29 June 2014

Save Lillian's Youth Refuge

Hello dear readers, I've asked for your help a bit lately, but now I'm going to ask again to help out on a cause that is very dear to my heart.

Under the "Going Home, Staying Home" reforms to the provision of welfare services in NSW, the government has announced it's intention to close services and refuges that cater to women and girls only. Whilst "equality" is a noble goal, the reality is that women and girls are overwhelmingly at risk from family violence and abuse, with domestic violence a major cause of homelessness. Female only refuges are absolutely essential to provide a safe place for those fleeing abuse. But these services are being cut, and one of those is the Lillian Howell Project in inner Sydney, more informally known as "Lillian's".

Lillian's is a medium to long term refuge for young women aged from 14-19, run from a feminist ethos. Lillian's aims to empower young women by helping them to continue (or return to) their education, set goals for themselves, transition to independent living and lead productive, kick ass lives. And they took me on for my youth work student placement (despite being, as the fabulous manager told me later, "the most nervous student we've ever seen", then as a paid worker once I graduated. And they sent me to conferences and talks, and were great mentors, and I wish I'd had a Lillian's when I was having troubles as a teen and I was in awe of the great work they did with the young women in their care.

And now they're facing closure. It will be a huge loss to the women who live there, the women who work there, the sector that sees more than half of all applicants turned away due to lack of places. We need more refuges for young women, not fewer -  or none. So I'm asking you here to help stop Lillian's and other vital women-centred services from closing, to place enough pressure on the government they rethink their decision which will put the lives of women and girls at risk. Please go here to download the community petition; take it to work, put it in your shop, share it as much as you can. Share this post and links to the campaign. We need to do whatever we can to stop these services from disappearing; once they're gone we may never get them back.

EDIT: there is a direct petition here at change.org. Please sign and share it's really important.

22 June 2014

Good People Don't Vote Liberal

Of course one should know better than to look for coherent thought on Facebook, but I was nevertheless a little bemused to see a former colleague posting a meme calling for compassion, and end to poverty, for everyone to have enough to eat, and power, and health care. And I thought "hang on. Didn't you vote Liberal?"

And it got me to thinking about the dwindling ranks of those who think of themselves as good people - civic minded, concerned about the less well off, caring - but nonetheless vote Liberal. How do they justify their stance to themselves?

Despite Joe Hockey recently stating that the concept of society aiming to reduce economic inequality is an outdated, socialist notion, the Liberals no doubt believe that they do care about poverty, and they have a plan to reduce it - stripping income support from the disadvantaged, which to them represents opportunity; freed from the shackles of poverty level welfare payments, the poor and unemployed will be thus motivated to rush out and get work, or start their own business, or get educational qualifications; that Centrelink is the one thing standing between the disadvantaged and productive lives as contributing members of society.

The simplest among us - though not Joe Hockey - can see the basic, fatal flaw in this plan. It doesn't work. If lack of income support as motivation is the key to eliminating poverty, why is there poverty - anywhere in the world? (As the classic line runs, if hard work was the key to eliminating poverty every woman in Africa would be a millionaire - and if anyone says "but they are richer than us in many ways", I am coming over to your house to vomit in your letterbox). The U.S. has been winding back the New Deal in an orgy of economic rationalism* for the last four decades, and all it has done has made poverty lots worse. Why the hell would anyone think it would work here? They can dress up cutting income support in whatever language they like; the simple goal is to punish the poor.

There will always be those who say "screw the poor. I don't care. I work hard and they can go to hell", and it's easy to understand why they vote Liberal. But good people? For this and so many other reasons, no. Good people don't vote Liberal.

* My sincere apologies for making you think of neoliberals having unrestrained jungle sex.

12 June 2014

What Joe Hockey Gets Wrong About Welfare

Treasurer Joe Hockey gave an impassioned defence of the Budget to a choir of the converted, telling the right wing forum Sydney Institute in a speech that attacks on the budget constitute class warfare, and that the notion that governments should try to achieve equality of outcomes is an outdated relic of socialism. "We have moved on".

