Saturday, 5 September 2015

What do our MPs actually do?

Our local federal MP has announced he is retiring at the end of this term in parliament. He has come in for some criticism for that. "He's only 48!" "He's a rat deserting a sinking ship." "He's just served time to get a pension." "He's never done anything."
Some of the other comments about the story on another media website were far worse - the sort of libel I have come to expect from people who use the site as a place to hurl invective at the current government without any regard for the facts. 
I knew this man before he was an MP. I have known him for about twenty-two years. I will admit I was surprised when he was pre-selected for the seat because he is not a noisy, outspoken sort of person. He isn't the sort of person you think of as being an MP. He's actually a doctor as well though - and I think that may explain it. He listens and then acts.
He was never a minister but he worked hard behind the scenes. He was on the inevitable committees. He lobbied for funds for projects in the electorate. He dealt with problems brought to him and he often did it in a very personal way. He has been fiercely loyal to his electorate too.
That should count in this electorate because the state MP betrayed the electorate by effectively moving, without any consultation, to the Opposition. It added to the work load of the federal MP when people simply don't trust the state MP and won't go to him.
He has a young family and he has had to be away from them. Now that his son is heading towards his teenage years I have no doubt that they want to spend more time together. 
When he might have been watching his children play sport he was standing in shopping centres at "listening posts" - often being abused by those who do not like his side of politics and also being criticised for not doing the impossible. 
I know he has been putting in about seventy hours a week, sometimes more and rarely less. His wife says she knows what he looks like - but only just. It has been hard work for her as well.
And now he is planning a return to medicine. He will have some catching up to do after all this time - and he knows it. 
He will go on listening to people and trying to solve their problems.
And I wonder if the criticism of him is entirely fair. No, he wasn't a high profile, noisy MP who was always seeking publicity with a press release. He was never a holder of the highest offices in the land. 
But he did do what he was elected to do. He represented the people of his electorate and helped them where he  could. I wonder if all those high office holders can say the same thing?


Friday, 4 September 2015

"Why doesn't Saudi Arabia take refugees?"

Miss Whirlwind wanted to know yesterday. I had delivered some footwear for her to go exploring the creek banks and she took the opportunity to ask me a question her teachers don't really want to try and answer. 
One of them actually said to me, "Cat, if you can explain it then explain it to us as well. We're trying to make sure the girls understand the situation without upsetting them but still involving them."
I can't explain. I am not sure that anyone can. How can a country like Saudi Arabia not take in a single refugee?  They speak the same language. It's a different dialect but it is still the same language.  They are the same religion. There are denominational differences for some but it is the same religion. The customs may differ but they differ in the way that Downunder customs differ with those in much of Europe  - not so much that you can't fit in.
Saudi Arabia also employs well over a million domestic workers to keep the locals in their comfortable lifestyle. Yes, it's a rich country - a very rich country. 
There is also Bahrain - another wealthy country - where the situation is much the same. And there are some smaller states like Qatar and Kuwait which are also wealthy. 
They are all built on the same Islamic base and none of them take in a single refugee. They haven't signed the refugee convention. People don't try to go there. They know they won't be accepted. Why?
These states have been "helping" by funding the crisis. They are perhaps even at war with each other but they are doing it on neighbouring territory.
Almost nothing is said about the inaction of the Arab states and their Gulf Cooperation Council. They get almost no criticism. Refugee advocates almost never mention the lack of  help from that region. Write a letter to the paper and in all likelihood it will not get published. Why?
I looked at the Whirlwind. She wanted an answer. I asked her a question,
"What's under the ground in Saudi Arabia?"
I saw her work it out in an instant.
"You mean people want petrol for their cars?"
Yes, the oil.
Is that fair?  

Thursday, 3 September 2015

His message was simple

"Please just stop the war. That's all we want."
He was, apparently, thirteen. He looked about eleven. He was travelling  "unaccompanied" out of Syria.
I don't know what his story is or why he was where he was without a responsible adult.
An "unaccompanied" child is one below the age of majority (i.e. adult) who does not have a responsible adult (parent, other relative or friend) to care for them. They often get lost  in times of crisis, particularly if they are old enough and "street-smart" enough to forage for food and shelter for themselves. 
They are not "I am David" like characters in the book by Anne Holm. They are not going to travel to Denmark with the help of other people and find their mother there. In all likelihood they no longer have fathers or mothers and may not have any family at all. They are some of the most at risk children in the world. 
If you listen to their stories and you have any compassion at all you will not sleep that night - or perhaps for nights to come. They break the law simply in order to survive - and not all of them survive. They get raped and beaten and enslaved by others. I won't go into details on a public blog  which anyone can read. This is war, the worst of war. It is something that almost never gets mentioned in the media. It's too harrowing.
And so, a thirteen year old boy asks people, to "just stop the war". It's a simple, simple request.
The answer seems impossible. While Europe is struggling to house and feed a mass migration of people due to war and poverty the question does have to be asked, "What's being done to prevent this?"
Assad is still in power. Even if he goes the problems won't be solved. IS is no weaker and still intent on maximum damage and a caliphate which extends far beyond their current area of occupation. What governments exist are often weak and corruption ridden. The economies have crumbled and there is no paid employment to be had. Neighbouring countries, some of which have problems of their own, don't want to know. 
I don't know what the answer is. If I did I would be rich. I would probably get the Nobel Prize.
If I did I could give it to people like the boy who wants the war stopped. I could see to it that he got an education to help rebuild his country.
Perhaps though it is time for Europe to say to all those would-be migrants, "Yes, we will help. We will help you get the skills you need to one day return to your country and rebuild it. We will shelter you  until it is safe to return."
Is that part of the answer? Can we tell that thirteen year old that much? 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

