Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We were kinder to asylum seekers when we were poor.

Hot on the heels of the Great Depression, "Australia was among the earliest states parties to the Refugee Convention, acceding to the treaty on 22 January 1954."(1.)

For most of my life Australia has more or less attempted to do the right thing by refugees. When I was young we didn't have a lot of disposable income, people struggled financially and luxuries were rare. And yes, we really did "make do". And while probably not everyone welcomed refugees with open arms, they were imperfectly but adequately housed, educated and supported in some way at least. They were able to join in with Australian society, work, build businesses, join sporting clubs, adopt footy teams, buy homes, send their children to school, pay taxes and generally settle in ... and they eventually blended into society.

Now, we are a wealthy country. We're so wealthy we're able to give massive tax breaks to mining companies reportedly in the vicinity of $4 billion worth of government subsidies and concessions each year. (2.) 

Our taxes provide FOUR BILLION dollars of support to mining companies! The companies which make massive profits each year are subsidised by us. That's incredibly generous of us! Clearly we have money to burn!

And if we have money to burn, we can undoubtedly afford to house, educate and process refugees more than adequately. Yet we're being asked to swallow the information that the economy is so bad that cuts need to be made ... just don't involve the mining companies!

It is in this climate of giving to the rich and taking from those who have little, that the current Abbott led Federal Government has chosen to disband the independent body which provides advice on the physical and mental health needs of asylum seekers. This has occurred in the wake of a damning Amnesty International report on the condition of Manus Island detention centre. 

"The news that IHAG will be disbanded comes hot on the heels of the announcement that the Salvation Army’s contract to provide humanitarian services to asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru will not be renewed, proving that this Government simply doesn’t care."

"Australian taxpayers will spend over one billion dollars this year on Manus Island and its sister detention centre, Nauru." 

"That’s more than half a million dollars per asylum seeker".(3.)

With just some extremely basic maths, it's possible to see that this isn't a good investment in a private company with a questionable reputation. 

Wouldn't it be wiser to provide employment for primary and secondary teachers, trades skills staff, language teachers etc etc etc and encourage a positive, healthy group of people to resettle and be productive members of society? 

But no says the government, we choose to say that these people are bad people and so must be locked away indefinitely without the Australian population being provided with independent information about what's happening behind the canvas and wire.

The reports that trickle through are heartbreaking - Professor Caroline de Costa writes "One Darwin doctor who works closely with asylum seekers said to me that “there are the mental health problems that people have before they arrive (in detention). Then there are the problems they develop as a result of being in detention, and these are much greater.” 
"...the greatest and most pervasive risk is to the mental health of children and their families. The fact of ongoing uncertain detention is bad enough; adding to it with an extremely isolated hot and crowded environment with few diversions within the detention facility and none outside is demonstrably contributing to very high levels of psychiatric presentations among asylum seekers, well documented by many of my colleagues in recent weeks.My own observations of recent mothers I met in Darwin is of a high level of postnatal depression that is continuing on well past the postnatal period"

And yet the Australian government is paying a massive sum to an independent company with questionable work practises to lock people away. The detention centres are basically private jails. Putting aside the lack of ethics surrounding these choices, it doesn't look like value for money to me - but perhaps I'm wrong.

Who benefits? Not the taxpayer. Not the asylum seekers. Just the private company and of course the government which continues through the main stream media to vilify people who have a legitimate right to seek asylum.

And of the for profit company we pay to detain asylum seekers "G4S received worldwide publicity last year when it failed to deliver on its contract to supply sufficient security guards for the London Olympics. Recently, it was voted the third worst company in the world in awards presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos by Public Eye, a project run by Berne Declaration and Greenpeace Switzerland. After the announcement, G4S rejected the claims made by its critics but the accusations continue." (4)

When people make comments along the lines of "things were better when I was young,"  it's hard to disagree. We were poorer, wiser and more compassionate.

1. http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/who-conv.php
2. http://www.tai.org.au/node/476
3. http://www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/comments/33587/
4. https://newmatilda.com/2013/03/07/worlds-third-worst-firm-runs-manus
5. http://blogs.crikey.com.au/croakey/2013/12/17/inside-the-immigration-detention-facilities-in-darwin-breeding-grounds-for-mental-illness/
  Added 11 Jan 2014: http://www.smh.com.au/world/united-nations-warns-australia-about-asylum-seeker-boat-pushbacks-20140111-hv83u.html

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Street performers - sometimes creepy, always entertaining!

Have you heard the expression

"The job was handed to him on a plate"?

This probably wasn't what you were thinking of ...
photo credit: D.Watson
or perhaps the performer had received advice on

"How to get ahead in your career"!
photo credit D.Watson
Are you talking about me behind my back?
photo credit: D.Watson

Various careers require excellent balance and poise, though some might say of this man -

"He was sitting down on the job"
Bad puns I know, but street performers seem to bring that out in me ;-)

Seriously though, these artists are worth their weight in gold (oh dear there's another one) and I have huge admiration for them; I also thoroughly enjoy watching the audience discussing the show and trying to work out how it's done.