Well, at least they've admitted it: our government has completely abandoned the notion that we should at least try to ensure that no one is poor in a wealthy nation like Australia. Let's abandon the notion of social justice and equality to get on with the job of making money, and if the disadvantaged are too lazy to get on board (nothing else could be stopping them, surely) then that's just too goddamn bad.  

But Hockey is wrong not just by normal standards - those of simple human decency - but by his standards of neoliberalism. For far from achieving its ultimate triumph by destroying the welfare state, neoliberalism requires a functioning welfare state to allow it to pursue it's goals of squeezing worker pay and conditions, whilst still maintaining a sense of civil society.

Neoliberalism as an economic and political philosophy tries to eliminate every trace of what it perceives as waste - nowhere more so than in the workplace. Now, in Australia wages are safe for the time being, although we'll see how long that lasts before the IPA gets its way to reduce the minimum wage. But conditions and security? Neoliberalism has destroyed the idea that if you work hard and the company is profitable, you will keep your job. We see this in outsourcing, short term contracts, the profusion of job ads specifying "no minimum hours, full availability required". People such as nurses, teachers, council garbage workers, who once would have been assured of steady and secure employment, now find themselves facing casual work, uncertainty and doubt. This explains why some 40% of the Australian workforce is underemployed or in insecure employment.

So when Hockey states that "a cleaner, a plumber or a teacher is working over one month full time each year to pay for the welfare of another Australian", he's way off. They're most likely paying for their own welfare. Neoliberalism requires a welfare system to top up the wages of that 40%, allowing businesses access to the workforce of a civil society without having to provide the pay and conditions to maintain that society themselves. Social security payments are a gift to the neoliberals, to big business, allowing them to turn huge profits with little regard to the welfare of their workers.

But why would neoliberals need civil society? Well, they need a pool of sufficiently healthy and educated workers, kept to a basic standard of living so that the workers don't riot in the streets, don't turn to crime, so that the managers can drive themselves to work rather than needing a chauffeur in an armoured car. They play a dangerous game hacking too severely at the welfare system. It is a lot cheaper to provide money for food for a young boy living with a single parent than to provide meals when, after having to leave his poorly funded public school in order to find work to help support the family and being unable to do so, he turns to crime and ends up in jail. Economies with high levels of inequality have worse health outcomes for everyone - both the wealthy and the poor. Why this is, economists are still debating, but the point is that inequality doesn't benefit anybody.

So it is a very delicate balancing act that neoliberals have to play if they want to dismantle welfare and notions of equality, whilst maintaining the civilised society that benefits everyone. One would hope that if this has to go ahead, only the best brains are working on it, to avoid societal disaster if it all goes wrong. But the next time someone complains they're sick of their taxes going to support those on Centrelink, point out it's to the advantage of the neoliberals, not the disadvantaged. And those bums have had a free ride for too long.

08 June 2014

The Sorry State of Healthcare Complaints

Nearly three years after Baby G was born, I've reached the end of the official complaint procedure, through the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission. (If you've not read my blog before, the TL:DR is that when pregnant with Baby G I requested a caesarean at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on the grounds of prior abuse, was turned down, agreed to an induction under duress when I was ten days overdue, then when I refused permission to continue with the induction they went ahead anyway and wouldn't let me leave hospital until after two days of trying, my body stubbornly refused to go into labour and they finally carried out the c-section. The full, horrid story is here).

Anyway, the HCCC told me my complaint was being closed because the mental health nurse whom I was referred to denies I ever asked her for a c-section. I pointed out to the HCCC that I had a letter from RPA, dated a few months after Baby G was born, in which the nurse acknowledged that I asked her for a c-section and she refused this without referring me to an obstetrician. The HCCC's response? That the matter was a "communication difficulty", no further action.

So the woman tasked with the care of vulnerable pregnant women at Sydney's busiest maternity hospital failed to refer a sexual assault victim for a c-section at her request, then lied about it. The HCCC has documented evidence of this, and is okay with it. (I thought, well even if the HCCC thought there was nothing wrong in refusing the c-section, surely they'd take action over a nurse blatantly lying to them?)

