An Open Letter To Angela and Tony Wood: Stop. Please, Stop.

10 November 2014
Dear Angela and Tony Wood,

When I read today of the death of a young woman at a Sydney dance party as an apparent result of a drug overdose, my heart sank. At the senseless loss of a young life (although the media apparently believes we should be the more grieved because, as they take pains to point out to us, she was beautiful and the daughter of a wealthy family). And for the renewed debate about drugs which I knew would be stymied by you swiftly appearing in the media to advocate escalating the war on drugs, as you have for nearly twenty years since the ecstasy related death of your daughter, Anna, in 1995.

And sure enough, this morning there you were.

I was the same age as Anna, in Year 10 in 1995. I have lived long enough to develop bad knees and make stupid mistakes and travel and change careers and to fall in and out of love; and, eventually, to marry and have a family of my own. Anna missed all that, as you must be so keenly aware every day. As a parent myself now I can't, don't want to, imagine the unbearable grief of losing a child.

We all cope with grief in different ways. You have chosen to do so by doing what you perceive as using your daughter's death as a force for good - using her story to highlight the dangers of ecstasy, and advocating an all-out war on drugs as a means of facing this scourge.

As a youth worker, a former drug user, and a parent who worries what her own child will be getting up to, sooner than I like to think about, I'm begging you to stop.

Please stop what you're doing. For nearly twenty years you have been advocating the zero tolerance, war on drugs approach. And it hasn't worked. Yet every time a young attractive woman dies a drug related death in NSW, you pop up in the media, advising governments do more of policies that have failed.

You use your grief as a weapon, to shut down debate, to prevent a rational debate in the community about the use and regulation of recreational drugs, to examine evidence based practices, a change in approach. We have to wonder if you are actually concerned with reducing young peoples' use of drugs, or if your true, if subconscious, aim in your zero tolerance approach is to punish the malevolent forces you hold responsible for your daughter's death.

No one wants to see young people dying as a result of taking drugs. And it's important to remember most who do aren't pretty rich young things from loving homes behaving "out of character" at a dance party. Most are dealing with longer term drug problems, often with other factors of mental illness and disadvantage. How is a zero tolerance approach to help them, if they are threatened with criminal charges if they seek to get help? If we treat addiction as a crime, instead of the disease it is? By closing facilities such as the medically supervised injecting room, which has saved at least scores of lives since opening in 2001?

But let's look at Anna's death. What zero tolerance policies would have saved her? Harsher penalties for the manufacturer of the ecstasy she took, or the young woman who supplied it to her? What if Anna herself had feared arrest, spending a night in lock up, a criminal charge, if she'd been caught with the pill? It's hard to imagine you as her parents would have advocated for that if she had lived (and in the book Anna's Story, you sensibly remark that the trip to hospital to have her stomach pumped would have been "punishment enough").

Tragically, that was never an option for Anna. Because she took the pill, for one reason or another, and had no information about taking it safely. So she drank litres and litres of water. And when she became ill, a combination of fear and that lack of information caused her friends to delay seeking medical treatment. By the time Anna did get medical help, it was too late, and she died - not of ecstasy overdose, but of water intoxication. Two critical factors that could have been averted if harm minimisation policies were in place.

Would fear of a zero tolerance approach have stopped Anna from taking that pill? Perhaps, perhaps. Conversely, could harm minimisation policies have saved Anna - if she'd known to regulate her water intake, if her friends had been aware of the importance of seeking medical help and been unafraid to do so? Again, we will never know. But the possibility of preventing similar future deaths is tantalisingly there.

Your solution is simple and uncompromising. Zero tolerance. No one should be taking drugs in the first place. But you can't keep pretending the war on drugs is working. You cannot destroy the factors which lead young people to take drugs through the force of your pain.

We need a proper, grown up debate on drugs, but you seek to shut that down. In the United States, individual states are moving to decriminalise marijuana, but here in Sydney we regularly see police and sniffer dogs at train stations during rush hour, ready to charge any commuter who has the botanical equivalent of a few drinks in their pocket. I despair of the waste of resources (and I don't even smoke marijuana).

Let's acknowledge the current policies aren't working. Let's talk harm minimisation. Let's have a mature debate on evidence based practice, on how whether it's drugs or sex abstinence education doesn't work.

If this is all too hard, after twenty years of the take no prisoners approach, I understand. Please retreat from  the debate. Please stop using your loss to push well-intentioned but disastrous policies. Please accept that you are not experts on the drug debate and listen to those who are.

And next time, please, wait until the body of the latest young person lost to drugs is cold before you pop up in the media to peddle your agenda.


The Accident

26 October 2014
Well, it's been a bit of a crappy year for us luck wise. Everything that could have gone wrong has, pretty much - career, health, financial issues; a much-wanted move back to Sydney delayed by one complication after another. Way back in January I bought a car, anticipating it would take me a couple of months to learn to drive and then I could pay my way through uni as a youth worker; instead it took nine months, five tests, and a minor bump in a carpark that cost $1200, before I finally passed last week.

We pencilled in the move for next week, and yesterday DH was doing some packing; I took Baby G to the pool to get him out from underfoot. We had a lovely time, and I was driving us home feeling positive our luck had finally turned and things would be okay now, when my car apparently blew a tire in the worst possible place - the hairpin bends over Waratah station. I wasn't sure what had happened, only that the car was handling funny. I tried to get it under control before we could pull over on Hanbury Street, but I lost control and we slammed into a power pole.

I couldn't quite believe what had happened (I still can't) - crashing after having my licence for five days, and not hooning around like a P-plater stereotype, but driving my kid home from the pool doing 40km at 2pm. There was a huge bang, and shards of things flying, and I sat there stunned for a second or two until Baby G started to scream and scream from the fright. Then a lovely lady from a nearby house came and startled unbuckling G and told us we were going to be okay but we needed to get out of the car now; it was leaking petrol. Having seen too many Crash Investigation episodes, I assumed this meant the car was about to blow up.  My door was jammed; I climbed out the passenger side, in the rush losing my shoes and glasses. G screamed, and I screamed a little too, until the nice lady sat me under a tree, plonked G in my lap, and said it was all fine and the fire and ambulance were on there way.

G calmed down very quickly - someone had a friendly dog - but instead of going to pieces, I felt like I was floating above it all. The firies arrived and deduced there was no danger of the car exploding; we'd need to arrange towing (I didn't really take this in). DH was summoned, and the paramedics arrived, and said as a precaution, Baby G and I were both suspected spinals and we'd need to go to the John Hunter, being the major regional trauma hospital. As we waited for the second ambulance for G, it became apparent that he really wasn't hurt at all (I'm glad I researched the child seat with the best safety rating), and that he was in fact having the time of his life. He asked and answered questions about the equipment and the broken car - trucks and playing doctor being his favourite things, so this on top of the earlier waterslide ride, this was his perfect day. For me, not so much. Lying there in an immobility collar, unable to see what was going on, I kept worrying about what happens with the move, with the car?

At length we made it to hospital. It was a long wait, but the paramedics waiting with us were lovely. Everyone was really, but one guy in particular waiting with me made sure I had ice chips and was always next to Baby G and encouraged me to have a bit of morphine, which went down very nicely. I had a stiff neck and a very sore sternum and no one was sure how bad it was, so we waited. Baby G didn't need to stay in his bed and was soon singing and chatting and wanting to go home. DH hovered over, worried, in between tending to Baby G. It's funny the things you remember - he noticed that my feet were dirty and covered with gravel from when I lost my shoes; he tried to clean them, as he knows I hate having dirty feet. (It hadn't bothered me at all).

I had to wait till I got the all clear - the long wait was a good thing, as it meant my injuries were classified as low priority. The police came, took a statement. Moved to a bed. Finally the doctor came and said stiffness and bruising but no real damage, and I could go home. We had to get the bus, but I didn't care (the drugs helped). I was thirsty at the time of the accident and cold water never tasted so good.

Today I'm pretty much okay (and G is just fine). I've huge seatbelt shaped bruises across my chest - my left bosom looks like an overripe plum - and stomach. (Seat belts save lives, never forget it - we were at low speed and nearly home). The car, not so much. It's a write off, inasmuch as it would cost more to repair than it would to replace, and till I get a job we can't afford either. It was towed here last night, and I went out and had a little cry - the cabin is still completely clean and undamaged, contrasting with the crumpled front. It's a bit heartbreaking that for 9 months I had a car and no licence; after 5 days of driving enjoyment, now I have a licence and no car.

