Monday, May 26, 2014

Protests are passe?

Public protests and marches have passed their use-by date according to Annabel Crabb, particularly if you’re a uni student.

Not surprisingly the student protests she's discussing condescendingly, aren't living up to the standard of well resourced, professional campaigns, run by expensive marketing companies, for political parties or multinational businesses.

And while she's - 
... not arguing there is nothing to protest against in the budget, nor that university students should not take every opportunity to explain what the full deregulation of tertiary fees in Australia will mean for parents and children. 

 - when they do just that - take an opportunity to publicly protest the impact of deregulation and the hypocritical double standards of a government, many of whom benefitted from a free education, they're criticised from pretty much every sector of the main stream media (msm). 

Ms Crabb goes on to ask:
How, then, can it possibly be that student protests have not changed even one little bit over that time? And how can it be, as even our phones gets smarter, that protesters are somehow getting dumber?

Protesters are not getting dumber, but unfortunately, informative reporting is, particularly in some dominant and less balanced areas of the msm.

Students and others are called slacktivists if they sign petitions, uninvolved if they protest with hashtags, and lazy when they don’t take to the streets. Creative YouTube clips are made, artists and cartoonists express their frustration and anger ... and are either ignored or vilified. How much easier it would be for the government if the uni protests hadn't received any media attention, and students obediently opened their anorexic wallets, handed over credit cards, and said “take the lot, it’s yours.”

Thankfully our students and many other Australians are more intelligent than that. They understand that a well educated population makes for a wealthy country, way beyond monetary value. They also understand that withholding education or making it unattractive in a variety of ways, is a means of control and manipulation. Understandably the proposed measures don’t sit well with those raised to believe in an egalitarian Australia, where giving less privileged people a ‘fair go’ is respected.

Ms Crabb goes on to wonder  "why university students … are still protesting like it’s 1969".

This is partly why:

As someone said to me: “Marches and protests are not outdated .... Eventually they go on to show the true power of “we the people”. The right looks down upon the unions and little people and tries its best to make it an evil because these unions stand up to immoral corporations, for the people’s rights."

What Ms Crabb and many other msm commentators completely fail to notice, is that the power of a protest goes way beyond posters, chants and slogans (which, by the way, can be enormously powerful, as was the repetitive and effective 3 word slogan, AXE THE TAX, which we're reaping the doubtful benefits of now.)  

The reality is, that if the msm covered the current protests maturely and informatively, rather than demonising those involved, we'd all be a lot better off. (This includes the candlelight vigils for Reza Barati, March in March and March in May protests) At present, they're either not covered at all or the activists are presented as revolting ferals and beneath contempt. 

  • What's the real agenda when this happens?
  • Who benefits from demonising protesters?
  • What prejudices (ie pre-judgements) are being encouraged and why?
  • Which of our 'hot buttons' are being pushed - why?
  • Who benefits from misinforming the general public?
  • What are we being distracted from looking at?

Sadly it also seems that if the issues were discussed fairly and rationally by the media, it’s highly likely that this would be perceived as bias against the government, and there’d be loud and sustained outrage about the particular media outlet being "unpatriotic”.

Protests aren’t attended on the na├»ve assumption that that alone will change government behaviour.  That misses the point entirely. I attended one of the March in March protests. I didn’t know what to expect – would they all be scary ferals much the same as presented in the murdoch press? Would there be anyone else there? Would I feel silly and out of place?

The reality was none of the above. It was an extraordinary experience. I’ll never forget the incredible sense of togetherness, the goodwill and strength of spirit - “we’re in this together”. I’m sure that anyone who has attended a huge sporting event understands the impact of being with thousands of people focussed on the shared experience - chanting and singing! Why think that a protest is lesser than that expression of shared emotion in sport?

When you’re a single person, sitting at home grieving over what is being eroded in Australia: honesty, integrity, a sense of shared values; when you’re disgusted with the lies being spread about vulnerable peoples, appalled at the willingness of our political parties to embrace injustice, and disgusted at extreme power of multinational corporations to manipulate. And when you’re sick to the core of writing letters and emails to politicians, where if you’re lucky you’ll receive a reply - a form letter sprinkled with empty rhetoric and ‘it’s all Labour’s fault’, when responsibility is avoided… then you come together and protest.

