Bring On The Nanny State!

Thursday, 30 June 2011
My, the Australian Hotels Association are a pessimistic bunch. Whether it's anti-smoking laws, or gambling restrictions, or shorter trading hours, they're completely convinced that the next "draconian" Government measure imposed on them will cause the entire industry to collapse, killing local nightlife and putting lots of "ordinary Australians" out of work. Now, in the past I have written opposing alcohol trading restrictions in Newcastle, but I believed and still do, that Newcastle is a special case. The AHA however is the eternal boy who cried wolf on these issues, and in their latest missive, they've gone a little further than is comfortable.

Claiming that it's partly in jest, the NSW President of the AHA, Scott Leach, has penned a missive decrying the nanny state in Australia. He's angry about regulations restricting pub trade and alcohol consumption, claiming that "In the United States citizens can tote guns, choose not to wear seatbelts and they allow kids as young as 16 to drive huge petrol guzzlers. Here we can’t water the lawn without the government telling us when, how and with what." (and that's working out very well for them), in comparison to Australia. Mr Leach envisions a nation where tourists can camp on the beach, pubs can serve unlimited drinks and patrons can drive home afterwards.

My sympathy runs out here. See, I love rules. When I hear that chewing gum is illegal in Singapore, I think "Gosh, we could do with some of that here" (without the death penalty part, however). Pretty much everyone loves the rules when it comes to protecting their own way of life - I'm sure there are those on talkback radio today agreeing heartily that the "do gooders" have gone too far who also decry the behaviour of alcohol fuelled yobs. Mr Leach wouldn't want the backpackers camping in his backyards. Well, as a socialist I think public property is everyone's responsibility - that's why I'd love to see transit officers actually fine people who put their feet on train seats, security guards to prevent morons taking prams on escalators, any rules possible to stop Sydney more closely resembling lower George St at 3am. And let's have a law to stop idiots whining about nanny states, then suing when the laws they decried fail to protect them from their own stupidity.

Anyway, I'm off to pick all the flowers in Scott Leach's garden. He won't mind, surely - he's the guy who wants to get rid of all the petty rules.

Whatever Happened To My Friends?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011
The very clever folk over at Cracked recently published a piece on the upsides of turning 30. It's true, there are several. For me, apart from my personal circumstances improving immesurably, there's also that pretty much no one in customer service intimidates me anymore and I can tell just by looking at bras if they're my size. But Cracked may be a little off. You no longer have to do many of the things you were once obliged to, like go mountain climbing or attend foreign film festivals, because the people who made you do them are gone. Or to put it another way; you lose nearly all your friends. I'm not entirely sure that it is a good thing.

One thing that got me through my horrid twenties was the support of a close knit group of supportive friends. Where the hell are these people now? Sometimes there have been falling-outs, in other cases driftings away. Lifestyles have diverged, people have grown up and moved on. Sure, I no longer have to sit through six-hour long karaoke competitions to "show support". But there's also little point in planning a real birthday party. Who'd come?

That's life though, and it's important to try to make new friends. That's not going so well either. Well, I can be friendly with people. But trying to make social arrangements, forget it. We have one of two scenarios: I ask someone if they want to do something. Great, they say, I'll let you know a good time. Then you never hear from them until you next run into them and make more tentative plans to try out that new Japanese place, that never come to fruition.

Even worse is when someone does commit to doing something, then cancels an hour or two before. They didn't realise they were double booked, so sorry. Or they're not in the mood. I wouldn't mind but why am I always the one that gets shafted if things have to be cancelled? Surely an event pre-booked two months ago when I've already paid your deposit is of more import than a hair appointment?

The funny thing is, if you mention this phenomenon to a group, everyone smiles and nods and agrees the exact same thing happens to them. This gives me hope that it's not just me, and I needn't splash out on the extra-strength deodorant just yet. But if you suggest catching up with any of these people who understand all about what it's like, the same thing happens...

It's actually the people with kids who I'm finding a bit more socially reliable at the moment. But I'm still feeling a bit hurt and wary, so DH and I are not making any more social arrangements for some time to come. We have each other, and an even better solution; we make our own people now. I told my unborn child last night, "You! You'll be my friend. I'm never going to let you go." I'm sure the frantic kicking and squirming was the baby showing its excitement...

No One Special

Saturday, 25 June 2011
Like everyone else, I've been quite taken with Go Back To Where You Came From, which screened on SBS this past week. Giving six "ordinary Australians" (five of whom held distinctly anti-refugee views prior to filming) a chance to experience a refugee's journey to Australia in reverse, it made compelling viewing.

