“Trumpisms” in Australian political conversation

You only have to turn on the television to notice the merging of opinion, fact and news into ‘debates’ of equal value. I can’t claim this as an original thought. I first heard the comment on a podcast I was listening to. I can’t remember which one or the person who said it but I do remember he was well qualified to make the statement and how well the observation resonated with me.

panel 2i

The unwillingness to distinguish between opinion, fact and fantasy allows for “Trumpisms”, those I-can-say-anything statements that are rarely critically interrogated (on air at least) in Australian political conversation. Granted they may not always be as obviously outrageous as those made by Trump himself but nonetheless nonsense when unpacked. Today it seems anyone can say anything and it is treated as informed. Politicians make outrageous unsubstantiated and false claims and talk in false binaries. In my opinion, interviewers have a lot to answer for when they let these slide. How often are experts included on topics that they may have spent many years researching? When they are it is often just enough to make sure the “balance box” is ticked. Even worse is when the most outrageous commentary is given equal footing in the name of ‘balance’ (a concept now constructed to mean something entirely different) while other voices are condemned. Politicians don’t tend to pay attention to research unless it is the kind that supports their ideological position. These days we are lucky if cabinet members actually read the reports on the committees they lead. Sound and well executed research often throws up findings that counter ideological positions. Sure it can be uncomfortable but it should be encouraged not ignored.

Concern about the country’s future and the well-being of all people in our society calls for the interrogation of public commentary and the separation of fact and fantasy. When it comes to policy, a critical position should cause us to ask if claims can actually be substantiated, who are these people presented as ‘experts’, who funds them, does their organisation have an ideological position and value base, do we know what that value base is and how much credibility (in this particular policy area) should we attribute to them. Historical examples and simple observations of how things work elsewhere easily eliminate many claims before we even turn to research. We need to demand that opinion be called opinion and insist that research independently conducted be presented to support claims made. I for one would like to see a ‘talk show’ with a panel of researchers discussing a topic they know about and only then seek responses from politicians.  Would you watch it? I know I would. Perhaps then the quality of our ‘debates’ and policies would improve and the differences between opinion and knowledge would be much clearer.

Advertisements

What disturbs me most about this government

Out of all the turmoil, ridicule and criticism one thing stands out for me about this government. These are the proud comments by Mr Abbot that he never looks at himself or engages in any form of self-examination.  Perhaps I don’t understand what he is trying to say, but it disturbs me every time I hear it and proves, to me at least, that we are being hammered by ideologues, somewhat scarier than mere self-interest. I have no doubt many of them really believe what they are doing is right and equally know there are a disturbing number who seem to be very in love with themselves and the thrill power brings. However both approaches bring the same result – a hardness towards the impact their actions have on people who live outside their own experience. Without examination of self, we just perpetuate what we are comfortable believing or go unquestioningly with our desires.

Jan Fook who writes on critical reflection in social work is right – some people just can’t reflect on self. Why is it important? Self-examination means exploring the consequences of our actions on all stakeholders, questioning our assumptions, evaluating and using evidence, and including the structural influences on problems and the biases in our own thinking about issues and their solutions. If critical thinking and the ability to reflect were skills taught to children from a very early age, the world would be a different place, politics would be different (and more effective) and there would be less chance hurting others in pursuit of ideals. Reflecting on self requires flexibility and openness. It allows us to evaluate and incorporate new knowledge and most importantly learn from our mistakes. Granted done properly it is not an easy thing to do and nobody always does it well – the trick is doing it. It is truly brave to self-examine. Boasting about avoiding it is flawed and weak.

I am sick of politics, sick of writing and tweeting about it but as a social worker it can’t be avoided when injustice and breaches of human rights occur.  And these have been shocking in Australia of late and I can’t give tacit approval through silence. So please start reflecting on self politicians and bring humanity back to Australia. Australians are proving they won’t put up with it. And truly I want to write about something, anything else!

Living to a 150

Some politicians are making big claims about longevity to justify their health and social policies. Are our politicians on the far right simply fantasizing about living longer? Is this why they tell us good health investment should be directed towards curative research alone while everything else to do with health is lying under a precariously balanced metaphorical bread knife. How would you like that sliced – thin or sandwich?  From a cynic’s point of view this claim might simply be about appealing to the core of individualism and what’s in it for me? An old tactic repackaged.

Sure many scientists are making claims about future generations reaching incredible ages but I am sure they will agree at this point in time these are theories not proven fact, possible, even likely, but still theoretical.  Certainly our average life expectancy has risen as health care and living conditions have improved. Hans Rosling is very entertaining on this issue.

It is a fact that better access to health services and better living and working conditions improve the overall health of a population. One day some people might live to 150 but these results depend on future discoveries and advancements in biological interventions such as gene therapy. Such projections are speculative and assume scientific progress will continue uninterrupted and treatments will be equally affordable and available to everyone. Living longer, if indeed we do, might be the privilege of some people and not others depending on the social policies we choose to adopt.

