* T & Cs apply



Charles Dickens wrote a book called Oliver Twist. It is undoubtedly a classic. The book has been the subject of numerous reviews, movies and is frequently a subject for study in English Literature classes. Perhaps the best known section of the book is where young Oliver asks the Master of the Workhouse for ‘more’.

The poor, disabled and incapable who were unfortunate enough to live in what is now the United Kingdom from the 1700s to the early 1900s were housed in Workhouses if they had no other means of financial support. While there were noble aspirations and alleged concern for the inhabitants of the system, the reality was usually different. This link presents some stories of the inhabitants of the Workhouse system and while yes, they all survived, none of the stories are happy.

SBSTV recently broadcast an episode of the UK version of Who do you think you are which featured Brian Blessed – an English actor. Those familiar with the series know that the ‘personalities’ who appear on each show choose to trace a particular branch of their family tree, and with the help of historians, try to piece together the key events in particular ancestor’s lives. In Blessed’s case, he discovered, in the words of the UK Telegraph review a ‘real life Oliver Twist’. In the program, the historians

. . .located his great-great-great-grandfather, Barnabus Blessed, as a relatively wealthy bookbinder in early 1800s London, before making a disastrous move to Portsmouth.

Recorded as a pauper and father of four, he and his wife both died in their early 40s, leaving their children as orphans.

As paupers, the four children were expelled from the parish just three days later and sent back to London, where the St Martin’s in the Fields parish were legally bound to care for them.

They entered the workhouse, where they were split up and housed in separate wards.

Martha, aged 14, is described as “an idiot”, suggesting she suffered learning difficulties. She died a week after entering the workhouse. Elizabeth, her 22-month-old sister, died shortly afterwards.

Six-year-old Jabez was moved to a different infant poorhouse, while his eight-year-old brother Charles remained in the workhouse alone.

Jabez was Blessed’s ancestor and lead a comparatively long and seemingly prosperous life.

Jennifer Worth is probably best known to Australians as a character in the television series Call the Midwife shown on ABCTV. The series is based on the books written by Worth based on her experiences in post World War 2 London – in the area now known as Docklands. Worth has written a number of books, one of which, Shadows of the Workhouse, is reviewed in this 2008 UK Daily Mail article. It tells the story of Jane who Worth met while working at Nonnatus House in the 1950s. Jane was highly intelligent and well-read, but her dithering nervousness disqualified her from all but simple jobs. Worth describes the actions of those who were supposed to be caring for Jane in the Workhouse as the reason for her nervousness. Jane lived in a Workhouse from the time she was a newborn.

The Daily Mail review of Jennifer Worth’s book finishes with an historical footnote

The workhouses were officially closed in 1930. But since there was nowhere else to house thousands of institutionalised people who could not be expected to adjust to the outside world, they continued under other names well into the second half of the 20th century.

Inmates were allowed out; creature comforts were provided and families were kept together. But they continued to be run as institutions, by masters and officers whose attitudes were often set still in the 1900s.

Not all the children reared there suffered the mental and physical torments of Jane. But there are men and women alive in Britain today who will never forget the workhouses.

On the weekend, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten commented that he couldn’t believe Australia was that inept that we couldn’t find homes for the thousands of people we have sentenced to imprisonment on Manus Island and Nauru.

Before you get excited and celebrate because he’s seen the light and will overturn our draconian and senseless illegal (in Papua New Guinea anyway) imprisonment of humans out of sight and out of mind – he hasn’t. Shorten is claiming that, if he becomes Prime Minister on July 2, he will send the ‘soon to be’ Minister for Immigration to Geneva the next day to plan with UNHCR where to send the refugees who Australia has dumped off shore to live permanently.

Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist as a protest of the conditions and practices of the Workhouse system in the UK, which confined people to specifically built ‘institutions’ where staff who were in theory employed to care and assist those who lived there to develop the skills needed to live a ‘useful’ life. The reality was that those who lived there were abused, ill treated and locked away and forgotten.

Offshore detention centres were developed to house those claiming refugee status while their claims were processed. The staff employed by Australian Government contractors are supposed to ensure that those who live there are cared for while their claims are assessed and processed in a timely manner by the Australian Government.

There are a number of claims where those who live in offshore centres are abused, ill-treated and locked away and forgotten by the majority of Australians. That people have been living in these conditions for years shows that the Australian Government is not processing claims in a timely manner.

Not much difference is there?