The performer above not only managed to hold the pose, and cross and uncross his legs, but maintained his composure when one woman practically crawled under him to look up at his bottom to see how he was "magically" sitting in thin air!
A tiny stage, some props and confidence
-  almost all you need to begin!
These modern day performers providing walk-by entertainment are following in the footsteps of an age old form of employment and although the costumes and makeup might be different from what was seen hundreds of years ago, they still need to pull an audience and encourage them to give money, to enable them to make a living.

A fine Jazz group on the Charles Bridge in Prague are not only performing, but selling CDs to an appreciative audience.
A delightfully random piano recital at a railway station ...
This gentleman's kit included a quality sound system but unfortunately there were very few passers-by when I saw him.
Ulm. Germany
All jobs have their particular challenges and street performers are no exception. I found myself wondering how a job advertisement for a mime artist would be worded:

The position

This free-lancing job provides a daily adrenaline rush, inconsistent hours and unpredictable income. You'll be your own boss and must have good planning and financial management to sustain you during the lean times. There is the potential to be 'discovered' and take the world by storm. Would suit a person who thrives on unpredictability, works well alone and has the ability to think on their feet.

Key selection criteria

  • Excellent body control
  • The ability to remain motionless for extended periods of time
  • Proven ability to engage the attention of a distractible, fickle audience
  • The ability to engage people of different ages and nationalities and encourage them to part with money, using only gestures and facial expression - ie outstanding non-verbal skills
  • Enjoy working at different ourdoor locations (known as a pitch) and able to assess pedestrian traffic to gain maximum exposure with as few other distractions as possible
  • Desire to work in varied and changeable weather conditions
  • Have a repertoire of poses to deflect hecklers and those determined to get a reaction
  • Self belief and confidence
  • Skills with make up and costume design
  • A willing accomplice to assist with the set up and dismantling of the equipment
  • Be prepared to put in a lot of time "out of hours" to fine tune the act

  • ... and most of all, excellent bladder control is vital or you'll be scampering in a most un-angel-like way, down from your pedestal, intent on finding a suitable location to find 'relief'.

More information for those wanting to enter the profession: 




Monday, November 25, 2013

On the meme about Irena Sendler

I've come across this meme a couple of times recently and felt uncomfortable after reading it, but hadn't spent much time looking at my reaction or the structure of the wording.

My superficial impression was that it was a backhanded, unsavoury dig at Al Gore, and presumed it was written by climate change denialists.
The reader is being asked to agree that the lady in question acted honourably and selflessly (which I gather the did), yet the wording compares her acts of wartime courage with Al Gore's attempts to raise awareness to the challenges associated with climate change and the need for action.

I felt manipulated. Given how the piece is written, if I agreed that Irena Sendler was a good and honourable woman, then I would have to acknowledge that Al Gore wasn't deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize. But like many people I moved on, not giving it any further thought.

However yesterday, I saw the meme again and was directed to a blog, The Daily Mull, where the author had analysed and outlined some of the tasteless aspects of the piece.
Most readers won't even know that a criteria for the Peace Prize is being involved in significant activities during the past two years, and that therefore she didn't even qualify by the basic rules, at the time.
And regarding Al Gore:
They won't bother to find out that it was for all of his "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."
Since then I've done some more reading and found further interesting information. In Examples of Really Faulty Logic, I discovered that what is now a handy-to-forward meme, apparently began as an email which you were encouraged to share (aka a poisoned letter) during a US campaign year. 
the email originated before June of 2008 – about4 years ago – during a political campaign year (gee, could that have something to do with it?)  At that time, it only mentioned Al Gore, not President Obama.  Since it mentions that award (The Nobel Peace Prize 2007), which, by the way, was awarded jointly to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Albert Arnold (Al) Gore Jr. “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”, that might have been part of the incentive. 
The letter has apparently morphed a few times and President Obama doesn't appear in the latest incarnation. Only the dismissive and poisonous punch line mentions Al Gore and the barely accurate, snide comment about a "slide show on global warming" remain from the original. 

Someone clearly has an issue here and is working to perpetuate the fantasy that climate change is a myth, sneakily planting the seeds that encourage readers to be predisposed to further derogatory, undermining comments and minimising the desperate need for action. 

Despite being recognised and honoured for her great work, Irena Sendler's significant awards aren't mentioned in the meme. 
She has been honored by international Jewish organizations - in 1965 she accorded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem organization in Jerusalem and in 1991 she was made an honorary citizen of Israel
Irena Sendler was awarded Poland's highest distinction, the Order of White Eagle in Warsaw Monday Nov. 10, 2003. 
In 2003 Irena Sendler also received the Jan Karski Award for Valor and Courage. This is awarded to a "person whose substantial life work best exemplifies Karski's valor and compassion, including selflessness, a profound sense of humanity, extraordinary courage and willingness to accept a burden, pain and suffering to save or help others. Clearly, not an insignificant award!

These are impressive decorations, and not to be taken lightly, yet the reader is encouraged to assume that she hasn't been adequately recognised for her work. This is clearly not the case.

If these words and photos were honestly designed to celebrate the life of a courageous woman why are these awards completely ignored?

So now I know why I felt uncomfortable after reading the meme. Irena Sendler's good deeds are being used to degrade and devalue the important work of others. It's undermining. It's not honest. It lacks integrity. It deflects from focusing on the importance of action on climate change, and equally offensively, by manipulating the reader, it detracts from the celebration of Irena's courage.

