-team-rudd-contrived-to-bring-down-the-prime-minister

 

The Book

I recently finished an interesting book by Kerry-Anne Walsh, 'The Stalking of Julia Gillard'.

The Allen and Unwin published piece is an interesting blow-by-blow account of the years of Julia Gillard's reign.  It illustrates how relentless white-anting from within her own party coupled with the obvious campaign against her in the predominantly Murdoch-owned media led to the misrepresentation of our first female leader and her eventual downfall - and for what?  It was an interesting read, and brought up feelings quite similar to guilt.

How did we not see the good work that she was doing, the book asks.

We, the Australian public, were not allowed to, Walsh replies.

It is an angry read in parts; angry for the treatment of our first female Prime Minister, angry for Julia as a fellow human being, angry at the press gallery for failing in their role as the fourth estate. I felt like I was having a heated conversation with someone who really cared about Gillard, and someone who in hindsight, wished more were done. What could have been done by us isn't really explained, but as they say, admitting there is a problem is half the battle.

Naturally, Gillard is not blameless. Many Australians still hold deep resentment that she arrived on the scene in the way she did, through what was seen as the 'knifing' of a colleague.  Whether that is an accurate representation of the events we may never truly know, but that is how the picture was painted for the public.  Unfortunately, perceptions like that tend to stick around.

Walshes writing had an obvious bias, but in the wake of the conversation with Anne Summers, I began to wonder - how will history remember Gillard, and what lessons do we as a community take from the last three years?

That question: gender? 

As Julia herself admitted, the fact that she was a female in her role doesn't explain everything, but it doesn't explain nothing either.

My hope is that there is more 'nothing' than 'everything', and that the way that Julia was treated - not only by the media and colleagues but by the public in general - does not deter other young women from aspiring to a similar role.

There is evidence to suggest some women who strive for such leadership positions do not even consider their gender as an impediment or a factor until they get there and realise that it somehow plays a part. The 'ugly, violent sexism' that Gillard and her image were subjected to during her term however, were shocking for many - not least of all Gillard herself, as she fit nicely into the aforementioned category.

The public discourse has been drenched in questions around the role gender played in Gillard's treatment.  Prominent feminists such as Anne Summers herself have admitted to being truly shocked at the capacity of our progressive society to produce such callous content.

However all is not lost, and sometimes success is the best form of response.  Rather than focusing what hateful individuals propagate, or dwell on the fact that a TV show was made about a sitting PM, let us focus on the fact that we had a female PM who had a relatively successful parliament.  Let us use her example as incentive for other young women as proof that you can make it.

Yes, it might be a rose tinted view accented by the optimism of youth but surely it is the way to go.

If people have a problem, they will find any flaw or weakness they can to exploit.  The fact that the female gender is seen as an exploitable weakness is unfortunate, but if someone's gender is the best insult thrown at them, well it isn't much of an insult at all!

This is not to say that we should brush issues under the rug, or investigate why there remains a strong undercurrent of misogyny in our society.  By giving the detractors so much attention in the public discourse though, we are legitimising their actions and beliefs in a way that they don't deserve.

My father always repeated a common Arab saying to me while we were growing up:

The camel walks while the dogs keep barking...

There will always be those who are vocal, violent and sexist.  The fact that we now have a history of females in the highest offices in the land though, is an indicator that gender is not an insurmountable obstacle.  It might not be easy, but hey - societal change never is.

Let's just keep walking - after all, no self-respecting camel deigns to even acknowledge the barking dogs...

Morning Breakfast: Intellectual Buffet!

Good morning all! Things are a little bit quiet on my front today so I thought I would share some of the interesting bits of news / things on the internet this morning.

The first: An Explainer of the US Debt Ceiling in Comic Form

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Secondly, an interesting piece on The Conversation on the fact that Peter Voser (outgoing Chair of Shell) says getting into shale gas in the US is his biggest regret. Say what?!

There is no doubt gas is a much cleaner fuel than coal in all sorts of ways, and a preferable one if it can be delivered to market at scale in a cost effective way. It could conceivably help attain climate objectives if used as a bridging fuel, providing fugitive emissions are held in check. But to do so, requires a sustained coal-to-gas replacement path in the short-medium term.

