“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.


Closet activists and covert workplace activities

Social workers feel under pressure when conflict exists between their professional commitment to social justice and organizational imperatives. We know when values conflict like this or when others are hostile towards our values, social workers tend to quit or burn out. For many social workers negotiating neoliberal influences on welfare organisations and on how services are delivered experience managerialism as negative. They feel harassed by a preoccupation on quantifying success often in financial terms, have limited resources to do their work, and deal with demands for increased documentation and excessive caseloads. Social workers accept these things as the reality in many workplaces. Leave or join them. That’s a pretty depressing thought, but new research has found social workers have a third way – to fight back.

Some social workers are digging in and taking a stand – and not in the traditional sense of radical social work. It seems they go underground, work in covert ways to make sure they live up to their professional values. They find imaginative ways to work around the roadblocks in their way. Closet activists might turn a blind eye when clients do things they shouldn’t, extend services beyond the official cut-off date, fill out forms ‘creatively’, ignore directives from management and at times break the law to assist a client. These social workers don’t act this way thoughtlessly. They struggle with ethical questions and shift between questions like – Is this action ethical? Or is it unethical not to find a way to help clients who need it? Actions are not taken lightly. These dilemmas raise issues for the social workers involved, their profession and for educators. How do we make sense of it all? How does this affect our clients and social workers?

Covert workplace activism is underground resistance in action. For the social workers who participated in the study, it is a response to unjust systems and the failure of open challenges to actually change anything for the people they work with every day. Working in this way helped social workers make good on their commitment to social justice in difficult workplaces and protected against feeling demoralised. These social workers are the ‘new radicals’, fighting from within the closet, chipping away case by case at a welfare system that is lost and broken.

Imagine twenty years from now, changes have come and gone. A brand new social worker sits next to you, highly motivated and eager to deliver on the values of the profession. She, or he, turns to you and asks – what did you do to challenge neo-liberalism? What will you say?

By Lyndal Greenslade, guest blogger on socialworksocialwork

Listen to Lyndal talking about her research on Podsocs

What are the plans for “easier and quicker” adoptions in Australia?

Way back in November 2005, the adoption lobbyists were courting celebrities. Lists of people who were “important / influential / in position of power” were circulated in chat rooms all over Australia. Adoptive parents were encouraged to make contact and convince celebs and politicians and anyone remotely famous who had any connection to adoption to take up the cause. Tony Abbott was considered a good option because it was reported that in his youth he had placed a child for adoption. A few of the names on that list were Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and Nick Whitlam. Bronwyn Bishop was already a staunch supporter of lobbyists and an early ‘friend’ of Orphan Angels. Of course, adoption and permanent care is not a problem – it is how this is practised that counts.

Abbott is making his intentions very clear – easier and faster – and is capitalizing on the short cutmedia attention adoption brings. But what does this actually mean and what are their plans for adoption? It is all a bit secretive at the moment. How will it be faster and quicker? We are in a world where celebrity is the source of knowledge and the driver of social policy in this country. Generally, the impression given is that the views of lobbyists reflect a single, uncomplicated view of adoption held by all adoptive parents in Australia. This is not the case and many adoptive parents do not share the views of lobbyists but not too many are prepared to say publicly what they really think.

The adoption community in any country is not made up of only adoptive or would-be adoptive parents and we should unequivocally be hearing from everyone affected by adoption, not to mention developing practices informed by independent research. When changes are implemented, it is so important that past mistakes for which we have so recently apologized and the experience overseas of speedy adoptions in systems that are not working well are not forgotten. The plans for adoption currently need to come out from behind closed doors so rigorous, informed and transparent discussions can occur. It will be interesting to note the events at COAG  in 2014. I suspect it’s already done and dusted – probably over dinner.

My PhD research into intercountry adoption is source of information for this post.  

Snowballing intercountry adoptees: Are you an intercountry adoptee or do you know somebody who is?

Why do I need to blog about this? Researchers, including myself, from Griffith University are trying to reach every adult adoptee that has ever been adopted into Australia to participate in the National Post Adoption Support Survey. This is not an easy snowballtask.

 What is this snowballing? A snowball technique is just like rolling a snowball down the hill. It gets bigger and bigger as it picks up more snow along the way. So if every person tells at least one other person about this research we will eventually reach all the adoptees we need to reach no matter where they live.

 What is the research about? The aim of this research is to improve support for Australian intercountry adoptees around the country. We have very little research about the post adoption support experiences of adoptees in Australia and what support they need or want, if anything at all. We would like adoptees to participate even if they have never needed post adoption support or don’t think they ever will. Their experience may help other adoptees.

 Is there any resistance? Yes. It is beyond belief but some people who are not adoptees are actively blocking the distribution of this research. The research is not political. Its objectives are quite simple – to improve access to support for adoptees around the country and is 100% confidential.

 What can I expect? It is a pretty boring on-line survey and will take up to 30 minutes to complete but there are two questions at the end where you can write as much as you like. To participate or ask questions, please email Patricia Fronek p.fronek@griffith.edu.au and you will receive a computer generated link to your anonymous survey.

 Is it worth your time? Yes – adoptees can create knowledge in this area by participating. Your voice is what this is about.


If ‘it don’t fit don’t force it’, research it!

Yesterday, I listened to an All in the Mind podcast from Radio National about hearingQuestion voices. It made me think about my time working in mental health in the 1980s. Although I’m really glad I had the experience, I can’t say I enjoyed the work in those days. Perhaps I absorbed some of the oppression, constraint, and for some, hopelessness, felt by people in a system that was at the same time draconian and on the verge of transformation.

As a young social worker in mental health, one of the first things I was told was that you never, ever talked to anyone about their voices because it made things worse.  I had really struggled with not talking to people about the very things that caused them distress. After all, one of the basic principles of social work is to ‘start where the person is at’, and any psychosocial assessment worth its salt is surely holistic.  You need to understand pretty much everything about a person to understand problems and how to intervene. Understanding a person’s perspective and experience is at the heart of what we do. It never felt right and I never stopped struggling with this tension (I was perhaps less critical in those days). I was quite excited when I first heard about new Scottish research a number of years later.  The researchers found that talking to a person with schizophrenia about their voices in ‘talking therapies’ was helpful rather then harmful. People learned to understand and manage their voices. This made an awful lot of sense to me.

I understand my discomfort now. By ignoring something so important, I was not contributing to empowerment, self-determination or knowledge. In hindsight, I do think avoiding talking about it placed a barrier between the person with mental illness and myself. So what could I have done differently? Perhaps the first step is to stop and listen to your own inner voices. Is what you are seeing, hearing and experiencing in your work different to what standard accepted practice says? So if this is the case what do you do? Academic and researcher, Pat Dorsett, had this exact same problem when she worked with people with spinal cord injuries. A standard belief about post-injury adjustment at the time was that people would inevitably experience depression as they adjusted to life with a disability and would crash and burn at some point. This didn’t fit with her experience – so she researched it and changed practices. I wonder what would have happened if I had trusted my instincts.  I may have become a researcher much earlier in my career and stayed working in mental health. I may have contributed to new knowledge in this field. So social workers, if something doesn’t ring true, don’t force it – research it! You could change practice and add to knowledge. If you don’t know where to start, talk to social work academics and researchers. They will be more than willing to help!