It wasn't perfect, sure. The right wingers came rushing to find fault. Most prominent of this brigade was Paul Sheehan in the Fairfax press. Unlike, say, a Bolt or an Akerman, Sheehan writes for people who are generally awake and facing the correct way in their chairs, but he is still an ideologue. Sheehan paints those opposing asylum seekers as the persecuted minority, victims of the "progressive argument about boat people" - the thoughtful few bravely resisting the left-wing onslaught. His comments about the show's methodology are largely meaningless - describing the moment where the participants believed their boat was sinking as an "obvious charade", though if it wasn't obvious to the participants why should it be so to the home viewer?

But it's the obvious falsities in Sheehan's article that rankle. He disputes the statistic that 1% of the world's refugees are resettled by the UN without evidence, claims the asylum seeker debate is about border control not race, and makes the ludicrous statement that "Much to the chagrin of the progressive side of politics, this argument is the one that has carried the day in Australia. After 15 years of being bashed over the head, especially by the ABC and SBS, the public has not budged." I nearly choked on my soy decaf latte. Asylum seekers barely figured as a political issue in the modern political era prior to 2001, when the Howard government rushed to exploit people's fears in the wake of the Tampa issue. With 9/11 occurring shortly thereafter and fear of Muslims enshrined in the culture, the boat people issue was here to stay, gleefully exploited by both major political parties. Neither party has pointed out the facts on asylum seekers - that the numbers are tiny, it's an issue that has no effect whatsoever on the vast numbers of Australian residents, who will never come into contact with a refugee, that it makes a handy distraction from issues of national import. You'll hardly hear this from the commercial radio and TV networks either, still a major source of news for large numbers of people. So much for being bashed over the head with the progressive views - Sheehan destroys any credibility he may have had with such nonsense.

Sadly you weren't given most of these facts from the show either. An anti-asylum seeker view could be maintained after a careful viewing. The series was light on detail - especially in explaining the legal process by which one becomes a refugee. There was little mention of the fact that it's not illegal to arrive in Australia seeking asylum, and none at all of the fact that in many countries asylum seekers arrive from, there's no queue to jump, no legal way to apply for refugee status in Australia. Go Back To Where You Came From did little to break down the divide in people's minds between "good" (patiently waited their turn in refugee camps) and "bad" (those queue-jumping boat people) asylum seekers. Several participants who went into filming despising all asylum seekers came from the experience with empathy for "genuine refugees", but still railing against the queue jumpers.

A result of the show the producers doubtless did not intend was the wave of hatred against participant Raquel, a young woman from western Sydney who freely admitted to racist views prior to filming. From her limited world view and education, her reaction to the problems she saw was that it's not her problem, she's Australian and she deserves better. I'm not jumping on the Raquel-bashing bandwagon - her view is not uncommon, whether it's expressed outright ("I'm Australian, I don't want to use a hole in the ground toilet, I'm not used to it") or less overtly ("stop foreign aid, we need to look after our own first"). It may be the hardest attitude to budge, precisely because there's no good answer to the question - what the hell makes us so special?

Why should an accident of birth, which has meant we were born white in a rich country, entitle us to a lifetime of special privileges? Aren't we privileged enough to begin with? Raquel has apparently never worked, so never paid taxes apart from the GST. Taking into account her education and healthcare, financially she's a liability to Australia not an asset. There's many others like her - you only have to visit The Anti-Bogan to see the number of unemployed racists. They do need help - long term help to overcome generational poverty. We're a rich country and we can afford that and to "help foreigners". But why is someone accorded special priviliges on the basis of their birth location? We can't help everyone, it's true. But leaving aside the notion that money spent helping refugees is somehow depriving real Australians, the smug self-righteousness of the "this is our country" brigade in nauseating. Yes, it's your country and what have you done to deserve it? A person is measured by their character not by their nationality. We're not better than anyone else because we are Australian, or Western, or white. I sat on Thursday night explaining to my unborn child that they are special because they have parents and an extended family that love them very much, and because of all the amazing things they will achieve (starting with being happy, I hope). But as far as being a white child born in a rich country, and all the privileges that will bring - to never forget that that's just luck, and he or she has an obligation to use that luck to help educate and improve the lives of others not so fortunate. In that sense, our baby is no one special. It's who they grow up to be that will set them apart, not who they were born.

