“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.

A time for outrage

A guest post by Dr Patricia Fronek, Senior Lecturer in the School of Human Services and Social Work, Gold Coast Campus, Griffith University. Tricia is the creator and producer of Podsocs

It is indeed a time for outrage. The far right is exerting considerable political influence in most Western countries to the point where rhetoric and ideological approaches to welfare and society appear indistinguishable. Critical thinking seems to be absent in many school curricula: see for example creationism still taught in faith schools.

The average person has decreasing access to independent information in popular, monopolised media. “Balance” has been reinterpreted to ensure the right has a say no matter how bizarre allowing for homophobia, xenophobia and, let’s face it, just plain hate. Some of these doozies are that abortion causes breast cancer and educating children about difference and bullying will turn them gay: as reported, a few weeks ago, in an article from the Conversation Fear and loathing reigns in Safe Schools and same-sex marriage debates. By preying on fear, ignorance and prejudices, discourses are being shaped by distorted and extreme perspectives. How else has Donald Trump and others like him come so far?

Economic and social inequalities are rising alongside social problems and diminishing services. Neoliberalism marches towards privatisation and a globalised free market in everything but the movement of refugees, where nationalism prevails.  Economic prosperity is expected to cure everything.  Meanwhile we see the return of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ in the form of “strivers’ and ‘shrivers’ and ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’ while the most undeserving of all are refugees and asylum seekers and anyone who actually needs a safety net including those with disabilities and older people. Political conversations seem overly populated by false binaries: for example, the options offered to asylum seekers are either drown at sea or be imprisoned in concentration camp type conditions. These sources of outrage were the motivation for a recent article by Polly Chester and me called Moral Outrage: Social work in the Third Space (Fronek & Chester, 2016) published last week in Ethics and Social Welfare.

Outrage and despair are felt by social workers around the world as the numbers of those who are disadvantaged and oppressed grow, while at the same time the services they need are shaved, disappear altogether or like transformers morph into something else altogether.  In our article we examine a new form of social work protest: that of social workers in the Third Space – online and in social media – where social workers are refusing to be subsumed by neoliberal policies. They are finding new identities, practising resistance and attempting to exercise influence in three ways – across, outward and upward. Working across is about forming relationships and collaborative partnerships, upward is intended to influence politicians and policy makers and outward working presents an opportunity to engage the media and the general public. Refusing the unacceptable and seeking to be engaged in the Third Space requires social workers to be knowledgeable, skilled and acutely aware of the ethical dilemmas they might face and in that process bring the three Rs – risk, responsibility and reflection – to the fore.

It is a time for outrage. It is not a time for complacency and silence. As 93 year old Stéphane Hessel wrote “the worst attitude is indifference” (Hessel, 2010, p.11).

Read the full article here. 

References

Fronek, P., & Chester, P. (2016). Moral outrage: Social workers in the Third Space. Ethics and Social Welfare.  DOI: 10.1080/17496535.2016.1151908

Hessel. S. (2010). A time for outrage: Indignez-vous. New York: Twelve Hatchette Book Group.

FIRST PUBLISHED RSW Collective by RE-IMAGINING SOCIAL WORK IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND @RSWcollective 

Advertising children is step too far

Is Australia breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by condoning theAdvertising children advertising of children? Barnardos Australia is advertising children for adoption on their webpage. Photographs, glossy and attractive are on a public website along with names and stories (models and pseudonyms are used) however some personal information is provided. Is it really ethical to advertise children as if they were stray puppies appealing to sentiment or to justify advertising as long as an adoption is achieved?

Some representations in the media about adoption are presenting ideologically and politically biased information and ill-formed attitudes about children in care while being intent on homogenizing the diverse and individual circumstances of families in need and their children. Terms like ‘forever families’ and “freeing children for adoption” need to be used with caution. Children know very well they have another family. Words are important. People in the adoption community have contacted me distressed about advertising, media stories and terminology used.

Research has shown that many adoption agencies particularly in the US are in breach of The Convention of the Rights of the Child – Articles 2 (protection from discrimination), 8 (protecting identity) and 16 (privacy) by advertising children, using photolistings, fantasy terminology and allowing prospective parents to select a child . The difference is Australia is party to the CRC and the US is not. There are many disastrous adoption practices in the US and in the UK. Australia should be smarter than this and venture into these areas with extreme caution.

No justification can alter the fact that advertising children as needing adoption is problematic at a time in their lives when they are not fully aware of the long term consequences and cannot give informed consent to publicity – even with models and pseudonyms. There are particular responsibilities to protect children when they are in the care of the state.  Blurring the public and private on the internet are significant problems for children and can cause harm. It is documented how adults often fail to pick up on the distress of children and assume they are fine. Outward compliance can be very misleading.

Children should not be ashamed of being adopted but neither should their lives be defined by their adoptive status or their pre-adoptive circumstances. Nothing disappears on the internet and geography offers no protection to privacy.  Regardless of how positive their adoptive family experiences are, many adoptees struggle with identity, belonging and difference. They do not need their private struggles to be played out in the public arena and to suffer the indignity of being labelled. By making the circumstances of vulnerable children public, children are placed at risk of being forever labelled, stigmatised and bullied alongside the negative implications for their sense of self-worth particularly if no one puts their hands up to adopt them as is often the case. Article 39 makes it very clear that children who have been subjected to neglect or abuse should receive special help to restore their self-esteem not to heighten their vulnerability and draw the world’s attention to their circumstances. Defining them by their backgrounds and adoptive status is more than potentially damaging in the long term.

It seems some Australian governments are running out of ideas. Instead we seem intent on importing the worst of policies from overseas when it comes to children. In the UK enforcing adoption as a child protection measure has meant permanent removal happens too quickly and without consent. Children wait in care indefinitely for a ‘forever family’ to adopt them. In many cases this happens in preference to working with parents and families to improve circumstances and to find appropriate care with other family members because adoption is considered ‘gold star’ at the expense of other options that may be more suitable. Rest assured professional work with families does create change and the circumstances of many families are temporary. They are not all in need of permanent removal . Any adoption-driven agenda (not to be confused with opposition to adoption) is not what we want in Australia.

Adoption and a child’s identity, history and psychosocial needs are a private concern and advertising is ethically dubious and could be viewed as a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child even with de-identification. Some people would argue the end justifies the means but perhaps like all else in adoption we also should ask adult adoptees and the families directly affected and whom we are failing.

Should politicians read expert reports on children when they make policies?

Senator Ian McDonald LNP is under fire for refusing to read the independent report on children in detention and the abuse inflicted on them by government policies. Last year Senator McDonald supported Prime Minister Abbott’s and lobbyist, Furness’, mission to make intercountry adoption faster and easier in Australia when he chaired the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and dismissed expert evidence on the risks to children. The evidence provided by international organisations and academics was ignored by McDonald who preferred to push Abbott’s agenda rather then protect children.The LNP, particularly in New South Wales, have uncritically adopted Abbott’s position on adoption in Australia. It can only make one wonder whether McDonald read any of the reports submitted to the Committee because expert evidence did not support Abbott’s agenda. During the Inquiry, he did not want to hear about serious ethical concerns relating to the accreditation of lobbyist-led agencies in Australia. Did he read any of the reports on intercountry adoption that were submitted? The outcome suggests a possibility he did not or simply chose to ignore it. Only the Greens considered the gravity of risk.

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!

Australian adoption market puts them at risk

(Article by Patricia Fronek originally published 29th January 2015 in The Conversation)

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, pictured meeting adoption advocates, has largely ignored expert practitioners and researchers in developing his new policy. AAP/Alan Porritt

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, pictured meeting adoption advocates, has largely ignored expert practitioners and researchers in developing his new policy. AAP/Alan Porritt

On Sunday, January 25, Prime Minister Tony Abbott released a little more detail about his plans for adoption in Australia. Although specifics are still pretty thin on the ground, the announcement makes the concerns that I and others raised previously very real.

continue reading

Australia puts children at risk by ‘freeing up’ the adoption market

(Article by Patricia Fronek, Denise Cuthbert and Mary Keyes originally published on the 8th September 2014 in The Conversation)

The Abbott government’s proposed adoption laws appear to have been influenced by high-profile campaigners like actor Deborah-Lee Furness. AAP/Jane Dempster

The Abbott government’s proposed adoption laws appear to have been influenced by high-profile campaigners like actor Deborah-Lee Furness. AAP/Jane Dempster

The Australian government seems intent on lessening protections for children adopted overseas despite national and international evidence showing greater protection is needed.

Two important reports on inter-country adoption were released late last month: a report by UNICEF and one by the Legislation Committee of the Senate Standing Committees on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. And they couldn’t be more different.

continue reading