There's a scene at the end of Four Weddings and A Funeral where Andie MacDowell, standing in the rain with Hugh Grant, says there's a point where you're so wet you can't get any wetter. That's how I feel about this. I'm past peak load for disappointment. I'm grateful that Baby G and I are both okay, and that after some tense times this has made DH and I see how horrible it would be to lose each other, and that however we get there, I now don't have to drive to Sydney on moving day with a 3 year old and a howling incontinent elderly cat in a car that can't have air conditioning and go up hills at the same time. I'm grateful for the wonderful treatment we received from onlookers, the paramedics and hospital staff. (DH wondered aloud if I'd develop some mild PTSD from this; I said I don't think so. No one hurt me, you see).

I've been trying to focus more on faith lately, but all the things that keep going wrong make me wonder if I'm going down the wrong path (DH is firmly of the belief that none of it has meaning, it's just a bunch of stuff that happens). It could though have been so much worse; if we hadn't hit the power pole, we'd have kept going into the concrete office block five foot further along. On Baby G's side of the car. Oh my. Who knows what it all means. Drive safely and look after each other.

Newcastle Hosts The Climate Warriors

18 October 2014

It's pretty irritating living next to the coal train line in the shadow of the world's largest coal port. The outside walls of our house are constantly covered in a later of coal dust. I have to wash the dust out of the laundry baskets every time we use them (and yes, we do regularly do laundry). I quit smoking over five years ago and don't have asthma, but I've a constant hacking cough that spurs strangers to tell me "those ciggies will kill you, you know", and endless chest infections.

So that's not much fun, but it's even to scarier to think what happens at the other end of the coal chain, such as the lethal air pollution in Beijing cause by burning Hunter coal. More dire, if possible, is the very real and immediate threat that Pacific Island nations could disappear entirely due to rising sea levels - destroyed by climate change caused by the very coal seen for so long as the lifeblood of the Hunter.

So a group of activists from the threatened nations known as the Pacific Climate Warriors have vowed "we are not drowning, we are fighting", and came to Newcastle to take on the world's biggest coal port and show the very human reality of what stands to be lost. In the face of our head-in-the-sand federal government and a Prime Minister who declared this week that coal is good for humanity, hundreds of locals showed up to lend solidarity and join the canoe blockade of the coal port. I decided to give the canoes a miss - didn't want to sink one of the darn things - but headed along to lend my voice. The day's events got underway with a Welcome to Country, then a prayer from a minister from the Pacific Islands, then the climate warriors performed a blessing of the canoes which was very moving and drew great applause (though one little man found it all too much and burst into tears because "the man was loud" - bless).

In a reflection of the reality of the situation, there was then advice on what to do if arrested for carrying out non violent civil disobedience , with many protesters writing the lawyers' numbers on their arms. The formalities over, the first canoes hit the water. Now, at this stage the police had kept a fair distance, but then word came through the first departing ship was due to come through, they took a more active role, with the rubber duckies and jet skis seeming to herd the protesters away from the approaching ship. As Luke Pearson, founder of Indigenous X (whom I got to meet!) said, we have the sight of the police protecting corporations from the public. It seemed fairly benign - the police were bringing canoes and protesters onto the rubber boats and bringing them to shore, but then letting them go - but it got me to thinking.

A frequent argument seen against this and other protests of its kind is that, whether or not you agree with what the coal industry is doing, they are carrying out a legal activity and should not be impeded. There's two issues here. First is the confusing of legality and morality - smacking is legal whilst medical marijuana isn't, and I'm firmly of the belief it should be the other way around; legality is not an indication of worth. But more crucially is that the law just isn't fair. I've seen commentators say the protesters should take legal means, such as petitions, to change laws they disagree with. But that's to ignore the enormous and inequitable influence vested interests have in society. The coal industry has enormous influence in Australia - especially in NSW, where we have Liberal governments at a state and federal level, so strongly entwined with the interests of the mining industry they deny the threat of climate change and seek to shut down the renewable energy sector. When the law is unfair, you can try to change it; when the mechanism behind the law is unfair, civil disobedience becomes the only option.

Not that I engaged in civil disobedience myself. I stupidly neglected to bring sunscreen, and despite knowing I needed to leave stayed put for nearly three hours, to which I have a terrible sunburn. So I missed that later in the day ships were unable to get through the blockade, and also apparent injuries to protesters at the hands of police (which police have denied). There's a real momentum here, and I look forward to participating in more actions in future.

To donate to the climate warriors, click here.

How Tony Abbott Made Me Irish Again

06 October 2014
I was born in Ireland, becoming a small part of the history of the Irish diaspora by migrating to Australia as a young child. (And for what it's worth, the processing and approval for my parents' application took over a year; they did things "the right way" and I still don't hate people who try to seek asylum by boat in Australia. I digress).

I didn't think much of it until a brief spell of anti-Irish bullying in late primary school - nothing compared to what people of colour face, of course, but still enough to make me rather ashamed. Then as a teen in the Britpop years, all I wanted was to move to England. They had the good music and Madchester and The Face, which I read religiously in my high school in a dull part of coastal NSW, fuelling my dreams. What did Ireland have - dancing with arms by your sides, jokes about being dumb, postcards of cows captioned "An Irish Traffic Jam"? I couldn't see anything interesting about Ireland, anything to be proud of.

And anyway, apart from those initial two years in Ireland, I've lived my whole life in Sydney and Newcastle. I was Australian. I briefly served in the Army Reserve. All my experiences, references, personal history were Australian. I knew the squawk of a magpie, to shake my shoes in summer before putting them on, that everything costs too much and that the Aerogard is worse than the mozzies. I got tired of people, well-meaning, offering to buy a round and coming back with a Guinness for me (I don't even like Guinness), let alone putting on a silly accent and telling jokes I've heard dozens of times before. People judge the Irish as backwards, adorable accents sure, but incapable of having any serious opinions. After a while, I just gave up. I was Australian, not Irish. Full stop.

But in the past year, I've become Irish again. I've embraced my heritage and ethnicity, announce it loud and proud, read Irish blogs and websites and am planning to visit as soon as we get back on our feet. So what happened? 

It was two things. First, in my search for spirituality, I seriously considered conversion to Reform Judaism. The circumstances that led to this and what I learned over a year of intense studying are beyond the scope of this post, but what came back to me over and over again was Jewish people describing how they felt connected to 5000 years of culture, history, connection to their fellow Jews. I thought that was beautiful, but a little voice began to ask me "aren't you, if you convert, cutting off your own culture, history, the hundreds of generations of Catholicism?" 

This played a definite part, but the main factor that has led me to embrace my Hibernian roots is Tony Abbott and his government. I'm ashamed, truly ashamed to be Australian for the first time ever, and at a level I've never felt before, not during the endless reign of John Howard. Where to start? First there's the actions f the government, cruel, contradictory, damaging and pointless; from imprisoning asylum seekers whilst abandoning others in open water; the shutting down clean energy programs and subsidising the fossil fuel industry; cuts to education and raising university fees to levels where many workers, especially women, may never be able to pay off their debts; defunding science; heading off to war when we're not wanted or needed; cuts to welfare that will make it even harder for the most disadvantaged to get out of poverty; cuts to indigenous services; ramping up fear of Islamic terrorism whilst completely forgetting the 38 Australians who were blasted out of the sky by non-Muslim terrorists less than three months ago; and just last week a needless and inflammatory debate on the burqas no one was wearing to parliament house.

I got depressed just writing that list, and that's all off the top of my head. I'm sure there's a bunch of worse stuff my memory has suppressed.

Then there's Tony Abbott himself. The man is an international laughing stock (incidentally he insults the Irish in that clip). Every time I see him board the RAAF jet he head overseas, I'm simultaneously glad he's out of the country and cringing at the thought of how he'll embarrass us this time. What is with the man? I watched the NRL Grand final last night and seeing Abbott was...odd. He stood there like a plastic statue, not looking quite human (and before anyone thinks this opinion of Abbott is due to my political beliefs, NSW Premier Mike Baird, standing next to him, is cut from the same political cloth but at least looks like a person). I understand awkwardness. I do. If I ever took public office I would explain my condition and how it affects me. Abbott hasn't said a word. Something is amiss. He bumbles around insulting everyone, and I'm so ashamed he's the PM.

So I'm Irish again, well Irish Australian, and whenever someone says they're ashamed to be Australian these days I think me too, but at least I have an "out". And if the government gets much worse - conscription, say, which I wouldn't put past them - we're out of here. We'll just leave. I've loved Australia and paid my taxes here and served, and I never thought it would come to this, but I never thought Tony Abbott would be Prime Minister either. Whilst it seems he'll be a one term wonder, you never know, and I love knowing there's an escape clause. And I'm loving too getting in touch with my heritage, reading Irish history, about which I know shamefully little and about Irish life. I can't quite bring myself to go to Catholic Church - I attended mass a couple of times, till I learned the priest, who I'd liked, was involved in the cover up of sexual abuse, not surprising really as the Hunter is ground zero for the Australian sex abuse scandal, but it was still a stinging feeling of being let down; at least I know no one in Ireland goes to mass any more either including, for the first time in nearly 90 years, my devout grandmother, so disgusted by the scandals of the church there. I'm learning Ireland is far more complex than cows and fervent pro-lifers praying the rosary, that there's a complexity I'm ashamed I never opened myself up to before. So thanks Tony Abbott, you've given me a gift of my heritage, which may be the only thing you've given anyone apart from an increased drinking problem.