I Like The Way You Move

Thursday, 23 June 2011
I've always been slightly irritated by people who take no notice of a cause until it directly affects them. There's nothing like losing your kids in some sufficiently unusual way to turn the apathetic into raging crusaders. I wouldn't mind, I just get ticked off by those who berate others for their apathy.

Being a bleeding-heart do-gooder type, I've always professed empathy for those facing accessibility issues and disabilities. But I hadn't paid too much attention to what it all really meant until relatively recently, when as a result of pregnancy I developed a pretty serious accessibility issue myself. I'm fine and the baby is fine, but in a rare-ish complication I've got too much of a hormone that relaxes the pelvis for birth. My pelvis is so relaxed in fact that the ligaments can't really hold the bones in place, and even wearing a tight pelvic brace I can only walk very short distances before I'm in a whole heap of pain. Stairs, standing much, pushing stuff (supermarket trolley, vacuum etc) and carrying anything heavier than a Stephen King paperback are out, too. I've been given a temporary but sudden entry into the world of the disabled.

Now, lest it be thought I'm looking for sympathy for myself here; I'm not - this is a temporary problem which, as long as I'm careful, will fix itself up soon after giving birth, and could perhaps be said to be self-inflicted (though after resigning myself to nausea and not drinking, possible ligament issues didn't seem that big a deal). But I've been given a small insight into the lifelong issues many people face, and will be taking up accessibility as one of my pet causes.

You're constantly having to explain yourself, for one thing. I've heard of people who can walk short distances being berated for using the disability parking spots they are entitled to by bystanders who think "disabled" means "spinal injury, unable to walk at all". We recently made a short trip to Melbourne, booked before my problem became severe. I adore Melbourne's art galleries and museums, and we decided that rather than miss these, I'd use one of the wheelchairs such establishments usually have for loan.

If you've ever wanted to be given strange looks, just try walking into a museum foyer - even if that walk is a pained shuffle - then climbing into a wheelchair. Or how about leaving the wheelchair outside the door of the bathrooms whilst you go inside (I think I heard someone mutter once "pregnancy is not a disability", which I chose to ignore). And it's true - you are treated like a piece of furniture when you're in a wheelchair (unless you're getting quizzical, "what's wrong with her?" glances). No one would make eye contact with me, even when I was actually talking to them. Lifts are usually tucked out of the way, entrances off to the side, you're in everyone's way.

I felt really guilty about making use of any help I needed, even when trying to remain ambulatory. Finding it too hard to juggle taking on and off my support belt in regular toilets, I began using the accessible toilets, and got a heap of dirty looks for that as well (sometimes from women with small children who seem to think that accessible bathrooms were for their benefit - although maybe I'm guilty of snap judgements myself here). Passengers requiring special boarding assistance on the plane? Forget it, I'd hardly gotten to my feet after the announcement before the airline threw open general boarding, forcing me to wait till the stampeding line had cleared. Try hailing a taxi out the front of most airports or even shopping centres. See any seats? And if there are they're usually covered in people's shopping.

Being heavily pregnant, disability issue aside, it's still a struggle. Yes, there are a couple of free seats on the bus, but they're up the back; I shouldn't have to announce my condition or shuffle past able-bodied people, risking my safety and severe pain, to get to them whilst you pretend you don't see me, plonked in seats adorned with the sign "please vacate this seat when required by those with mobility issues".

Back in NSW, it almost seems easier to stay home than go out and deal with all this. Double decker trains means there's only a small number of seats near the door of each carriage I can use, and again they're usually full. Public transport is geared towards the needs of commuters - RPA, located less than 5km from the Sydney CBD and one of the oldest and busiest hospitals in NSW, is serviced by one infrequent and unreliable bus route. Getting in to, out of, and around supermarkets is a nightmare.

Anyway, I've had to quit work, and I'm staring down several long and uncomfortable housebound weeks. Guess I should get started on emailing some MPs. It's such an invisible issue, and for me it will go away soon. But there are a lot of people out there facing this stuff every day, and it's taken this much to open my eyes.

The Greatest Schmo on Earth

Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Anyone throwing a party to mark the one-year anniversary of the dumping of Kevin Rudd as PM? We're not, but I wondered if anyone else was. The man himself was planning a knees-up, but "postponed" the thing after too many questions were raised. I'm not surprised he wants to celebrate, though - his dastardly plan is coming along nicely.

