Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for September 2011

This is the uneditedversion of the article published in The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 27 September, 2011 

Few people go through life without experiencing disability. Some examples: being confined to bed with flu or broken a leg or temporarily blind. A temporary loss of voice would also be ability even though it might make life more pleasant for other people. 

In fact the list of such disabilities is almost limitless and though most of us would not think them disabilities for some people they are a disaster of the first magnitude. But whether minor and temporary or major and permanent, when people are affected the one thing they all have in common is their need of help.

Some periods of disability can be overcome by treatment in hospital or even by self-administered medication; some cannot. Unfortunately some disabilities are so serious only governments can provide the money necessary to fund programmes to help people with a disability.

Thus Federal, State and Territory Governments fund many disability programmes, some of which are classed as priority, which is as it should be.  It should also be mentioned that the Federal Government proposes to introduce a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) that will help ease the financial burdens many families with seriously disabled members face. Sadly, some problems will remain.

But let us not sit back thinking the NDIS a panacea for all the problems in the disability field and say to ourselves: problem solved. What we should do is ensure that, when introduced, the ACT should be so well prepared that its introduction will proceed smoothly thus ensuring that families with serious disabled members will enjoy maximum benefit.  

Having had a long personal association with disability (with two physically (now one) disabled sister) and having worked for years with various disability organisations in Canberra, people often contact me with their concerns. Fortunately, many are easy to solve; unfortunately, that is not always the case.

Generally, but not always, the concerns that take my immediate attention relate to children, and by children I don’t just mean kindergarten age children, but children who attend special, public and independent schools.

From experience I know that many parents of children with a disability often get emotional if they think their children are being disadvantaged at school. Their reason for becoming emotional is they feel their children are getting less than adequate attention. At times, and rightly or wrongly, they see this disadvantage in terms of discrimination.

Unfortunately the parents’ emotion turns to anger. I understand this too. Indeed at times, when this discrimination applies to people with a disability I become angry. That some parents become angry is due to them thinking that in some respects the discrimination seems to have become endemic. I hear these statements with a sense of déjà vu and sadness because many years ago I heard parents say the same.

They also say that when nothing happened after taking their concerns to the Government in desperation, they voiced them to the Opposition even though knowing it had no power to act. Nevertheless I am sure they will be pleased to know that, in a recent speech to the Assembly Mr Doszpot Shadow Minister for Disability raised their concerns about a shortage of equipment for people with a disability; lack of therapy and after-school care services at special schools; lack of post-school options for special needs students; a shortage of supported accommodation; and poor respite services.

While such concerns clearly point to a shortage of both staff and money, I hasten to add that they do not point to lack of effort by staff who labour tirelessly and often in their own time, for the people in their care. Indeed, many parents say that if they could give them a medal and an increase in pay, they would.

Briefly, although the NDIS might cure some problems, it will not cure the lack of understanding among policy makers of what caring for a person with a disability means and how it can affect a family’s life. And although the ACT election is not due until October 2012, some parents who called me said they intend to support new candidates and/or current members who seem to think the curing of such problems is no longer aspirational but necessary.

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Unedited version of the article published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday, 20 September 2011  

On my first visit to Australia more than fifty years ago I gained the impression that Australia was a country without a class system. At the time, I was impressed by the fact that it seemed to have done something that seemed impossible in the UK: made the class system disappear. 

Like many towns in Britain, the Scottish mining and steel town where I was born had a class system beside which, the caste system in countries such as India paled. This class system comprised an Aristocracy, Upper Class, Middle Class and Lower Class, each divided in the same way and each with their own unwritten rules of status that members breached at the risk of becoming outcasts.

For example: if a member of the Upper Class was seen shopping at a store usually patronised by people from the lower class they risked exclusion from the social activities of their class for a brief period. However, if they persisted in this behaviour they paid the ultimate penalty – social death.