"Going on a holiday?"

someone asked me. 
We were in the queue in the Post Office. These days the Post Office is a "shop". It sells all sorts of things -  books, toys, stationery, CDs, DVDs, boxes for packing things. It will do your passport photographs too.
But this was a display of "travel" items - passport holders, neck pillows and the like.
I shook my head. I had merely been reading the label on something that claimed to be a collapsible cup - an item somebody else had bought recently.
We now have two sets of neighbours away on holiday. The Little Drummer Boy's family went away several weeks ago. Now some of our neighbour's across the street will be away for six weeks. 
As their next door neighbour is an anaesthetist who works odd hours we will be responsible for making sure the place looks "lived in" - any stray papers will be removed. Any mail will be collected and so on. 
I know more people "away","going on holiday", and "planning a holiday" too. Many of them are older people who simply go off to the north of Downunder for winter. They take their caravans and join the caravan-train of grey nomads.
They don't have sheds and their gardens are non-productive "easy care". All I need to do is water a few pot plants and collect their mail  - those of them on my regular tricycle route that is.
But, a holiday? I am not sure what a holiday is any more. The last time I went away - some years ago now - I went with the Senior Cat and Middle Cat. We had a "long weekend" in the neighbouring state because Senior Cat and Middle Cat wanted to go to a gardening weekend.  I  haven't been away since.
People ask why. The answer is that the Senior Cat is not safe on his own. Have someone else stay with him people tell me. 
It sounds like a simple solution but it really wouldn't work. He would hate it. The Senior Cat is easy to live with but he's old. He is set in his ways. I accommodate that. I provide his meals at regular intervals. I know what he likes to eat. I know how he likes his tea made. I know all sorts of little things that matter. I can straighten his shirt collar and remind him he needs his hair cut. 
And, he worries. He worries every time I go out. He has always been a worrier. His mother, my beloved paternal grandmother who taught me so much, was a worrier. Perhaps there is an inherited genetic disposition for worry. The Senior Cat would be worried all the time I was absent.
I wouldn't enjoy myself knowing that. And yes, I would worry about him.
So when people ask if I am going on holiday the answer is "not yet". I hope they understand. 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

So the Commissioner did not "recuse"

himself - that is remove himself as the Royal Commissioner presiding over the investigation into corruption within the union movement.
There were the expected howls of rage in the media and on social media sites like Twitter. Guardian readers were fuming - as was to be expected. Readers of the Australian were a little more circumspect. The unions who brought the action denounced the decision and said they would consider what to do next - most likely action in the Federal Court.
All that was to be expected. I downloaded Heydon's judgment and read it. I have not read it thoroughly as it runs to more than 200 pages but I did read his reasoning and conclusions. He said all the things I expected him to say.
Without reading it - he admitted to not having read it - the Shadow Attorney-General still wants him to go. There will, he tells us, be a motion in the Senate to get the Governor-General to remove Heydon "because the Prime Minister won't". 
It would have been wiser not to admit that you have not read something as important as this before taking action. It would also be wiser not to display such ignorance of the law.
Royal Commissioners have great powers. They cannot be removed by the politicians of the day. The Prime Minister cannot remove the Commissioner. Yes he could call the Commissioner in and ask him to go but he could not force him to go. The only person who could sack the Commissioner would be the Governor-General. He won't.  There is no reason to remove him.
The unions claim the Commission is a "politically motivated witch hunt". Perhaps that is true but, even it is true, the unions would be wise to let it run its full course. Unions represent less than 20% of the workforce. It was once much more than that. Despite that unions still effectively run the Labor Party agenda and they are likely to go on doing it. That's not going to change because it would involve too many people voting against their own interests. If the union movement, as it claims, has nothing to hide then surely the best thing is for it to show that before the Commission? That would do far more harm to their opponents than trying to close the Commission down. 
Trying to close the Commission down and making such a huge fuss about it suggests that there is something to hide  - something that has yet to come to light. It will be something far worse than skimming money off superannuation funds to fight political campaigns  - surely illegal? If there is something worse to be uncovered then the Commission needs to continue more than ever. Using more of the funds of members to try and bring down the Commission to cover up wrongdoing would be despicable.