The government is in a bit of a state at the moment. Their poll numbers are terrible, nothing they propose goes down well, and Julia Gillard is held in almost universal contempt. Rudd is outpolling her 2 to 1 as preferred Labor leader, people viewing the Rudd leadership as the good old days. And why not? This is Rudd's master plan, I suspect; sail along on the popular early days of the Labor government, stand aside when the poll numbers started to fall, then step back in as party saviour when all hope seems lost and lead in triumph to the next election. Rudd knows very well that as little support as he has from his colleagues - especially Labor backbenchers - he is unfathomably popular with the public. It was therefore easy enough to manipulate the party to dump him, then bide his time in foreign affairs, waiting to sail back in when the time is right. It's too soon to tell if that time is now, but Labor must know that if they go to the 2013 election as things stand now, they'll be wiped out for another few terms. When and if Rudd makes his move in light of this will be interesting to see.

Across the benches in the Opposition, it wouldn't surprise me if Malcolm Turnbull is doing something similar, waiting for Tony Abbott to finally commit the one electoral sin that leads to his dumping. It might take a while longer though - after such a rich history of lies, spin, hypocrisy and malfeasance, the public has low expectations of Mr Abbott.

Showing that he cares nothing for the process of representative democracy, let alone for the "taxpayer dollars" he's always harping about, Abbott has called for a plebiscite on the carbon tax, setting himself up as man of the people by letting the people have their say on a carbon tax. Even a talkback radio caller who thinks a chilly winter disproves climate change should be able to work out why this is a bad idea. For a start it will be expensive - probably around the $70 million mark. Also, we elect governments to make decisions for us. If there was a plebiscite (or fresh election) every time the government did something we didn't all agree with; well that's mob rule, not democracy. We'd never get anything done. Should Gillard have gone to the polls with a carbon tax on the agenda, as Howard did with the GST in 1998? Sure. And let's not forget Howard lost the popular vote in that election (but won on seats) - hardly a ringing endorsement of a plan he went ahead with anyway, and which even I'll admit didn't work out so badly in the end. Just possibly the doomsayers are wrong on the carbon tax as well?

For all that, plebiscites, unlike a referendum to change the Constitution, are not legally binding. What happens if there is a result Abbott doesn't like? What's to stop him just ignoring the damn thing? He's in Opposition anyway, as he chooses to forget. There's nothing he can do to change or make any laws. Hope has come, however, from unexpected quarters. After six nonsensical years, Stephen Fielding has suddenly made us think he might be missed, by canning the plebiscite as a political stunt. Abbott's been in favour of a carbon tax before; now he sees some political mileage out of this, and thinking the result of the last election entitles him to some co-Prime Minister status, he'll keep pulling this poor loser crap till Turnbull finally puts us out of our misery. Abbott, you're the greatest schmo on Earth. Accept your defeat and shut the hell up.

Death of a (Bookstore) Salesman

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Growing up, we never had a bookcase in the house. The children were taken to the library, but adults reading as a leisure activity never seemed to rate. So of course we didn't really go to bookstores either. The realm of the bookshop was closed to me till about age twelve, when I started to go to the mall by myself. My goodness...what a world was opened to me. I didn't care much for clothing stores, and discovery of real music was still about a year away (when I listened to Nevermind in it's entirety on a friend's Walkman on a school trip to Sydney...another story!) but book shops set my imagination on fire. Libraries never had that effect on me and I don't know why. It wasn't the stories in the books that stirred me. It was the possibility that one day, just maybe, I would walk into a bookstore and see a book about me, or written by me, on the shelf. I visualised the blurb, my name in embossed metallic type, the author photo. I knew what I was put on this Earth to do - write the book, or live the life worthy of having a book written about. I set myself to the task with gusto, filling endless stacks of exercise books and allowing myself nearly twenty years of stupid mistakes as "experiences" for future biographers to pore over. Who knows how things might have turned out differently if not for this formative influence? I vowed that one day I would have a house with walls lined with books; and I have.

So it was with disappointment I read of yet more bookstore closures, with Angus and Robertson to shut another 42 branches this week. We may soon see the saddest of phenomena - the mall with no bookstore. It's easy to sneer at the Westfields of the world - god knows in the inner west we do it all the time and sniff that we only shop at independent booksellers - but the truth is that for kids in the outer suburbs they're all they have. On teenage trips to Sydney, I would always head for George St Dymocks, which would practically send me into sensory overload (thank God it at least is still there) - Borders at the time was unknown and would have had an even more rapturous effect on me, it too has since gone down the tube -  but normally it was the suburban Angus and Robertson or Collins Booksellers (remember them?) that satiated my book lust.