To illustrate that such behaviour was not confined to the Upper Classes let me relate the following marriage story of a young man – my father – a skilled tradesman but considered one of the upper lower class, and a young woman – my mother – from a poor family with many unskilled sons in what seemed a permanent state of unemployment who, in the class system would have been have been considered lower, lower class.

One might think my mother’s family would have welcomed the marriage because she would gain benefits unavailable to her if she married someone of her own class. Many years later however my mother told me that was not the case. She said: “All hell broke loose” when she and my father told their respective families of their plans to marry.

Both sets of parents said no good would come of it. My father’s family said he was marrying beneath him, my mother’s that she was marrying into the aristocracy. They were wrong. The marriage lasted not only just short of fifty years on the death of my mother but also until a few years ago on the death of my father.

Earlier I said one of the strongest impressions I gained on my first brief visit to Australia was that it was free of class attitudes, an impression that remained with me during the years until my return in 1969 as a permanent resident. Unfortunately, within a couple of years of arrival, during which my family and I lived in various parts of Australia, this impression started to fade. Sad to say it was not until coming to settle permanently in Canberra that it disappeared and I began to realise that the class system and its consequential snobbery was not exclusive to Britain and, despite arguments to the contrary, was solidly entrenched in Australia.

I came to realise also, that many of the Australian born Canberrans I have heard denigrating the UK as a class ridden society were more class conscious and snobbish than the people they denigrated. Worse perhaps, many of them held positions of power and influence in government, business and the bureaucracy, not because of talent but by inheritance or – there’s no way to be polite about it – because they were very good at brown nosing.

Many of the talented brown nosers have managed to reach what is commonly known as ‘the top of the heap’ from which position they see themselves as Canberra’s aristocrats. Unfortunately they do not understand the meaning of the word; they are not aristocrats but arrivistes who do not realise that true aristocrats, of whom there are but few, have that special quality, humanity, that does not rely on status or wealth a quality they neither possess nor recognise.

Dynastic ambition is also alive and thriving in Canberra’s “arriviste aristocracy” with family members inheriting positions of power and influence. At the same time, in common with other arrivistes, they are surrounded with brown nosers ambitious for elevation to the aristocratic ranks.

Fortunate as it is, some egalitarians still exist. Unfortunately, there are too few of them to stage a renaissance although I live in hope.

An edited version of the colum published in The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday, 13th September, 2011

Socrates, born Athens – 469 BC and Jesus, born 470 years later in Bethlehem, a West Bank Palestinian City approximately 8 kilometres from Jerusalem, are two of the world’s most quoted philosophers. Perhaps they are the most quoted because they hoped the revolutionary philosophies they espoused would change the world?

Yet much as they hoped to change the world neither left any written material. However, as more and more of the ancient civilisations in which they lived are uncovered, perhaps personal writings of both men will come to light? On the other hand perhaps they didn’t write anything because as great talkers they had little time left to write. Alternatively perhaps they didn’t think their philosophies would take on? Thus it is that to understand their philosophies we must rely on accounts that, allegedly, are accurate records of what they said.

So what philosphies did they create? In simple terms Socrates created Democracy; Jesus a religious philosophty now known as Christianity. But what do we know of Socrates’ philosophy? We are indebted to Plato, a fellow Athenian and philosopher, about what we know about Socrates. In the case of Jesus however, we are indebted to hundreds of scribes but in particular four gospel writers called Mathew, Mark, Luke and John who wrote about Him only after He was dead.

Naturally their philosophies were different: not a religious belief, Democracy supported the idea of people playing a part in their own governance; on the other hand the philosophy of Jesus, who claimed to be the son of God, gave birth to a religion called Christianity. In some respects both philosophies are similar. Needless to say neither the philososphy of Socrates nor Jesus has ever been universally accepted. Indeed people who believe in one and/or the other do not always enjoy each others company, as reading of history will verify.

