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Eva is a freelance writer with a keen interest in legal, social justice and community matters, particularly where they intertwine with politics. She holds a Bachelor of Laws degree with First Class Honours, Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (Distinction) and a Bachelor of Social Science, majoring in Social Justice and Behavioural Science. Eva enjoys fighting politically expedient populism and is commited to empowering Australians to participate in democracy. She’s also a mother to three young children and lives in Tasmania.

A Human Rights Act for Tasmania

Right now, the nation is gripped in conversation about health, education, families, housing and justice. The 2017 Federal Budget has just been handed down, and people are earnestly investigating what it personally means for them.

Will the local school lose funding? Will a house ever be affordable? How much will a trip to the doctor cost? Will any new jobs be created?

With these questions firmly at the forefront of people’s minds, it is the perfect time to talk about “human rights”.

Education is a human right. Housing is a human right. Medical care is a human right. Employment is a human right.

This is not how many people understand human rights. In fact, the mention of human rights usually only occurs in the context of repugnant laws which clearly violate rights, for example, detaining refugees in leaky, rat-infested tents on tropical islands, or housing juveniles in adult prisons. Or when discussing equal rights and discrimination, for example whether gay people should be legally allowed to marry, or mothers should be allowed to breastfeed in Parliament House.

Alternately, people incorrectly assume their human rights are already protected. They assume the Government cannot throw them in jail without a fair trial, cannot unjustly deprive them of property, and cannot pass laws to ban them from protesting.

However, unlike other nations with similar legal and political systems, Australia does not legislatively protect all human rights. The Australian Constitution does not include a Bill of Rights. Unless the governments enact into domestic legislation those rights found in the international documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, individuals have very little protection for the fundamental freedoms every person is entitled to, on the basis of being human.

Many things we take for granted are in fact basic human rights. Human rights cover such things as the right to life, the protection of the family and children, protection from discrimination, liberty and security of the person, to be treated equally before the law and be granted a fair hearing, the right to privacy and freedom from personal attack, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to peacefully express beliefs.

It includes freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, the right to work, and good working conditions. Additionally, it includes the right to adequate food, clothing, housing, medical care, the right to education and to participate in the cultural life of the community, and the right to a safe environment and to the protection of the environment from pollution and ecological degradation.

While some laws do exist to protect human rights, for example the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas), Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth), Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) there is no central piece of legislation which enshrines all the recognised human rights of Australians and Tasmanians.

It is time for this to change.

Governments across Australia are increasingly enacting laws which infringe on basic human rights. People have come to accept as normal all manner of laws which undermine the principles of natural justice and a fair trial under the guise of “getting tough on crime” and “terrorism”.

Mandatory data retention, anti-protest laws, indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers, warrantless arrests, abrogation of the right to silence and anti-association laws are all generally accepted by the community because many do not understand the concept of human rights, or they think human rights violations only happen in war torn, third world countries.

A Tasmanian Human Rights Act will change the conversation. It will define what a human right is and how human rights apply for ordinary people. It will help to challenge the perception that society can selectively pick which human rights are available and for whom.

Tasmania will not be alone if it enacts laws to protect and recognise fundamental freedoms. The ACT and Victoria have had human rights legislation for over a decade, and in 2016 the Queensland Government announced it too would adopt a Human Rights Act.

The Tasmanian Liberal Party website identifies many of the basic human rights as central beliefs. A majority of the Tasmanian Labor Party policies also find their basis in fundamental human rights and Labor has stated it will introduce and support a Charter of Human Rights. The Tasmanian Greens also has a policy to legislate a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities and to counter the erosion of civil and human rights.

It is evident that all parties are committed to protecting human rights in some form or another. Introducing legislation to recognise human rights should be a common ground for all Tasmanian politicians, regardless of party politics and personal belief.

And what better way to do this than for each party to make the introduction of a Tasmanian Human Rights Act a commitment for the 2018 election?

A Tasmanian Human Rights Act will cement and centralise many of the rights which parties have already publicly acknowledged are important. A dedicated Tasmanian Human Rights Act will ensure that legislators consider holistic implications of new laws while drafting. An Act will ensure that all future legislation is measured against these universal and inalienable rights.