On Women Against Feminism

28 September 2014
The definition of privilege is thinking that something is not a problem because it hasn't been a problem for you personally. So outside of a Young Liberals meeting, it's hard to conceive of a more privileged bunch than the women on Twitter tweeting self righteously under the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism. Ask them why they feel they don't need feminism, and they'll tell you they are not victims. "I made choices in my career so I've not faced discrimination" "I haven't been harassed or assaulted" "Look at me not being oppressed by my husband". ME ME ME ME ME.

Well, okay. There's no law against being selfish - or illogical. A lot of them will tell you they are actually very much in favour of equal rights for women, but not feminism, because it's been hijacked by extremists. They ignore that the majority of feminists love men - their fathers and brothers and friends, and if hetero their partners - respect men, don't hate men, that we acknowledge the positive role of men in their lives whilst still striving to reddress the effects of milennia of gender inequality. These haven't just gone away. Ask one of the women against feminism if they believe women are paid less, suffer disproportionately from violence in relationships, are underrepresented in business, government and academia, struggle with reproductive choices, because they just aren't as good - and they fall strangely silent. It's not because of the patriarchy, mind. They want you to know there is no patriarchy.

They cite examples of feminist extremism, such as Andrea Dworkin, and want you to know they want no part of it. Well, you can call yourself whatever you like. But just as someone who asserted they believe in the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, believe in the Nicene creed, but because of the Westboro Baptist Church they are not a Christian would be met with snorts of derision, so it is here. If you believe in equal rights for women, you're a feminist. Don't be afraid. We're a broad church. Open to interpretation, sure. But the misinterpretation is pretty frustrating. How many times have we seen right wing women who relentlessly attack feminism turn around and demand to know where the "sisterhood" is when one of their own comes under attack for non-sexist reasons?

They post derisively about Emma Watson's speech on the harms of gender inequality, ignoring that the subsequent sexual attacks prove that misogyny is alive and well. See, here's the thing. You owe feminism. If you're a woman, you owe it your right to vote and theoretical equal pay in law and your right to legal assistance if the boss sticks his hand up your skirt, unwanted. But feminism doesn't owe you anything. Emma Watson was attacked in her speech for specifically referring to violence against girls and women, rather than violence against all people. Well, yes, violence is always a problem and men do suffer disproportionately from assault and murder. But they do not suffer from gendered violence the way women do. With one woman dying at the hands of her partner every week in Australia, I am - sorry - absolutely fucking sick of every conversation about violence against women turning into a discussion about men. Sorry, we do plenty when men are attacked. The entire city of Sydney goes into lock down at night because two young men died in acts of alcohol fuelled violence. Meanwhile women and children are dying at home, unseen and unheard, at the hands of men who were supposed to love and protect them. This is terrorism.

If women against feminism support equal rights, but not feminism itself because it has been "hijacked", absolutely the worst thing they can do is to align themselves with the misogynists and extremists who do believe that deep down, a woman's place is in the home and all women are dirty little sluts. Deriding feminism does nothing for equal rights. If you truly believe in equal rights, proudly call yourself a feminist. Reclaim the label instead of writing them off as extremists. If you think you're too moderate and balanced to be a feminist, be a moderate, balanced feminist. Stop thinking if you play nice with the boys, they'll let you into their club. Acknowledge we've got a long way to go, that's it's not all about you, and start looking for ways you can help.

I'm Not Worried Abbott is Stupid. I'm Worried He's Not

07 September 2014
9/7/13: Never Forget

One year today since the election of the Abbott government, and far from the soothsayers who assured us it wouldn't be as bad as we were fearing, the last twelve months have been a horror show of epic proportions beyond ideology, beyond necessity, beyond our worst nightmares.

And it's showing in the polls. Never have we seen a government so unpopular in it's first year. What particularly galls people, apart from the budget measures that take a harsh toll on the disadvantaged whilst continuing the free ride of miners and big business, is the lies. Having gone out of his way ahead of the election to assure voters, possibly unnecessarily, there'd be no harsh cuts, the cuts have come anyway; and whilst a few true believers defend the government on the basis that "Labor lied too" (so you're forgiving Labor then?), most are furious. One could imagine the government would be panicking. I don't think they're panicking. I think they're assured it's all going to plan.

Even if Abbott himself is showing worrying signs of some impairment of cognitive function as a possible remnant of his boxing days - the verbal and facial tics, the odd turns of phrase and pauses - there are some very smart people behind him, and this then seems to be there strategy. Lie and lie and lie and lie until we all just stop caring, stop noticing, stop paying attention, till we're too exhausted and numb to feel mild consternation let alone rage.

And then all they have to do is get involved in another costly pointless war that is none of our business, and go to the election presenting themselves as a war time government, strong on national security, and you don't change horses mid stream.

And Bill Shorten and Labor will let them.

I hope I'm wrong.

What Good Can I Do Today?

05 September 2014
For those who don't know, I'm pretty heavily into art journalling. I've been doing it for many years now, so although over that time I've spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on supplies - often $5 worth at a time - it's a cheap hobby cause I'm already set up. I don't post my work though, except occasionally on Instagram, because 1. Without a scanner, I can only take lousy pictures on my camera phone, and 2. Despite years of practice, I've only progressed in skill from "terrible" to "mediocre:, and I'm intimidated by all the awesome work I see out there.

But I'm posting today, because I've had a revelation.

In a quest to go deeper with my journalling and get my life back on track, I read of how Benjamin Franklin scheduled his day. Every day, rising at 5am (not a habit I can get on board with, although sometimes with a toddler I've no choice - luckily Baby G is 3 now and usually sleeps till 7 or so), he would take time to contemplate the day ahead and ask himself what good can I do today?

It's a question I need to ask myself. Our lives are in a holding pattern at the moment. We're waiting on some money so we can pack up and move to Sydney. I'm on a semester break from university, so I don't feel I'm doing some good by working towards my goal of being a child protection worker and eventually, that PhD on how we can better work with teenagers who are being abused. I'd planned to volunteer for meals on wheels, but learning to drive is taking a bit longer than I'd planned. I'm not doing any other volunteering, I've had a few health issues recently and basically just being a big useless sack of crap. An angry sack.

Enough with the anger, it is time to focus on healing. I'm going to start every day by asking "what good can I do today?" and then doing it. It was Indigenous Literacy Day this week, so I donated what I was contemplating on spending on a takeaway lunch. I signed the Amnesty petition to free Peter Greste (I've sent an email previously). I resolved to let go of my petty annoyances with people and go with the flow.

Oh, I know it's not much. But nothing's much, if you look at it like that, and all the not muches surely will come to something, if I do it every day and others do it to (and I know an awful lot of people who are already doing wonderful things for the world every day). I'm planning to stick with this, and let's see where it goes.

Tim Blair and the Right's Adventures in Muslimland

24 August 2014
You almost have to admire the mental gymnastics of the right. The twists and flips of logic required to lead them to their positions on the major issues are quite astonishing. Saw again today on a News Ltd blog a common refrain from the right on Islamists - "the loony left and the loony extremist Muslims are comrades in arms!". Yep, lefties love Islamic fundamentalism. Our vision for society - marriage equality, divestment from fossil fuels, sharia law. As a feminist, I want to see harsher penalties for violence against women, reproductive freedom, equal pay, and to be locked away in purdah unable to work or go to university. Do right wingers ever actually think about how absurd they sound?

Then of course they're defending their "need" to watch videos of the beheading of James Foley. "We must be fully aware of the evil posed by these Islamic terrorists", they harrumph between handfuls of popcorn. See no, most of us can ascertain that cutting someone's head off is evil just by reading about it, without having to see the thing happening, despite the victim's grieving family begging the world not to watch. I assume those who would watch the video because they need to also feel a need to watch child pornography - only, you must understand, because they need to see for themselves just how ghastly it all is?

But the right's bizarre attitude to Islam was perhaps best illustrated this week by The Superfun Adventures of Tim Blair in Lakemba. Blair, one of Murdoch's favourite house pets, set off to Sydney's Islamic heartland for a gander and reported back to his loyal audience just how ghastly it all is. Oh, the food is great, Blair assures us. (Bringing to mind echoes of, "but their kids are so darn cute"). But the rest...well, a few angry young men yelled some things, and an Islamic bookshop had some offensive books. The horror! Blair is particularly offended by the fact Lakemba is "monocultural", as if it isn't entirely natural that a group constantly demonised by the mainstream media would want to stick together.