But apart from creating new philosphies, Socrates and Jesus had something else in common: both died because they offended the state. Socrates was found guilty of corrupting the minds of Athenian youth and of “not believing in the gods of the state” and sentenced to death by having to drink hemlock.

Nor were Socrates and Jesus alike. Socrates liked the good life which has given rise to the story that after taking his dose of hemlock, he offered this piece of wisdom to his mourners: “I go to die, you to live. God only knows which is the better journey.”

And this is only part of the Socrates story. What was the corruption he referred to? The corruption he referred to was excess, over-indulgence and the selfish pursuit of material gain. Strangely however, as if in contradiction of his philososphy, he questioned using democracy as an ideological banner.

Socrates also questioned the idea of city walls and glittering statues. If they don’t make us happy how useful are they, he asked? Clearly too, he was centuries ahead in thought as we now seem to be adopting, albeit not conciously, the philosophy entrenched in the second section of the Declaration of Independence which reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

As for Jesus, in His philosophy He expressed many of the same ideas as Socrates although unlike Socrates he did not think there were many Gods  something that raises an interesting idea: if there is an after life and Socrates met and talked to Jesus I’d love to have a recording of their conversation.

But at a more earthly and local level, Socrates and Jesus suffered death as a result of berating the emebers of their respective Assemblies for their failings,. Well, in a way things haven’t changed much: speak up and as some people in the ACT can testify to, while one might not suffer hemlock poisoning, or crucifiction for criticising Assembly Members, one can suffer ostracism or what might be called social death.

Which leads me to me ask: on which rung of the philosophic democracy ladder do you think the ACT Asssembly stands and is there a Socrates or Jesus among its Members?

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First published The Chronicle Tuesday 6 September 2011 

After many failed applications for membership of Canberra’s Disagreement Club (not to be confused with The Disagreeable Club) I am pleased to say that according to e-mails from Canberrans claiming to be experts on the subject of disagreement my application for membership is to be reconsidered. I expect the club’s decision shortly.

Occasionally after a column some people e-mail me and say in no uncertain terms they disagree with me. Perhaps many will come to the same conclusion at the end of the column or even before they get there.

 Without referring to anyone in particular, I feel sure some Chronicle readers are already members of the disagreement club. I hasten to add that this is a compliment. And likely as it seems that some readers are members already, some members seem to be shy.

Many of you also might find it difficult to believe that, once upon a time, not only was I shy but tongue tied, a condition that took years to cure but which finally disappeared when I came to the ACT and Canberra perhaps because as home of disagreement it made me feel at home.

These thoughts went through my mind as I sat musing about the ACT and wondering how Canberra ever managed to acquire the title ‘Garden City’ when the inhabitants of the Australian Parliament are better known for cultivating the company of exotic flowers more at home on beds than in gardens, so making the title Garden City seem a misnomer. In fact as home to Australian politics and with politicians known for their disagreeableness I rather think a more apposite tile for Parliament House would have been Club for the Disagreeable.

With the passing of the years, membership of the Disagreeable and Disagreement Clubs has grown. And to show the aptness of Parliament House as the Disagreeable Club, in 1988 the Australian Parliament of the time gave the ACT a parliament of it own – the ACT Legislative Assembly – despite the idea being rejected by a majority of ACT residents.

The effect of the Disagreeable Club’s decision has resulted in Canberra being blighted by a condition known as PSGS – Post Self Government Stress. And if that wasn’t enough the PSGS also gave birth to Current Self Government Stress (CSGS) a new strain of stress. Sadly a number of Canberrans are now affected by both conditions. More unfortunately CSGS has become endemic though many Canberrans hope that one day it will be eradicated.

And I meant what I said earlier that I was paying Members of the Disagreement Club a compliment. Indeed, I can think of no greater compliment because as members of the Disagreement Club I would hate them to think I was confusing them with politicians.

