By Novan Sachrudi. 20th April 2016.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a mechanical engineer, social advocate, writer and petrol head, and is the 2015 Queensland Young Australian of the Year. She advocates for the empowerment of youth, women and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and founded not-for-profit Youth Without Borders at age 16. Yassmin is also deeply passionate about diversifying public voices, connecting people and catalysing change.
Follow Yassmin on Twitter
Morning, Yassmin! I'm stoked that I get to talk to you today. What's going on in Perth?
Perth is great this morning Novan, thanks! It's a bit cool today; a sign that winter is coming.
Winter is coming, both in the sense that colder weather is coming and so is the Game of Thrones new season. Reckon they did that on purpose?
Hahaha. Cheeky right?
They’ve got me around their little finger! (Another GoT reference, I swear I didn’t mean that).
But anyway, as far as Perth goes, we've estimated that about 11,900 young people in your Division of Perth didn't cast a formal vote. What are your thoughts and feelings on that, Yassmin?
I guess I am disappointed but not surprised. To be honest, the political system is incredibly disengaging for young people - I am sure that is no surprise to you, Novan - so it doesn't shock me that the number of young people who have not voted is so high. It's interesting though because often we think of ourselves as people whose voices don't really count but when you add it all up, that's quite a significant chunk of votes - so they really could be influential, as a collective...
A part of me feels - and this is a personal reflection, not thoughts on 'all the young people' - that we just don't have a choice worth making.
But that's a bit cynical, isn't it!
I guess I can't blame you for saying so. Because as you said, it's a very disengaging system and process, and I'm glad you brought that up. I think the picture that's often painted about young folks these days is that we don't care about the big-picture stuff, but I think we care a great deal, and just happen to feel very alienated and cut-off from the big machine. Wouldn't you say?
I think the way young people care about issues and talk about issues is different from the way older generations have. I also think it is dangerous to say 'all young people care' about anything in particular. I think we tend to see people as more issue focused than simply 'duty' focused, and do things because they care about a certain problem, group or cause rather than because they feel they should.
I think what affects us uniquely as a generation though is that our future is not as certain as those of other generations. We may not have the same easy access to energy, food, education and so on, or at least it won't necessarily be improving at the same rate that it has done for the previous couple of generations.
I think that is something that sits at the back of our minds - what does our future look like? Although perhaps again, that sits at the backs of minds of people who have time and space to think about it - many people are simply just trying to get by, get a decent job and live a decent life. But if even that becomes difficult and you don't feel like those who govern have your best interests at heart, where do you turn?
There are a lot of perceptions of what young people think, but so very rarely do young people get asked themselves... Haha.
I suppose that's a big part of what we're trying to do. It's to engage young people about the voting and political process in Australia, and to let them voice what issues are important to them, if any at all. Even if it means one particular person calling bullshit on the whole process, or another very obviously batting for one team, so to speak.
Yassmin, you've clearly done a hell of a lot with yourself across so many arenas. You've worked on oil rigs (do you still?), at 16 years old you started Youth Without Borders and at, you headed a race-car team, you've been a boxer, you've presented a TED talk, you've been a panelist on ABC's Q&A, you've recently released a memoir, and so it goes! What's on your radar at this moment apart from.. I dunno. Taking over the world?
Hahaha! *Blush* Why thank you! I've actually just decided to take a year off full time work to enjoy life and pursue the kinds of things I always wish I had time for.
I'll be touring with the book and taking it overseas which is awesome, but I am also thinking about slowing my pace down a little and spending more time thinking about the big issues we face as a society and what should be done about them, and then connecting with the people in those spaces.
My main areas of focus at the moment are around the concepts of social inclusion, tied into unconscious bias and so on, and the spaces of new energy, the future of energy and energy in development.
I'm also quite interested in telling stories of people and perspectives that are rendered invisible in our public spaces - that was part of the motivation to write the book - and paying those opportunities forward so others also feel comfortable sharing.
I really like that. As you said in a video with Broken Yellow regarding why you wrote your memoir, ultimately it's about human experiences, and that has to include the many missing voices and faces. Are they missing or invisible because of, would you say, social exclusion as a result of pervasive unconscious or cultural bias?
Why are voices missing? Ah, well that's a question that deserves a thesis answer. It's complex. We're entering a time where problems are complex, they're not complicated problems with simple, straightforward solutions. They're tricky, difficult, have lots of historical context and generations of pain and trauma involved. There are vested interests and the belief in the status quo. How does one go about changing that?
People don't have voice because it's easier to control folk if you don't hear from them. It's easier to assume you know what's best for them. Sometimes, it's because people don't even realise another group may have a different perspective - that's part of the privilege of being in 'power'...
I really feel you on those - both the questions that you've raised and your remarks about those situations. I've got an international relations background, so I've constantly got my finger on the pulse regarding global continuity and change, and thinking about power. I think in many ways, those questions apply when thinking domestically or locally too.
History plays a huge role in this, but just because something has always been doesn't mean it always should be that way. I'm one of many who think that it's about time things change, and change a little faster than they have in recent years. It’ll be fun.
It seems like what you've chosen to focus your time and work on now is a direct result of your experiences. Social inclusion because of your experiences as a migrant, a young woman of colour, a young Muslim woman, being successful in fields often male-dominated or at least where many, for whatever reason, would never expect to find you, and so on. And due to having been at the coalface of oil and gas production, perhaps having expert knowledge in this field has led you to think about the future of energy.
Yeah, definitely. I'm very blessed to be in the unique situation of having experiences that help me understand what I care about and where I should put my time in - both from an experience point of view as well as an interest and impact point of view. I feel like energy is almost - if not as - important sometimes as education in unlocking the potential of people around the world, and providing access to the kinds of things we take for granted like lights and the internet is something we shouldn't underestimate the power of.
As you said, the issues are all so complex. Yassmin, for those playing at home, can you tell us what three issues will be influencing your vote at the next election? Is it safe to say that the future of energy will be one of them?
Education policy, what is put into place to transition the nation from a resource driven economy and asylum seeker policy, which both parties are doing so very badly on.
In terms of anything else, I guess it's important for us to realise that we do need to take part even if we are annoyed by the system.
For sure. So what would you say to a young person thinking of not taking part in the next election, or botching their vote somehow?
Unless we change the system, this is what we've got to work with and somehow we need to find a way to work through it. It's a power that other people die for around the world, so we should be grateful! Easier said than done...
And how do you like to stay informed and ahead of the issues? Do you have any go-to sources you check out?
Ah yes. I get Crikey in my inbox everyday. I read The Monthly and they have a daily email newsletter as well which I really enjoy. I also like the Economist and I listen to many podcasts. In terms of Middle Eastern News, Al Jazeera English is good, although some Arabs don't like its biases. Oh and I get a lot of random bits and bobs from Twitter.
Yassmin, thanks for being so generous with your time and your responses, I really appreciate it.
Sweet! Thanks so much for letting me be a part of it. Take care and best of luck!