Manipulation? You bet.
Underhanded? Absolutely.
Nasty? Yes.
Open an honest about its intent? No.
Accurate? Only partially.

Some questions to ask:

  • Who benefits from this kind of meme?
  • What is the real agenda?
  • What am I being asked to accept in the hidden message?
  • Am I being placed in a bind where if I agree with one message, then by default I have to agree with the second message? (In this case that climate change is unworthy of attention)
  • Is there room for complexity and grey areas?

The whole thing is as unsavoury as biting into a crisp fresh apple and finding that it's rotten to the core.

Since writing this post, I've been contacted by Mary Skinner the writer and director of the PBS Documentary about Irena Sendler - In the Name of Their Mothers. Her comment is in the comments section below, and she confirms that the email and meme are indeed not appropriate and would be disliked by Irena Sendler.

In an interview, Mary Skinner talks about meeting with Irena Sendler and encouraging her to be filmed:
"It was very hard for her to talk to be filmed. She was embarrassed.  She didn’t feel extraordinarily heroic. She didn’t like to recount her memories of the war, but we eventually convinced her to give us some time on camera, mostly because we used the argument that the more women, especially young women, learned about her story and the story of these other women that were part of her network — basically teenage girls — the more people will be inspired toward that kind of moral courage. It was essential for people like her to talk and to recount what actually happened, because so many of the eyewitnesses are passing and  we can’t ever forget how devastating that experience was for the Jewish people, especially in places like Warsaw." (my bold)
In the above paragraph, the phrase "moral courage" stands out. It is definitely lacking in both the meme and offensive emails. A person or group who displayed moral courage would be honest and upfront about their motives.

Further information:
Irena Sendler: 


Climate change: http://www.skepticalscience.com/

On sharing memes:

Friday, October 18, 2013

Crunchy wholesome career biscuits

A satisfying career is like a good biscuit recipe! 
(An imperfect but potentially useful analogy)

There's something to get your teeth into.

It's nourishing.

There are occasional interesting bits, to provide variety.

You can adapt it to suit you better as your tastes change over time.

You'll occasionally botch it up, but you can always learn from experience.

Sometimes it's worth trying something completely different to see what happens.

What at first appears perfectly acceptable can, on closer inspection, contain faults.

A small tweak can have a huge impact.

A huge change may have no impact.

They can both go stale if they're not looked after well.

Most biscuits and many careers have a use-by date.

Sticking to the recipe rigidly can lead to problems when ingredients aren't available.

Being flexible and open to uncertainty can be empowering.

Sometimes you need the services of someone more experienced to see how to make improvements.

Overindulgence can lead to illness and possibly require the services of a doctor.

There is no perfect biscuit. Many varieties can be enjoyed at different times in your life.

Inspired by this article by Jim Bright, Professor of Career Education and Development ACU, and the following recipe from the Family Circle Biscuits and Slices recipe book.

Cocoa Sesame Biscuits aka Crunchy Wholesome Career Biscuits
3/4 c plain flour
1/4 c cocoa powder
3/4 c rolled oats
1 c sesame seeds
3/4 c caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons golden syrup
1 Tablespoon boiling water
1 teaspoon bicarb soda
185 g melted chocolate bits

Oven @ 160C

Flour, cocoa, oats, seeds and sugar go into a bowl.
Melt butter and golden syrup. Add soda to boiling water - dissolve. Add to the butter mix.
Add the wet to the dry ingredients. Stir.
Put teaspoons of mixture onto baking sheet. (The original recipe called for 3 Tablespoons of mixture per biscuit there was only space for one on the tray, and it became the side of a dinner plate - there was clearly something wrong.)
After 6 minutes spin the tray around or they burn. Leave another 6 mins. Ladle melted chocolate on top when they're cool!

Of course I didn't stick to the recipe the first time did I. The sesame seeds only came in mingy bags and I got the last one at the store so I added a few more oats and some chocolate buds. I cooked one giant sized one as per instructions which spread hugely and was unmanageable. Because it lacked pizzaz I chopped up some crystalized ginger and added that to the mixture and adjusted the size to 1 teaspoon per biscuit. As for the chocolate topping, it was ho hum ... so I added bit of chilli chocolate for interest!

As for the second time I made them, experience told me that further small changes could be made to improve the outcome! (A large change of different oats or flour really wouldn't change the taste a lot). A gentle shake of black pepper found its way into the batter along with more generous amounts of crystalized ginger. The topping oozed chilli this time, and the book has been duly marked with the additions.

Next time I might try some rum soaked raisins instead of the ginger!
Whoever would have thought that careers and cooking biscuits could have so much in common!


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Suddenly my job seems pointless.

People sometimes say about their workplace: "I'm thinking of chucking it all in. I can't stand this place any longer."

Others come to see me with stories along the lines of "I'd just bought a morning coffee and realised I couldn't face going back to work. I phoned my boss from the car to say I wouldn't return. Ever."

While the latter is more extreme, it's not uncommon and often leaves the employer as stunned as the former employee.

People who've walked out of their workplace never to return, usually say they weren't conscious of being particularly unhappy. It was as if something surfaced from deep within resulting in a sense of physical revulsion. They talk of a feeling of bewilderment; of having been as surprised as everyone else by this unprovoked and out of character action.