We transport refugees and asylum seekers around the Pacific at our will, don’t allow them to have meaningful employment, split up families, give no certainty to their lives and dehumanise by referring to people by numbers and codes rather than recognise their names and unique identities. If a country like New Zealand throws us a lifeline by offering to take some refugees, we refuse the offer out of spite because there is little documentation required should a person decide to relocate from one side of the Tasman Sea to the other.

All Prime Ministers back to Paul Keating are equally as culpable for the ill-treatment of people in a similar way to that which was outlawed in the UK in 1930. We as the Australian public allow this to occur – so we are also culpable. Australian offshore detention centres have been declared illegal in Papua New Guinea. If there was a working independent justice system in Nauru, there would in all probability be a similar decision made in that country. If Shorten feels the need to cut short potential Immigration Minister Marles victory celebrations – he should be sent to plan a quick transfer of all those held in detention systems to Australia and arrange some support so Papua New Guinea and Nauru would be able to transition to other forms of economic activity.

There are two lines in Australia’s national anthem that say

For those who've come across the seas

We've boundless plains to share,

Perhaps the reason no one remembers this section is because it is in the second verse?

Currently the national anthem could be demonstrated as being false advertising, if you come across the seas we won’t necessarily share our boundless plains. Rather than add the customary * Terms and conditions apply as we would be required to do if we were advertising holidays, cars or electronic goods within Australia; Shorten could in one step remove Australia from the list of international pariahs and bring these people to Australia, process their claims within months and re-settle those that who qualify in this country. We should all be fed up with being citizens of a country that is in the same category as North Korea and various African ‘democratic’ republics because we flout international law and custom. Even Cuba doesn’t do that.

What do you think?
Will either party close the Workhouses?

Will either party stop this mutually assured destruction of our morals and eithics?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.
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You may have heard of “the Australia Tax”. The term comes from the apparent difference in the price of a seemingly identical product sold apparently cheaper in another country than the retail price in Australia. Computer software and Apple products are frequently mentioned as being subject to this tax and while it really isn’t that simple, the impression that you pay more because you live in Australia is certainly there.

The problem in the comparison of prices across two countries is in the detail. While on the face of it, the price of, say, Apple products is cheaper on their ‘domestic’ US site despite coming out of the same factory, Australian Consumer Law requires the full price, including taxes and fees, to be disclosed on advertising material – the same concept is not enforceable in the USA where sales taxes vary by location. The payment of tax by large multinationals is a topic for another day.

The Turnbull Government also imposes an Australia Tax – and this one is far less justifiable. The Abbott Coalition Government froze Medicare rebates as a part of the ‘budget repair’ measures introduced in the 2014 budget, Turnbull’ Coalition Government extended the freeze until 2020 in the recent Federal Budget.

The recommendation of the AMA (Australian Medical Association AKA the doctors union) is a standard consultation should cost around $80 (paywalled). The Medicare rebate for a ‘standard consultation with a General Practitioner’ is has been under $40 for the past two years and will be for the next four years. Clearly, this is a large gap. Before you say, so what – it’s for overpaid doctors - let’s have a look at the facts.

For their $40 or so that the Government has decreed is a fair price, the doctor has to discuss your condition with you, what results the treatment should provide and ongoing health care. At the same time they are supposed to screen you for a host of related conditions as well as assess your general health and wellbeing. While they work on seeing 4 or 6 people an hour, circumstances often conspire to ensure that doesn’t happen.

On top of that, the doctor has to maintain an office; usually involving the employment of a Receptionist to manage the appointments, potentially a nurse to administer treatment, attend professional development events (or lose their accreditation), keep the power, phone and water connected, as well as complying with a host of other rules and regulations generally relating to the operation of any business as well as the specific regulations surrounding medical businesses. So for the purposes of discussion how about we accept that two thirds of the cost of a doctor’s visit is swallowed in the on-costs listed above?

Regardless of the relentless claims by Turnbull and Morrison regarding ‘average’ incomes, the Australian median income (the ‘middle’ number in a series of numbers) is around $52,000 per annum. There are two uses for this value here.