There’s a sense of community in banding together with similar minded souls. There’s the power of song, of shared jokes and laughter, discussing experiences, forging friendships, swapping business cards.  The sense of isolation passes. Being with others underlines that we’re not alone and there’s power in numbers. And those numbers grow during the march as people standing on the sidelines ask what’s going on, hear from real people (not filtered through snide, insulting or belittling comments from the media) what’s happening – many are supportive, some join in. And they go back to work, chat over the urn, go home and speak to their friends. Information is shared, perspectives are able to shift, change happens.

People who drive past a march honk and wave and smile and hi-five. They’re joining in and enjoy the “feel-good factor” of participating and being engaged as well. Some passers by see that the protesters and marchers aren’t threatening as they’ve been led to believe, they’re normal everyday people, mums and dads, grandmas and grandpas, suits and tradies.

Protests happen, they’re a sign of a healthy, vibrant democracy. They don’t have the slick professional shine of an extremely well funded and highly orchestrated multimedia campaign. They’re an expression of frustration and are homespun, homegrown, and to sneeringly belittle them with condescending remarks, overlooks their very human importance - a sense of community. 

People overseas who've been horrified at Australia's willingness to ignore human rights abuses and vilify and lie about asylum seekers, who've been dismayed at the erosion of environmental protections including loss of jobs in the sciences related to the environment, climate change and climate change adaption have said "you Aussies should take to the streets". Messages of support for the various protests come from all over the world. Protests can make world news. That's significant!

It’s time the media got over the snarkiness about people exercising their democratic right to protest.  How about we see some genuine discussion about what’s really important and stop criticising protests and protesters.  

What kind of country do we want Australia to be? One tied to the apron strings of massively profitable multinational mining companies, obstructing fair taxation on the pollution they cause, frightened that their obscene profits might be affected, or one looking ahead to address the impact that our changing climate will have on every person in this country?

Are we going to be a well educated, innovative country, welcoming investment and with solid skills in climate change adaptation and renewable energy, or one stuck in the past where a compliant or complicit mainstream media continually points the finger at the wrong group of people?

More information:

The value of political memes: 

The dire circumstances of those living in poverty:


Friday, May 23, 2014

Budget grumbles - 2. Education and unemployment.

This is a continuation of the previous post: Budget grumbles 1.

Those protesting at the recent marches could have been apprentices, child care workers, nurses, firefighters, or people training to be paramedics. These are all valued and respected careers where course fees are likely to increase significantly. Protesters could be anyone deeply and negatively affected by the budget. Are they all ferals as the front page of the Daily Telegraph would like us to believe?  I seriously doubt it.
University degrees will cost up to three times as much under a deregulated fee system, leaving graduates with $120,000-plus debts, according to the architect of the HECS student loan scheme.

This is significantly more than the fees paid by current MP's. Many of whom enjoyed a free education! 

ThIs loud, demanding headline, and indeed most of the page, blithely disregards the actual facts about getting a job. But you wouldn't want to let a fact get in the way of an eye-catching smokescreen of headline.

Such inconvenient things facts. 

In February, there were a total of 140,800 job vacancies in Australia, and more than 700,000 people out of workHere and here

They are the official figures and don't account for those who are chronically underemployed, those on short term contracts who have no idea where there next job will come from, or the people barely able to make ends meet working a few shifts per week with no job security.

University students who are the target in the article above, study in a wide variety of areas. Most will work extremely hard to earn their degrees.  When they graduate they're understandably excited to have achieved a goal, and naturally would like to work in a career related to their field of study.  Instead, far too many are under-employed in unfulfilling, un-challenging jobs, not related to those years of study. 

Under-employment and unemployment is devastating for them, their parents and others who understand the challenges and difficulties of finding a permanent job in this climate, particularly one drawing on their specific training and skills. Is it any wonder they might be protesting at the budget? 

