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. 


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.



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!

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.

An Australian Christmas Carol – A badly written, reconstituted moral tale – Part 1

Mr Ebenezer Morrison lay his head on the pillow.

“I did good today real good. I won’t be given moral lectures by anyone…but I got ‘em… oh yes … Now I can send those illegals back whenever I like. They will never be Australian”. He smiled and with a belly full of Christmas cheer drifted off to sleep.

“Mr Morrison, Mr Morrison”

“Go away” mumbled Mr M.

“Mr Morrison, Mr Morrison”

Mr M bolted upright so hard he nearly fell out of bed. “Who’s there?”

“Ghost of Things Past”

“How did you get in? Security!”

“They can’t hear you I’m afraid. You’re going on a little trip because one day soon you’ll be rewarded for your actions”

Mr M was pretty scared by now. Mr Abbott wasn’t answering his phone. “Damn” He threw the phone on the floor.

“Now look I’m all for free speech but mark my words – after this I’ll be checking your IP activity – in the interests of national security of course”

The Ghost of Things Past swept Mr M out of bed and into the night.

“Where the hell are we? Get me out of this dump”.

“We’re at Christmas Island for Christmas”.

The Ghost of Things Past led Mr M to every face, told every story, but still Mr M could not feel.

” They’re illegal” he grunted.

“No Mr M they are not.”

Next stop was Naru, then an orange floatie-thing on the sea, then Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

“But…but… I’ve stopped the boats!…and I’ve stopped people drowning!”

“But Mr M it is not ‘either or’ – it is not drown or be locked up like animals”

“But I let the children go…” Mr M began to cry. “Pleease I just want to go home to my nice warm bed.” The tears came harder now.

“That’s what they all say Mr M. You still have time to redeem yourself. Let the people go”

Back home and safe, Mr M. promised he would change.  No longer could he say he didn’t understand the pain, desperation and other consequences of his actions, and his actions alone.

“ Er.. one last thing.” The Ghost of Things Past pulled out a list.  “Can you tell me where I can find this Abbott fellow?”

 Post Script:

Love First Dog on the Moon’s A very first Dog Christmas

Why can’t women wear what they want?

The wearing of head coverings and veils by women of the Islamic faith has been a political issue in Australia this year, literally a material manifestation of fear, racism and right wing politics that unfairly targets women. I am not Muslim so I will not speak for the women in the many, diverse Islamic cultures represented in Australia – I will leave that to them – but I do have a few observations from where I am sitting.

My first real awareness of the western world’s tendency to tell (and legislate against) Muslim women’s choice of apparel happened in France. I was there at the height of the political movement that sought to ban head coverings and veils that has since captured most of Europe, the US and now Australia. This was a paradox given the reputation of the French for human rights and freedom. Many women the world over hold feminist views and believe they are supporting Muslim women but concerns about head coverings are only about Muslim women not all the other types of head coverings present in all cultures. All over the world, men and women have accepted the idea that women are forced to wear such clothing and are subjected to varying degrees of subjugation and domestic violence. There is no doubt sometimes this is true but is far from universal and no different to any society. We know this from Muslim women themselves (To Veil or not to Veil). In the cases where abuse is a problem, it is a domestic violence issue not a clothing issue and should be dealt with accordingly. Muslim women are able to represent themselves and perhaps our obligation is to respect and support them rather than speak for them.

These views on QandA


The other event which has stuck in my mind is before and after the fall of the Twin Towers. In my suburb before this tragedy, veiled women walked the streets with their children, went shopping, went to the park and headed to wherever they were going. Afterwards, they disappeared. I assumed these women preferred to stay at home where it was safe and they would not be subjected to blame and racism.

The third event was the banning of the “burqa” in parliament by the Australian government, relegating any woman wearing the offending clothing to sit behind glass with school children to protect the parliament from disruption or violence. At the same time, the Prime Minister acknowledged he found this form of dress confronting oblivious to how many Australians find images of the Prime Minister in a variety of sporting attire equally confronting.


In my view, a true feminist approach means allowing women a choice of what they wear. Just as wearing little clothing is not an excuse for rape, wearing a lot is not an excuse for racism – and yes even Tony Abbott can wear his budgie smugglers. Perhaps western societies should instead pay attention to the restrictions they place on all women and let women dress how they would like. The “Lady strips bare” tells how Tracey Spicer has been forced to dress throughout her television career.

A gut full of nonsense

Like the bloated aftermath of a big meal, I have had a gut full of politicians and some commentators, childish behaviour in parliament, inhumanity and cruelty, and nothing butTV ‘broken record’ and ‘blame the other guy’ tactics from our government. Quality media is bending over backwards to ensure their reporting is ‘balanced’ to the point where some shows are becoming unwatchable. The problem is independent, intelligent media is being hunted mercilessly by extreme right political assassins. These assassins are quite happy for Australians to live on the diet of reality TV and reruns made between 1940 and 1985 currently served up on commercial TV – under no circumstances allow the masses to think. In self-defense too much air time is being given to some commentators who without apology express so much personal bias and quite frankly utter nonsense in some cases that once intelligent television is becoming very difficult to watch.

Balanced yes, but we also need to evaluate opinions and name them as such. Let’s say, to make sure a scientific panel discussing planet earth is balanced we include a commentator who says the earth is flat. Are both views of equal value? Do we invite a commentator who claims the super rich are alien lizards onto a show about globalisation? Do we balance views on multiculturalism with racist commentary? No we don’t but across the board the equally uninformed are getting airtime while at the same time parliament is giving the circus a bad name. I don’t believe, members of the public are uncritical but we know from research that people tend to accept more easily the stuff that supports their own pre-existing beliefs. Faulty logic can make the wild and whacky appear credible and beliefs stated often enough can become accepted as fact over time – our politicians rely on this. Some things are beliefs. Some things are facts and other things should legitimately be understood from a range of perspectives and experiences. There is also a hierarchy of credibility and reliability.

Just for one moment imagine a world where politicians and commentators talk about research. Every time they make a claim or suggest a policy change, they are required to discuss the evidence and back up their claim with some sort of analysis – and the independence of the methodology and analysis scrutinised. Imagine every statement not supported bleeped out like foul language. That is the television and parliament I would like to see. I would also like to win the lottery and see pigs fly. At least we will always have satirists, people like academics who can and do back up their positions and those threatened by allegations of ‘unbalanced’ to point out the obvious unless of course they are nobbled too.