So, You're Cutting Benefits For Nurses

30 August 2012
An Open Letter to NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell

So, yesterday I read that you're cutting penalty rates for aged care nurses, including holiday loading and penalties for shift work (which would make nurses the only permanent workers in Australia not entitled to holiday leave loading). Budget cuts have to be made somewhere, I understand, and why not nurses? The rationale behind keeping unemployment benefits well below the poverty line is that if they were higher; people would be comfortable staying on them and have no incentive to look for work. Maybe you have a similar rationale here; that by keeping nurse pay rates low, you weed out all those greedy nurses only in it for the money and are left with the caring ones who really want to be there. They should be glad to lose their benefits for the good of the state, glad they don't have a job like yours so difficult it was deserving of a salary of $333, 860 in the last financial year.

What a lovely, rewarding job being an aged care nurse must be anyway - draping crocheted rugs over the shoulders of sweet little old ladies, making them cups of tea, providing our senior citizens with care and respect as their lives draw to a close. Well, I can assure you that the care and respect are there, in spades. But you can have no idea what being an aged care nurse is really like. I do, because my husband is one. His reality is, many of the patients he deals with have dementia. It must be terrifying for them. They are not placid and compliant. Not knowing what is going on, they lash out. Imagine trying to clean up after a 70kg woman who has soiled herself and believes, in her mental confusion, that you are trying to rape her. So she kicks and screams and tries to bite. My husband has come home over the years with bruises (grip marks on his arms are particularly common) and scratches and even bite marks - with the disease risks that entails. Imagine walking into a room full of elderly people watching TV - and having one of them fling faeces at you. Pretty horrible, isn't it? This is the reality of aged care workers. It's a tough, tough job, and it's only going to get worse as the population ages and funding is unlikely to keep pace.

In Western society, due to our lifestyles and housing designs, we are largely unable to care for our elderly within our own families. So we outsource the work to the aged care sector. These people are absolutely vital to our society. They care for our elders when we can't, they face the reality of ageing so we don't have to. They deserve all the support we can give them, and you want to cut their meagre benefits. I'm speechless at the pettiness of it all. I really don't know what else to say. No doubt you'll rationalise this decision by saying you're helping to create jobs, by reducing the expenses of the owners of aged care facilities. I'm sure you'll argue that the state budget is stressed, and I guess it is. But please, Mr O'Farrell, don't cut the benefits of the people doing one of the hardest jobs there can be. Please pick on someone else.

Feminism, Choices and Support

26 August 2012
There seems to be a belief running through mainstream feminism that as women, we're honour bound to support other women in the choices they make - no matter what those choices may be. If a woman wants to be a stay at home mum, or put her kids in childcare at six weeks to run an international corporation, or dance nude on stage whilst strangers leer, we need to support those as choices those women have freely made. Well, fine. What I'm struggling with is the notion that feminists should support all the choices that women make - even if those choices are harmful to other women.

Recently there appeared a story about the Anglican church introducing a new wedding vow in which brides would be asked to submit to their husbands. I believe, as a feminist, that by standing up in public and maintaining such codified gender roles, women who take such vows let down all women. I was criticised for this; apparently it's expressing the view that feminism requires women to make choices that the feminists approve of. That's not what it's about at all. Feminism supports a woman's right to make choices, sure. But at the end of the day we're fighting for equality, here. If women make choices that hurt other women, I for one can't support that. Otherwise where does it end? Bettina Arndt writes columns that at best make light of sexual harassment and at worst, perpetuate the notion that sometimes, men have good excuses for rape. But she's a woman who makes the choice to write these columns, am I bound to support her out of some sense of sisterhood? (Hell no, I think she's a vile human being and a disgrace to women everywhere).

Feminism isn't about dictating choices, but in this case, women getting married are standing up in public and saying they believe their husbands have authority over them; not because of intelligence or wisdom or for any other reason than that the sperm with the Y chromosome won. They may be a small section of society, but they're still putting out there that women are lesser beings.

I can't think of any other cause which is expected to defend the rights of those who seek to harm it. I don't deny for a second that women have a right to submit to their husbands. It doesn't mean I have to like it, support it, or think differently than that they're harming us all. It's not "militant feminism" to disagree with Bettina Arndt about sexual assault, or with Ann Coulter's view that women should be denied the right to vote. 