If Tim Blair wanted to be outraged by what he finds in a Sydney suburb, there's another place he could go where he would speak the language. A place that has seen racist riots. A place with stores selling items depicting sexual exploitation of women. A place with regular outbreaks of violence. A place with bookstores selling tracts saying women are subservient and gay sex is an abomination. A place where foreign culture is imposed on Australians. A place where a few years ago I was called a fat pig by some Aussie surfer dudes. And guess who supports all this by having his office smack bang in the middle of it all?

But I'm sure Mr Blair would feel more comfortable there. It may be a haven of drunken racist sexist violence, but it's his kind of drunken racist sexist violence. So go spend the day in Manly Mr Blair, drop in and see your friend Tony, and leave the residents of Lakemba alone.

Literally Unbelievable: ICAC, the Liberals and Newcastle

17 August 2014
I told you things were about to get interesting.

Anyway it all came to a head this week; following the ICAC hearings into illegal donations, the Liberal MPs for the neighbouring NSW state seats of Newcastle and Charlestown resigned from parliament after finally admitting they took illegal donations from Newcastle developer (and now Lord Mayor) Jeff McCloy during the 2011 state election campaign. Some have referred to this as a shock. Well for Andrew Cornwell, maybe (pinned as one of the rising stars of the NSW Liberals, he now has such a bright future behind him). But what about Tim Owen, disgraced former member for Newcastle? Now that it's been conclusively established he's been lying through his teeth every step of the way, including lying directly to the commission on Monday (an offence carrying the possibility of jail time), is there anyone who didn't think there was something just a bit off all along about "one term (HA!)" Tim?

When allegations of impropriety were first raised in May, Mr Owen tearfully fronted a press conference in Newcastle to announce that yes, it seemed there had been illegal donations made to his campaign, but honestly, he'd had no idea. With hands cleaner than Pontius Pilate, he'd serve out the rest of his term, but would not, as a matter of honour, seek re-election in 2015.

As I wrote at the time, are being asked to believe that illegal donors secretly gave the money to Tim Owen's campaign and never said a word to him about it at the time or ever contacted him regarding influence or any other matter in the intervening three years? I didn't buy it, and for good reason; it was a bunch of bullshit all along. Owen took money from McCloy (whilst sitting in McCloy's parked Bentley on Hunter Street), last Monday told ICAC he gave it back, then on Tuesday admitted he'd kept the money for his campaign. So he's gone, and good riddance.

But the caravan of disbelief was only just getting steam. Yesterday, Premier Mike Baird published an open letter to the voters of Newcastle, apologising for how we have been treated by our elected representatives - for he, himself feels let down - but reminding us of the Liberals' excellent record in the Hunter, unlike the dastardly Labor party.

Excuse me? No, Premier Baird, if you've been caught out, apologise without sticking the boot into the other party, spare us the "yes, but..." hahoo. When eight of your MPs have now been caught out at ICAC, it is not a case of a few bad apples; there is a systemic problem which you need to take responsibility for. And your excellent record in the Hunter? Like ripping up the rail line nearly everyone wants to keep? Selling the Port of Newcastle and funnelling the money into Sydney instead of hospitals, transport and schools here? Appointing a Minister for the Hunter from Sydney's North Shore whose acquaintance to the region prior to her promotion was apparently a wine tour or somesuch? And you think this is not taking us for granted? Really, Mr Baird. You are taking the piss.

Then just to put the rotten cherry on the rotten sundae, just when you couldn't believe they were expecting us to swallow anymore of their BS, today it is announced that the Liberal party will not field candidates at the 25 October bi-election for the seats of Newcastle and Charlestown act of atonement. WTAFF? Atonement?! "We are so sorry, we're forgoing electoral funding just to make it all better?". No. No. Does anyone actually buy this? They're not fielding candidates because they don't want the protest vote, don't want the swing against them, don't want Antony Green applying the Hunter swing to projections for NSW. And cause they're cowards, frankly. They don't want to send candidates out on the hustings, knowing the abuse from the enraged electorate they'd face (and frankly, I don't blame those undeserving individuals for not wanting to face that, either), and they're too cowardly to face what the results would mean for the party as a whole.

There are a few who defend the Liberals in all this...Owen wasn't actually influenced, so it's okay, at least the Liberals are doing something...but most Novocastrians are as furious as I probably come across in this post. My bruised hometown deserves so much better, and even as we likely settle down for another long uninterrupted spate of Labor representation I wish that if we were not to be forgotten, it was for something other than this.

Israel, Right Or Wrong

13 August 2014
As the war in Gaza rages on, something that perplexes many is the unquestioning support of the vast majority of Jewish people for Israel. It seems no matter what the accusation of Israeli wrongdoing, most Jews vehemently defend the actions of the Israeli government and army, attacking those who dissent - as in this article by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who has faced death threats after articles in the Israeli press questioning the war. Levy points out that the criticism has come as much from the liberal readers of his paper, Haaretz, as other sections of Israeli society. We see the same from other Jews who would be considered politically liberal, but nonetheless take a hardline pro-Israeli stance.

But why do most Jewish people - with their values of democracy and tolerance, let alone their history of suffering - defend the actions of the IDF and disregard Palestinian suffering? I recently came across something that explained it all. A Jewish parenting site I visit was discussing the rising tide of anti-Semitism, and no longer feeling safe in their own communities. A reader living in Israel advised those in the U.S. to make aaliyah, the move to the Jewish homeland. She assured fellow readers "Jews are safer here than anywhere else in the world. We have each other, and we have an army". It is a theme that comes up again and again on Jewish websites I visit; the belief that another Holocaust is imminent, and the only thing that will protect the Jewish people is the IDF.

Obviously, those who frequent websites specific to Jewish interests will be more inclined to strongly identify as Jewish as a key part of their identity and feel solidarity with the Jewish people, so it's a skewed sample here. But the Holocaust is not merely an historical event for many Jews; it is something that they feel personally, that but for time and place it could have happened to them, and further that the whole world secretly wants all Jews dead, even if they don't come right out and say so (such references come up in the most seemingly unrelated articles - a piece praising the 2012 Olympics performance of Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman, for instance. And it comes up in articles about explaining the Holocaust to kids - that it could happen again at any time, and most of the world would be happy with that.

So taking this combination of fear, solidarity, and a need to not question too closely claims that Hamas uses human shields, and you've got a pretty good explaination for why so many Jewish people feel the way they do - that no matter the actions of the Israeli government and army, they are necessary to prevent another Holocaust - indeed, this is the only thing that can prevent it, and opposing this is wishing the destruction of the Jewish people. (And what happens, I wonder, when refugees from anti-Semitism do move to Israel - and all need housing? Where are they going to settle?).

Of course not all Jewish people feel this way. But many do, and it does, I think, help explain their unquestioning support of the war, the cries of anti-Semitism whenever anyone questions the Gaza attacks. We may not agree, but we can try to understand. 

Is There Life After Mine?

10 August 2014
With all the controversy flying this week after Senator Eric Abetz spruiked the thoroughly discredited line that abortion causes breast cancer, I threw this up on Twitter today:

It got a few favourites, no one attacked me over it, the internet seemed entirely untroubled by the implied revelation I've had an abortion. I don't regret what I share, but it's not just me I have to think about anymore. The internet is forever, as the Melbourne University Young Liberals are the latest to find out. How will what I've shared online affect Baby G in the future?

I've recently locked my Instagram account for similar reasons; G is about to turn three, and is now more recognisably a person instead of Infanta Generica, and I don't want classmates or anyone other random person able to freely access pictures of him. But what happens in future if classmates - or their parents - stumble across my blog? Will parents be wary of sending their kids to play at "that strange woman's house"? Will there be judgement and bullying over the PTSD stuff, or what I've written about living on welfare, or simply for our political beliefs? Would - my heart breaks - G be teased in the playground over something a six year old has heard their parent say about me?

How do other parents deal with this? If you share personal or controversial stuff online, how do you feel about your kids finding it? How do you feel about your child's friends, or friends parents, finding it? Have their been any issues? I'm keen to hear of people's experiences.

Why Do "Good People" Hate Asylum Seekers?

13 July 2014
As the government sank to new lows in its treatment of asylum seekers this week, disappearing people and returning others fleeing persecution and torture to the countries they'd been escaping, the reactions of horror and disgust from caring Australians have been matched by vitriol and fury from the right. Right wingers and Liberal voters are flooding comment sections and the Facebook pages of groups such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

But why? Why do conservatives, RWers and Liberal voters - who would otherwise think of themselves as good, caring people - hate asylum seekers so much? Why do they feel the need to spew their venom on online sites dedicated to helping and supporting asylum seekers?