While a Tasmanian Human Rights Act will only apply to local laws, it is an important step in accepting and recognising the rights of all people to, for example, health, education, housing and adequate food. It will provide a central resource for individuals to refer to when they feel their rights have been violated in whichever way. It is the perfect way for state politicians to tell the community they genuinely care about the issues Tasmanians face.

And once state politicians start speaking the language of human rights, perhaps their federal counterparts will follow suit.

For more information on the campaign for a Tasmanian Human Rights Act visit the website or Facebook.

Drug test them all

A burning question arises from Budget 2017. What drugs are Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his team on? There can be no other rational explanation for the inclusion of a total clanger in an otherwise mediocre and generally anticipated bunch of policies. On Tuesday, 9 May, Treasurer Scott Morrison announced money for health, education, and farmers, more taxes, a hit to the banks and a kick for anti-vaxxers. And right at the end, a surreptitiously adopted populist measure to piss-test the poor.

There is no point asking what Mal, ScoMo, and Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, were thinking, as it is abundantly obvious. Perhaps more shocking than the policy itself, is that the Coalition has listened to people other than its rich donors. Yet in doing so, it has embarrassed itself by proposing as serious policy, a fetid and ghastly brainfart.

Despite having an abundance of professionals, consultants and experts at their fingertips, the not-so-illustrious leaders have turned to the blokes and women in the pub, and eagerly adopted the worn-out mantra of the self-righteously indignant and resentful.

I get drug tested for my job, why should those bludgers be able to smoke a joint and get the dole?

I don’t want my taxes going to meth-heads and stoners.”

Why should my money go to junkies to support their habits?

One can only guess how the conversation went in the back rooms of Parliament House.

“ScoMo, old boy, I have a plan!”

Yet just what intoxicating substance did Morrison snort to make him think such a proposal would be even remotely passable as a “cost-saving” measure? What potent brain-fudger did Turnbull and his team of budgeteers imbibe to magic up such pointless twatwafflery?

What jollies they must have had from the thought of sifting through rivers of excrement in search of the elusive whiff of weed.

The proposal is simple enough, in fact it is inherently simplistic. Drug test 5000 random welfare recipients for cannabis, ecstasy or methamphetamine use. If they test positive, they go on the cashless welfare card, in an attempt to deprive them of funds to buy drugs. The new program will focus on recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance payments in three locations, and the so-called “random tests” will use “a data-driven profiling tool… to identify relevant characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues.”

There is even a little bit of rehabilitative help thrown in to satisfy the bleeding-heart, leftie whingers who might claim that depriving drug-users of access to cash and the autonomy to spend it as they wish is a violation of their human rights.

That is pretty much it. A hair-brained plan to test a select proportion of welfare recipients for drugs most commonly used by lower socioeconomic groups in some kind of vain attempt to force them off drugs and back into the workforce.

In what alternative universe does the Government think restricting the cash flow to drug users and abusers will result in anything other than terrible consequences for the community?

Instead of a mature debate about drug use and abuse in the nation’s poorest demographic, Turnbull and co have opted for a puerile, infantile tactic to win the votes of mainstream Australia. In between inhaling sweet vapours and digesting fermented grape juice, they evidently thought it a genius move guaranteed to win widespread applause and nods of enthusiastic approval from the public.

Do they genuinely believe that brain-fried junkies will miraculously reform and de-addict overnight with the threat of Big Daddy-o taking the cash? What exactly do Turnbull and his completely out-of-touch Cabinet believe the “ice junkies” are going to do when they can’t fund their habit?

When there are no tax dollars at hand, they’ll go to the tax-payers directly.

Cue an increase in crime, thefts, robberies and drug-fuelled violence from the tiniest minority of people who rely on welfare and can’t kick the drugs.

Cue an increase in down-on-their luck Aussies who are humiliated and belittled by being subject to mandatory drug testing so they can feed their families.