Monday, 31 August 2015

The difference between a migrant and a refugee

should be obvious but it still seems some people don't want to understand it. 
A lot of my working life has been spent working with people who work directly with people who are - or become - refugees. I have been told many stories about them. 
I have also met many refugees and talked with them. Some of them were refugees in the far distant past and others are raw, new refugees.
The world is a terrifying place for a refugee. You have nowhere to call "home" if you are a refugee. You have few, if any, possessions. You can't go back to where "home" once was because you might get killed if you do or that place doesn't exist any more. There is no food for you. You are dependent on strangers for everything.
And you are, in all likelihood, homesick for the place you once called home.
You are not a healthy young man who has deliberately committed a criminal offence and who is now seeking to avoid punishment. You are not a healthy young man who is seeking work to "send money back home" or coming as the advance party in the hope that a family can migrate.
Migrants, even "economic migrants"  (people who would simply like to move somewhere else for a "better way of life"),  are not refugees. Migrants have choices. Refugees don't. 
I can understand why some people want to migrate. I can understand why they are prepared to leave their place of birth and seek what they believe will be, and often is, a better way of life somewhere else. The country I live in was built on convict settlements and migration - yes, even those who call themselves "indigenous" or "first people" were migrants. Some of those migrants were refugees in other parts of the world who took the opportunity to migrate on invitation.Much of the world had been built on migration. Obviously it can be a good thing but migration is not the same as seeking refuge. We need to recognise and acknowledge that refugees are not simply healthy young men who are able to work. Refugees may be very old or very young.  They may also be disabled, too traumatised to cope with life, angry and not always "grateful". They are simply human beings.
Refugees want somewhere "safe". They may have ideas that they would like to go to a specific country if the opportunity presents itself but their first desire is for a "safe" place. Refugees I know would have been prepared to go "anywhere safe" - or they will have been sent by their parents in a desperate attempt to save their lives and give them a future. It is sheer and utter desperation which makes you put your young child on a train or, even worse, an overcrowded boat and watch them go without you. It is why others will carry sleeping children for hours and why they will give their children the precious limited water to drink and go without themselves.
And yes, refugees are often homesick. They want to be surrounded by their language in a place where the laws and way of life is familiar, where they had a job and food on the table, where they had a home in which they could sleep at night without fear and where their children could go to school without risk of being attacked for doing so. Given the chance many of them would return to their countries of origin and work to rebuild the places from which they come.
We should all be doing more to support refugees. We need to give them food and shelter and the skills with which to support themselves. And we should also give them  hope that they can one day go "home". 

Sunday, 30 August 2015

There was a small disaster on the pedalling

front on Friday. 
I had to go back to the show-grounds. We had struck some problems putting the display up - missing items (found) and things that had been wrongly labelled (re-labelled) and not enough space to display things properly (massive re-arrangements necessary).
All that necessitated me prowling back to help. I had not planned on that.
On the way there a small disaster struck. No, not a puncture. (I live in fear of those as my paws are not able to change the inner tubes.)
I went over a bump - and the left hand rear mudguard went "bang, clatter, screech" and then there was an ominous scraping along the tyre wall. I stopped. I investigated.  Oh. There must have been a weak point in one of the stays that  hold the mudguard to the axle. It had snapped. 
I don't get far without my pedals so I straightened it cautiously and, very slowly, pedalled in to the show grounds. 
"What's wrong Cat?" the Convenor of the area asked when I moaned disaster had struck to someone else.
I told her. 
"Oh H will be in later. I'll get him to have a look."
H is her husband. He is one of those practical, sensible, able humans. I knew he would be able to take the mudguard off so I got on with the task ahead of me. We had struck a few more problems - nothing to do with what we had done the day before but were due to the incompetence of someone who had been there before that.
But H turned up in time for the mid-morning cup of tea and said,
"Don't worry. I'll give you and the trike a lift  home if necessary."
I showed him where I had "parked" and went back to work.
About ten minutes later he came in carrying the mudguard.
"It can be fixed - needs a little welding, that's all."
He showed me.
My brother-in-law can do that. He taught himself to weld years ago and is better than many professionals - simply because, as an engineer, he likes things to be "just right". 
"But let me know if there's a problem getting it back on,"H told me, "And I'll come down and fix it for you."
And then he gave me a brief, one armed hug. It was just a warm, friendly gesture and one with which I felt perfectly comfortable . As he did it his wife gave me a discreet "thumbs up".
"I wouldn't have let him do that," someone else said as he went off.
I looked at her and said nothing but I thought it was a sad commentary that she felt it was wrong for someone I know and trust to give me a brief, one armed hug in front of his wife in a public place. It told me something quite different. It told me that he and his wife have a rock steady relationship (and have had for more than forty years) and that they don't mind showing it. 
It also showed me that he cared.