“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.

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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.  

Jumping on the bandwagon will not improve Abbott’s popularity

Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister, has just announced his intention to make adoptions easier and faster under the guidance of Deborah-Lee Furness (actor Hugh Jackman’s wife for those who have not heard of her) and the personal experience of a friend. If lobbyists have their way, pretty soon we will have lobbyist-led, private agencies facilitating court-mandated, domestic adoptions and overseas adoptions in one-stop shops. Many people in the adoption community are very concerned. How this unfolds will be interesting given the struggle between two factions to lead this charge and take credit as social change agents in Australia, albeit a retrograde step.

The UK is feeling the brunt of criticism over speedy, forced adoptions. The US is still reeling from the rehoming scandals made possible in a private system and the churches bandwagonare dealing with the consequences of their involvement in past adoption practices. Court ordered, forced adoptions are happening so quickly in the UK there is no time or resources to adequately assess or resolve problems and big mistakes are being made. Do we really want more stolen generations in Australia and how can we so quickly dismiss the mistakes of the past? Do we really want to follow the practices of other countries when they are trying to correct them? Our experience will be no different if we go down this road. Perhaps we should also hear more from spokespersons about their own adoptive experiences – their role in the relinquishment of the child, whether they engaged with private or government facilitated adoptions, their opinions on open/ or semi-open adoptions and first family contact, the rights of children to information, maintaining a sense of culture, identity and post adoption support for families and adults. After all these are the issues Australian adoptive parents prepare for and deal with and their children experience.

Generally speaking, anyone serving on official committees or claiming spokesperson status for whole communities should be above criticism and declare all personal and financial interests. A capacity for ethical decision making and ethical behaviour, truthfulness, a commitment to do no harm, disclosure of conflicts of interests, transparency in financial matters, an obligation not to misuse power and influence, self-awareness of the limitations of their expertise and valuing knowledge are essential qualities. Perhaps I am expecting too much? Likewise those appointing people to committees should also be aware of their own ethical obligations regarding the character of the persons they appoint.

Tony Abbot cannot assume community support and cannot afford to dismiss the concerns of a community. It is not wise to ignore what we do actually know about ‘speedy’ and ‘easier’ adoptions. Australia has always been viewed as having a well-functioning and ethical adoption system. Parents generally understand the waiting times are mostly related to countries of origin and that countries open and close for good reasons. It will not help children, families or Australians to naively consider introducing systems known to be fraught with human rights issues and poor practices from our past and in present practice overseas. Not only will such decisions not improve popularity but it will cost governments more in the medium and long term.

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.

 PLEASE ROLL THE SNOWBALL and TELL AT LEAST ONE PERSON YOU KNOW