My argument goes like this. In my opinion, human beings have always been a pretty arrogant lot. We really do believe we are superior – to other animals, climate etc etc.  We particularly hang on to the belief that we can tame nature and we do – to a point. How many examples of nature doing what it does, do we need to show us that although we might be on top for a while it won’t necessarily last – at least not without some counter reaction. A prime example is antibiotic use and the development of antibiotic resistance . When we triumph over one disease, a new one seems to emerge to take its place – smallpox, AIDS, Ebola, take your pick.  According to one recent study, although average life expectancy is higher, this generation has a different set of health issues – more metabolic disease.   The effect of this shift in disease on our future life expectancy is unknown but can be hypothesised. We already know the long term impact of these diseases on our health but on the other hand we don’t know the influence of future medical treatments yet to be discovered and made available.

There are other factors to consider when contemplating our longevity. We have known for some time health is more than biological and that social factors and social policies impact on our health.  We only need to look at work on inequality and studies on the health of particular, improverished populations such as the people who live in the Gorbals, south of the river Clyde in Glasgow.

Alarmingly social policies and where governments choose to invest does influence longevity and health. We only need to look at health outcomes for Indigenous peoples in places like Australia and Canada and recent findings that life expectancy has reduced in some areas of the UK. This backward shift is being linked to the reduction of services that maintain health and well-being. Even if some people manage to live to 150 it may not happen for everyone equally. Assuming good genes and discoveries in curative and genetic medicine, all people will still need access to good healthcare. The seeming dominance of far right ideologies that promote policies of user pays, a sole focus on individual responsibilities, privatisation and purely biological approaches to health combined with a failure to address inequalities will continue to negatively impact on the health of many people. It will mean only those who can afford access to services will reap health benefits.

Sure average life expectancy has improved but has the end point actually changed? We have always had centenarians and a very few sparky souls that live to extraordinary ages, a rare few reported to be a 120 or slightly more.

This is not new and I doubt if modern medicine has had too much to do with it. Perhaps someone can answer this for me – have we actually extended our lives beyond the upper limit of our bodies’ use-by date? To put this simply, has the oldest age anybody has ever lived actually changed? Is there an upward trend at that upper limit? Difficult question as many long lives are unverifiable. I don’t think so – it may come but it will depend on more than biology and must include the social. Perhaps also there is a certain truth in that when we cure one thing, something else emerges – whether this is disease, the impact of climate change or even the stuff people are pumping into their bodies to at least appear younger. For the moment, future generations living to a 150 remains predictive and speculative. We all need a better approach to health than one based on profit or policies that make it harder for people to access healthcare or improve their lives. And so if it does come true and we manage one-day to live past our current use-by date, I hope it comes true for everyone not just a few.

Message to politicians- try living on disability support

Cutting welfare for people with disabilities is a vile and savage act.  Any crediting of intent would put our politicians on par with terrible people, so I shall stick with ignorance as the cause. I have worked with people with physical and other disabilities for much of my career and I know pensions and entitlements are more than just subsistence living – it is about survival. People with disabilities have to pay rent, eat and support dependents like anyone else but they also have to pay for much, much more than the rest of us.

Like everyone else, people with disabilities work if they can – but it takes more than personal will to get a job and maintain employment. Putting qualifications and education aside, employers need to provide flexibility, support and accessible environments. Tried getting around in a wheelchair lately? – even an electric one?  An electric chair (if you can afford one) can be worse – try turning around in a small office or corridor or even getting through a doorway. Some people need personal assistance in the workplace.  For example, a person might need help to empty a catheter bag, or be able to pay for a device that lets them empty a catheter bag onto a grassed area, or even to be repositioned in a wheelchair to avoid pressure sores that can kill you (remember superman?), or just eat lunch. Who is going to pay for assistive technology in the workplace? People when they do work often lose access to government subsidies for equipment and other items as a result of being employed.

People with disabilities already pay significant co-payments for equipment which can include wheelchairs, shower chairs, hoists, pressure cushions, home modifications, disposable needs such as bladder management disposables – then there’s medication and personal carers. There are subsidies but they are limited. Often people need more care because they can’t afford the modifications or equipment that would increase their independence.  There are even costs associated with an assistant animal if they can get one. People in rural and regional areas face higher expenses with the delivery of essential needs. Some people face costs associated with ventilators and need airconditioning because they don’t have temperature control – without it death is a real possibility.  Dare I state the obvious, power costs.  I have worked with people with all these needs and many of them are working and most would work if they could find a job. Too many people are still living inappropriately in nursing homes (some on the streets) because they can’t afford independence. People with all types of disabilities of all ages have hidden expenses that people without physical or mental disabilities don’t see.  It is more than just paying rent and eating. We should be going forward not backward.