Drug testing those on welfare is nothing more than a nasty, punitive, vindictive attempt to satisfy the lust for “fairness” from those begrudging that they can’t rock up to work high as a kite. If the conversation is about fairness and equality, the Government would enforce mandatory drug testing in every occupation and industry, or at the very least, for every position funded by the tax-payer, including themselves.

And if the conversation is about “moral superiority”, every person who supports this rancid proposal would insist every employee in every business who takes their money in whatever form be subject to testing too. Buying fuel at the servo? Don’t pay until the cashier provides a swab of saliva. Hitting up the market for Aussie-grown beef? No cash until the farmer gives a clean urine sample.

Or is drug use and abuse acceptable as long as the addict is employed?

But it’s not about drug use, or abuse, or the personal habits of total strangers. And it’s not about the alleged unfairness of drug testing in the workplace, which is to do with safety, not thinly-veiled ideology. It’s bred from the perception that those on welfare are living in a fancy, fun-filled, drug-fueled euphoric bubble of happiness. By contrast, the same people are not  dashing to quit their jobs to join the welfare-funded-party, and they rarely object to government-labelled-bad habits paid for with a weekly earned wage, no matter how big an eventual cost to the taxpayer.

Tobacco smoking, which is legal, is responsible for more drug-related hospitalisations and deaths than alcohol and illicit drugs combined. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013 states that in 2010, “it was estimated that tobacco smoking was responsible for 8.3% of the burden of disease in Australasia, 2.7% was attributable to alcohol use and a further 2.6% was attributable to the use of illicit Drugs.”

Further, in 2013, 29.2% of the population aged 14 and over engaged in risky drinking in the previous 12 months, compared with 15% who took illicit drugs, and 12.8% who smoked tobacco daily. Of illicit drug use, more people misuse pharmaceutical drugs (4.7%) than use methamphetamines (2.1%).

Yet bashing the alleged drug-using-dole-bludger is a favoured sport of Australians, despite being three times more likely to be a victim of an alcohol-related incident than a victim of an illicit drug-related incident. It’s employed versus unemployed, rich versus poor, the-drug-of-choice-of-city-dwellers versus the-available-substances-for-the-rural-and-remote.

It’s the taxed demanding that they have a say on how public funds are spent, while demonising just a small percentage of the population, who, through circumstances unbeknown to the judger, are not employed.

Advocating for the imposition of paternalistic conditions on the poorest of Australians who are already below the poverty line under the guise of “helping” them, is pathetic.

The public does not get to choose where their taxes go, whether it be health, education, corporate benefits, infrastructure or politicians perks. Taxes fund all manner of vile and abominable purposes, for example federally funded religious schools using tax money to protect paedophiles, dropping bombs on the wrong fighters in Syria, torturing refugees on Manus Island and Nauru, and destroying the environment.

International examples have shown that drug testing for welfare does not achieve much at all, and costs a whole lot of money which could otherwise be used on medical and health based interventions which do work, for example evidence-based drug prevention programs and medically supervised rehabilitation. Instead, the Government continues to treat drug use and abuse as a criminal matter, subjecting vulnerable and psychologically distressed people to punitive action.

In the absence of support and access to suitable rehabilitative measures, what options do those addicted to drugs have? Who will employ them while they struggle to overcome their demons? Where will they get the money from that they need to live, feed their families, and admittedly, buy their drugs?

Australians need to accept that some people are not suited to the workforce, either temporarily or permanently. It makes sense, socially and economically to support them financially, as unpalatable as the general working population may find it.

However there may be a silver lining for those who think it is too odious to grant these people social security. The consequences for those vulnerable people subject to the Government’s program who cannot kick the habit and are denied the help they need are predictable. Overdose or suicide.

And dead people don’t need welfare.

Shelton blames it on the gays

Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) managing director, Lyle Shelton, had the shock of his life when he checked out the RSVP’s to his show, Making sense of our time with Lyle Shelton, on the morning of Tuesday, 21 February 2017. While his administrators were sleeping (or busy drafting homophobic PowerPoint slides), the internet went wild.