The reason it’s a compliment is, that it is their intelligent disagreement in letters to the editor and calls to talk back radio that prevents ideas put forward to the Disagreeable Club by people of influence in the ACT – politicians, planners, developers, business owners et al, and others who make no secret of their desire for wealth and power – being put into effect before being approved or turned down by the Disagreement Club. Effectively members of the Disagreement Club are the real defenders of democracy and the Canberra community has much to thank them for.  

Nevertheless I am worried because, unfortunate as it is, too many members of the Disagreement Club while articulate in private are shy in public. Indeed any thought of their name being attached to a letter to the editor or being heard on radio disagreeing publicly with many of the ideas and proposals being put forward by people of influence can turn them into nervous wrecks.

This saddens me because the more I hear from them it seems clear they have much to offer. But I don’t give up easily. So in hope of changing their mind I say to them that they shouldn’t wait for an election before making their objections known as by that time it might be too late. And for good measure let me cite the old adage: he who hesitates is lost

I hope The Chronicle’s letters to editor page tells me the message is getting through.

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dca@netspeed.com.au

First published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 30 August,2011 

When elections get closer, politicians not only say they have the answers to existing problems but also policies that will ensure these problems won’t occur again. If only one could believe them. Forgive my scepticism but these statements are merely the re-iteration  of statements that politicians make before every election.

I have heard such statements many times over and expect to hear them again before the ACT election in October next year and before the next Federal election, whose date seems to depend on how the government in office perceives its chances of being re-elected. Has this happened because the crystal balls politicians once used use to discover what the future held have cracked or fogged over as, breathing heavily with expectation, they sat peering intensely into their depths or because they have turned to technology?

Metaphorically speaking the technology now being used is Face book and Twitter because these days these are the crystal balls, runes and entrails of chickens that once upon a time politicians used to divine the future. You can make up your own mind.

To read this technology they use a lap top or table top computer or one of the range  of communication devices – mobile phones, smartphones, tablets etc – that every politician now seems to think they need to avoid voters thinking of them as not very ‘with it.’Politicians and many other people swear by these devices, athough I know many others who swear at them. 

Increasingly, and apart from Face Book and Twitter, politicians also use you Tube and myriad other sites too numerous to mention. And while I can understand politicians wishing to be seen as ‘with it,’ there’s a feeling growing in some quarters of the community that these sites are more anti social than social.

In some respects also, the sites could be called the Andy Warhols because they give many people, too many some say, the opportunity for fifteen minutes of fame. That would be fine if fifteen minutes was all the time they wanted. Unfortunately fame and its many faces can become an addiction. Indeed some people become so addicted they spend most of every day on social sites trying to add to it.

In many cases too, these people are either illiterate or ill; in some cases both. And much as their illiteracy or Illness can be guessed at by what they put on the site, it seems little can be done to help them. In part this is due to the technology keeping their location secret, while any attempt to help them might be seen as an invasion of privacy.  

This concerns me, particularly when I hear of, or read reports which say, in effect, that because contributors to these sites have limited capacity to present news in depth the brief information they present can be wrongly interpreted and, albeit unintentionally, create dangerous situations.

Unfortunately on more than one occasion the wrong interpretation of a message has led to people becoming involved in serious anti social behaviour. Worse still, others have become suicidal. 

It would be wrong to think I am suggesting that any politician in any of our parliaments has become addicted to fame or that their bursts of messages on various sites indicate illiteracy or illness.  But I would be less than honest if I didn’t say the thought has never crossed my mind.

What do you think? For example: do you think Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbot, Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop, Bob Brown and Lee Rhiannon are fame addicts or is it that all politicians are naturally so? I would be doing some politicans and others who want to be politicians a dis-service if I believed this to be the case. On the other hand I know one or two politicians whose problem seems to be narcissism rather than addiction to fame.

I admit also that I am an occasional user of use these sites because I believe communication technology plays a major role in life today and that, in days to come, it will play an even greater role. At times, nevertheless, I find myself in agreement with people who think such sites anti social.



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