Saturday, 1 November 2014

Hall-who-een?

Oh yes, we have Halloween now. It has only come about recently. The big supermarkets recognised the possibility of marketing it and now there is a range of Halloween related merchandise in the shops for some weeks before hand.  
It would be fair to say many people here still ignore it. Some people still would not know what Halloween is and others would dismiss it as "American" and therefore nothing to do with them. All this probably sounds rather odd to my North American friends. Halloween is a tradition there.
The Little Drummer Boy and his brother from next door did not participate. I did not expect that but I had been talking to one mother whose children had been begging to be allowed to dress up and try "trick or treat". She was reluctant to let them do it. It is, as I just said, not traditional here.
"I just don't know what sort of reception they would get. I don't want them to be a nuisance and really that's all they would be."
We talked about it a bit more. I sympathised. Her two are lively, active children and they need a firm hand. They do not need large amounts of sugar at any time, least of all before bed.
I saw the two children the day before Halloween. They still did not know whether they would be allowed to participate or not but one of them had a small green plastic frog that "jumped" if stroked in a certain way. It gave me an idea and, while the two of them were racing around and around their driveway on their bikes I spoke to their mother and suggested, "What if we tell them it is "Frog Rescue Night" as well?  I'll supply chocolate frogs."
She thought for a moment and then said, "That's a really good idea. We could take the boys to the creek and see if we can find an actual frog."
I bought a multi-pack of frogs. There are twenty in that sort of pack. I was, I hoped, prepared because I thought I knew what might happen.
And it did. There were four families from the next street who went off to "rescue" frogs. The father of one family actually works at the local council. It's not his actually area but he knows something about the creek and the inhabitants of it and what is being done to try and preserve it. The kids wore face paint and had fun looking for frogs and other creepy crawly things. They hunted for the chocolate frogs and their parents made sure they all had one. One of the mothers left me an e-mail to say it was all great fun. Nobody was scared. Nobody bothered anyone and not too much sugar was consumed,  
This morning there was one chocolate frog sitting in the letter box for me. That is Halloween worth celebrating.

Friday, 31 October 2014

"Shield laws" for journalists

are under debate again in this little part of the world. The Opposition put up a bill which passed the state's Legislative Assembly but then failed to get through the House of Representatives. It leaves us out of step with most of the country.
The Attorney-General has declared the laws "unnecessary" and claimed that a journalist has never been imprisoned for failing to reveal their sources. That is incorrect - at least one journalist has spent time incarcerated for refusing to name a source.
At Federal level there is an attempt to bring in other laws which would possibly see a journalist imprisoned for revealing matters of national security. There the Federal Attorney-General has said that the laws are not aimed at journalists, rather they are aimed at terrorists and those supporting them.
Both situations have journalists and others concerned. They have me concerned.
I think we need shield laws. I also think they should not apply to behaviour which is irresponsible.
There are things journalists uncover - or, more likely, get told - that should be made known. It will genuinely be "in the public interest" to inform people about something which has happened or is currently happening. The recent information about the highly inflated water bills in this state is one of those stories which needed to be aired.
It is plain the government is using many household bills to try and raise the money to run a state which is as good as bankrupt. People need to know that. They may not be able to do anything about it but at least they will know why their bills are so high. (Even if there is a change of government at the next election it will change nothing because a government would need the money.)
It is also improper for a journalist to reveal issues of national security which put people at risk. If a journalist were, for example, to name "undercover" agents who had befriended terrorists in order to gather information and prevent an attack on innocent people then surely that is wrong. The journalist would in effect be assisting the terrorists and endangering the lives of others.
I know people who say "but no responsible journalist would do that". Perhaps not but there are irresponsible journalists - and even the most responsible journalists would find it hard to resist a really big story. They would attempt to justify it.
One of our local columnists wrote an article in the state newspaper earlier this week. It sounded good but it was incorrect. It gave entirely the wrong impression of a social programme that she happens not to personally like. On being challenged she has allegedly claimed that this is what she was "told", that complaints were made and she believed them to be true. A balanced story would have involved more research and some acknowledgment of the actual facts - but then it is unlikely the paper would have found the space to print it.
We need to balance the right to know against the right to privacy and the right to safety. We need to balance the right to offer an opinion with the right to accurate information.
If journalists do not behave in a responsible manner then they should not be shielded. The problem is that any irresponsibility on their part may end up denying all of us information we need to make an informed decision for ourselves.
If someone has an answer to this could they please let me know?