To nastily and falsely imply that all students are lazy spongers is disgusting. To encourage others to deride and vilify them is shameful. If anger is to be expressed, it should to be directed at those who manufactured this unfair budget, not those most affected by its consequences.

Some of the protesters could well be science graduates who've watched formerly respected and valued jobs in the sciences disappear with whirlwind speed before their eyes.

Until the current government gained power, science was generally respected in Australia. We have a long and proud tradition of innovation and inventions which have been celebrated the world over. Only recently has that changed dramatically.

Science graduates, particularly those with specialties in environment, climate, climate change adaptation, sustainability, oceanography and a range of other areas are unlikely to get a job in their chosen career in the near future in Australia. The jobs aren’t there any more. 

Our young people haven’t chosen these difficult courses on a whim, for status or for the money. They've chosen them because they want to contribute. They want to be involved in a positive and proactive way, to help Australia adapt responsibly and resourcefully to the significant and ongoing challenges we all face with our changing climate. 

When the current Minister for the Environment was writing passionately about saving Port Phillip Bay from dredging, (but doesn't apply the same logic or respect to the Great Barrier Reef), these students could have been choosing their demanding senior year maths and science subjects to enable them to get into high scoring, and extremely challenging courses.

They’ve been working towards their degrees for many years and are now seeing jobs that they would have aspired to in science gone, and whole departments and organisations disappearing. They've seen highly regarded world class scientists treated with derision and contempt by the Abbott government.  

And yet the headlines shout a very different message. Unpleasant headlines structured carefully to discredit and vilify students, the same students who are being lumbered with a budget and debt, designed to make their lives significantly harder. And if they can't find a job? Let's blame them, rather than looking honestly at the source of the problem or think creatively about solutions.

The unemployed go job hunting 
In Hobart this morning, Mr Abbott was unsympathetic about the prospect of people going interstate in their search for a job.

Really?! Is the PM so out of touch that he has no idea that without a reasonable job, or more than a few hours work per week, or without the luxury of a huge amount of savings, it’s a bit of a challenge to get a lease on an apartment? Where are unemployed people, moving interstate to find a job, meant to live? On the streets? Not to mention eating, transport, dressing suitably for interviews and paying for internet so you can actually apply for a job IF there's one advertised. The expenses of day to day living are high, as most normal people can attest to, and they go on, and on, and on …. and on. Living interstate to search for work is simply not feasible for many unemployed people. 

This ability for the PM to live so far removed from the reality of the lives of our students, the disabled, retirees, single parents, indigenous Australians and so many others, is astounding. This parallel universe reminds me of the much loved Enid Blyton book, The Magic Faraway Tree with the amazing revolving lands at the top of the tree. You never knew which land you'd end up in when you climbed the tree.

Unfortunately for everyday Australians it seems that the current government enjoys Fantasy Land where “everything is awesome” but they also regularly visit Topsy Turvy Land where lies are presented as truth, where integrity is passe, where less is more, and where it's good and proper for the weakest to support the strongest. 

Mere mortals, the bulk of everyday Australians, are stuck in Nightmare Land experiencing a callous, dismissive indifference to their concerns. Fearful about how they'll manage once the budget takes effect, their questions are flippantly avoided. Everyday Australians, my clients, my neighbours, my community, live in a very real world where wealthy parents may not exist to support you, and generous scholarships (and here) are the stuff of dreams.

But as a number of commentators are saying, what did people really expect ,when they voted for the coalition - kindness, compassion and tolerance?
Labor’s values 
We are all in this together. Where this means a community where everyone works towards the health and security of the whole community. The collective wealth of the economy serves this community. Not the other way around. 
Liberal’s values 
We are all in this together. Where this means a free-market economy where a person’s wealth determines their status, and in turn their status determines their privilege and their privilege determines their access to health and security. If someone can’t access health and security, this is their own fault and it’s not the free-market economy’s role to help them. So in fact, we’re not all in anything together. We’re all on our own. 
These values can be found in the true narratives of both parties, intertwined in every policy they produce, and every statement they make. To find them, you don’t have to look very hard. In fact, you don’t have to look for them at all. All you have to do is open your eyes. Australian voters have had our eyes opened for us. But I just hope that those who feel most let down, the ones who are suffering in silence now because they were the dopes who voted for Abbott, I hope they save some of their resentment for the mainstream media (see below) for so blatantly letting them down by feeding them to the wolves. (my bold)