Predictably the death of the bookstore has been blamed on online bookselling. Yeah, well I dunno. Books in Australia are astonishingly expensive, I will admit, often more than twice the price of importing from overseas even when one allows for postage fees. But it's just not the same. Buying books online, you often need to know what you're looking for, and it just doesn't have that delicious sense of possiblity that comes from visiting an actual bookshop. I love to browse through the design section at Kinokuniya, thinking I might like to buy all those books or none of them, imbued with creativity and inspiration for my own visual journal. When I went to buy a book I particularly desired online later - at less than half the price the store charged - the magic was, somehow, gone.

Then there's the e-book. Maybe it's a generational thing, and I'm just too damn old to understand. Maybe a generation of future writers are getting fired up by the Kindle. But for me it's just lacking something. There's something about the aesthetic beauty of shelves of shiny books in a bookstore, about opening up a crisp new volume, turning the undisturbed pages, the new-book smell, that electronic letters on a glowing rectangle can never hope to match.

It's a little death, one of many in modern society - small record shops went a few years back - but I can't help but be sad the suburban bookstore is going. I won't get to introduce my kids to them. Sadder still of course is the thought of losing a future generation of potential writers who, robbed of inspiration, will put away their journals and focus on schoolwork, get into decent courses at uni, and wind up with successful careers in commerce and industry. Depresses the hell out of me.

Why Haven't We Won the War on Terror Yet?

Sunday, 12 June 2011
So it seems another al Qaeda bigwig has been killed. Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, reuptedly head of al Qaeda in Africa, was shot at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Mogadishu last week. He sounds like a dastardly piece of work, coordinating the US Embassy bombings in 1998. Mohammed is the latest in a string of terrorist high-ups killed recently, including of course Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, the list of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan continues to grow depressingly.

When will it all be over? How many al Qaeda leaders need to be killed to topple the house of terrorist cards? Where is the turning point, when President Obama - or his successor - climbs a podium in front of cheering soldiers and announces "today is a great day. The enemy has been destroyed. As we reflect on our sacrifices, we can look forward to our future - the War on Terror is over, we have won." Will that moment ever come? Is there even a plan, a list, an agreed-to set of conditions for victory to be declared?

Or, in light of the current U.S. recession, is the military industrial complex all that's keeping their economy from collapsing in a steaming heap? Does Obama plan to keep pushing this crap uphill till it's not his problem anymore? Even worse than all that...does no one have a clue what to do? I rather fear they don't.

Cheers and Jeers - On Certain Issues of Import

Saturday, 11 June 2011
Bill O'Reilly has his Pinheads and Patriots segment. Stephen Colbert has Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger. Maybe I need similar categories for the people I do and don't agree with - Darlings and Dunces perhaps? Champions and Cockheads? Anyway, I've got one of each today - and at least half that number are not whom I might have expected.

From the "and the horse you rode in on" files, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Peter Jensen has gotten himself in the papers again, declaring that same-sex marriage is a slippery slope that will lead to legalisation of polygamy and incest.

Assuming Jensen was sitting upright in his chair when he wrote this (by no means a guarantee), it should give us all hope. He's certainly not the first person to express such a sentiment, and statements like this show how desperate the Homophobes for Marriage brigade has become. They insult everyone. The community can cope with lots of changes - including the definition of marriage changing from a husband having legal possession of his wife to an equal partnership (although traces of the old custom still remain in archaic customs such as Mr and Mrs His Surname, it's balanced by marriages like mine, where the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction). But apparently no one can handle same sex marriage.

Aren't we supposed to have equality between the sexes?! If men and women are truly equal, why do you need one of each of them for a marriage? Someone to take the kids to playgroup and someone who knows how to tune in a HD TV perhaps? In my house DH will do the kid stuff and I'm the one who knows how things work. Unless we're still forcing people into codified gender roles, a marriage can work just fine without needing one person of each gender. Not in Jensen's world, though - I'm guessing the man doesn't do an equal share of the housework. Polygamy and incest - well, at least he's not pushing the marriage to dogs line again.


On the other side of the coin, I never expected to be retweeting anything Russell Crowe had to say. Russell Crowe published a series of anti-circumcision tweets in his own inimitable style, railing against the practice: "Circumcision is barbaric and stupid. Who are you to correct nature? Is it real that GOD requires a donation of foreskin? Babies are perfect" and invoking readers who do not agree to unfollow him and and make their departure in an orderly fashion (or to f**k off, for those with less delicate sensibilities). The tweets have since been taken down, replaced by several apologies of sorts: "wasn't intending offense, certainly wasn't intending to provide fodder for lazy journalists. I can't apologize for my heartfelt belief". This isn't really surprising; as soon as I saw the tweets I was waiting for the "Russell Crowe's Bizarre Anti-Circumcision Rant" headlines. Sure enough, he has been attacked in the press as an anti-Semite. I don't get it. What's anti-Semitic about stating that Jewish boys deserve the same protect from painful lifelong procedures that remove healthy, necessary parts of their bodies, leaving them vulnerable to infection and complications, and reduce their sexual pleasure forever? But I really don't want to focus on Jewish circumcision here; there are still a terrifying number of people in the wider community who somehow, think this is okay.

There's a train of thought in the intactivist community that we need to take a "softly softly approach" towards the issue - "please don't circumcise, but if you do, we still respect your choice". I don't agree. The motivation behind going in gently, to pardon the pun, is that a forceful approach will turn people off. Well, it should. The whole issue should be viewed with revulsion by the community. We don't stand by and support people who, despite our best efforts, sexually abuse their children in any other way.  These are not reasonable people here - they are people who defend their right to cut a child's genitals. Education is helpful, sure. There are people who refer to the procedure as a "snip" (actually, no, it's gouging, crushing and cutting large amounts of extremely sensitive flesh), or believe that it's cleaner (this is just nonsense. It's no coincidence that in most boys the foreskin naturally retracts at around the age of toilet training - till then, it's needed to protect the penis from urine and feces in the nappy). Many of these people can be brought around when presented with the facts. Sadly, some can't or won't. They deny the facts ("oh, my son's circ was nothing like any of the videos out there - it was a special painless procedure that has somehow gone completely undocumented") or they even come out and admit they don't care about the pain, risks and disfigurement - what they want ("parent's rights!") is somehow more important.

Considering what they are happy to do to their own children, it takes a brave person to speak out against these creeps. So whilst I'm disappointed that Crowe removed his tweets, I'm glad to see prominent figures speak out against this practice. We need more of it.

Real Jobs - The Fair Pay Rally

Thursday, 9 June 2011
Yesterday on a sunny but cold Sydney day, I headed along to Hyde Park for the ASU's National Day of Action on Fair Pay. Basically, the aim of the campaign is to bring wages on female dominated industries to par with those in male dominated industries, starting with community workers as a test case. Most community workers work in government-funded, independently run organisations - community NGOs - and our wages are far less than government employees or those with comparable skills and experience in other fields. For too many years, there's been a perception that community work is "women's work" and like other women's work, should be done for free, or very little. Now, no one gets into this field to make it rich. But we deserve just compensation.

I've not been feeling too crash hot lately, so I just figured I'd go to the park, show my support and leave, but I got caught up in the moment and ended up joining in the march along Macquarie St to the NSW Parliamentary offices in Governor Macquarie tower (my dear boss, if anyone got too close to bumping me, would act as a human shield and yell "pregnant lady coming through!"). It was such a positive atmosphere. There's some great pics from the day here thanks to Peter Boyle of Green Left Weekly, or alternatively here are a few not-so-great ones from my camera:

Heading off past St Mary's Cathedral...considering the historical religious context of community work, a rather apt setting.

Hey! Get out of the flower beds!

With Jamie Parker, Member for Balmain, who very politely, or at least in a manner befitting a true politician, pretended he remembered meeting me (from the NSW campaign) even though I could tell he didn't really. Fresh from his mammoth filibustering effort, David Shoebridge was there too. Says a lot about the Greens, who actually live up to their words on grassroots community involvement - I'm very proud to be part of this. Didn't see anyone from the other major parties, not even Carmel Tebbutt, who made such a to-do over her concern for the community in the lead up to the election. Oh, I'm not a particularly short woman - he's a very very tall man. Others get photographed with celebrities, I get my photo taken with politicians.

Marching down Macquarie St - parliament wasn't sitting, so we kept going. It's the symbolism, though.

At our final destination - outside the offices of state parliament. Apparently there was a flash mob at this stage - but my feet and all other parts had had enough by now, and I had to bow out.

The march ended on a slightly disconcerting note for me, finishing as it did right next to the office tower where I was a (flourish) account executive for two years. I used to be one of the bemused office workers we marched past yesterday, looking put out by the slight inconvenience of having to wait thirty seconds to cross the road to buy a $9 sandwich and perhaps even slightly thinking "get real jobs". I thought I had a real job. I thought my life was kind of meaningful. I guess it was - for all that I am a socialist, someone has to pay a few taxes to get some money into the income stream - but really. How is it just that someone who has client meetings over design specs earns $65,000 whilst someone who counsels sexual assault survivors at 5am Sunday, or helps refugees (the "real" kind) access medical treatment, or provides transport for the elderly without which they'd be housebound, earns $38,000? Which is how it is.