Often they'll sit at home for a week or more trying to make sense of what's happened to them, but this doesn't always lead to particularly useful insights.

To result in this dramatic reaction, something has been deeply out of kilter, and after discussion it generally becomes clear that personal values haven't been acknowledged by the employee or have been trampled on by a manager. However, because values aren't usually discussed in any meaningful way in western culture, it's likely that they haven't been acknowledged or clarified in the person's private life.

What can you do (right now) if you have a sudden overwhelming feeling of revulsion about work and are feeling caught in a web that you can't seem to escape from?

  • Stop.
  • If possible find somewhere quiet to sit. (To answer the unspoken question: Yes, some people can only find peace in the washroom. It usually provides privacy and you hopefully won't be interrupted!) 
  • Breathe slowly and regularly. Take in 3 deep breaths and let them out in a controlled  s l o w  manner. It's harder to panic when you're focused on filling your lungs with air!
  • Do a body scan: Mentally audit your limbs, organs, torso and head to get a sense of where the tension has settled - you'll notice a tightness, lump, sense of suffocation or queasiness somewhere when you pause quietly and take time to systematically check in. A body scan can sometimes be a quick process or can take a half hour or more. Don't shortchange yourself by rushing!
  • Now, most importantly, when you sense where the discomfort is, stay settled. It's perfectly normal and tempting to avoid mental discomfort and metaphorically run - by turning on the radio or TV, picking up a book, checking social media or deciding you need a cup of coffee ..... Stick with it, you'll thank yourself later on.
  • Some people report mentally "seeing" a writhing lump of spaghetti-like substance, others use dreary colours to describe an immovable mass. The description is as individual as you are and there are no right or wrong descriptions.
  • Acknowledge and make room for the discomfort. As I mentioned, some people report the feeling of a golf ball in the throat, difficulty breathing or nausea.  Don't try to push the sensation down, belittle the feelings, pretend they don't exist or be scornful and call yourself weak (see Do you bully yourself?) It can be hard to believe, but these feelings are perfectly normal amongst regular everyday people, mums, dads, aunties and uncles, whether they're high flying executives in powerful positions, TV presenters or comedians, artists or doctors. They're part of the human condition and most of us experience them from time to time. 
  • As Russ Harris says; now observe the sensation as a curious scientist would. Not with heavy ham-fisted aggression, but gently and with interest. Some people look at the shape, colour and form of the discomfort and find it changes as they take time and allow it to be. (This sounds a bit weird and hippy, but isn't when you do it.)
  • And the part which I personally find most powerful is this bit: instead of squashing down the unpleasant sensation, and metaphorically stomping on it to try to make it go away because it hurts and isn't nice, give it a bit of room. Make space for it. Let it stretch. Again, this sounds weird until you do it. What happens then is that it's not quite so horribly uncomfortable. It doesn't go away, it hasn't vanished, but you're not fighting it. 
  • Instead of spending time and energy persistently battering uncomfortable feelings down, you give them their own space and whilst you mightn't be great mates you can co-exist with tolerance and acceptance
  • Next think about your values. If you've completed a formal values clarification exercise, review it, starting with the ones that are not negotiable. Is there something out of kilter there? Something which surfaces when you give it time and space? Work gently through your list one at a time. 
  • If you haven't completed a values clarification exercise, the following might be helpful: 
a) from The Confidence Gap by Russ Harris
b) a worksheet from Kelly Wilson adapted by Russ Harris
  • It could be that it's not an unethical workplace which is the issue, but that your home life (which you value deeply) is being swamped by work demands leaving you depleted and feeling that something important is passing you by.
And while it may be that nothing will change immediately, by spending time quietly thinking about what's important in your life, you'll gain clarity and understanding and this knowledge will empower you to take appropriate committed action

Appropriate action could be to make deliberate changes in relation to conflicting demands on your time: To make space for, and prioritise family, exercise, wholesome food and to give yourself time to enjoy these things. 

Appropriate action could be more confronting too. Once you've become aware of what is disturbing you, how will you respond? If for instance, a colleague is being harassed, which conflicts with your deeply held value of social justice, you'll need to choose how to respond. Will you speak up and be supportive or not? If you don't speak up, you'll experience further conflict - if you do there are costs (and advantages) to that decision as well. When you choose to live in line with your values, it makes some decisions obvious - but that doesn't necessarily make the resulting action easy. 

Without knowledge of what has unsettled you, you'll be making decisions in reaction to something and not proactively from a base of knowledge

If doing this alone doesn't work for you, find a coach or trainer who works from a base of values and contact them. The ACBS website is a good place to start and has members throughout the world.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

On being lectured - a grumble

Please don't lecture that I'm doing something wrong when I admit my blog posts can take a day to write. Don't tell me they should be shorter when you've never read one. It’s unhelpful insisting "the experts say" they should only take twenty minutes.

You don't have a blog, have never read one and don't "do" social media. One day you'll realise it’s challenging to find the right words for your particular audience, to share a serious message which can be readily understood.

It’s not easy.

"Experts" aren't always right and it’s worth taking time to share complex ideas thoughtfully.
Stop and think before you speak - is criticism helpful?

A drabble is a story written in 100 words. No more. No less.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The environment minister receives a massive petition from GetUp to "Save the reef"

"Look mummy, there's a shark!"
A young child squeaks in delight as a shark, turtle, crab, assorted fish and a man in a wet-suit complete with spear gun, walk past the Fred Smith Reserve playground in Hastings Vic, with the express purpose of delivering a petition, recently signed by 243,236 people (and still coming in!), to the Environment Minister's office. 

Small groups of people formed, chatted for a while, then reformed as they either met up with acquaintances or used the opportunity to expand their network of friendly, local, like minded people. 
The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. I'd been unsure what to expect as I hadn't attended a GetUp function before, but the email I received had been positive and explained what to expect when I arrived. What they hadn't mentioned was to expect dozens and dozens of cheerful, local people, many decked out in orange, all with the purpose of standing up for what is important. Some people clearly knew each other but there was a welcoming air and above the general hubbub of chatter you could hear words like 'dugongs', 'turtles', 'mangroves' and 'our children's future'. It was great! 
I chatted with someone who had taken time off work to attend. She'd told her boss that she had an important appointment that she couldn't miss and which couldn't be changed. She also hadn't been to a Get Up event before but felt this was too important not to support. It was local, and she wanted to be there in person to show solidarity for our natural heritage.

Young mums had picked their children up from kinder and come down, a couple of tradies seemed to have downed tools for a while to make time to come along. All age ranges were represented from children in prams to the elderly with walking sticks and everyone in between. 

After a short briefing we set off like a long undulating, orange reef-worm past the playground and shops towards Mr Hunt's office.  Enthusiastically waving drivers were tooting and cheering - that was unexpected and fun!
I remember hearing once that each person who shows up at something like this represents hundreds of people who are unable to attend. I wonder how many people are represented by tooting?!

There was no guarantee that Mr Hunt would be there in person to receive the masses of signatures and see the large group of people from the electorate who had made the effort to show support. But Sam, a GetUp organiser checked; it seems that Mr Hunt was expecting us!  Sam escorted Mr Hunt out to meet the enthusiastic throng.

Sam spoke to Mr Hunt, the media and the crowd about why we were all there - in short to protect the Reef. He was professional, respectful, assured ... and very tall!
Fiona Maxwell, another Get Up organiser also spoke and gave Mr Hunt the placard stating that "243,236 Australians say SAVE OUR REEF". She was thoroughly professional and spoke courteously, yet strongly about how the reef needs to be protected for future generations. 

People who speak disparagingly about Gen Y, about the cult of the self, of selfishness and self-centredness, could get out and spend time with the young activists who will be impacted dramatically by climate change. Many of them are not only aware of the damage climate events will have on their lives, but are committed to doing whatever they can to avert the worst of the impacts. They are truly wonderful and worthy of our respect and commendation.

Mr Hunt appeared to listen and was gracious in his reply. He acknowledged the organisers and crowd and accepted the petitions with respect. I was quite relieved as a friend had been involved in presenting a petition to a state minister who had received them with a smirk, then with her watching, had put them straight in the bin. Hardly the response worthy of an elected representative. Mr Hunt, in contrast, appeared to acknowledge the concerns and gave the impression that he'd listen. He then invited a small group into his office to discuss the matter. If/when I hear the outcome of that meeting, I'll add a link.

I've written a bit about the Great Barrier Reef in the past, the first post was in 2011. It's incredibly disheartening to realise that it still has no real security and even though Mr Hunt spoke soothingly, and appeared to acknowledge and understand the concerns expressed, I don't feel entirely reassured that he fully realises the enormous implications from continuing and increasing the use of fossil fuels. However, that's a much bigger issue that what was being specifically addressed today. 

The Great Barrier Reef has been described as one of the 7 wonders of the natural world, as a treasure, as a gift. Surely we should be responsible stewards for this magnificent area and not continue to treat it as a temporary and irrelevant inconvenience. How about we stop treating the fossil fuel industry with kid gloves and kow-towing to their every whim? 

How about we factor in the cost of health care, pollution and environmental damage for those people and areas impacted by fossil fuel mining? My grumpy post about that is at: The vital topic that's not being discussed this election.

Whether the Great Barrier Reef will be adequately and appropriately protected - who knows. However, for myself, and for many others, we can say "we did our best". I know there are many, many other groups both in Australia and around the world trying to get assurance that the reef shouldn't be lined with ports to transport fossil fuels and that dredging shouldn't be allowed. Let's hope that once and for all, sound action is taken to preserve what's left of this incredible wonder!

I grumbled here after seeing the excellent 4 corners programme: The Great Barrier Grief. 
A year later, in 2012, not much had changed, the threats to the reef continued and I wondered if it was to become an open sewer. 

Why the Great Barrier Reef is worth preserving from GetUp!