Budget grumbles -1. Media

It's Interesting that after the disastrous budget, the Murdoch media is currently working overtime to vilify students and disability pensioners, and whilst it makes a welcome change from the prejudice directed towards asylum seekers and the lies surrounding their issues, it's no less repugnant. They are however providing a wonderfully rich resource for teachers, particularly those working with English, clear thinking, logic, media and even maths students. 
The ferals are revolting

There is no room for misunderstanding the reaction expected of the reader, who is now primed to agree and demonise those who are protesting, without having any idea who they are or what they're protesting about.

The Daily Telegraph directs us to focus on a small group of presumably angry protesters and a prominent policeman. Did the photographer or some other person encourage the people to point dramatically? Is the policeman placed there to remind us that ferals need to be kept in their place? A quiet, orderly protest isn't nearly as dramatic as one with "action". 

One wonders how the picture has been cropped. Who was to the right of the person in purple? Was it someone older who’d benefitted from the free education enjoyed by many of the Prime Ministers generation and who believes that a well resourced and equitable education system, available to the whole population, makes for a strong and vibrant society? Was it a man under 30 living in an area of high unemployment, wondering how he'll support his family if he's laid off. 6 months without unemployment benefits is a long time. What has been cropped is just as important as what has been highlighted.

The huge headline LIVING ON EASY STREET is dramatically placed under the action shot of people pointing.  A cursory glance would imply that living on easy street refers to those vile and scary 'ferals' - it doesn't, and is completely unrelated. Nothing about the disastrous poll, nothing prominent about the diverse and valid reasons for the protests. No insight provided for curious readers.

In contrast, note the almost sombre tone of the Sydney Morning Herald where poll results are placed prominently, reflecting the strong and angry reaction by ordinary, everyday Australians to the budget. Further information is provided for those choosing to delve further. 

Everyday Australians targeted
For some details about how ordinary, everyday Australians, our neighbours, and others in our communities will be affected by this unfair budget look here. There you'll find some of the figures that which are usually shared openly on budget night. 
More than one third of the budget cuts - $6 billion - fall on the middle quintile of households, earning $45,000 to $63,000. 
■ Families with school-age children are the hardest hit. Across all income groups, they will lose $15.9 billion over four years, more than 90 per cent of the total. 
■ Low and middle-income sole parents suffer worst of all, losing between 10 and 15 per cent of their annual income - $4000 to $6250 - on family earnings of less than $60,000 by the time the changes to welfare take full effect in 2017-18. 
■ The burden rises sharply for families with children over the four years of the budget. For example, a sole parent earning $60,000 with children aged eight and 12 will lose $1808 in annual income in 2014-15 and $6278 in 2017-18. 
Low- and middle-income earners, especially those with school-age children, are hit hardest as the family tax benefit for single-income families is abolished and indexation is curbed. 
And that's fair? To target low and middle income earners yet not the wealthy?


The Daily Telegraph ran a front-page story about there being more people on disability in NSW than died during the World Wars. 

In what way is this relevant? In what sad world is encouraging readers to further marginalise and sneer at disability pensioners, rather than show compassion and understanding  considered acceptable?

Apart from them apparently running the same divisive line a few years ago, they chose a picture of a long queue of people appearing to line up to receive their disability payments. Placed carefully next to a picture of diggers we're encouraged to agree - Diggers did it tough. They suffered. Disability pensioners aren't as worthy as them. 

It turns out this photo is a fairly common piece of royalty-free stock imagery. A Google image search finds this and this and this. It's not related to real Australians on pensions.
But it's too easy to just cruelly vilify those on disability support, and imply that they're bludgers rather than give accurate, reasoned and intelligent insight into the real issues. There's a more thorough assessment here.

