“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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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 

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!

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.”

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.