If you're now thinking, WTF, it gets worse.

Concerned, as she said, about my mental state, one of the HCCC assessors called me to explain the outcome. During that call, she told me that even though no further action was being taken against the nurse or the hospital, it is traumatic just being assessed (imagine telling a rape victim yes, your rapists were acquitted, but it is traumatic just being arrested), that I should have just left the hospital (the hospital refused me permission to leave even though I begged, cried and offered to sign any form stating I was leaving against medical advice) and that well, you got a c-section in the end, didn't you? (They stopped raping you didn't they? You're not dead).

So this is how it ends. I wanted to know the nurse in question had been counselled or reprimanded. I wanted procedures to be changed. I wanted a real apology - not "we are sorry this matter continues to cause you distress" but "We are sorry we did the wrong thing and it will not happen again". I wanted something on the record so that this couldn't happen again in any hospital in NSW. And instead, I faced lies, arse covering and bureaucracy protecting it's own. What is the point of the HCCC?

They dismissed my simple need to not deliver vaginally as "anxiety", and now they fob off my rage and grief by advising I get counselling. I don't need counselling. What I need is justice. I want to know the staff involved have been held accountable and that it cannot happen again. That is all, but I can't go on without it.

I tell this not for sympathy, but to point out both how badly sexual assault victims are treated in hospital, and how vulnerable we all are. If something goes wrong in the health system - a mix up of forms, too much or too little medication, some error, mistake or fuck up - what recourse do we have? I even wrote to the NSW Health Minister, to be told there is nothing they can do to review the decisions of the HCCC. All I can do is post here, hoping that somehow this story gets picked up; maybe publicity can do what bureaucracy has failed. RPA is not a safe place to give birth and the HCCC fails to ensure safety in NSW public hospitals. We shouldn't have to kick and scream for decent health care and honesty from health care staff; it should be a human right.

05 June 2014

Libertarians Are Idiots

Libertarians are idiots, #1

One of the quirks of the Australian electoral system is the profusion of minor and single issue parties; in the past we've seen such gems as the Hydroponic Tomato Party and What's Doing, a party solely comprised of the hosts of a boofhead late night football show. The AEC has cracked down on these in recent years, but there still exists such venerable defenders of the Westminster System as the Non Custodial Parents Party, the Motoring Enthusiasts Party (who through the Byzantine labyrinth of the Senate preferencing system, recently had a senator elected to federal parliament on a minuscule percentage of the vote), and the Outdoor Recreation Party (Stop The Greens).

Whilst tackling such matters of national import as deregulating paintball and allowing people to keep native animals as pets, their primary focus is a libertarian economic policy, including unrestrained mining, and removing all limits to access to national parks. This, they say, will allow them free access for four wheel driving, camping and fishing, rather than locking up national parks for a privileged few, as they put it.

Well, morons. Let me tell you what happens when companies are allowed unrestricted access to national parks for logging and mining. Do you think they say to recreational 4WD users "hey, come in to our part of the forests and see what we're up to?" Horse poop. They lock up their part of the forest and leave it irreparably damaged when they're done.

The ORP states one of their aims is to ensure they can take their children freely into wilderness areas, as they themselves were taken as children. Well, one of the things I'm most looking forward to when I get my driver's licence is taking my family to visit Mt Sugarloaf, that icon of Newcastle you can spy from all parts of the city and which offers spectacular views across the lower Hunter. But I might not be able to. The mountain has been catastrophically damaged by mining in recent years, and there is talk that public access may have to be banned, for perhaps 50 or 100 years, because of the damage and the danger to the public.

Access to the mountain blocked because of mining. The sort of unrestrained, unregulated mining the Greens are trying to control. The sort of mining the ORP believes is a good, free and fair thing. This is because libertarians are idiots.

Libertarians are idiots, #2

Inevitably, there is an Australian branch of the Tea Party. They launched in 2010, and if you've not heard of them until now, that speaks to the utter lack of direct impact they've had on Australian politics. But their indirect impact has been more subtle and successful; under the influence of such Liberal MPs as Tea Party plant Cory Bernardi, they've moved the Australian Liberal Party away from the classical conservatism of Menzies to a hawkish neocon economic stance which, if it were not unpopular enough to send the Abbott government to its inevitable demise, would lay the nation to ruin.