Because it's cognitive dissonance. They have to.

Conservatives, unable to acknowledge the government's abhorrent treatment of asylum seekers and still sleep at night, instead demonise the asylum seekers themselves and those who support them. They react with fury when called ignorant even though their position requires relying on distortions, half-truths and outright lies; they likewise deny being racist, despite that the government's response to undocumented arrivals is entirely and disproportionately focused on the brown people who arrive by boat rather than the white people who arrive on planes. They spout meaningless platitudes such as "we have to look after our own first" to prove their compassion when I'm sure none of them have marched in the streets against the punitive federal budget which will unfairly target the most disadvantaged in our society, making poverty worse; when the punitive measures towards asylum seekers cost far more than community processing ever would; when even if the issue of asylum seekers vanished overnight it would not suddenly free up funds for the struggling community sector, which is being starved by the same governments that promise to "stop the boats". (Incidentally, all my years of working in refuges for homeless women and young people, all my welfare studies, I've never actually met someone working at the coalface of welfare provision who supports these harsh anti-asylum measures). And they drone on and on about "deaths at sea", as though people who can't escape (or worse, are sent back to torture) are any less dead than those who drown.

And they sure do have a bizarre fetish for orderly queues.

But the right need to ignore the suffering of these people who come here seeking our help in order to maintain their views of themselves as just good people. If only they'd consider the alternative - to look at the facts and seek a more compassionate solution.

Were The Deaths of the Israeli Boys An Inside Job?

01 July 2014
When I heard the missing Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frankel, missing since June 10, had been found, apparently murdered, in the West Bank, my heart sank. First at the tragic loss of these young lives, the anguish of their parents. No matter the political situation, innocent teenagers on the way home from school do not deserve to be dragged into the conflict and slaughtered.

But also, I was dismayed to imagine Israel's inevitable reaction to the news. Already, the drums of war are sounding as Israel vows revenge; hawk Benjamin Netanyahu has declared "Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay"; rocket strikes have begun already and the Israeli Defence Force has blown up the homes of the suspected kidnappers - despite that Hamas has not as yet taken responsibility and there is no direct evidence pointing to any one organisation. But whoever committed this crime, they must have known Israeli retaliation would be swift and devastating. Surely any Palestinian committing this act would have to realise that it would lead to dire consequences for his countryman? You would have to be incredibly stupid...or Israeli.

Did Israel coordinate this murder as a cover for all out assault on the West Bank?

Such action is not unprecedented. In 2010, Mossad agents stole the identities of 23 Israeli dual nationals - including a pregnant Australian woman living in Israel - to carry out the assasination of of Palestinian militant Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Israeli security agencies has shown they have no problem throwing its own citizens under the bus to carry out security operations, putting all those whose identities it stole at risk when travelling internationally for the rest of their lives. Would Israeli forces hesitate in directly murdering their own citizens as a justification for military action?

An obvious question is why they'd feel the need to. Israel's recent history has proved that they are quite comfortable acting without international approval, simply stating "Israel has a right to defend itself" to shut down all debate. So perhaps these murders were carried out - if indeed it was an inside job - not to allay international opinion, but domestic. Moderates who decry attacks on the West Bank in ordinary times are far less likely to do so if it's their kids being slaughtered. Everyone in Israel is scared and angry and as the saying goes, "when you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow".  

I'm not saying this was the work of Mossad or the IDF. I'm just saying that it all raises some pretty interesting questions about who stood to benefit from these deaths and why. 

Save Lillian's Youth Refuge

29 June 2014
Hello dear readers, I've asked for your help a bit lately, but now I'm going to ask again to help out on a cause that is very dear to my heart.

Under the "Going Home, Staying Home" reforms to the provision of welfare services in NSW, the government has announced it's intention to close services and refuges that cater to women and girls only. Whilst "equality" is a noble goal, the reality is that women and girls are overwhelmingly at risk from family violence and abuse, with domestic violence a major cause of homelessness. Female only refuges are absolutely essential to provide a safe place for those fleeing abuse. But these services are being cut, and one of those is the Lillian Howell Project in inner Sydney, more informally known as "Lillian's".

Lillian's is a medium to long term refuge for young women aged from 14-19, run from a feminist ethos. Lillian's aims to empower young women by helping them to continue (or return to) their education, set goals for themselves, transition to independent living and lead productive, kick ass lives. And they took me on for my youth work student placement (despite being, as the fabulous manager told me later, "the most nervous student we've ever seen", then as a paid worker once I graduated. And they sent me to conferences and talks, and were great mentors, and I wish I'd had a Lillian's when I was having troubles as a teen and I was in awe of the great work they did with the young women in their care.

And now they're facing closure. It will be a huge loss to the women who live there, the women who work there, the sector that sees more than half of all applicants turned away due to lack of places. We need more refuges for young women, not fewer -  or none. So I'm asking you here to help stop Lillian's and other vital women-centred services from closing, to place enough pressure on the government they rethink their decision which will put the lives of women and girls at risk. Please go here to download the community petition; take it to work, put it in your shop, share it as much as you can. Share this post and links to the campaign. We need to do whatever we can to stop these services from disappearing; once they're gone we may never get them back.

EDIT: there is a direct petition here at Please sign and share it's really important.

Good People Don't Vote Liberal

22 June 2014
Of course one should know better than to look for coherent thought on Facebook, but I was nevertheless a little bemused to see a former colleague posting a meme calling for compassion, and end to poverty, for everyone to have enough to eat, and power, and health care. And I thought "hang on. Didn't you vote Liberal?"

And it got me to thinking about the dwindling ranks of those who think of themselves as good people - civic minded, concerned about the less well off, caring - but nonetheless vote Liberal. How do they justify their stance to themselves?

Despite Joe Hockey recently stating that the concept of society aiming to reduce economic inequality is an outdated, socialist notion, the Liberals no doubt believe that they do care about poverty, and they have a plan to reduce it - stripping income support from the disadvantaged, which to them represents opportunity; freed from the shackles of poverty level welfare payments, the poor and unemployed will be thus motivated to rush out and get work, or start their own business, or get educational qualifications; that Centrelink is the one thing standing between the disadvantaged and productive lives as contributing members of society.

The simplest among us - though not Joe Hockey - can see the basic, fatal flaw in this plan. It doesn't work. If lack of income support as motivation is the key to eliminating poverty, why is there poverty - anywhere in the world? (As the classic line runs, if hard work was the key to eliminating poverty every woman in Africa would be a millionaire - and if anyone says "but they are richer than us in many ways", I am coming over to your house to vomit in your letterbox). The U.S. has been winding back the New Deal in an orgy of economic rationalism* for the last four decades, and all it has done has made poverty lots worse. Why the hell would anyone think it would work here? They can dress up cutting income support in whatever language they like; the simple goal is to punish the poor.

There will always be those who say "screw the poor. I don't care. I work hard and they can go to hell", and it's easy to understand why they vote Liberal. But good people? For this and so many other reasons, no. Good people don't vote Liberal.

* My sincere apologies for making you think of neoliberals having unrestrained jungle sex.

What Joe Hockey Gets Wrong About Welfare

12 June 2014
Treasurer Joe Hockey gave an impassioned defence of the Budget to a choir of the converted, telling the right wing forum Sydney Institute in a speech that attacks on the budget constitute class warfare, and that the notion that governments should try to achieve equality of outcomes is an outdated relic of socialism. "We have moved on".

Well, at least they've admitted it: our government has completely abandoned the notion that we should at least try to ensure that no one is poor in a wealthy nation like Australia. Let's abandon the notion of social justice and equality to get on with the job of making money, and if the disadvantaged are too lazy to get on board (nothing else could be stopping them, surely) then that's just too goddamn bad.  

But Hockey is wrong not just by normal standards - those of simple human decency - but by his standards of neoliberalism. For far from achieving its ultimate triumph by destroying the welfare state, neoliberalism requires a functioning welfare state to allow it to pursue it's goals of squeezing worker pay and conditions, whilst still maintaining a sense of civil society.

Neoliberalism as an economic and political philosophy tries to eliminate every trace of what it perceives as waste - nowhere more so than in the workplace. Now, in Australia wages are safe for the time being, although we'll see how long that lasts before the IPA gets its way to reduce the minimum wage. But conditions and security? Neoliberalism has destroyed the idea that if you work hard and the company is profitable, you will keep your job. We see this in outsourcing, short term contracts, the profusion of job ads specifying "no minimum hours, full availability required". People such as nurses, teachers, council garbage workers, who once would have been assured of steady and secure employment, now find themselves facing casual work, uncertainty and doubt. This explains why some 40% of the Australian workforce is underemployed or in insecure employment.