With the latest reports out of EIA, and Voser’s mea culpa, unconventional gas is not looking quite the sure bridge it was just a few months ago.

For the outgoing Chair of Shell to say that the shale gas revolution in the States isn't necessarily the revolution we were expecting, one has to wonder...

 

What we would have LIKED to achieve through the design council in terms of resilient development after a disaster is happening in the US...

 

Was part of Gillard's failure not her ability, but inexperience? An interesting question...

 

A bunch of really good tips on public speaking! ABS >> Always be storytelling...

 

What have you read this morning that has caught your eye??

 

 

Women in the LNP Cabinet: What's Next?

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In April this year, we had a female Prime Minister, a record number of women in our cabinet and a rich and interesting public debate around the role of women in our society, evidenced through books like the Griffith Review's Women and Power, and the capitvating campaign, Destroy the Joint.

Fast forward a few months and where are we?  In a nation where the discourse around women in leadership seems stifled and the cabinet has fewer women than that of Afghanistan.  That comparison is apt.  It illustrates that even in a country struggling with a war torn history and one that is generally portrayed in Western media as an oppressive environment for women has the systems in place to enable more females to play a leading role in the governance of the state.  Part of me thinks this is more about the fact that there is a lack of understanding about the role the women play in Eastern countries, but that is another discussion in itself.

Should this lack of women in our cabinet be something we discuss, analyse or just accept?  Should we be worried? It is definitely had the fingertips on keyboards, and for good reason.  

On Meritocracy

For what it is worth, I will throw my hat in the ring here by saying that I am sick of people saying that 'women shouldn't be promoted for the sake of a quota or a target'.  It is a common sentiment when quotas or targets are mentioned, and quite often by other women.  There seems to be a sense that a quota will take away from the sense of legitimacy of a woman's position, and there will be a perception that gender was the only reason that position was awarded.

"It's got to be a meritocracy." said Brownyn Bishop to Radio National.  On that basis, has the current 'meritocracy' has deemed that women aren't able to govern our countries or run our boards? I highly doubt it.  Also, does this mean that every man is promoted on the basis of merit?  James Diaz rings a bell for someone who might not fit that depiction.  

Yes, a meritocracy is important.  What seems to be forgotten however, is that a meritocracy is only as good as the access and equity of the pathways available.  If there are 'women knocking on the doors' of the cabinet as Abbott has stated, what is stopping them from jumping that threshold? Is that door locked?

Yes, he is focusing on 'stability and consistency', and it is understandable he doesn't want to cause too much change.  He said he is disappointed, but clearly not disappointed enough to make any changes.   Is there a systemic issue, or is it one of circumstance?  

The alarming lack of diversity among those who lead our nation is something we should care about.  As Nareen Young so eloquently put it, leadership should reflect the community that it serves.   No one can better represent a group that someone from that actual group - a woman for women, an indigenous for the First People, a culturally and linguistically diverse for the many migrants, and so on and so forth.  The current lineup insinuates that the group - all from a similar socio-economic demographic an gender - are able to speak for and represent all of Australia.  It does seem a little...disingenuous.  

Our Future

The best way to encourage the young and bright to any discipline is by having role models who are walking the walk.

Right now, who do we have? Our last role model in the area, Julia Gillard, was treated by the media and public perception with insults and vitriol that were lower than low.  The fact that the this was said by people who are on our airwaves boggles the mind!  Political correctness gone wrong they say - gah! There was no correctness at all.

So with the events of the last few months, what on earth would encourage a young woman to enter politics? Society inculcates enough self esteem issues related to appearance growing up as a teenager, you would hope people had moved on by the time they 'grew up'. Not so, it seemed.

Now, with even fewer women gracing our tv screens in a governing role, who will we look up to?

On one hand, it is amazing and awesome that we had a female PM, a female Speaker and now a female Foreign Affairs Minister.  It would seem though that these are more exceptions that prove the rule.  The way they were treated and their circumstances indicate that really, there is still a way to go.

What Next?

The thing is, the country has chosen. Decisively, it chose the Coalition of the Liberal and National Party to represent us for the next three years. So no matter how we feel about their policies, we must accept the decision of the people and work with what we have.  

What we shouldn't accept though, is a return to being represented by those who don't reflect the make up of the nation.  We should keep talking about the role of women in society - in governing roles such as on the Cabinet and in the Boardroom.  We should talk about the equality of opportunity and fairness.  We should talk about allowing women the freedom to stay at home if they so choose, and respect that role equally - but understand that isn't the only role that they can play in our societies.

We should also, remember to bring men into this conversation.  At the end of the day, they are our fathers, our husbands, brothers, uncles, friends.  They are also dealing with finding their role in society, and getting them on board, to understand why this needs to happen and why it is important is imperative.  Hey, no one said it would be easy, after all, no group likes sharing power.

At the end of the day though, if we really want to see any change, we have to shake the system up enough, get enough of a critical mass behind us, and demand change ourselves.

Isn't that democracy?

***

Bonus: The Principle of Gender Equality...cannot be articulated better than by this video.

It may seem old fashioned and ridiculous, but one wonders at times, how many of these views are actually still held today but simply suppressed due to the current climate of political correctness...

Election Night: Is there an echo?

Election night, Australia 2013.

Instead of switching on the telly when I got home (post the Brisbane Writers' Festival Great Debate which was much fun...) I flipped my laptop screen open and basked in the cool light of my facebook newsfeed.

Oh the woe.

But then the thought: If almost everyone I know is upset by the election results as per my newsfeed, who on earth voted for Tony Abbott?

(Correction. Who voted for the LNP? Such presidential style language.  A political party is a party is a party not a person).

Curious.  I think I saw only one congratulatory status update.  It could have been because all the LNP supporters were hitting the town in celebration and excitement, but the following few days saw little change in the tone of my feed (with occasional bursts about Syria).

It reminded me of the book published a few years back: "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is hiding from You", which talks about the Google and Facebook algorithms that 'personalise' what you see in search results.  

The synopsis paints a dystopian picture.

[box] Though the phenomenon has gone largely undetected until now, personalized filters are sweeping the Web, creating individual universes of information for each of us. Facebook-the primary news source for an increasing number of Americans-prioritizes the links it believes will appeal to you so that if you are a liberal, you can expect to see only progressive links. Even an old-media bastion like The Washington Post devotes the top of its home page to a news feed with the links your Facebook friends are sharing. Behind the scenes a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking your personal information to sell to advertisers, from your political leanings to the color you painted your living room to the hiking boots you just browsed on Zappos. In a personalized world, we will increasingly be typed and fed only news that is pleasant, familiar, and confirms our beliefs-and because these filters are invisible, we won't know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas.[/box]

Is it really that bad? Should we be scared? Digging  a little deeper, it would seem that the Facebook PR machine has been doing a little work of its own to combat this image, publishing a study that disputes this claim.

But on this I am...undecided.  What is it that we are arguing exactly? That the 'online echo chamber' doesn't exist, or arguing about the effects of personalisation on creating such a 'chamber'?

Well, the personalisation exists, there is no question.  What effect is this having? Well...

Facebook's research concludes:

[box] Although we’re more likely to share information from our close friends, we still share stuff from our weak ties—and the links from those weak ties are the most novel links on the network. Those links from our weak ties, that is, are most likely to point to information that you would not have shared if you hadn’t seen it on Facebook. [/box]

This links to the concept of EdgeRank (Facebook's algorithm for its newsfeed) .  As I understand, it says it doesn't matter how close you are to people in real life, what appears on your feed is what you interact with - whether they are 'strong' or 'weak' ties.  Because we share things from our 'weak' ties, it means this is likely to be information we wouldn't have accessed any other way.  Therefore, they are saying that in fact, the newsfeed system actually diversifies what you see.

I would recommend reading this slate article, which is a good summary of the research and findings.  I tend to the opinion that it isn't as fabulous a result as it is painted to be.  Although both strong and weak ties are sources of information, it would seem likely that weak ties would also include those who largely share ideologies...

Regardless of what the research says though, something doesn't feel right.

Yes, it is great that my friends seem to share my ideologies (judging by what I see/read on facebook for example), but the fact that rarely are widely differing ideologies  presented (or any that seem to reflect a popular ideology outside my immediate circles) seems disingenuous.  There might be other answers.  Perhaps my strong and weak ties are by and large young people who have similar concerns on the whole or those who don't share my opinions don't spend their time on facebook, or I don't actively spend my time interacting with perspectives/videos/links outside my ideologies so I don't get shown these on my newsfeed...

The question then becomes, how do I make sure that I don't fall into the trap of group think? Punters have talked about the narrowing of perspectives that is caused by a possible filter bubble, but what concerns me more is the increased likelihood of 'willful blindness'.

If everyone around you agrees or shares a similar world view, how will you be exposed to 'disruptive' views?

It is reminiscent of the story of a scientist whose partner's sole job was to disprove her theories and find the flaws until the theory was solid and foolproof. Only then did they publish the work.

It is so important for us to actively listen to opposing views and try to understand where they are coming from, right?  Isn't that the way we will truly broaden our scopes and try to bridge those chasms? Otherwise we are just looking at shades of the same primary colour, forgetting there are two other colours out there...

The Quraan says:

[box] O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. (49:13) [/box]

We are all different, but ultimately human.  Getting to know each other is part of the deal.

What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

#BWF13 Comedy: Australia needs Politicians, Not Leaders

Inspire

 Literary festivals are wonderful feasts for the mind; the Brisbane Writers' Festival was no exception.

Held over the 5th - 8th of September at the beautiful State Library of Queensland, it brought together some amazing - truly amazing - writers and authors and I was humbled to be speaking alongside some of them for a few events.

The photo above is with the authors Tim Cope (on my left) and Chris Sarra on my right.  Both of their stories are amazing and worth checking out; Tim rode along the steps of Genghis Khan, and Chris is the former Principal of Cherbourg School, who was able to change the culture of low expectations and attendance at this Indigenous education facility.

The second event I had the honour of being a part of was The Great Debate.  Held on election night, it meant that I didn't have to watch the telly or really think about politics... except our topic was 'Australia needs leaders, not politicians', and we were on the negative.

My fellow debaters were William McInnes and Julia Zemiro from Eurovision (and Rockwiz). We were pitted against Tim FischerAnita Heiss and the delightful Ben McKenzie.

Unlike the debates I have previously been involved in, I soon found that this was to be a 'hilarious' debate (as the crowd below can attest to). Here is a little excerpt of what I had to say...(or what was on the script anyway!).

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#SATIRE ALERT#

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I'm just want to start by saying that I'm an engineer by trade, so I am very serious, my points are bullet pointed, and there will be numbers.
I have been chosen to rule over you, though I am not the best among you.  Help me if I am right; correct me if I am wrong.
These are the words of Abu Bakr Al-Siddique.  Abu Bakr was the first ruler – and politician – in Islam.  He was referred to as the ‘Khalifa’, and Khalifa in Arabic means ‘custodian’ – of the people, the principles of the religion and of the land.
He was chosen.  Politicians are representatives, leaders are not.
#Rebuttal

I will argue two points tonight, both which will prove to you undeniably that Australia needs politicians, not leaders, regardless of what the election says.

Firstly, I will argue that we as don’t want to be lead, we want to be represented.  Politician are those who represent us.

It is no secret that Australians aren’t a fan of tall poppies, people who think they know what’s good for us, or authority figures in general.  Debate2

We don't we want people who will tell us where they think we should go,we want to tell them where we want to go and have them take us there. Or that's how Its supposed to work - ours don't quite have that down yet.

Secondly one of the main differences between leaders and politicians is that leaders are assume power, while politicians are entrusted with power to make decisions by the us, the people – the citizens they represent.

After all, who will a leader be answerable and accountable to?

Putting this aside, one of the most important contribution politicians make to our society is that they entertain us. They keep our journalists employed and without them, who would Annabelle Crabb talk to in Kitchen Cabinet? Phillip, what would you write about if there were no pollies? The pages of the Australian would be laid bare...

While googling the answer to this topic, I came across the following quote by Gourcho Marx.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.

SO in essence, politics is the art of trouble.

This is definitely what Australia needs.

Leaders inspire us, yes this is true.

However, our National Anthem says 'Australian all let us rejoice, for we are young and free...'