That's because, for all the "grassroots" Tea Party supporters who feel the government messes around too much in their lives and simply want to pay less tax, neocon policies do not work. They work for big business, sure; even if neoliberal economic policies cause recession, that suits big business just fine, pushing wages and bargaining power of employees down (note how the rich got richer even through the GFC). But for your average wage earner? Forget it. In a truly unregulated free market economy, someone willing to work for $5 an hour will take your job. Then there's the question of smaller government. Which services would they be willing to do without - healthcare, education, law enforcement, roads? You think you and the market are in a better place to decide what services are provided and what you should pay for them without government interference? Yeah, good luck with that, with minimum wages abolished and no workplace protections. There are of course nations with low taxes and very few government services. They're pretty much all in the third world. Maybe that would be more to a libertarian's taste. Because libertarians are idiots.

There is hope, or not really. Perhaps our international laughing stock of a Prime Minister will take note of the fact that a key adviser to the Pope has stated that libertarian views are incompatible with Catholicism. Unfortunately Abbott has missed the other bits about charity and compassion, so I'm betting this will sail right by as well.

02 June 2014

A Letter Regarding Driver Testing

Dear NSW Roads and Maritime Services,

Well I have been attempting to get my provisional licence as an older driver, and I must say I have found myself rather perplexed by aspects of the testing protocol, and I write in the hope, I suppose, of having these issues clarified (as I doubt they can be resolved).

On Saturday, I failed a driving test at the Newcastle registry; asked to do a 3 point turn in an impossibly narrow street, I mounted the curb. Now, and as I pointed out at the time, no sane driver would attempt to do a 3 point turn in that street. It was explained to me that I might find myself needing to do so in a dead end street. Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought it was the purpose of the knowledge test to ascertain that every potential driver had the ability to read a "No Through Road" sign? As I possess this ability, I fail to envision a circumstance where I would need to turn in such a street without prior warning to avoid such a situation. In addition, it is stated in RMS literature of the driving test that candidates are not expected to drive as well as an experienced driver. Having said this, it seems rather disingenuous to request candidates perform a manoeuvre many experienced drivers would struggle to perform in order to prepare for an outlandish scenario.

 Nevertheless, I was aware as soon as I mounted the curb that I had failed. So I question why, if candidates commit a fail incident, they are not given the option to terminate the test immediately. It is stressed that the driving test is not a lesson and the tester cannot give feedback; pray tell then why candidates are expected to continue with the pantomime of the test if they have failed? Is it envisioned we had nothing better to do with our time? Perhaps if tests were terminated upon a fail item, there would be time to carry out more tests throughout the course of the day, thereby reducing the current 3-6 week wait for a testing slot in my local area. We know when we have failed, so please stop treating us like idiots.

 If drivers on their Ps are expected to be able to drive as well as experienced drivers, I question the need for P plates at all. I was under the impression that the purpose of driver testing was to ensure that you can safely get from A to B in order to continue learning on your own. Like many people with Aspergers syndrome, I am a didactic learner, and as I can already safely drive from one place to another I am very keen to be able to continue developing at my own pace. Nerves in the test are not necessarily a sign that one is not ready; for me and many others with neurological conditions and anxiety, it can be a symptom of the distress at being evaluated by a stranger in a confined space under extreme pressure.

 And finally, I question why drivers over the age of 25 are required to be on P plates for 3 years. We don't require a log book and are adjudged to be driving more safely, so surely it would make sense to adopt a system like Queensland, where drivers over 25 go onto green P2s for one year only? I don't want to take road trips, go hooning and drive around at night with my friends. I want to be able to pick my kid up from daycare and get the groceries home without having to lumber on and off the bus. This I can already safely do, and it is most frustrating that I have to wait another possible six weeks (and pay for another test) because some idiots out there can't read a No Through Road sign.

 Sincerely,
Sikamikanico.

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