Cost of our fear: Text of my Tedx Talk.

What follows is the text of the Tedx Talk I recently gave on the cost of our fear of asylum seekers. 

da843-mcg1I can’t tell you how much I like this place. The MCG.

It’s not the architecture of the stadium, nor even the sporting context. It is the crowd.

See you have mixed in amongst this crowd all socio-economic groups. All religions. Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists – Collingwood supporters.

But I don’t mean the crowd during the match. I don’t mean the way we come together and watch this high testosterone game all mixed in amongst each other. I don’t mean the tension of the crowd as they sit amongst the rival supporters waiting to see who gets the ball or kicks the goal.

No, what I mean is the way the crowd disperses after the game.

Yet after the game you have roughly half of the crowd happy having seen their team win and roughly half of them who are exceptionally unhappy having seen their team lose.

Yet there is no violence. There are no riots. There are no flares and no police lines. There is just a multi ethnic and multi religious crowd that had come together to enjoy a common spectacle and a sense of communal togetherness.

And what does this say about us? About our community and our people?

Ask yourself where else in the world could a 14-year-old girl say to her mother “hi mum hi dad, I am going to a massive public event with 100,000 people and no adult supervision.” And her mother says “see you when you get home dear.”

Where else in the world could that happen?

Africa does not have stadiums that hold more than 100,000 people.

In Europe and South America they divide supporters based on who they barrack for.

In North America it’s just too expensive.

The word unique is overused but accurately applied to this stadium: not for the architecture or the game but for what it says about our culture. For what it says about how we come together as a people.

And why is this so important for me? Why do I get such a sense of – safety and contentment?

During my life I have been to six wars. I have been to Kosovo, Bosnia, Mindanao, Sri Lanka, East Timor –



In these places I learned you don’t win a logical argument with emotion nor an emotional argument with logic. And there is nothing logical about war.

In Nyamata church there was a scent of death. There were 3000 human corpses rotting. On the top was a baby’s head.

This scent of death, that musky, dirty smell that burns the back of my nostrils – never leaves me. And how the scent of death is so close to the scent of love: that smell of musk.

It never leaves.

And yet I can return to the MCG. I can sit in a crowd. And I can feel safe.

Genocide. Or the G?

Have you ever thought about this? Australia is either the number one or number two on the United Nations human development index. Melbourne keeps getting voted the world’s most liveable city.

Let me rephrase that. Number one or number two on the human development index and the world’s most liveable city. Isn’t there just the world’s ideal example of humanity on the face of the earth?

But do we ever see it that way? Do we see the greatness we have already and the opportunity to make it better, or are we focussed on the trees not the woods?

So what do we do with this opportunity? This great good fortune of the way our society comes together?

How do we manage this with all of the events around the globe today?

We love to talk about the rise of China without having a sense of history. Yet when we go further back in time we see that China isn’t so much a rising but returning. We see that India isn’t so much rising is returning. Indonesia rising.

India, China and Indonesia in about 1500 had in excess of 80% of the global economy dropping to less than 10% by 1950.

Before 1820 percentage of the world’s GDP and the percentage of the world’s population more or less aligned. But with the massive expansion of economic growth coming from the industrial revolution we saw Western Europe United Kingdom and the United States boom ahead of everybody else.gr2

Today, as information technology and the global economy are spreading those productivity gain, we see the world is returning to position where a percentage of a countries economy as a proportion of world GDP is coming back towards the percentage of its population.

I imagine it will stay like that until the next great productivity spurt.

What we see today is not a once in a generation nor even a once-in-a-lifetime but a once in an epoch shift.

A shift from the white Anglo-Saxon Christian world to the Asian Buddhist Hindu – Islamic world.


Who is now afraid? Who sees that word and trembles?


Do you see that as a threat or an opportunity?

A once in an epoch shift from the white Anglo-Saxon Christian world to the Asian Buddhist Hindu – Islamic world.

Imagine if they were a country somewhere in the world, in the ideal geography, in the ideal time zone. Imagine if this hypothetical country had with in it a cultural mix of population that made it the ideal trusted partner for this epochal shift.

Imagine a country that had Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus Atheists

Imagine if this country would see its multicultural population as a huge opportunity to become the hinge: the most important country in the world whilst this multi-generational change takes place.

Imagine how important the children and grandchildren of this hypothetical country would be.

Imagine IF.

And how are we reacting?



A few years ago as a nation we immediately suspended live beef exports to Indonesia based on a expose on the conditions in Indonesian abattoirs.

I kind of get the reaction.

But think about it from an Indonesian perspective.

Without notice we as a country threatened their food security.

Any sensible government in their shoes would see us as an unreliable – perhaps fickle – trading partner. No wonder they have now cut imports as they find alternative sources of protein.

Was there an alternative for us?

Imagine if:

Imagine If we had have seen our Islamic population as an asset. Instead of focussing on live exports, we focussed on halal abattoirs, and exported butchered meat instead?

We already export Halal beef to 40 countries in trade worth hundreds of millions.

Why not expand that?

Why not make it part of our brand.

Why not build TRUST off the back of exports designed for that market?

Could we have used tax payer funds to expand our Halal beef exports and build trust in the region and enhance employment in our country?

But no. You know what we spent money on instead?

We took taxpayers funds and distribute throughout our region advertising with a map of Australia a red circle a line through it and the words “no way”.


And somehow we are dumb enough to think that only asylum seekers will read this.

I mean, what is going through our heads?

What about the kid in school in Indonesia or Malaysia who grows up to be a business leader and is looking to where he or she might expand business.

And then remembers ‘No Way’.

The other day I was speaking to a whole bunch of 11 years olds in the 6th grade class of my god son.

I asked them if they traded cards or things amongst each other.


Did they trade with people they don’t like?


11 year olds get it. People don’t trade with people they don’t like and don’t trust if they can help it.

And education? One of our largest exports to India, China and Indonesia.

A few years ago enrolments started to drop off. Export earnings dropped.

Jobs were lost.

Did you know that Access Economics estimates that for every two international students in Australia there is one additional job in our economy in education, accommodation, retail and aligned sectors?

75,000 students = 37,500 jobs.

Is this the cost of our fear?

And International Students cross subsidise Australian students and thereby expand not take education places from Australian kids?

Universities Australia did a study back then. They found:

The dollar had a bit of an impact – but not as much as they thought.

Some over blown violence issues had an impact – but not as much as they thought.

Visa changes made a difference. But not as much as they thought.

The big change was, in the words of Glen Withers then head of Universities Australia:

“the perception of Australia as an unwelcoming country in the way it conducts the refugee debate”.

We as a nation have an irrational fear of asylum seekers. We think we are being swamped even though we receive far less than countries in Europe and even though – at its height – boat arrivals would have taken almost 10 years to fill the MCG.

10 years.

Reputation: Is this the cost of our fear?

When the government linked the Tsunami aid with the executions of Chan and Sukumaran spontaneous protests started in Indonesia to ‘donate a coin’ to give the money back.

We really offended the normal Indonesian in the street.

Look at the signs.

‘We don’t need Australian education’ the say.

Maybe not – but we need their students.

This year Australia is 75,000 international students down on what was projected in 2010. That is 37,500 jobs – added to beef, added to tourism.

Is this the cost of our fear? Or is there more?

So we have this once in an epoch shift, and the world needs a country that can be a cultural translator – a country all can trust – and that country would be oh so powerful into the future.

If a country can be perceived as trusted.


I do not believe Australia is an unwelcoming country. We are not racist to the level that creates a cast system, or multi generational immigration restrictions. We haven’t had an ethnic war like Bosnia or a Genocide like Rwanda.

No we have the MCG. And the people in a crowd. Together.

We even are so sensitive to intolerance that we make a national issue out of a sportsman being booed.

But we are not perceived that way by some.

And perception is reality.

Yet it would be so easy to have changed perception if our vision were outward not inward.

Why didn’t we answer ‘you mean someone willing to risk their lives for the better future for their children? Absolutely we want them here. But in a controlled manner’.

Imagine if instead of a “Border protection Policy”,

We had a:

Controlled Entry Policy

Back in 2001 when we were asked: do we want the sorts of people here?

Many of the policy elements may be the same – including discouraging boats –by providing a more predictable resettlement policy – but with a better narrative.

A narrative of positivity.


Things of dreams.

What are my dreams?

There is a once in an epoch shift from the white Anglo Saxon Christian world to the Asian, Islamic Hindu Buddhist world.

The globe needs a hinge. It needs a place through which this great shift passes.

It doesn’t need a country to cringe away from.

It needs a country with the right ethnic mix, in the right time zone. In the right geography.

The right Perception.

And my dream is for this country to take and not miss this once is an epoch opportunity for the children and grand children to come, to build upon that which we have.

The community that we see at the G.

So what do we do?

We should be like that tattooed guy. The one with the bad teeth and big biceps. “Hey mate, this is about the kids’.

When our leaders lose sight of what is right, is it not up to us to enforce that which must be changed?

For we do not want future generations to say:

“Never in history was a nation given such an easy road to greatness, yet so meekly squandered it for short term politics.”

It can be THIS country that is the Hinge, not the Cringe, that is the thing of my dreams.

One Reply to “Cost of our fear: Text of my Tedx Talk.”

  1. Hi Andrew,

    I agree with most of your views. I came to Australia in 2000 and found there is no better place on this earth than Australia to live in. However, I supported the suspension of live cattle export to those countries which do not humanly slaughter animals. We human being, bring the animals to this world, then kill them for food. It is true, those animals are less intelligent creatures than us, but they are sentimental, similar as we are. If they have choice, they would rather stay alive, feel the sun, breath the air, eat the grass. But we make them die for our food. The least thing we can do is to make them suffer less on their death. Putting the suspension on live cattle export, is probably a small price we pay compared with what those animals have given to us.

    Ming Chen
    From Sydney.


Your view is welcome. Please comment here.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s