So when Hockey states that "a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher is working over one month full time each year to pay for the welfare of another Australian", he's way off. They're most likely paying for their own welfare. Neoliberalism requires a welfare system to top up the wages of that 40%, allowing businesses access to the workforce of a civil society without having to provide the pay and conditions to maintain that society themselves. Social security payments are a gift to the neoliberals, to big business, allowing them to turn huge profits with little regard to the welfare of their workers.

But why would neoliberals need civil society? Well, they need a pool of sufficiently healthy and educated workers, kept to a basic standard of living so that the workers don't riot in the streets, don't turn to crime, so that the managers can drive themselves to work rather than needing a chauffeur in an armoured car. They play a dangerous game hacking too severely at the welfare system. It is a lot cheaper to provide money for food for a young boy living with a single parent than to provide meals when, after having to leave his poorly funded public school in order to find work to help support the family and being unable to do so, he turns to crime and ends up in jail. Economies with high levels of inequality have worse health outcomes for everyone - both the wealthy and the poor. Why this is, economists are still debating, but the point is that inequality doesn't benefit anybody.

So it is a very delicate balancing act that neoliberals have to play if they want to dismantle welfare and notions of equality, whilst maintaining the civilised society that benefits everyone. One would hope that if this has to go ahead, only the best brains are working on it, to avoid societal disaster if it all goes wrong. But the next time someone complains they're sick of their taxes going to support those on Centrelink, point out it's to the advantage of the neoliberals, not the disadvantaged. And those bums have had a free ride for too long.

The Sorry State of Healthcare Complaints

08 June 2014
Nearly three years after Baby G was born, I've reached the end of the official complaint procedure, through the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission. (If you've not read my blog before, the TL:DR is that when pregnant with Baby G I requested a caesarean at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on the grounds of prior abuse, was turned down, agreed to an induction under duress when I was ten days overdue, then when I refused permission to continue with the induction they went ahead anyway and wouldn't let me leave hospital until after two days of trying, my body stubbornly refused to go into labour and they finally carried out the c-section. The full, horrid story is here).

Anyway, the HCCC told me my complaint was being closed because the mental health nurse whom I was referred to denies I ever asked her for a c-section. I pointed out to the HCCC that I had a letter from RPA, dated a few months after Baby G was born, in which the nurse acknowledged that I asked her for a c-section and she refused this without referring me to an obstetrician. The HCCC's response? That the matter was a "communication difficulty", no further action.

So the woman tasked with the care of vulnerable pregnant women at Sydney's busiest maternity hospital failed to refer a sexual assault victim for a c-section at her request, then lied about it. The HCCC has documented evidence of this, and is okay with it. (I thought, well even if the HCCC thought there was nothing wrong in refusing the c-section, surely they'd take action over a nurse blatantly lying to them?)

If you're now thinking, WTF, it gets worse.

Concerned, as she said, about my mental state, one of the HCCC assessors called me to explain the outcome. During that call, she told me that even though no further action was being taken against the nurse or the hospital, it is traumatic just being assessed (imagine telling a rape victim yes, your rapists were acquitted, but it is traumatic just being arrested), that I should have just left the hospital (the hospital refused me permission to leave even though I begged, cried and offered to sign any form stating I was leaving against medical advice) and that well, you got a c-section in the end, didn't you? (They stopped raping you didn't they? You're not dead).

So this is how it ends. I wanted to know the nurse in question had been counselled or reprimanded. I wanted procedures to be changed. I wanted a real apology - not "we are sorry this matter continues to cause you distress" but "We are sorry we did the wrong thing and it will not happen again". I wanted something on the record so that this couldn't happen again in any hospital in NSW. And instead, I faced lies, arse covering and bureaucracy protecting it's own. What is the point of the HCCC?

They dismissed my simple need to not deliver vaginally as "anxiety", and now they fob off my rage and grief by advising I get counselling. I don't need counselling. What I need is justice. I want to know the staff involved have been held accountable and that it cannot happen again. That is all, but I can't go on without it.

I tell this not for sympathy, but to point out both how badly sexual assault victims are treated in hospital, and how vulnerable we all are. If something goes wrong in the health system - a mix up of forms, too much or too little medication, some error, mistake or fuck up - what recourse do we have? I even wrote to the NSW Health Minister, to be told there is nothing they can do to review the decisions of the HCCC. All I can do is post here, hoping that somehow this story gets picked up; maybe publicity can do what bureaucracy has failed. RPA is not a safe place to give birth and the HCCC fails to ensure safety in NSW public hospitals. We shouldn't have to kick and scream for decent health care and honesty from health care staff; it should be a human right.

Libertarians Are Idiots

05 June 2014
Libertarians are idiots, #1

One of the quirks of the Australian electoral system is the profusion of minor and single issue parties; in the past we've seen such gems as the Hydroponic Tomato Party and What's Doing, a party solely comprised of the hosts of a boofhead late night football show. The AEC has cracked down on these in recent years, but there still exists such venerable defenders of the Westminster System as the Non Custodial Parents Party, the Motoring Enthusiasts Party (who through the Byzantine labyrinth of the Senate preferencing system, recently had a senator elected to federal parliament on a minuscule percentage of the vote), and the Outdoor Recreation Party (Stop The Greens).

Whilst tackling such matters of national import as deregulating paintball and allowing people to keep native animals as pets, their primary focus is a libertarian economic policy, including unrestrained mining, and removing all limits to access to national parks. This, they say, will allow them free access for four wheel driving, camping and fishing, rather than locking up national parks for a privileged few, as they put it.

Well, morons. Let me tell you what happens when companies are allowed unrestricted access to national parks for logging and mining. Do you think they say to recreational 4WD users "hey, come in to our part of the forests and see what we're up to?" Horse poop. They lock up their part of the forest and leave it irreparably damaged when they're done.

The ORP states one of their aims is to ensure they can take their children freely into wilderness areas, as they themselves were taken as children. Well, one of the things I'm most looking forward to when I get my driver's licence is taking my family to visit Mt Sugarloaf, that icon of Newcastle you can spy from all parts of the city and which offers spectacular views across the lower Hunter. But I might not be able to. The mountain has been catastrophically damaged by mining in recent years, and there is talk that public access may have to be banned, for perhaps 50 or 100 years, because of the damage and the danger to the public.

Access to the mountain blocked because of mining. The sort of unrestrained, unregulated mining the Greens are trying to control. The sort of mining the ORP believes is a good, free and fair thing. This is because libertarians are idiots.

Libertarians are idiots, #2

Inevitably, there is an Australian branch of the Tea Party. They launched in 2010, and if you've not heard of them until now, that speaks to the utter lack of direct impact they've had on Australian politics. But their indirect impact has been more subtle and successful; under the influence of such Liberal MPs as Tea Party plant Cory Bernardi, they've moved the Australian Liberal Party away from the classical conservatism of Menzies to a hawkish neocon economic stance which, if it were not unpopular enough to send the Abbott government to its inevitable demise, would lay the nation to ruin.

That's because, for all the "grassroots" Tea Party supporters who feel the government messes around too much in their lives and simply want to pay less tax, neocon policies do not work. They work for big business, sure; even if neoliberal economic policies cause recession, that suits big business just fine, pushing wages and bargaining power of employees down (note how the rich got richer even through the GFC). But for your average wage earner? Forget it. In a truly unregulated free market economy, someone willing to work for $5 an hour will take your job. Then there's the question of smaller government. Which services would they be willing to do without - healthcare, education, law enforcement, roads? You think you and the market are in a better place to decide what services are provided and what you should pay for them without government interference? Yeah, good luck with that, with minimum wages abolished and no workplace protections. There are of course nations with low taxes and very few government services. They're pretty much all in the third world. Maybe that would be more to a libertarian's taste. Because libertarians are idiots.

There is hope, or not really. Perhaps our international laughing stock of a Prime Minister will take note of the fact that a key adviser to the Pope has stated that libertarian views are incompatible with Catholicism. Unfortunately Abbott has missed the other bits about charity and compassion, so I'm betting this will sail right by as well.

A Letter Regarding Driver Testing

02 June 2014
Dear NSW Roads and Maritime Services,

Well I have been attempting to get my provisional licence as an older driver, and I must say I have found myself rather perplexed by aspects of the testing protocol, and I write in the hope, I suppose, of having these issues clarified (as I doubt they can be resolved).