We clearly don't want to be inspired. We want to be entertained.  Politicians do just that.

 

***

#END OF SATIRE#

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What do you think? Did you go to the Brisbane Writers' Festival? Any favourite sessions?

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It is about the Vote People, not the Boat People (Part 2).

This is the second half of this piece: Check out Part 1 here.

***

As an asylum seeker who has arrived by boat to Australia, under either the Labour or Coalition, you will be treated as a second class asylum seeker, be discriminated against due to your mode of arrival, possibly be settled in a third world nation without the infrastructure to support you OR be allowed into Australia but only on a temporary basis, until you can be sent back.

WHY does this policy standpoint seem to work?  The arguments used by voters include:

1. We don't hate refugees, we just don't like those who are jumping the queue.

Mate, there is no queue.  If that doesn't answer the question, let's look at reasons people decide to jump on a boat.

Problem 1 - Difficult access to UNHCR processing locations.  In some cases, like those from North and East Sri Lanka, the only place where you can apply for refugee status via the UNHCR is in Colombo, down in the South and in the heartland of the 'enemy'.  The number of checkpoints between where the refugees are coming from and where the UNCHR processing location is means that more likely than not, you won't make it through. What is your other option? Jump on a boat somewhere and try your luck.

Problem 2 - No camp nearby.  The UNCHR has a number of refugee camps and processing locations around the world.  However, if you are in a situation where a camp is inaccessible, or worse, you find one and it is full, where do you go?

Problem 3 - The length of wait to be resettled.  This is one of the wedge issues.  If the average wait in a refugee camp is 17 years, does it not make sense that individuals will try other options to start their life?  Yes, there are those that go through the system, wait in a camp and get duly processed.  It is pure folly to believe though that everyone has equal access to the UNHCR's processing pathway.  If there is an option - no matter how dangerous - that means you may be accepted into a nation in a shorter period of time, that option will be taken.  

This is an aspect of the issues that requires a concerted international or regional effort to tackle.   It is a major factor which means that if resolved, or even partly so, asylum seekers will not have the same incentive to risk their life by jumping on a boat.  They will have belief in the system and will wait - if they believe the system works.  This can be done by substantially increasing the capacity of the UNHCR to allow them to process individuals at a much faster rate, something Australia can work on.

 

2. Why don't they stay in Indonesia and Malaysia?

Both of these countries are not signatories to the UN Convention and as such, offer no rights and protection to asylum seekers and refugees.  This means that they live on the edge of civilisation, unable to work or educate themselves and their families and in the constant fear of detection and persecution.  This lifestyle is simply unsustainable.  Many are often recognised refugees and are simply waiting to be resettled, however, it can take them up to 20 or 30 years to be resettled into a third country.

 

3. We have to protect our borders.

Burnside says it best here.

"Border protection" is a grossly misleading term, used by both major parties. It implies that boat people are a threat to us. They are not. We do not need to be protected from asylum seekers: they need to be protected from their persecutors. 

We need to stop this defensive, exclusionary discourse that implies this is an issue of national security.  If it were, it would be under the Department of Defence.  It isn't. It is under the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  Which means it is an issue of immigration!

Some say that if the refugees were white, this wouldn't be a problem, alluding to this issue targeting the xenophobic vote.  This is true, to a certain extent.  Interestingly,

***

There is no doubt there are people who will try to rort the system, individuals who take advantage of kindness.

However, this should NOT dictate our behaviour as a nation.

If we want to be world leaders, if we want to play a part in the region as part of the 'Asian Century', we have to show that we are willing to take our share of an international situation that isn't going anywhere.  

***

At the end of the day, the attitude towards refugees and asylum seekers in this country may be deemed as legal, technically. It may be deemed as politically savvy, for winning votes in this election.

However, at the end of the day, there is no way it can be deemed as fair, just or morally correct.

For a nation with the resources that we have, with the pride in ‘fairness’ we tout, with the capacity to take on refugees and provide them with the opportunity to start a new life, it is sad that we are not willing to take part of the international responsibility to protect properly.  Particularly as in some cases, our armed forces contributed to the situations that are forcing people out of their homes (Afghanistan, Iraq).  

…and they wonder why people are disengaging from politics.

boat people