This kind of manipulation appears designed to influence and deflect the anger so many feel against the cruel budget. It's a blatant attempt to discredit our fellow citizens who have genuine concerns about how they'll manage with a variety of cuts and persistently increasing costs. These tactics target those least able to respond, and look like a smelly smokescreen to take people's minds off the real issues of inequity, unfairness and a wider gap between the have's and have not's that will be the outcome of the budget . 


Is everybody really being asked to help with the heavy lifting?

Who isn't being supported by this budget? What happened to the end of the age of entitlement?

Is the government able to maturely handle the anger directed at them in response to their unfair budget? Do they need the Murdoch press to shield them by pointing the manipulative finger of outrage towards those negatively affected? (rhetorical question) 

When mining companies were threatened with a fair tax, they used their extraordinary financial resources and complained loud and long. Why is it ok for exceptionally profitable, multinational mining companies to protest, yet not ordinary Australian citizens? Is anyone in government able to explain, without resorting to predetermined cliches, why those least able to pay are being hit hardest, while those most able are barely touched? (another rhetorical question)

to be continued... here Budget Grumbles 2. Education and unemployment.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Budget fears

Many thousands of Australians are waiting with a stomach churning sense of dread to hear how the first coalition budget is going to affect them. Few I know express hope of any improvement in their lifestyle.

Mums, dads, brothers and sisters, grandmas and grandpas, the neighbours in our community. It seems all will be hit in some way.

Promises of a million jobs have given way to grave losses in the car industry and wages and hours are under threat in other areas. Now there’s the expectation of many thousands of redundancies in the public service.

Even if we’re not directly in the firing line, many of us will know someone who’ll be negatively affected. A struggling neighbourhood family trying to make mortgage payments, single parents trying to blend in, trying not to appear "poor"- that word can be a hurtful insult in a hyper-consumption obsessed economy. Scrimping here and there simply to stretch the pay packet one week to the next. Trying to “keep it quiet from the kids.”

We know intuitively that job losses will have a flow on effect to our wider society. Fewer people earning and spending means fewer people shopping. Fewer shoppers leads to stores not needing as many employees so there are less shifts available. In turn this means that those employees with less shifts have less money to spend. 

Children often know that their parents are stressed although they may not understand the issues, and in response, many act up in school. It can be a good idea to share some information with staff so that they can understand why a child may be behaving differently. The less obvious consequences are far reaching, but no less damaging. It can become a vicious, downward spinning cycle with people far beyond the immediate issue involved in dealing with the fallout.

Health care professionals, including doctors and allied health workers have been inundated for months with concerned patients who are experiencing physical symptoms of stress with the threatened changes. People who were barely managing to make ends meet, trying to keep up appearances, but hiding real fear about how they’ll cope.

Not surprisingly this impacts on those health care workers, their patients are real people and many genuinely care for them.  They know however, that if purse strings are tightened, medical and allied health visits may become a dispensable ‘luxury’. 
Many people are saying they feel like they're on a slippery slope
with no end in sight. Photo from East Side Gallery Berlin 2009.
A diet of doom and gloom, negativity and fear is, to put it mildly unhealthy, although it seems that it may be hard for many people to avoid, for a while at least.

I wish I had a ‘one size fits all’ solution. But I know from working with a diverse range of clients for many years, that slick, glib answers, and easy cure-alls are rarely effective in the long run. I also know that pretending nothing is wrong can have disastrous consequences.

So, simplistic as this sounds, if you’re suffering because of the budget (or for other reasons too of course) seek help. Share. Communicate your distress in some way.  Whether face to face, text, email, a phone call to a friend or service such as lifeline. If you’re creative, paint it out, draw it, scribble your pain and anger onto a piece of paper. Do some vigorous weeding – if you don’t have a garden offer to weed someone else's (they’ll be grateful!) Scream into the pillow, cry under the shower. 

Most importantly, Write to your local member of parliament – let them know (as politely as possible) how you’re affected. They’re there to represent you and they need to know. Now isn’t the time to be silent! 

Above all, seek professional help if that’s right for you. 

 Hang in there. You’re not alone! And while that’s cold comfort, it can be good to remember.

Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue:   1300 22 46 36

Information on other support services is here: