Kaldor Centre Senior Research Associate Madeline Gleeson is a finalist in UNSW’s inaugural Emerging Thought Leader Prize.  

The $8,000 prize recognises researchers who take evidence and critical thinking into the public debate. 

‘The six finalists illustrate UNSW’s understanding of what thought leadership should be: genuine leadership, in the public interest, by applying the highest standards of evidence and critical thought,’ said Scientia Professor Rob Brooks, who chaired the selection panel and also serves as Academic Lead of Thought Leadership and Grand Challenges at UNSW. 

‘Madeline’s evidence-based approach ensures that she leads in an area that suffers deeply from excessive political preconception, reaction and reflex,’ he added. 

The panel noted that ‘Gleeson’s research, public commentary and multi-award-winning book Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru have significantly influenced public debate and raised the profile of refugee law in Australia. She is frequently invited as an expert contributor to media, policy and conferences; speaking to governments, academics, human rights organisations and the general public.  

‘She brings clear analysis and intellect to public debate, a voice of legal reasoning in a highly politicised environment. Her meticulous research and outstanding communication skills have helped to shine a spotlight on Australia’s offshore processing regime, uncovering new evidence and demonstrating the human impacts of successive legal and policy changes.’ 

For her part, Gleeson said, ‘Thought leadership is not just about new ideas, but about whole new ways of framing ideas. It challenges assumptions and prejudices. It upends traditional frameworks governing how we think about the key problems facing the world today. It uses an evidence base to link intellectual pursuits with the reality of life; and, if we are lucky, to prompt radical shifts in the way complex issues are understood, in order to better society as a whole. 

‘Thought leadership is critically important in the field of refugee law and policy, both in Australia and globally, now more than ever. It is an area riven with deeply held political and ideological positions that can bring progress to a standstill. Thought leadership is vital to breaking through this impasse.’ 

The other finalists are: Professor Richard Holden (economics), Associate Professor Adriana Vergés (marine biology), Dr Emma A. Jane (cyber violence), Mr Sandersan Onie (mental health), and Ms Bassina Farbenblum (migrant workers’ rights).  

The prize will be awarded by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs, on 14 October.  

Read more about the prize, the finalists and the Grand Challenges.