If you don't think this is okay, please go to the Pay Up website to learn more about how you can help. Fair Work Australia has given interim approval to the wage claim; we're now waiting for the final decision, and for governments to fund the claim. Queensland approved the wage claim some time ago; even the Liberal Government in WA has approved a 25% wage increase for community workers, which is great to see. It would be wonderful if we could get the same support in NSW - let's see how we go.

Why Are You Telling Me This?

Monday, 6 June 2011
Pregnancy is gross. We all know this, yet everyone acts like it's some great secret. Browsing in bookstores for pregnancy books (I'm an old fashioned kinda lady who likes her advice in treeware form), every second book promises to reveal "the true secrets of pregnancy that no one else will tell you!". Basically every one of these secrets is that your bodily functions go to hell, and your body becomes an erupting morass from which emerges uncontrollable, unspeakable sights, sounds, smells and fluids. It gets rather depressing. It gets so that someone could tell you that with every step you take, the baby will kick all your internal organs out your backside and you'll need to manually shove them back in, and you'd believe it.

So yeah, I've been very thoroughly appraised of all the icky bits, and I'm finding out for myself what's true and what's just evil book editors going for shock value. Here are the actual things that no one told me:
  • That for surprising stretches of time I will forget I am am pregnant, and life feels normal;
  • That even after wanting this for years, and quite a long stretch of trying without luck and fearing it would never happen, there are moments of not forgetting when I wonder what the hell I've done and wish for an escape clause;
  • That I will stand in the supermarket with a basket containing an ultra-soft toothbrush, three bags of candy, a tub of super-sour Greek yoghurt and a packet of Poise lady-things, and realise with a sigh this is the new normal;
  • That you are not allowed to be pregnant in winter, not according to maternity wear manufacturers anyway;
  • The horror stories are not all true - no strangers have tried to touch my bump as yet, though that could be because of my sneering, snarling demeanour;
  • That there is always someone who is more organised and copes better than you, and some of the bile rising in your throat is jealousy, not pregnancy heartburn. Although, if you haven't realised that by this stage in your life, you probably weren't ready for motherhood anyway.

Also from the "perhaps you've said too much" department, the redoubtable Bob Katter has launched his own political party and has come out with a bang, declaring he doesn't have anything to do with Pauline Hanson or One Nation, despite Ms Hanson coming out in support of Katter. A case of the gentleman doth protest too much? Why would Katter want to be distancing himself from One Nation? The policies of the new party are nothing that Hanson wouldn't have felt comfortable with - small targets and fear, isolation and pessimism. Australia is screwed, the line runs, and we must cut ourselves off from the forces doing the screwing. No one's really worried about a rise of the new right, though. It's slightly hard to take Katter seriously - he has a reputation as a "maverick", in this case media shorthand for "lunatic, but libel laws prevent us from saying so". Even the Federal member for the North Queensland seat of Herbert, Ewan Jones, has proclaimed "I just reckon it's going to be funny to see Bob actually have to articulate and stick to a policy decision.". It will be funny - I'll be watching.

It's A Hard Life. Well, Sort Of.

Saturday, 4 June 2011
Reading this tweet caused me to feel something I never expected...pity for Barry O'Farrell. It's hard to imagine anything more tedious than the endless array of community and business events a politician has to attend. Just about every political staffer I've ever met expresses zero desire to stand for office themselves; a day that starts with breakfast radio, then a slog in parliament, followed by dinner in the car on the way to the Outer Suburban Succulent Gardener's Association Quarterly Dinner; then coming down from all that excitement to research for the next day's debate. The weekends involve a trip home to the electorate; further presentations, sports days, openings and shopping centre meet-and-greets, with maybe some time to see your family, providing you can remember who they are.