Thursday, 30 October 2014

"I think the Senator may be

in a tad of trouble," someone said to me yesterday.
We were waiting for a meeting to start. I had pedalled over in the sun and was feeling more like curling up for a cat nap. I just looked at the speaker and, although I privately agree, tried not to look as if I was passing judgment.
He went on talking and I went on half-listening. Suddenly he said, "You think I'm prejudiced don't you? You think just because she identifies as indigenous nobody should criticise her."
Fortunately someone else butted in at that point because I do think he may be prejudiced. I have heard him make mildly disparaging remarks before but I have always sensed he is holding back and would like to say a great deal more than he does.
But it did raise a question in my mind. The Senator in question is alleged to have used or attempted to have used public funds for personal benefit. Yes, she could be in trouble because of it. I won't say any more than that. I don't know the story. I don't want to know. She also identifies as "aboriginal" although I think her heritage may be more complex or diverse than that. She is a good looking woman with a very successful athletic history and I do not doubt she is intelligent.
She was hand picked for the role of Senator by a previous Prime Minister. Oh yes, female, indigenous, successful sports person, it seemed the PM knew what she was doing. The Senator won a seat. There were questions asked though because the PM had not consulted anyone. She made the announcement as "Captain's Pick". It did not endear her to her colleagues and it denied the party the possibility of choosing a candidate for themselves. Everyone was however very careful not to be too critical - lest it seem they were being prejudiced against an indigenous candidate.
It made me wonder at the time about the way in which so many people will be so very careful about not criticising an indigenous person. It also made me conscious of how careful so many people are about being polite to someone from another culture. They are afraid of appearing to be "racist".
After the meeting was over I was talking to another person when her daughter arrived with a five month old baby. He was awake after his afternoon nap. He had been changed and fed and was ready to take on the world.
Life won't be easy for him. His skin is the colour of good dark chocolate. 
"He's adorable," I told his mother and meant it. She smiled and said, "Yes, when he's asleep." We laughed.
I sat there cuddling him for a moment, making the silly noises adults make and smiling at him. It was easy to smile. He was smiling back. 
I hope he gets a lot of real smiles in his life. I also hope he gets criticised if it is justified. That will show real acceptance.  

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The new principal of one of

the state's largest (and most expensive) private ("public" to readers in the UK) co-ed schools made some very public remarks about single sex education causing emotional damage that "could last for years".
I had occasion to call in on Ms Whirlwind at her single sex boarding school yesterday and the girls were puzzled by it.
"We see plenty of boys," they told me.
They do too. Not only do they have they usual range of male relatives but they mix with other schools, including an all male school. They have mixed social events. They go on outings together. The Whirlwind has mixed with the boys in her street all her life.
But school? No. They were all quite firm about that. They preferred to keep the classroom to themselves.
"Boys don't learn the same way," they told me. It was an interesting comment coming from young teens. They may be right.
"And they are not as grown up," one girl said. Yes, she is almost certainly right about levels of maturation. They do differ. It is interesting she should have noticed that.
The Whirlwind's school does very well in science. It is not something the Whirlwind is particularly keen on but many of the girls do specialise in maths and physics in particular. They have outstandingly good teachers and that helps but they are also not competing against boys who tend to get the attention in class.
"And you know," the Whirlwind told me as we went back to the school gate, "We don't have to worry so much about what we look like. I mean we still have to be sort of tidy but we aren't competing for the boys all the time."
"Yeah, my Mum went to this other school with boys and she says all the girls used to do things like put their hair in rollers at night. Weird!" one of her friends told me, "It used to take them forever every night."
Oh yes, I remember that. My boarding school was co-ed. The competition was terrific - in the proper sense of the word. I hated it. The girls actually had their hair measured. It had to be an inch above your collar. It was supposed to stop all the nonsense with rollers and competition for the boys. It did nothing of the sort.
I can remember the traumas when partnerships broke up. I avoided the worst of it by spending weekends with my grandparents. I loathed school at that point.
But - I never had my hair measured. I arrived at school in a later year than the other girls. My hair was long and I insisted on leaving it that way. I had always had long hair. If they didn't like it that way then too bad. They didn't like it but there was nothing, short of ordering me to have it cut, they could do about it. That was a step too far even for that school.  
I never bothered with rollers and I refused to wear ribbons in the school colours. I wore ribbon covered elastic (made by my paternal grandmother) instead.
I was probably the only girl not traumatised by my appearance or the opposite sex at some stage because I simply did not care. I had other much more serious things to worry about.
The Whirlwind has plaits in school and about half her friends have plaits or pony tails in school as well. On the whole they look tidy. They keep their shoes and fingernails clean and then they get on with life. I don't see them as being traumatised by their appearance or the lack of the opposite sex in the classroom. They can go out in "civvies" and look good.
Of course there are arguments for and against both single sex and co-ed schools but to suggest that one sort traumatises students and the other doesn't is, I suggest, nonsense.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