I'm a bit sick of it all, frankly. Feminists have fought and died for the rights of women to be equal to the rights of men. Now feminists are being denigrated for not standing up for women who claim women are not the equal of men. I want to throw up, I want to cry, I want to apologise to each and everyone of the women who came before me who endured hunger strikes, imprisonment, osctracism, career curtailment, abuse, all so women today could complain feminism is unnecessary, unsupportive, won't even let women declare themselves subordinate to their husbands. 

Meet Tony Abbott

20 August 2012
Meet Tony Abbott, the leader of the federal opposition. He's a true Australian bloke. A battler with a mortgage. Family man. Bit of a rough tongue sometimes, tendency to open mouth, insert foot, but hey, nobody's perfect, right? At least, so runs the narrative in the mainstream media. The truth is very different, far darker - and, too often ignored.

The Battler
Abbott is portrayed as an ordinary working guy, struggling to make ends meet like any working Australian. The truth is he's from a background of privilege unknown and inaccessible to most Australians. He attended St Ignatius' College at Riverview, where the annual fees for Year Twelve students are well over $20,000; whilst studying a law degree at the University of Sydney (paying no fees to do so at the time, thanks to the educational reforms of the Whitlam government) he lived at St Johns College. Now, not to overgeneralise here, but I've met men who attend the residential colleges at the University of Sydney; their attitudes towards tradies from western Sydney are the opposite of warm empathy. The old residential colleges are the proving grounds of the old money elite, and they hold your average working stiff in sneering contempt. Yes, John Howard worked his way up from a modest background and public education. But Tony Abbott was raised with the powerful and privileged. GPS schools, residing in a university college, and the Rhodes scholarship that followed, are simply beyond the reach of the vast majority of Australians.

So that's his upbringing, but what has he made of himself? Well, after leaving training for the priesthood ages nearly thirty - and never experiencing the grind of establishing a career path - he briefly ran a concrete plant (oh, so a tiny bit of "battler"), then worked as a journalist. Most tellingly for our narrative, in 1994 he was elected Federal Member for Warringah - thus earning an MP's salary, at a base rate of $190,000 a year (in 2012 terms). He became a Minister in 1998, with a subsequent pay increase; this reverted back when his LNP lost the Federal election in 2007. But the fact remains that for the past 18 years, Tony Abbott has been drawing a salary at least three times that of the average Australian wage earner. Why is he "battling"? Which brings us to...

A Mortgage Holder
So Tony Abbott still has a mortgage after 18 years in parliament, huh? It turns out that in 2007, after losing his ministerial salary, he was forced to take out a second mortgage (which he then failed to declare under parliamentary rules) to cover his expenses. That's looking more like a poor money manager than an ordinary mortgage holder.

True Australian Bloke
Very few "battlers" turn up to court to defend themselves on indecent assault charges with a QC in tow. But then how many people find themselves on indecent assault charges? For what it's worth, the charges, from 1977, were dismissed, but the numerous allegations of Abbott as a sexist, racist, homophobic thug remain. Abbott, we are told by his biographer, was raised to believe that he was special and taught to fight, and brought this attitude to student politics - monstering his opponents through bullying, offensive remarks, and in one case allegations he urinated on protesters at Sydney Uni demonstrating against lack of childcare for single mothers.

A Family Man
The point is often made that Tony Abbott couldn't possibly be misogynistic because he has a wife and three daughters, which seems akin to saying that slave owners in the American south couldn't possibly be racist. Perhaps he's an attentive and caring father; and for the sake of those young women I hope so. But what sort of a world does he want them to grow up in? As a Catholic and a Monarchist, he believes that his daughters, as women and Australians, should not be the leader of either his religion or his nation. What about their relationships? On an episode of Q&A in 2010 - so after he became Opposition Leader; we're not talking about ancient history here - Abbott stated "I think there does need to be give and take on both sides, and this idea that sex is kind of a woman’s right to absolutely withhold, just as the idea that sex is a man’s right to demand I think they are both they both need to be moderated, so to speak”.

Really, Mr Abbott? Really? You are making the case that there are circumstances where a woman does not have the right to withhold sex? Which ones? When is, in effect, rape okay with you?

For more of the wit and wisdom of Tony Abbott, there's a truly terrifying collection of quotes here. And that's not even the all of it - there's his persistence in referring to "illegals" when he must know, as a lawyer, that there is no such thing in law; his relentless talking down of the economy; his endorsement of the obscene personal attacks on the Prime Minister. Yet whilst Ms Gillard is forced to defend herself against the allegations of conspiracy nuts and rumour disproved long ago, Abbott is given a free ride by the media, who help maintain they myths and misconceptions. It's a bizarre and depressing state of affairs, and one wonders if Abbott's will ever get the attention they deserve.

Back at the Train Model Expo

18 August 2012
Eight years after my previous attendance, today I headed off to the Our Town Model Expo, with the hope of taking some photos of the train sets and delighting you all with a witty yet affectionate skewering of the foibles of model train collectors.

But I can't do it. I mean, I went. But within sixty seconds, my eyes glazed over, my mind transported to another plain, and I was in a happy little railfan coma, lulled by the soothing sounds of model trains clacking over the rails..."AspergersSyndromeAspergersSyndromeAspergersSyndromeAspergersSyndrome"

Does this look like a woman who is in her right mind?

I abandoned my son and husband, no more in control of my actions than a puppy romping happily towards not fresh newspapers to widdle on, but DVDs of steam train rides from the 1960s, books about the politics of line closures, model cars showing livery changes throughout time. Although (as you can probably tell) I'm taking on a more rotund appearance in my premature middle age, I still dress like an anxious teenager who collects Hello Kitty whilst reading Sylvia Plath, so it's amusing to see the expressions on the faces of the mostly elderly men who run these things, who think someone who looks like me couldn't possibly be a rail fan. If I'm with DH, they'll assume he's the one who's interested, and direct questions and comments to him.

All the fun expensive things

Speaking of DH, I must say I am in awe of the man, who puts up with his wife's many, many odd tendencies and obsessions, happily wheeling our son around a crowded exhibition hall whilst I spend money on train paraphernalia. It's usually the wives who are sitting in the cafe looking bored during these things; DH sits, not bored, but entertaining BabyG, just happy that I'm happy. It's a rare thing. may have noticed that we have a new domain name. That's because no one could spell or pronounce the old one and everyone thought it was some tribute to, or copy of, Mamamia. Now with my spiffy new easy to remember blog name, there's no excuse not to visit lots.

Labor vs The Greens

15 August 2012
In a sad day for Australia, today federal parliament voted to resume offshore processing of asylum seekers, returning to the worst of the inhumane Howard-era treatment of refugees. I've posted before on this issue, so you can imagine my dismay and anger that we are to go back to paying impoverished Pacific nations to lock up indefinitely those desperate souls who, within their legal rights, attempt to come here to escape persecution. But there's a new aspect to my anger. I've heard and read several remarks from ALP supporters that this is all the Greens' fault; that if the Greens had "compromised" by agreeing to the previous proposal to house asylum seekers in Malaysia(!), reopening the processing centres in Nauru would never have been necessary. "Enjoy letting asylum seekers drown while you protect your ideology", runs the tone of some of the nastier remarks I've seen.

Excuse me? The sentiment is born of anger, and is so very wrong. It should not have to come down to a choice between "letting asylum seekers drown", and locking them up indefinitely. According to the ALP, the Greens had a duty to accept whatever reactive, inhumane, illegal asylum seeker policy was put to them, in order to defeat the LNP. But why should they? Labor could have compromised - to have actually stood up for what they claim to believe in; for what they were voted in to do (if we as a nation wanted to continue with offshore processing, we wouldn't have voted out the government that introduced it). Gillard could have stood up to the racists and reactionaries, called out the shockjocks and the LNP on their lies about "illegals" who are "swamping Australia". She could have lived up to our international obligations, and adopted a fair, humane policy of onshore processing in open centres. But no, she took the easy way out, caving to those who will never be happy with the ALP anyway (there seems to be something pathological about the Gillard government desperately courting the favour of those who hate them) and returning to the reactionary days of families exiled to Pacific outposts, doomed to live for years behind razor wire, then sent back to their homelands to face death due to shifting political climates.

But I wonder if some of the anger is brought about by the shame Labor supporters feel at the actions of their own party. Labor likes to paint itself as the party of "progressive pragmatism". It's all well and good for the Greens' to have lofty ideals, the line runs, but we're the ones who can actually get things done. But from here it looks like what they do is simply caving in. If Gillard had presented a humane response to asylum seekers that respected their rights under international law, the Greens would have agreed to it; and Tony Abbott would have been left the loser, without the numbers to defeat it. Instead, Gillard caved to the racists and shock jocks. What do Labor take a stand on? The NT intervention? Same sex marriage? Not only does Gillard oppose it, she is addressing the annual conference of the homophobia front group the Australian Christian Lobby (who lobby on one issue only: the danger to society posed by same sex marriage).

"Stopping the boats" through offshore processing does not save refugees lives. It means the asylum seekers very well end up staying in their own countries, and dying their from the persecution they were fleeing; if they don't end up rotting alive for years in detention centres if they make the trip after all. But at least then it will all happen out of sight of the ALP; allowing those who support the party of cowardice-not-compromise to sleep at night. They hate the Greens for actually being what they believe themselves to be - principled and progressive. If they worked together, they'd be a force for good to be reckoned with; but the jealousy has destroyed the chance. Don't blame the Greens for offshore processing. The ALP have only to blame themselves.

Watching the Olympics

12 August 2012
Although I wasn't planning on doing so, I've watched a whole bunch of the recent Olympics. What can I tell you, except getting back into the workforce is taking a little longer than planned. Yes I know the whole thing is a shameless marketing exercise, imposes insane restrictions and long term costs on the residents of the host city, is an environmental nightmare and plays politics. But I'm still a sucker for the uncertainty of competition, the pageantry, the history. Oh, yes, the history:
  • The first modern Olympics were held in 1859, but they weren't acknowledged until the IOC got involved in 1896.
  • The spirit of amateurism, long a cherished Games ethos (though recently abandoned) was rooted in the notion of the aristocratic gentleman athlete who had the time and funds to pursue his hobby.
  • The first torch relay was held in 1936 as a means of the new government promoting National Socialism throughout Germany.
  • The first athlete to fail an Olympic drug test was a Swedish pentathlete, who was stripped of his bronze medal in 1968 for use of that famously sports-enhancing drug, alcohol.
  • 1964 was the first Games to be televised live internationally. Previously, tapes had to be flown overseas for viewing, a policy Channel 9 paid tribute to in their delayed London 2012 coverage.
  • Hitler nearly missed the 1936 opening ceremony due to his shocking piles, and spent the entire thing in considerable discomfort. 

  •  (All right, I made the last one up). But the Olympics are pretty weird. Consider the sports featured. The world's most popular sport, football, is featured along with tennis, but both are also-ran competitions of little import on the world stage. Bowling, cricket and netball are not featured at all (and who wouldn't want to see a cricket competition made up of five day tests played in a round-robin format). The sports that are featured tend to lean heavily towards those enjoyed by the, shall we say, more affluent. There's no bowling, but sailing and equestrian events feature heavily (please stop me if you've ever met anyone - anyone at all - who participates in dressage; my stepfather gamely sat through the horses doing their little dances, waiting for the warm-up to end and competition to start, only to be told that that is dressage). "Walking" is a sport, but it resembles no walking any normal person without a nasty case of crabs has ever done. Then there's rowing, and canoeing. God knows why sticking both ends of your oars in the water and once, and sticking them in one at a time, should be separate sports. And what happens if a young athlete shows promise in both disciplines? Do they lie awake at night tearfully contemplating the choice they have to make, the vastly different paths their lives take? What do they do? Plus they have the option to stick the oar in on one side only whilst up on one knee. I've no idea how anyone ever makes a commitment with so many options. I do love rhythmic gymnastics, but let's face it, dancing with things shouldn't be a "sport" whilst roller derby isn't; let alone dancing in water. Beating someone into unconsciousness would also seem to be against the supposed spirit of peace and harmony.

    Anyway, the whole thing's coming to an end now, and the Australian team will soon head home to the various breakfast television interviews or recriminations, depending on performance. There's been much discussion in particular on the lack of expected medals from the Australian swim team. Several swimmers have been heard to remark they don't know what went wrong. I would have thought it was fairly obvious that what went wrong was they didn't swim fast enough, which leads me to hope one day basic physics will be included as an Olympic event.

    Cover the Coal Trains!

    08 August 2012
    One of the reasons I moved my family out of Sydney was for our health. I love the inner west, but the houses are usually damp, and old, and prone to mould. DH has asthma, and I was worried BabyG would develop it too; our flat had terrible mould and I worried about the effects of us breathing it in.

    So we moved north, and took a lot of lung-cleansing walks near the beach, but we all maintained our persistent coughs and I couldn't understand why. Until that is, I read the Newcastle Herald's investigation into the effects of breathing coal dust. Our new house is less than 500 metres from the main rail line to the Hunter river coal loaders that service the world's biggest coal port. I'd moved my family into danger, and I had no idea.

    Packed coal train on the line near our house

    Very fine coal dust particles are inhaled deep into the lung, increasing the risk of asthma and long term respiratory complications. Recognising this, coal transported by road in required by law to be covered. There's no such requirement for coal trains, and thousands of people in the Hunter are at risk due to the huge quantities of coal hauled daily through the region. So, what I'm asking you to do right now is please take a few seconds to sign the petition asking the NSW government and coal companies to require coal carried by rail in NSW to be covered. Thanks - hopefully we can make this happen.

    The Joy of Gardening

    05 August 2012
    When I was a kid, we lived in flats and I never felt grass under my feet. Then when I was ten, we moved to Newcastle and had a garden for the first time. I hated it. Specifically, I hated the yard work I was expected to do. I hated spending my weekends weeding and lugging pavers when other girls were playing netball and going to the movies. I hated being dirty and sweaty and hated being outside. And as soon as I was old enough to dictate how I spent my time, I renounced yardwork forever. From now on I wouldn't pull a weed if Gallery Serpentine made gardening gloves.

    But as I passed my 30th birthday, something changed in me. It wasn't just the perky butt collapsing like a circus tent in a storm, or my newly developed fondness for ABC local radio. I wanted a garden. Sure, it would be nice after years of living in flats to not have to battle for communal washing lines and to be able to sit in the sun when reading a book on Sunday afternoon, but the truth was I also wanted to plant stuff. I wanted to plant my own herbs and veggies, imbuing all my cooking with a delicious taste of smug: "damn right we eat locally grown! You can't get more local than your own backyard!".

    I had to wait a little while, what with career stuff, family stuff, and the arrival of BabyG, but three months ago we finally made it out of our one bedroom inner city flat and into our own house. After being so cramped, having three bedrooms and a huge backyard was like winning lotto. In fact our yard is ridiculously huge, over forty metres from the house to the fence. There's fruit trees and a cubby house and all sorts of things I'm only yet discovering; I've had gardens before, but this seems more like a property. Right away I was keen to get going on my kitchen garden, but something was standing in the way. Specifically a tree, with lavish overhang covering the intended garden beds, and which would need heavy pruning. Remembering my childhood chores, I put it off and put it off, until the day came when I was lent a pair of secateurs and just had to dive in.

    I had a blast. Really. It occurred to me that I finally had permission to destroy stuff! I lopped and lopped and carted massive branches (me, who doesn't carry anything and hates breaking a nail), drunk on the power of affecting creation, exclaiming at one point "I feel so alive!" I was hooked, hopelessly and forever, on gardening.

    What I started with
    So my next step was to prepare the long-overgrown garden beds for planting. I cleared away rubbish and debris, then after researching how to prepare the soil, decided on lasagna gardening. If you want to try lasagna gardening, here's what you do. Read a how to guide on the process, think to yourself "gosh that sounds so easy and natural and wonderful", and tweet your discovery smugly. Then devote every spare minute over the next few weeks to the lasagna garden, tending to it as you would a problem child, as you realise it's not bloody easy at all and you'd have been better off just digging up the weeds and buying topsoil.

    It started off easily enough, with a layer off egg cartons:

    And I proudly surveyed my handiwork to that point. Then the problems started. You're supposed to build layers of the lasagna, to a depth of two feet. I added layers:

    and layers:

    and layers:

    Do you know how deep two feet of garden material actually is? Deeper than you could ever imagine in your worst nightmares. Getting hold of layers to add became an obsession. I traversed the backyard on bended knee gathering grass, both green and dried; watched in dismay as a week's worth of kitchen scraps barely covered one half; hand-shredded a copy of the Newcastle Yellow Pages; and lamented no longer living in Sydney to avail myself of copies of MX (although spreading cow manure over Jeff Corbett's headshot from the Newcastle Herald helped alleviate some of my guilt at "cheating" by adding a layer of cow manure). I've been at this now for three weeks, and I can't see any sign that any of it is breaking down. It just sits there not doing anything except emitting a vague smell, and could therefore more reasonably be called the "me in my early twenties" garden.

    Today I finally decided enough was enough. I've added twelve layers now, and it's finally starting to build up a reasonable thickness. The irony of this is, our natural soil is excellent, dark and rich and nearly black, and I could conceivably have used some of it on the garden beds. But I'm stubbornly determined to do it my way. I'll let you know in a few weeks' time whether it seems to be breaking down into the promised rich, fluffy soil, or whether I give up in frustration and head to Bunnings for topsoil, cursing wasted time I could have spent drinking instead.

    The Right Wingers' Dictionary

    02 August 2012
    Decipher the ramblings of the frothing right with this handy reference.

    Your argument makes no sense: I don't understand your argument

    Fool: My favourite insult, got me a caning when I called my teacher a fool in 1948

    Fuckwit: My other insult, for when I'm really getting mad

    You're blocked: I've lost the argument

    Tony Abbott is a great man: He'd beat the crap out of me in a fist fight, anyway

    Unaustralian: Something I don't like

    Political Correctness gone mad: I resent having to keep my bigotry to myself

    I've nothing against gays but they shouldn't be allowed to get married: I've at least one thing against gays, anyway

    Same sex marriage destroys tradition/is bad for children: I will ignore all social, cultural, historical and empirical evidence to find excuses to cover my homophobia

    Illegal boat arrivals: I believe in other things that don't exist too, like the tooth fairy

    Queue jumpers: they should go to their local Australian embassy and request asylum in an orderly fashion. They can do that, right?

    Stop the boats!: To be honest, I really don't care what happens to these people

    We didn't vote for this: I have no idea how representative democracy works

    Election now!: And every other time things happen I don't like

    The left-wing ABC: the conservative politicians and commentators who constantly appear on the ABC say it's left wing and they should know since they spend so much time there

    Latte sipping: Despite the fact that I visit Gloria Jeans on a regular basis myself, I somehow think choice of coffee is symbolic of the avant garde.

    Chardonnay swilling: Now I'm really caught in the 1990s. Maybe I need a more up-to-date insult. Tapas-eating, perhaps?

    Gillard lied: I'll wilfully ignore the difference between lying and being required to change positions

    Gillard is sneaky: She must be to out-negotiate Abbott, or he would be Prime Minister right now

    Evidence: Akerman/Bolt/Jones said it so it must be true

    Australia is a Christian nation: full of devout Christians like myself who haven't opened a Bible or set foot in a church in years, and only mark the box on the census cause atheists are, you know, weird

    The Greens/Labor Alliance: They worked together so well on asylum seekers, the ETS, same sex marriage, and...well, I'm still convinced they're in alliance, anyway

    Socialist: I'd hate to lose Medicare, free education, middle class welfare, or the basic safety net which keeps society in some sort of order and crime down to a dull roar; the rest of the socialist schemes can go though

    Gina Reinhart/Clive Palmer/Ziggy Forrest is a great Australian: Billionaires really understand what it's like to be a wage earner, thank goodness they're on our side against greedy, out of touch politicians

    Class warfare: We must stand up for rich people against greedy, out of touch politicians

    This is the worst government in history: Yes I really am this spoilt and stupid

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