On Saturday, I failed a driving test at the Newcastle registry; asked to do a 3 point turn in an impossibly narrow street, I mounted the curb. Now, and as I pointed out at the time, no sane driver would attempt to do a 3 point turn in that street. It was explained to me that I might find myself needing to do so in a dead end street. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought it was the purpose of the knowledge test to ascertain that every potential driver had the ability to read a "No Through Road" sign? As I possess this ability, I fail to envision a circumstance where I would need to turn in such a street without prior warning to avoid such a situation. In addition, it is stated in RMS literature of the driving test that candidates are not expected to drive as well as an experienced driver. Having said this, it seems rather disingenuous to request candidates perform a manoeuvre many experienced drivers would struggle to perform in order to prepare for an outlandish scenario.

 Nevertheless, I was aware as soon as I mounted the curb that I had failed. So I question why, if candidates commit a fail incident, they are not given the option to terminate the test immediately. It is stressed that the driving test is not a lesson and the tester cannot give feedback; pray tell then why candidates are expected to continue with the pantomime of the test if they have failed? Is it envisioned we had nothing better to do with our time? Perhaps if tests were terminated upon a fail item, there would be time to carry out more tests throughout the course of the day, thereby reducing the current 3-6 week wait for a testing slot in my local area. We know when we have failed, so please stop treating us like idiots.

 If drivers on their Ps are expected to be able to drive as well as experienced drivers, I question the need for P plates at all. I was under the impression that the purpose of driver testing was to ensure that you can safely get from A to B in order to continue learning on your own. Like many people with Aspergers syndrome, I am a didactic learner, and as I can already safely drive from one place to another I am very keen to be able to continue developing at my own pace. Nerves in the test are not necessarily a sign that one is not ready; for me and many others with neurological conditions and anxiety, it can be a symptom of the distress at being evaluated by a stranger in a confined space under extreme pressure.

 And finally, I question why drivers over the age of 25 are required to be on P plates for 3 years. We don't require a log book and are adjudged to be driving more safely, so surely it would make sense to adopt a system like Queensland, where drivers over 25 go onto green P2s for one year only? I don't want to take road trips, go hooning and drive around at night with my friends. I want to be able to pick my kid up from daycare and get the groceries home without having to lumber on and off the bus. This I can already safely do, and it is most frustrating that I have to wait another possible six weeks (and pay for another test) because some idiots out there can't read a No Through Road sign.


The Biggest Budget Lie

15 May 2014
It seems almost redundant to be posting yet another article about the budget. The anger is unprecedented. People whom I've never seen say a word about politics on Facebook in years are venting their fury. But what is truly repulsive here is not so much what's in the budget itself - we knew the Coalition are a bag of dicks, and cuts to seniors' payments, a $7 payment to visit the doctor, and requiring those under 30 to wait six months before receiving unemployment benefits, along with a host of other, unannounced cruel cuts, should come as no surprise - but Joe Hockey's responses to criticism, showing that he is not merely out of touch with the effects of his changes, but displays a disdain for the poor and a disregard for the true state of the economy and job market bordering on sociopathy. 

This morning's interview with Chris Uhlman on ABC radio gave a dark look into the twisted recesses of Hockey's mind; a mind that is shared by most of the wealthy elite in Abbott's government. Challenged on whether people would struggle to afford a $7 co-payment to visit the doctor, Hockey replied:

JOE HOCKEY: But, but, I'd say to you, Chris, one of the things that quite astounds me is some people are screaming about $7 co-payment. One packet of cigarettes cost $22. That gives you three visits to the doctor. You can spend just over $3 on a middy of beer, so that's two middies of beer to go to the doctor.  Let's have some perspective about the costs of taking care of our health. And is a parent really going to deny their sick child a visit to the doctor which would be the equivalent payment of a couple of beers or one-third of a packet of cigarettes? 

This is what they think poor people spend all their money on - cigarettes, beer and McDonalds (one of the young asswipes at the IPA announced the co-payment was less than the cost of the Big Mac meal he had for lunch). Leaving aside the multiple layers of irony here - cigarette companies have long targeted lower income earners, and the Liberal party happily takes donations from tobacco companies - unemployment in Australia is running at about 6%. On top of that, around 40% of Australian workers are in insecure employment - casual and contract roles. 15% of Australians smoke. So that's a whole lot of people from whom affording to visit to the doctor is not simply a matter of giving up a packet of cigarettes- despite that cigarettes are of course highly addictive and your party profits from that addiction - it can be a question of affording basic food. Macaroni, rice, mashed potato, sausages. Fruit for the kids, the adults go without. Not McDonalds (even though your appointed human rights commissioner says McDonalds has human rights). Bizarre how these people see the world - the inner city goat cheese eaters, the poor smokers and drinkers, and themselves, the hard workers, keepers of all that's good and true. 

Moving on to how the unemployed young person with no government benefits who can't afford a beer is going to afford a trip to the doctor:

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well, if you were 27 years old and had lost your job and weren't getting unemployment benefits, you might not have the choice of a middy of a beer, a packet of cigarettes or a visit to the doctor. 

JOE HOCKEY: Well, I would expect to be in a job. That'd be the starting point, you'd be in a job. And we need you to work. 

CHRIS UHLMANN: What if you can't get one?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, that's what we've got to do. Everything we are doing is about lifting the tide so that we can get more people into jobs. 

The last time I was unemployed, it took over 100 applications in four months before I found a position. One week without money is an eternity. I don't need to tell you what four (or six) months is like. Of course, back then I didn't have a car or a licence. In many regional and outer urban areas (including politicians' beloved western Sydney), employers simply won't consider applicants without their own car, whether the job requires driving or not, because of the unreliability of public transport. How do you pay for a car without money? Or clothes and haircuts suitable for job interviews? How even to afford the bus fare to a job interview? But it doesn't really make much difference. The jobs aren't there. As someone on Twitter said, Hockey is saying if you've lost your job and can't get a job, to get a job.

This is the great big lie underpinning the budget: that there are jobs out there if you're willing to work for them, and the bigger lie of modern society - that if you work hard and are a good person, then barring major calamity you will be able to build a decent life for yourself. It's not true, even as Hockey et al keep pretending it is. A job is a job, but insecure employment is a massive problem. Take one family I know of - she is a teacher and he is a garbo. Now, that should be secure employment enabling them to lead a moderately comfortable lifestyle. But in today's outsourced, economic rationalist economy, it means insecurity, short term contracts, casual work, jobs promised that then fall through. And very little money spare for doctors visits - certainly none spent on cigarettes or fast food. This is repeated all over Australia - casual work isn't just students doing shifts of retail and bar work around their studies. It's major companies and government departments outsourcing their work to recruitment agencies, hiring casuals with no leave or benefits who can give years of service - and be fired on an hour's notice.

Employers can afford to be extremely picky. Unemployed people under 25 will soon find themselves losing thousands of dollars in benefits a year - with those aged 25-29, as mentioned, somehow expected to go six months with no income at all - but youth unemployment is running at a national average of 12%, up to 20% in many regional areas. This creates overwhelming demand for entry-level positions. With such a huge candidate pool, employers can demand their own conditions. Looking at job ads lately, requirements frequently include own car and licence, round-the-clock availability at short notice, no guaranteed minimum hours. How the heck do you manage children or study or another job to help pay the bills if you are supposed to offer permanent availability at an hour's notice?

The barriers are endless, and getting worse. Gutting TAFE means the courses for people to increase skills are not available. Even volunteer work is affected; many volunteer roles now require interviews and reference checks; they also have their pick of candidates trying to give themselves any edge in the workplace. Volunteering is wonderful, but it is predicated on having the time to do so, not being required on demand to your casual job. And don't even get me started on the rise of the unpaid internship - jobs for those who can afford (or have parents who can afford) to go without a regular income for six months. (Maybe that's what unemployed people under 30 will be expected to do now, in between hospitalisations for starvation). And all this is supposing you have no disabilities. What hope do you have if you're in a wheelchair? And if you enjoyed that piece on Ramp Up please let them know - they've just had their funding cut.

So every time Hockey opens his mouth with remarks about smoking and just getting a job, forgive me if I'm shaking with rage and wanting to do the heavy lifting of my knee into his crotch. There's no economic plan to address underemployment or youth unemployment. Hockey keeps making facile remarks like "lifting the tide to get people into jobs" when even a medium talent like himself should realise a surplus does not create jobs, you don't create jobs by cutting programs and benefits, as if he thinks all that stands between the disadvantaged and gainful employment is $50 a week and an assessment. As I was posting this, Hockey lamented that there has been too much political discussion of the budget and not enough economic discussion. The Commonwealth Bank just posted a record $2.2bn quarterly profit. The government steadied them through the GFC. Do you really think if you raised company tax a bit, they'd stop being a bank? Or go overseas? If the moning tax was kept and increased would Gina Rinehart dig up all her bauxite and bury it somewhere else? He's got no clue, no heart, no courage and no brain, all in one. Well, it's time to stand up for ourselves (since apparently Labor won't do it; the Greens can't do it all on their own). With a cigar smoking millionaire telling poor people what's good for them, I say the man in Australia who is not a socialist is an asshole. Forget simply marching in May. Let's storm the barricades.