The first is that doctors probably deserve to be recompensed for their years of study and practical experience, so say a doctor spends 5 hours a week on professional development (attending seminars, reading medical literature and so on) and 35 hours a week seeing people at 15 minute intervals, they would earn $5,600 should they charge everyone at $40 per consultation for the week (there is an additional payment made if a doctor chooses to bulk bill some patients so it has been discounted here). We have already assessed two thirds of the income is swallowed in the costs of running the business – so the doctor gets $1729 gross per week. Should the doctor work 48 week per annum (and takes the traditional 4 weeks leave), their gross annual income is $89,600 per annum. Given that a federal backbencher is paid $199,040 plus allowances for the ‘skills’ (usually no formal training except joining a political party and ‘playing the game’ will ensure success) required to enter Parliament expecting someone who has studied and trained for almost a decade to earn the right to practice a profession (not to mention the continual study required to keep the accreditation) to accept under half as much really isn’t equitable, is it?

The second use for the median salary/wage is that someone on the median wage already pays $780 per annum towards funding Medicare – through the Medicare levy collected with income tax. So we are already paying to go to the doctor. If you don’t use your contribution directly – celebrate as you are reasonably fit and healthy.

Doctors are finding it increasingly hard on a purely financial basis to bulk bill patients and financial pressures will only increase the number of practitioners that have to charge a fee greater than the ‘bulk bill’ rate’ to remain economically viable.

Abbott and Turnbull’s Coalition Governments are effectively making you and I pay twice for going to the doctor. We all pay the Medicare Levy. To make it worse, when Abbott tried to introduce the $7 co-payment on consultations with the doctor, a considerable amount of the resistance to the measure was based on facts generated by BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health program) managed by the University of Sydney but funded by the Federal Government. The resistance was successful; the co-payment was dropped.

Now with the rebate frozen, only those that can afford to pay over and above the inadequate rebate offered by the Government will be able to afford to see the doctor. This is the $7 co-payment all over again by stealth, only this time around, the Coalition Government is stopping the resistance before it starts – it has removed funding from BEACH. The Fairfax article, written by Jenna Price argues

General practioners save our lives. If you don't believe me, ask Matt Grudnoff, senior economist at the Australia Institute. He's not considering the emotional or social aspect of the funding for health – he's just looking at the numbers.

"Australia has excellent health outcomes when compared to other countries and we have one of the most efficient health systems in the world.

"It tends to be that the more efficient your health care is, the more involved the government is." But what's more surprising is this – in the US, where health spending per capita is three times what it is in Australia and the system is highly privatised, the health outcomes are measurably worse. I've spoken to so many rural GPs about the freeze – and from Western Australia to Tasmania, from Queensland to South Australia, the GPs speak with one voice. They will be forced to stop bulk billing entirely.

‘Jobs and growth’ means nothing if you’re too crook to work.

Disclaimer – The writer is not a medical professional and does not work in the health industry.
What do you think?
Do you like paying twice for doctors visits?

Will the ALP re-introduce indexation for Medicare rebates?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.

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On Thursday 19 May the AFP raided the parliamentary offices of Stephen Conroy in Melbourne and the home of a political staffer as regards leaks from NBNCo. Next morning the AFP Commissioner maintained that there had been no political influence on the investigation, nor the timing of the raids, and that the relevant minister, the leader of the opposition, and even Conroy himself, had only been advised of the ‘investigation’ when the raids were commencing. But consider these hypothetical scenes.

The scene: a Canberra restaurant (which must go unnamed) during a busy lunchtime in December 2015. At a table near the window sit a minister and a senior official of NBNCo, sipping their wine after completing a resplendent meal. The noise in the restaurant helps dampen the carry of their conversation.

Minister: These leaks are a bit embarrassing.

NBNCo official: Not for us.

Minister: But you would have to admit it’s not a good look for the organisation.

NBNCo official: We don’t see it as a major problem.

Minister: You do intend to refer it to the AFP, though, I take it.

NBNCo official: We hadn’t thought about taking it that far. We thought we could deal with it in-house and avoid all the negative publicity that a full-blown AFP investigation would bring.

Minister: The problem, though, would be that if it is just dealt with quietly, no-one else will realise the consequences and before you now it the place could be leaking like a sieve.

NBNCo official: You mean like a minister’s office.

(Although intended as a joke, the minister remains grim-faced.)

Minister: Any organisation that leaks like a sieve reflects poorly on its management. It wouldn’t do management’s reputation any good. May even harm it when the time comes to move on and they have to seek another position, in another company. It may even hasten the time that a move becomes necessary.

There you have it. Not once did the minister tell the official what he should do; and he referred to the ramifications only in terms of any organisation, not in NBNCo itself, and not to what might happen to the senior NBNCo official but only any senior management person in any organisation in any circumstances that might be similar to the hypothetical situation he was …blah, blah, blah. You get the drift!

Scene 2: a Canberra restaurant (which must go unnamed) during a busy lunchtime … Yes, the same, only now it is a few weeks later and this time it is a minister and a senior AFP officer.

Minister: How’s the NBNCo investigation going?

AFP officer: You know I can’t discuss such things.

Minister: Well, let’s just say that I have heard whispers on the grapevine that such an investigation is, well, possible.

(He had heard such ‘whispers’ from a senior NBNCo official over another quiet Canberra lunch.)

Minister (continuing): If such an investigation was underway, how long, hypothetically, would such an investigation take?

AFP officer: Much would depend on the investigation itself and how quickly we can gather sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution. Speaking hypothetically, if we identify at an early stage who the probable leaker is, it could be mostly over in two or three months and then it’s just putting the evidence together for the prosecutor, unless we’ve managed to obtain an admission of guilt — then it can be over quite quickly.

Minister: So if you narrow it down, such an investigation, starting recently, could be done and dusted by February or March?

AFP officer: That could be possible.

Minister: But don’t you need to make sure that you have sufficient evidence and hard evidence? After all, very few of these leakers actually admit to it, from what I’ve seen in the past.

AFP officer: Hard evidence goes without saying.

Minister: Yes, but doesn’t that mean you would need much longer for such an investigation. At least another few months, perhaps through to May or June.

AFP officer: Not in every case.

Minister: I wouldn’t tell you how to do your job but sometimes in cases that may be politically sensitive, I would have thought there is a need to be extra careful, extra diligent in the investigation. Anything less than absolute thoroughness, absolute procedure by the book, could come back to bite you on the bum.

AFP officer: I’m … We are well aware of that in such cases.

The AFP officer is left to muse on the possibilities: on the … sorry, any such investigation and the possibility that a wrong decision could come back to bite him on the bum. The minister hasn’t told him what to do; hasn’t discussed the investigation into NBNCo, just any investigation that may be politically sensitive, and the ramifications … Yes, much the same as last time!

Scene 3: a Canberra restaurant … I don’t think I need to repeat that any more. This time there are two ministers.

Minister 1: How’s the investigation going into the leaks from NBNCo?

Minister 2: I think I have it under control. NBNCo got the message that a referral to the AFP would be the best thing in the circumstances. At least it would clear the air for the organisation itself. And management needed to make sure it was seen to be doing the right thing. We can’t have every Joe Blow deciding what’s in the public interest.

Minister 1: And the AFP?

Minister 2: Obviously they can’t officially discuss an ongoing investigation that was referred to them by someone else but I stressed how important any such investigation might be. And that they needed to ensure that it was thorough and by the book. If that took them longer, then that was how it had to be.

Minister 1: So it should come up in the middle of the election campaign?

Minister 2: It should.

They both chuckle.

For the politically uninitiated, don’t think that this doesn’t, hypothetically speaking, happen. Private discussions that can’t be corroborated take place between ministers, ministers and officials, between senior officials, and, of course, even the opposition can be involved. Such conversations can give rise to ideas and courses of action that have ‘no known’ origin. Such conversations can be purely hypothetical (as is this one) so no-one is responsible for what may arise from it.

It’s a wonderful way to run government with no accountability or, at least, still being able to shift the blame!

What do you think?
Plausible?

Likely even?

Let us know in comments below.


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Dead cats and reset buttons


Let’s not give further oxygen to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s nonsensical, bigoted and racist comment the other day regarding refugees coming to this country, taking our jobs and adding to our unemployment queues. Apart from the obvious flaw in the argument (if you lower yourself enough to call it that) how can people that are taking our jobs add to our unemployment statistics at the same time? Dutton’s outburst is factually wrong on so many levels.

As Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk points out, her grandparents were refugees (that fortunately came to Australia in an era with greater enlightenment). While you may or may not agree with her and her Father’s (a former Minister in various ALP Queensland Governments) political leanings, the Palaszczuk family clearly needed and received support when they arrived and to this day have made a significant contribution to Australia, far greater than the assistance the family received on their arrival. The Palaszczuk family is not the only example, there are thousands of them, from renowned Doctors that treat ‘impossible’ cases referred to them from around the world, to Nobel Prize winning scientists. Don’t forget there are also those that go to work every day, bring up their families and live in relative anonymity who also make an excellent contribution to Australia. Should we attempt to list them all, we could be here to election day and still miss people out.

So how about we look at this differently. Why did Dutton make a statement that was almost guaranteed to get reported widely and put people offside in an election campaign? There are two real options, he didn’t think about what he was saying, or it is a distraction.