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world and is recognised as a global treasure, due to the amazing biodiversity which it sustains and it's unparalleled beauty.
  • The Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World.
  • The reef brings in billions of dollars of economic activity every year and supports tens of thousands of jobs in tourism and the fishing industry.
  • The largest dredging project ever undertaken in Australia was approved to occur within the Great Barrier Reef WHA, at Gladstone Harbour, and is slated to remove a total of around 50 million cubic metres of soil.
  • The ecosystem of the GBR is already very fragile and is facing total collapse with the added pressure of the dredging, which releases toxic chemicals into the sea.
  • In the past 6 months (the first stage of dredging) there has been a steep increase in deaths of endangered marine wildlife - 6 dolphins, 10 dugongs and 231 turtles have washed up dead near Gladstone on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Fishermen and their families have been getting sick and have noticed that many of the fish have washed up with a strange flesh disease.
  • The Australian government failed to inform UNESCO of the approval of the gas facilities in the Great Barrier Reef WHA.

And if you would like to email Mr Hunt and ask him to say no to all mega-ports and shipping superhighways along the Great Barrier Reef coastline: 



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Snake catching; a niche career

A friend and I were discussing the challenge of job hunting for young people. Part time, casualised employment with no security, short term rolling contracts, no interest from many employers in ongoing training or career progression. This leaves a sour taste in the mouth when the employee is clearly unvalued and dispensable - and is told that they can be "walked" (ie their employment terminated) on whim because there are plenty of people waiting for any job at all.

We then got to discussing self employment - not everyone is cut out for doing their own promotion, advertising in an attention grabbing way and finding clients. However, here's a self employed man providing a service which is clearly in demand - clients seek him out at all hours of the day and night.

Certainly it's got its challenges and isn't for everyone, however the snake man is providing an important niche service. His customers are no doubt delighted to see him arrive - and leave!


Interestingly, within 24 hours of discussing the snake man, I received this text from my friend:
I've just met the snake catcher in person. I was having a cuppa with a friend on the back deck and a tiger snake dropped out of a tree right next to our dog in the backyard. Dog saved. Snake under the house somewhere. Can't be found at present. 
I suspect the conversation changed direction quickly!

And with Spring well and truly here, no doubt there'll be many more callouts from citizens not comfortable with sharing their backyard with venomous snakes.

He's got some great stories on his facebook site, and his youtube videos give a real insight into the expertise needed in this line of work. It's definitely not a career change I'll be making!


Friday, August 23, 2013

The vital topic that's not being discussed this election

For a long time I've been trying to get my head around something that seems completely illogical and so far, I'm simply not getting there. Maybe you can show me where my logic is out of whack?

The role humans play in climate change is accepted in 97% of the world's peer reviewed climate papers, the burning of fossil fuels is a known factor in climate change. The scientists conducting the studies are experts in their field and have devoted their careers to the study of climate, and I accept and respect their expertise.

Health impacts
What is routinely overlooked are the health impacts from the extraction and burning of coal - coal dust makes people ill. Not just an itchy throat kind of ill, but debilitating, health destroying cancers, strokes and lung diseases - extremely unpleasant illnesses to have and all because of exposure to coal dust (also here).

At the moment those health costs are borne by the individual and community while our government subsidises the companies to extract the coal. Seriously, our government pays foreign owned companies to remove part of our country which can never be replaced to sell it overseas. And that's good because some jobs have been created. And any job is a good job. Even if it's slowly poisoning you. So they say.

But if the cost of personal and environmental ill health was factored in, and the generous subsidies removed, how viable would fossil fuels really be? 

"A major Chinese power company is in line to win millions of dollars in federal and state government grant money to develop Victorian brown coal." The Age

Development? How is it development? That implies to improve. I've tried to see where this is good and how we benefit, but try as I might, I'm at a loss. Not only are we paying a foreign company to rip out our coal and poison our communities, but it's also directly contributing to climate issues. That's not particularly smart is it? Or else I've got it all wrong. And so have the doctors, the scientists and every other trustworthy person involved.

We are only ever told that coal mining is good for the country. How is this good? Our taxes are at work to subsidise foreign companies to dig up our coal (which can never be replaced) and ship it away to other countries. We're not stockpiling it for future use, to use within a mix of sustainable technologies. It's gone. Forever. And we're left with the clean up bill. And we're told we don't want these companies to be taxed for polluting our land, our water, our sky, our communities. Really? Why not?

Some people have jobs with the fossil fuel companies. Some people get very ill. So more of our taxes are used to assist them with doctor and hospital visits, medications, nursing, maybe even palliative care. And funding is pulled from hospitals, there are cuts to nursing and beds are closed. What a lucky country!

We're left with the costs of pollution of land and waterways. With the loss of drinkable water. Loss of environment. With the ongoing expensive health impacts, not only for the people who made a conscious decision to work in coal dust, but for the innocent families and children living nearby. And this is good. So they say. But I'm not convinced.

Alternative energy
Then, in Victoria, we have the vilification of alternative energy, and in particular wind power. On health grounds. Some people report getting headaches and not being able to sleep. Really? And in its wisdom, the Victorian Government makes the wind industry jump over all sorts of hurdles that aren't applied with the same enthusiasm when it comes to coal and CSG.

The government listens to a cashed up, vocal minority who are repeatedly discredited and yet NEVER comment on the very real and negative aspects of reliance on coal. It's hard not to be cynical. The vocal minority who don't like wind power and with spurious claims have more clout than those suffering with real, genuine and identifiable diseases. It's as if the people living in and around coal mines and coal fired power stations are expendable. Their lives are of less importance. That seems to be the unspoken message from the government. And this is good. So they say. But it doesn't seem right to me.