Tim Owen, ICAC and Where To Now For Newcastle

13 May 2014
After being conspicuous by his absence for weeks, yesterday state MP for Newcastle, Tim Owen, announced in a statement to the media that he would not be contesting the 2015 election after learning that banned donors contributed to his 2011 election campaign. Mr Owen claimed he was unaware of these donations, describing himself as shocked and dismayed; he then left without answering questions.

Now, political candidates receive all sorts of finance, and a major party candidate like Mr Owen no doubt had a campaign manager who focused on such issues so he could concentrate on campaigning and thus may not be privy to the origin of ever dollar coming in. But what we are being asked to believe here is that Buildev, having openly offered a bribe to Labor candidate Jodi McKay with the aim of winning approval for a coal loader to be built in Newcastle Harbour, then secretly gave the money to Tim Owen's campaign and never said a word to him about it at the time or ever contacted him regarding the loader or any other matter in the intervening three years.

I'm sorry. I don't buy it. Mr Owen must know it sounds dodgy as all get out, as he has so far refused all media interviews. Whatever happened to openness and accountability? Whatever happened to remembering who pays your salary (and will continue to do so for the next ten months, lumbered with an MP who has almost completely lost public confidence). Myself and many others are furious and cannot see how Mr Owen's position is tenable.

Meanwhile, talk has turned to who will be the Liberal candidate for the 2015 election, with the name of Ms Jaimie Abbott being often mentioned. Whenever I write about Ms Abbott I get attacked by her supporters, and have been accused of being obsessed with Ms Abbott. Well, let me describe for you a typical day during her campaign last year:

Hear ad for Ms Abbott on radio. Form letter from Ms Abbott in mailbox. Walk to bus stop, pass two coreflutes for Ms Abbott. Get bus to uni, pass posters for Ms Abbott every few hundred metres. Newspaper at uni library with interviews, ads for Ms Abbott. Get bus to shopping centre, pass more Abbott posters. At shopping centre, supporters are running a stall promoting Ms Abbott...and the shopping centre isn't even in the Newcastle electorate. Get bus home, pass more get the drift. There's only so many weeks one can endure this without going slightly insane, and the saturation campaign if anything worked against her (on election day, one of Ms Abbott's staff at the voting booth actually removed some of the advertising bollards, saying there were just too many, and I thought, you know, it is way too late for that).

But the main question I've had is, who paid for all this? I worked in advertising long enough to know a campaign of that magnitude must run into the high hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions (an electoral mail out would cost at least $100,000; my husband and I received six between us). As well as all the advertising there was the t shirts, balloons and in the international students paid to hand out how to vote cards on election day. Some of the funding no doubt came from the Liberal party itself, but what of the rest? Did Nathan Tinkler or any of his associates offer Ms Abbott any money? I'm not accusing her of any malfeasance, but she at least needs to answer these questions before her candidacy can be given credence. We've had enough doubt, uncertainty and lack of trust from our politicians, and I'm looking forward to hearing from all candidates how a new ethos of accountability and transparency will prevail.

Learning to Drive in Your 30s: The Horror Is Real

08 May 2014
The thing is, I always wanted to learn to drive.

I grew up in a regional area, and learning to drive was the right of passage. Losing your virginity? Forget it. In suburban NSW you could produce a thousand teen comedies about kids desperate to get their licence. It was all anyone talked about for the final couple of years of school. Of course I wanted in on it.

However, my father decided that teaching us kids to drive would be spoiling us. (Also spoiling us: paying for school excursions, orthodontia and optometry, HSC tuition, textbooks...basically anything that wasn't mandated by law). I had to sit blinking back tears as friend after friend recounted their driving successes, failures, and that sublime day when they got their Ps. I left home soon after, and that was that. I tried to put a brave face on it; driving was hopelessly suburban, bad for the environment, totally out of whack with the inner urban lifestyle I craved. Eventually I made it to the inner city, where driving would have been as much use as speaking Latin, and came around to my own way of thinking. I was happy here. I was never going to learn to drive.

Until I found myself as a newly qualified youth worker, unable to get any jobs because I couldn't drive. Then we had a baby, and moved to Newcastle, and I was trying to get a baby, uni textbooks, and groceries on and off the bus on my ageing legs. The hell with this. Enough. It was time, once and for all, to learn to drive. Most people I spoke to were happy to teach me, but wary of letting a learner drive their car (I know I wouldn't allow it), so I had to buy a car of my own.

I've always had a great eye for a bargain, and managed to pick up a much better car than I thought we'd be able to afford. But when it came to pay for the thing - well. Every cliche you've heard about how women are treated in car yards came true. I brought a more knowledgeable friend with me to look over the car and drive it home, but for boringly complicated payment reasons, we required our husbands to show up. When it was just me and her, the salesman was curt, evasive, distant. When the men showed up? New best friends! Handshakes, introductions (we got neither), speaking only to them even though it was clearly explained I was choosing and paying. I'd have taken my business elsewhere, but this really was a great deal on the car. At an age when most people are acquiring the BMW or Jeep they've always dreamed of, I had bought my first car.

Baby I'm ready to go

I started learning in the standard way, learning basic car control in empty car parks and the abandoned BHP site.  But it was still...weird. When you're 16, new learning experiences are flying at you from all directions; driving is just one more. By the time you're in your mid thirties, not so much. I know things. I can cook from scratch, know the difference between an adversarial and an inquisitorial judicial system, can perfectly apply nail polish on my other hand. (I don't understand Senate preference redistribution, but I don't think anyone does - frankly, I suspect even Antony Green is bluffing). But driving? Do people actually do this? Bit by bit I made slow, plodding progress, from "we'll try another lap...this time, try to go to the left of the bollard", to "I think you're ready for quiet roads", to the white-knuckle day I picked my husband up from the airport, 25km from town at 80km/hr. But it was so weird, and so hard, and platitudes didn't help. A word of advice - please don't tell someone learning to drive later in life that even Snooki/Justin Beiber/Nathan Tinkler has a licence. It will not reassure them that any schmuck can learn to drive, but make themselves feel like a schmuck for being unable to master a skill every other bozo can accomplish.

But parking, now. Good Christ in Heavens above, parking. The same weird brain wiring that sees me heading in the wrong direction and falling of the low step in a beginner's aerobics class came through in my parking. I didn't get it. And just when I thought I didn't get it, I started to get it less. Neither professional instruction nor well meaning friends could fix my body's stubborn refusal to work out which way to steer when reversing. Finally the breakthrough came...the day before the test. I know one normally doesn't book the test till they're ready, but with a six week wait at the local registry, I booked in advance and hoped for the best.

The night before the test, I couldn't sleep. Had anyone ever written "I am a fish" over and over on a driving test? I was terrified I'd forget my newly acquired skills. As I waited in the registry on the big day, I wondered why I was so nervous. Unlike most 17 year olds, I've had loads of scary waits; to face army and civillian interview panels, for test results, waiting to walk in to my wedding, waiting outside the OR to be gutted like a fish and have a human being yanked from my insides. But I just don't handle anticipation well. The tester was nice enough, but the test itself was bizarre, like being a taxi driver with a passenger who stubbornly refuses to admit they've no idea where their house is: turn down here, turn left there, stop here, start again. I've lived in this area most of my life and never got a sense of where we were going. I never relaxed, and was very relieved when it was over.

Now, these posts always conclude with success, the final pass, "I got my P plates in the end and you can, too". I did not pass yesterday, in fact failed in the first sixty seconds. Passing the shopping centre near the registry, a double semi trailer swung around the corner and in to my lane. Ironically, after months of being told I had a tendency to drift to the left (a legacy of years of cycling), I was now too far on the right. I over corrected, the instructor, possibly unnecessarily, put his hand on the steering wheel, and that was me done for. I was miserable, and felt the foul stench of failure clinging to my pores.

My driving test failure face.

In time, I came to be more philosophical. If I'd fluked a pass yesterday, I still would have issues with parking and reversing; now that I know I can do it, I'll spend the next few weeks till the new test focusing on getting it right. I'll get a couple of lessons, which is a bit rough on our budget, but if you could help out with a few dollars by the link below, that would be great - and it's all for a good cause, since as soon as I can drive I'll be looking for youth worker jobs and volunteering for Meals on Wheels (really looking forward to that, actually). My next test is at 9am on a to the busiest sports ground in Newcastle...with about 2000 kids turning out for winter netball and football. So I'll really know if I'm ready. Hopefully I'll have a triumphant finish post soon.

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