We had the most dramatic

thunderstorm I can remember the night before last. The sky kept lighting up like day with both sheet and fork lightning. I am still amazed that we did not lose power - like the other half of the city.  I am even more amazed that no real damage was done because outside my bedroom window is a little dent in the ground where the lightning hit the gravel at the edge of the garden. Yes, it was a little bit dramatic.
The girl in the greengrocery told me that she had been out. She could see the storm coming in and left the event she was at to go home and take her two dogs inside. Oh yes, they have a good kennel but they were frightened.
Other animals must be too. I know I hoped that our visiting cat was safely inside and, in between the bangs, I heard someone take their dog indoors. (I know they did because it stopped howling.)
There is a different sort of thunderstorm in this morning's paper. The media finally managed to get permission to print a letter of resignation. It makes interesting reading.
I normally would not take too much notice of such things - or the sort of headlines the media provide with such stories. I don't know the writer of the letter. So, why did I notice it this time?
The writer was resigning his position on a government board. People must resign from boards on occasion. What was so different about this?
His letter makes some accusations about the way the board, which is supposedly independent, is working. The accusations don't surprise me. I have worked with government boards - and often detested doing so. They tend to be political even when they are supposed to be apolitical. They tend not to get things done in time or not done at all. Sometimes they simply cannot do anything.
But this letter accuses them of not doing things which could be done and not doing them because other members of the board are colluding with the government - and that collusion is costing the taxpayers.
Even that should not surprise people but one of the issues the board deals with is something that is vital. They deal with water. The government is set to benefit from what people have to pay for water but it won't go back into building a better water supply. We have a desalination plant in mothballs. Ageing water mains break. There is talk of taxing rainwater tanks on private properties and dams farmers build to supply livestock.
The man who resigned is an economist. He presumably understands basic economics. If he believes that water bills could be reduced for the good of the economy then perhaps we should be listening. Perhaps he is right about the way we are handling the storm water?

Monday, 27 October 2014

It seems our charity sector has been hit

with another rise in fees - this time for "Workcover". Workcover is the scheme which is supposed to provide funding for injured workers.
Like all other such government run schemes attempts to abuse it abound. The odd thing is that not everyone who is injured at work benefits from the scheme while others do. Don't ask me how that works. I am puzzled. I suspect others are too. The pay outs can also be very small for some injuries and large for others.
I personally know of two cases, one where someone broke their wrist slipping on oil left on the floor by a fellow worker and the other where someone cut their hand on a jagged piece of metal. The first injury needed considerable medical attention. The second injury was caused by a failure to wear the heavy safety gloves supplied by the employer. It required several stitches. 
Now, the first injury received the greater compensation, yes? Wrong. It was the second injury which received a hefty pay-out. How that was achieved I do not know. I have not asked. It is probably wiser not to know.
Workcover "blew out" some time ago. The unfunded liability is now a huge problem. Money is needed to cover the present claims - money that should be covering future claims.
So Workcover has hit the charity sector. The claim is that most of the claims have come from the charity sector - although they have failed to provide any proof of that. One large charity with a pay base of $6.5m has, it is said, been hit with a Workcover bill of $1.1m.  Can that possibly be correct? I don't know. I admit I am wary of taking figures in the media as correct.
What I do not doubt is that the sums are large because I also thought of something else. Our knitting guild is required to have "public liability" insurance. We meet in a hall which is already covered by such insurance but this is not good enough. Apparently we indulge in a dangerous activity and we are likely to injure not just ourselves but each other. It costs the guild a considerable sum of money each year - and the price goes up each year.
What sort of injury would be covered by this insurance is uncertain.  The sort of injuries likely to occur would be much more likely to be related to the premises we meet on and they would be covered by other insurance. We contribute to that through our hire of the hall.
Of course if someone is injured because of the carelessness of other people we need to ensure that they get the care and assistance they need but does that mean we need to cover everything else, including our own carelessness? Should it be a sort of lottery? We need to be more careful about cleaning up the oil on the floor so we don't injure others and more careful about wearing safety gloves so we don't injure ourselves.
Do we in fact just need to be more responsible?

Sunday, 26 October 2014

"You can't vote,"

a friend of mine was told. No?
Our council elections are being held at present. Unlike the state and federal elections there is no compulsory attendance at the ballot box. Ballot papers were sent out to eligible voters by post. (Eligible means you actually live in or pay rates in the area.)
The Senior Cat and I received ours on Friday. We filled out the ballot papers. (Again, the voting process is different. It is not preferential. You can mark just one for mayor and at least two for your councillors.)
After you fill the ballot papers out you seal them inside an envelope with a flap on it. On that flap you fill out your last name, your given names and your date of birth. You then sign it. You put that envelope inside the pre-paid envelope and post it back. The returning office staff then remove the envelope with the flap, check the details on the flap sand mark your name off the electoral roll, they then remove the flap and add the envelope to the pile of votes to be counted.
It all sounds very simple - unless you can't sign your name.
I have more than one friend and acquaintance with a severe disability. Not all of them can sign their names. One young acquaintance wanted to vote. He lives in group accommodation and his house manager told him he couldn't vote because he couldn't sign his name.
I happened to meet one of the other carers in the library. She told me what had happened.
"Has he still got the voting papers?" I asked
"Yes, I think so."
"Well then it is not a problem. You fill out the forms at his direction and get him to sign it with a thumb print the way he did when he enrolled. Call in on the way back and I'll give you a stamp pad."
She duly called in and I had fortunately found the old stamp pad by then. It needed to be moistened but it worked well enough for the job. The Returning Officer can check it is legitimate.
I need to get a new stamp pad. You never know what it might be needed for.