Doctors warn of "the costly legacy unfolding for Australia from under-regulation of the pollution caused by many [coal and CSG] resource projects" (link). Yet simultaneously we have over-regulation and rejection of studies in the case of wind power. Who benefits from this inconsistency? ...
"It is clear that State government approvals of coal and coal seam gas projects are often influenced by potential economic gain without thorough assessment of potential harms," said DEA spokesperson, Dr David Shearman.  
"Permitting dangerous pollution is creating a costly legacy for Australia that is being picked up in the healthcare and other sectors."  
"The social and financial costs of this pollution are not being measured or factored in when projects are given the go ahead." (here
But 'no worries' says the government, and gives the green light to more and more coal and CSG operations - and people who live along roads and train-lines where the coal is transported continue to get ill. But this is good for the country. So they say.
My apologies. I don't have the source for this graphic.
The end of coal?
And while all this is happening (or not in the case of wind farms) ...
"Goldman Sachs this month produced an explosive report, titled "The window for thermal coal investment is closing." In it, the bank revealed that "thermal coal's current position atop the fuel mix for global power generation will be gradually eroded by the following structural trends:
1) environmental regulations that discourage coal-fired generation
2) strong competition from gas and renewable energy and
3) improvements in energy efficiency." 
and of a statement that should be of great concern to everyone:
"there is little evidence Australian Governments are acting to adjust our economic and social structure to the reality that coal is over: despite knowing this must be the case if we are to avoid dangerous levels of global warming and if emerging economies are to act on the health and water crises precipitated by their too-fast growth of coal power." (here) (my bold)
And so we come to an election where none of this is mentioned. Not climate change. Not our role in it. Nothing about building a resilient country. Nothing at all from the major parties about plans for the inevitable impacts of rising seas, changing and erratic weather patterns and the effect this will have on food production or communities and cities. Nothing about the clash of water requirements for people, farming, agriculture, mining. Nothing to do with the incredible heating of our country. Nothing. Not a hint that with climate change, we are currently facing what has been described as "one of the greatest threats posed to the future of human-kind and the world"- Stephen Hawking.

In the minds of Australian politicians feted by our embarrassingly mediocre media, these issues don't rate a mention, and in the case of Tony Abbott they're shunned. And I'm appalled because our changing climate affects us all whether we like it or not.

To date, glib politicians are showing a marked lack of understanding, wisdom, courage and leadership on climate change. Hiding their heads and continuing to support coal so generously doesn't appear to benefit Australia or the world. (For an Indian perspective on Australian coal being shipped there this is an interesting article.)

And if I'm wrong, could you please explain how. Nicely of course!

Or if you happen to also be uncomfortable about our reliance on fossil fuels, and the dreadful associated health impacts you can do something and encourage your super fund to divest from fossil fuels. (Are you the Vital Few) Because fossil fuel investments are seen as being increasingly risky and you wouldn't want to see your super go down the gurgler would you. (Forbes)


On the importance of voting thoughtfully: Why vote? Because if you don't vote, someone will speak for you.

Some of the articles used in the above spray:













Australia’s legendarily irresponsible mining industry has a new plan: while the planet faces catastrophic climate change, build the world’s largest coal mining complex, and then build a shipping lane to that port straight through the greatest ecological treasure we have - the Great Barrier Reef! 

Blogged by Sue Travers

Sunday, August 11, 2013

One simple way to get the community and ratepayers offside.

The photo below shows the area which is currently the subject of deep emotion and distress to the people of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria Australia. It's a disused quarry site nestled between arms of the Arthurs Seat State Park, organic farms and businesses, homes and schools.

In the background it's just possible to see a sliver of water which is part of Port Phillip Bay. Behind the hill, flourishing in the bay are mussel farms and the magnificent beaches are safe with little pollution. The bay is home to pods of dolphins and is occasionally visited by migrating whales. The state park is a sanctuary for eagles, owls, koalas, bandicoots and rare or threatened plant species.

In short it's a special place, but the Mornington council and the Ross Trust who owns the Pioneer Quarry site have decided this is the place for a tip with no recycling facilities. The proposed tip "would be servicing mainly other regions. At current figures, approximately 70% of the 150.000 tonnes annually would be coming from outside the Mornington Peninsula." (SaveArthursSeat)

The logic appears to be "It's a hole in the ground. Let's fill it up with unfiltered, un-recycled garbage and make this dumping ground available to businesses outside the Shire. What a good idea!"
photo - Melanie Cameron
Anyone would be excused for assuming that the Ross Trust isn't involved or interested in the environment. They'd be wrong. 

The following information comes from the RE Ross Trust website. 
The Trust will direct resources towards projects that will ...  "Protect and preserve Australian flora and fauna". It seems contradictory that a trust which actively supports environmental programs would not undertake to protect the Pioneeer Quarry site and surrounding areas including the creek which runs directly into Port Phillip Bay.

The Save Arthurs Seat community group have been working tirelessly to ensure that best practice guidelines are met:

The protection of environment and public health in waste management delivery is non-negotiable (State Government Vic)
“Encourage, promote and develop ecologically sustainable waste management” (Mornington Peninsula Regional Waste Management Group)
“Today’s landfills must not leave an unacceptable environmental legacy for our children to address” (EPA Vic)
The following is an open letter written by Francois Schamberger regarding his opposition to the proposal. (Edited and formatted for ease of reading)
The Proposed Landfill at the former Pioneer Quarry Site 

There are many very serious concerns about this project which we are going to come to light over the coming weeks. 

Tip Liners

The first one is about the liner for the proposed landfill. All manufacturer of liners stress the limited performance of their liners and clearly state that no warranty as to their performance is ever implied. When the bottom liner fails, leachate migrates directly into the environment. All reports ever written by environmental protection agencies on the performance of landfill, state that all liners being made out of clay, plastic, and composite will have some leaks. Even the most up-to-date and elaborate ones (compacted clay with a minimum required thickness and a maximum allowable hydraulic conductivity, overlaid by a 2mm high-density polyethylene geomembrane) do not pass the 10 year test. 

All liners will have some leaks, due to their limited performance parameters, and their degradation is usually the result of insufficient tensile strength, tear resistance, impact resistance, puncture resistance, and susceptibility to environmental stress cracking. 

The role of discarded household chemicals

Quite a number of common household chemicals will also degrade them. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has stated that all barriers "will ultimately fail," while the site remains a threat for "thousands of years”, suggesting that even the most modern, up-to-date landfill designs delay, but do not prevent ground and surface water pollution. 

Location - in a water catchment area

Let’s not forget that the proposed site is at the bottom of a substantial water catchment area and within a very short time the leachate, and its toxic constituents, would flow into the underlying aquifers, the nearby creek and into Port Phillip Bay. 

If this proposal goes ahead, it will be undeniable: the legacy of the Ross Trust will be that of a polluted Bay, creek and groundwater for hundreds of years. 

How are we going to explain to our children and grandchildren that the beach is closed, the creek fenced off, the groundwater polluted and The Ross Trust and Mornington Shire Council were part of that lunacy? 

From the R E Trust website we know that "Mr Ross was a keen bushman, had an extensive knowledge of native plants and trees and made a study of the habits of birds and their calls."  We can only imagine what Mr R E Ross would say to his Trustees: “You are fired, you are destroying my legacy."  

Technical Reports

The quality of the technical reports and analysis so far, tabled by the proponents of the landfill is very disappointing - notable for their omissions, their unsuitable comparisons which are very generalist, almost direct copies of reports compiled for other landfill sites. 

I would like to draw your attention to Mr Latham’s statement that “they are very keen to consult the community on the project.” 

“Keen to consult” No! Just a slap in our face. For 5 years the council and Ross Trust have been secretly planning to turn the quarry into a tip and now they want to establish a Community Reference Group, chosen strictly by them, to advise them how the project could work better. 

Another statement which merits our attention was made by Mr Maltby, The Peninsula Waste Manager “Mr Maltby predicted shire residents would see an extra $100 on their rates bill each year if the shire had to send waste out of the area.” To make such a statement, you would expect somebody in such a position of authority to have the figures on hand to back his claims. So Mr Maltby please can we see those figures? If you do not produce them, we can only conclude that it was a cheap self serving quote, totally inappropriate for a person in your position. 

So now for my predictions and I am very happy to back them up. 

The proposed landfill is going to cost the residents a lot more than if the waste would be send out of the area; 

Why ? 

1. The proposed landfill is going to be operated by a private company which wants to make a profit (unlike now, Shire operated for the benefit of the residents) 

2. The proposed landfill is going to be in the top 5% cost bracket. 

3. The proposed landfill is going to be viable only if it becomes a regional landfill for the Bayside and Southern Councils. Peninsula Link would see hundreds of rubbish trucks making their way down the Peninsula every day

What horrifies me the most, is to see the incestuous relationship between our Council and a private company - a council which has already factored in the proposed tip (since 2009) as a fait accompli, even well before the proposal has been lodged. A council which would accept any tipping charges Peninsula Waste would demand. A council also prepared to accept the private company’s reports as their own, by-passing the need to get independent expert reports. A council putting the wishes of a private entity well before their residents and ratepayers. 

If the Councillors have any decency they would resign now - if not, the Victorian Government should dissolve the Shire of Mornington Peninsula Council and appoint an administrator, as the Council is failing the simplest test of impartiality and decency. United we stand, to stop the biggest threat ever to our environment, to our beautiful Mornington Peninsula and to our cherished Arthurs Seat. 


Francois Schamberger.
It's cold comfort that "As a wholly owned subsidiary of the R E Ross Trust, 100% of the profits of Peninsula Waste Management will be distributed to community organisations through the Trust’s GRANTING STRATEGY." Loss of environment will remain lost, not just for this generation, but will be a toxic legacy for future generations as well, and no grant can fairly balance that out.

For detailed information regarding the poor location, lack of recycling facilities and outdated "technology" with the proposed tip see the Frequently asked Questions at Save Arthurs Seat

The Story of Stuff:The Story of Electronics, why designed for the dump is toxic for people and the planet - as it relates to the proposed tip site

On the contradictions in waste 'management' and being a transition town, "sustainable" and a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

.... http://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/OurRegion/NationalParks.aspx