The NSW parliamentarians are having a particularly hard time of it right now. See, there are these awful new industrial relations laws on the table. Barry O'Farrell was elected on the grounds of being a jovial, every day sort of bloke; but now he and his crew are in power, he's revealed his right-wing Liberal colours by announcing new conditions for public servants which, among other things, would cap wage rises at 2.5% and remove the right of appeal to the Industrial Relations Commission. The Greens MPs have risen to the challenge, breaking records as the filibustered the bill. Ive seen David Shoebridge speak knowledgeably for twenty minutes about an obscure issue of local planning that wasn't even in his local area, but on Thursday night he outdid himself, speaking for five hours and fifty eight minutes on the bill. How many of us could speak that long about anything? Even on the subject of Sydney's trains, I'd be hard-pressed to make thirty minutes. Anyway the speech provided one of my all time favourite moments of political discourse - when Mr Shoebridge at one stage described the IR laws as "Draconian", Liberal MP Peter Phelps retorted "there are no dragons involved in the industrial relations situation of NSW" (it was very late. No such excuses for Sky News - that's not the NSW parliament).

Fellow Green John Kaye backed up on Friday, speaking for five hours, 53 minutes. Whilst my bladder winces at such verbosity, truthfully what they're doing is heroic. The Liberals enjoy a massive majority in the NSW lower house and have control of the upper house with the help of the Shooters and Fishers, not to mention the delightful Fred Nile, who's already trying push his anti-abortion agenda in return for support. The new government wants complete control of public sector industrial relations in NSW. No matter their majority, they cannot claim a "mandate" - they did not say a word about this in the lead up to the election. If this was a Labor government taking such a step, you couldn't turn on the TV news for the howls of "call another election!". These aren't complacent public servants we're speaking of, but nurses, teachers, police know, the people we can't get by without.

Anyway it looks like for all that, the legislation will pass. Over the next few years, the NSW people will come to learn that a kinder, gentler Liberal government is still a Liberal government. And hundreds of thousands of public servants will get screwed on their working conditions. True, it's a hard life for politicians. But they do have lots and lots of perks and lovely salaries as compensation. Some of them are genuinely good people. The rest...I dunno.

Kids and Politics: Should They Mix?

Thursday, 2 June 2011
Next week I'm dragging my helpless unborn child to yet another rally. Neither of us have much choice at this stage of the relationship. Already Pinky has had more involvement in politics than most people ever will; rallies, helping out with a campaign, leafleting and handing out how to vote cards, and being along to meet lots of the poobahs in the Greens - and I hope the picture with Bob Brown is something they'll be proud of one day.

There's a school of thought that it's just as unfair and manipulative to raise children with political beliefs as it is with religion - although the former is usually derided by people who have no trouble at all with the latter.

There's been much discussion, and derision, recently of a mother who declared that she was taking her 7 year old daughter to Slutwalk. Whilst much of the criticism came from those who just missed the point - not wanting their children thinking dressing like that is okay - others said they don't feel their child should be exposed to political concepts and women's rights issues at such a young age. Kids have no place at rallies and marches. I can understand this point of view, even though I don't agree with it.

For me, politics is something boring that happens in buildings in Canberra, or an annoying chore that must be dealt with once every three years (but for which you are rewarded with a sausage sizzle). It's something that affects every aspect of our lives, and if you refuse to engage, you're not a responsible citizen. Politics can be the greatest force for good, for social justice, that we have; by deriding politics or dismissing it as boring, people are allowing the triumph of free market capitalism, which isn't very nice to anybody who can't afford it.

So our child will grow up in an atmosphere of lefty political thought and discussion. We can't hide from them something that goes to the core of our beings. I will be taking our child to rallies and demonstrations and political fundraisers. Maybe not Slutwalk - that's the feminist in me, which has one or two problems with the event - but certainly many others. By isolating kids from politics, we breed adults who see it as a thing apart; boring and irrelevant. Kids should be brought up to take an interest in the issues and see them as relevant to their lives. Of course, there is the argument that I should expose my child to the "other" side of politics for a balanced view. I'm not so sure. Should I pop Alan Jones on the radio next to the cot? I don't want a three year old babbling about illegal immigrants or demanding there's an election every time something happens they don't like. Religion is different; I'd happily allow our child to attend a mosque, synagogue or church with friends, explaining that whilst we don't believe in these things, other people do. (SRE at school is a different matter; I don't want to have to explain that some things you learn at school are real, but others are not real; or at least some people think they're real but we don't).

But politics, well that's different. We want to raise our kid to be a good person. To me, believing asylum seekers should be locked up indefinitely; that power bills matter more than the future of the planet; that Australia is vital to the endless, aimless "war on terror" but irrelevant to global climate debate; that whether or not you can get married depends on your gender and that of your partner; and if you're poor it's your own damn fault and you need an ever-harder kick up the backside - well, those aren't the views of a good person. I can't bring up my child to believe these things. So we'll have our little inner-city leftist latte baby, and try to do the best we can.
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