Regardless of what you think of Dutton, he continues to imprison people who have a right under United Nations treaties (which Australia agreed with by signing in 1951) to apply for refugee status in any country of the world. Regardless, the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition Government believe this unlawful action is a positive. In an election campaign do you really think that Dutton would have forgotten his ‘message’ when fronting the media. TV cameras placed in front of you is a pretty good indication that you need to keep to ‘message’ or the powers that be will come down on you like a ton of bricks. The Prime Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader/Foreign Minister supporting the comments proves it wasn’t accidental.

So it is probably a distraction. Dutton is sitting on a relatively health 6.7% - the ABC is calling it a safe LNP seat. Dutton can afford to lose a few local votes by making a statement that has been seen by many as outrageous and his statement has certainly removed a lot of less favourable (to the Coalition) issues from the election discussion. To quote former Lord Mayor of London Boris Johnson

Let us suppose you are losing an argument. The facts are overwhelmingly against you, and the more people focus on the reality the worse it is for you and your case. Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”.

‘That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!”; in other words, they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.’

When you think about it, it’s a similar strategy to that used if two friends are starting to get involved in an argument that observers recognise isn’t going to end well. One of the observers will frequently try to diffuse the situation by bringing up a completely unrelated topic, such that the recent results of the favoured football team, the benefits of the 1974 Holden Monaro versus the 1975 model or similar. Change the subject and the previous heated discussion is forgotten. It’s sort of like pressing the ‘reset’ button when an electronic device has decided not to play nicely.

It has been acknowledged that the first couple of weeks of the election campaign haven’t gone the way the Coalition would have preferred. The refugees statement by Dutton brings the election discussion back to a place where the Abbott/Turnbull Coalition Government feel that they have the advantage and while Dutton personally may take a slight hit for his statement, he will probably be re-elected. In fact, ‘taking one for the team’ can only improve Dutton’s chances of higher office in the future.

Boris Johnson’s Lord Mayoral campaign and the current Coalition campaign have both been run by the same person, Lynton Crosby, so the similarities between the campaigns are probably obvious and not co-incidental. In one fell swoop, the discussions about negative gearing, education and other issues that have proved to be friendly to the ALP have been taken off the table to be replaced by the ‘dead cat’ of refugees. It seems not to matter that the statement made was disgusting and demonstrably wrong – in fact it probably helped.

The ALP also attempts the same strategy. Opposition Senate Leader Penny Wong recently made the statement that the Government deficit had tripled since Abbott came to power. ABC’s soon to be wound up Factcheck Unit has investigated and discovered the claim is exaggerated (the deficit has ‘only’ doubled!) but the point remains that by the time the facts come out, the statement has been made, those that choose not to research or investigate further have accepted or rejected the claim and the world has moved on. Dutton’s claim is exaggerated as well, it is inevitable that at some point some refugees that have come to Australia will be unemployed and claim benefits.

His other claim about taking ‘Australians’ jobs is pure and unadulterated crap – everyone in Australia is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. The first Australians walked here over a land bridge some 40 to 60 thousand years ago, others began to arrive by boat commencing in 1788 and from the 1960’s or 1970’s immigrants also came by aircraft. There is no process that magically turns you and your forebears into ‘Australians’ after your family has been here for a predetermined length of time – for the record parts of my family have been here since at least 1850; if there was such a thing, I’d probably know about it.

Anyway, there is still over a month to go before the election date and politicians (and their party hacks) will continue to ‘throw dead cats’, exaggerate and play politics,

Those who oppose the Coalition need to stop taking the bait. The Coalition does not want the election to be focused on education, Medicare or housing affordability which are far more important issues to voters and Labor’s strengths. Instead it wants it to be focused on refugees and national security because they see them as electorate winners. Labor does not win votes talking about either. They either lose votes to the Coalition or the Greens.

It won’t be the last time that the Coalition tries this tactic during this election but progressives need to far get better at responding and shifting the focus away whenever a “dead cat” is thrown.

Politicians will play politics, the media will report what it wants (and not necessarily present all sides of a story) which leaves it up to us. Next time some politician comes out with a statement that grabs all the headlines – ask yourself why are they doing it. It is genuinely newsworthy or has someone decided to hit ‘reset’ again by throwing a dead cat?
What do you think?
 
Did Dutton overreach?

Is the ‘dead cat’ a reasonable strategy?

We look forward to reading your views and your comments.

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