Message to politicians: Try living for a year on a disability support pension with the same expenses and environmental limitations as a person with a disability and let’s see how well you fare.

The fairytale – Part 3 The good politician

The good politician shook his head as he left the party meeting. He didn’t know how much longer he could put up with it all. His constituents were starting to think he was like the rest of them. The meeting had started as it usually did. The few women of the inner circle were serving coffee and cutting the cake topped with “Team Australia’ in red, white and blue.  When they started chanting “Team Australia! Team Australia!” he slipped out to the loo. There’s only so much a man can take.

Sunlight shone through the ears of Team Australia’s captain, lighting them up like a Christmas tree. So desperate was the good politician for a distraction, he spent much of the meeting staring at the pink tips half expecting them to produce strobe lighting on the table. The meeting droned on as usual – rah, rah – stick together – rah, rah – always find someone else to blame – rah, rah – just keep repeating yourself because they will believe you eventually – rah, rah – have your tag team partner ready to go – rah, rah. You know when you say something stupid and your tag team partner comes to the rescue taking on all media appearances while you discretely disappear, to come back only when the fracas blows over.

The good politician had to admit, the party had reached new heights of innovation.  When the team captain asked “Do we have our community advisory panel here?” and his advisor pointed to the old man in the wheelchair with the white cane, dark glasses and the urine bag strapped to his leg, all heads turned. “Can you hear us Fred?…Fred!”  No response. She pinched him. “Fred”. The old man yelped. “Ok we’re ready to go now Captain.” Needless to say the old man had no objections to cuts to aged care, raising the pension age, making older people use the equity in their homes, cuts to disability services and income support, cuts to homeless services, employment, childcare, health, education – well cuts to any welfare really – at least the ‘visible’ welfare for those who need it. “Let them eat cake” became “Let them have charity”. The good politician thought the old man might have died somewhere between “blame the bludgers” and the reading of requests from the privileged and other lobbyists, but he stirred when it came to foreign affairs and gaining mileage from islamophobia.  It turned out to be some minor, digestive discomfort. The room was cleared while the air dispersed and it was safe to return. As usual, the meeting ended with the pledge.

I pledge my loyalty to Team Australia and to making profit for myself and my friends at all costs.

Welfare does not exist.  Let the foreign, the stateless, poor and disadvantaged feel the consequences of their laziness.

I will never admit fault, especially a lie. I will always blame someone else.

Women know thy place.

Climate change will not bother me. I will always pay tribute to the investors who are, as we speak, building our gated communities on higher ground.

I will always be photographed with ultra conservative politicians overseas or children or babies.

I pledge to follow our leader, no matter how ridiculous.

Hail Team Australia. Hail Team Australia.Hail Team Australia!

The good politician sighed. “Driver take me home.”

Ever wondered about on-line polls?

Have you ever wondered how useful or representative on-line opinion polls actually are? We have all seen them in on-line newspaper articles – like this one. A question found somewhere in the article calls for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and invites the reader to participate. Many of us have clicked ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on issues we feel passionate about and then promptly forgot about it. Polls are designed to attract readership through interaction. They help the reader feel part of it all – but how well do they represent real opinions?  It’s a bit like reading your horoscope – it can be fun but can never be taken seriously.

For starters, such polls are restricted to the readership of the particular newspaper. Ok that’s one bias but there are more. One vote one person – no way! People “in the know” engage in multiple clicking – once from your computer, once from your laptop, once from your mobile phone, your iPad and so on. And well it’s just Christmas if you have more than one of these items at your disposal or multiple email accounts! In moments of system weakness you can sometimes vote multiple times from the one device. But there are even more sinister and unethical practices. Astroturfing is one of them. Voting is manipulated by paid agents employed to make sure certain view points are seen to represent the majority – something we should all be aware of in this digital age.

Should you believe anybody who uses these polls to support their case? I’ll leave you to decide but I know what I think.

The fairytale continues… Part 2 Under the Christmas Tree

It was three days before Christmas and the mice were busy. Having slipped through the encounter with the Ghost of Things Past, Ebenezer Morrison was feeling rather smug. Presents were tossed aside as Ebenezer crawled about under the party xmasxmas tree tree. He picked up one after the other, shook it, read the card and threw it over his shoulder. He searched and searched – nothing from Tony.  Peta, Jo, Julie – the pile of presents behind him grew and grew. Finally he found it and It was huge!  Wrapping paper shredded as pulled the package apart. He oohed and aahed – the SS, oops I mean social services!  Now he could dream some more – slashing, burning, inflicting misery – the possibilities were endless. “Thanks Tone my mate – wonderful pressie! I won’t let you down”

*Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental. No mice were harmed in the writing of this fairy tale.