Approximately one thousand ‘activists’ were keen to send a message to the out-and-proud, anti-LGBTI crusader, and registered over 54,000 fake people to attend the event held at the Melbourne Heathmont Baptist Church on 25 February 2017. There was ‘Hugh Janus’, ‘Alternative Facts’, ‘Dolan Turmp’, ‘Lotsa Butthurt’ and ‘Lyle Shelton has a very scary face and I don’t like it’, to name just a few.

The epic trolling received a horrified reaction from Shelton. Disgusted by the rude, crude, satirical and comical made-up names, Shelton took the opportunity to blame the gays and cry victim. In fact, such was his fear of The Gay, Shelton felt compelled to hire three security guards to keep him safe from any foul-mouthed, filthy activists who might bother turning up to the event to hurl hurtful, made-up names at him.

While Shelton was busy being precious about his feelings, telling media the RSVP’s included “the foulest, most degrading, most obscene written forms of communication I have seen in my life,” he spares little thought for the consequences of his relentless vilification of the LGBTI community.

Satirical identity and the initiator of the RSVP campaign, Pauline Pantsdown, says that the “capacity of Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby to falsely paint themselves as victims knows no bounds” and that it is “no surprise that the ACL attempts to reverse this narrative when activists oppose their frightening and dangerous behaviour”.

Pantsdown further states that the ACL has previously made “documented false statements about ‘death threats’ in relation to an earlier protest involving the Mercure Hotel” and that Shelton “[rubbished] federal police investigations about a suicide attempt because [ACL] weren’t painted as being victims”. Shelton’s victim mentality has now extended so far as to hire three security guards because “someone RSVP’d to their event as ‘Ben Dover’.”

Despite some of the names being undoubtedly obscene and likely to cause moral indignation and outrage, the campaign was entirely harmless; unlike the ACL’s agenda. Claiming to be a Christian organization, Shelton uses his position to further his personal vendetta, rather than fostering a caring, inclusive and compassionate society. Given Shelton’s open condemnation of the LGBTI community, it is little wonder he jumped at the chance to hold them entirely responsible for his angst over a few rude words.

But while Shelton was momentarily morally violated by the obscenities, the impacts of the ACL’s campaigns have far more serious consequences.

Shelton has a history of obsessing about the gay community, with approximately 69% of his Tweets anti-LGBTI. Terrified that people will think he’s gay,  he jumps at the opportunity to discuss LGBTI issues, hiding his anti-gay rhetoric behind faux-concern for ‘the children’.

He is a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and the anti-bullying Safe Schools program, and is critical of other conservatives for not standing up to LGBTI community and the “unthinkable things” they support. He believes that implementing programs to address the high levels of bullying of LGBTI students is based on a “terrible ideology”, comparing the LGBTI movement to the rise of the Nazi’s in the 1930’s.

However it seems that Shelton is only concerned with the wellbeing of heteronormative children.

Pauline Pantsdown states that the ACL is “an organisation that places vulnerable transgender children under direct threat” and has “screwed up photographs of transgender children, re-photographed them and re-published them as a source of derision. Some government publications of lists of schools that support transgender children were withdrawn after children were harassed at schools, yet Shelton and his team continue to relentlessly hammer politicians to give them access to these lists.”

LGBTI people have significantly poorer mental health and higher rates of suicide than other Australians, with discrimination and exclusion key causal factors. The average age of the first suicide attempt is only 16 years of age.

Shelton’s gross overreaction to the ridiculous RSVP trolling provides a good insight as to what he considers to be acceptable ‘Christian’ behaviour: Obscene language and sexual references are morally reprehensible, even if no one is harmed, and divisive, anti-gay campaigns which contribute to the suicide of young people are perfectly fine as long as there is no profanity.

 

 

Hanson Rides High on Waves of Discontent

An ominous disquiet ripples across Australia. Anger, fear and frustration bubble away, with the occasional fiery flare on social media manufacturing outrage and another short-lived hashtag. Voter discontent, fury and helplessness simmer. Class and generational warfare grow stronger with hastily implemented Government policy unfairly clawing back billions from pensioners, families, the disabled and unemployed.

Punctuating the flickering angst, the media flings sensationalist stories of impending terrorist-inflicted carnage, interjected by the latest celebrity scandal, and allegations of refugees stealing jobs while bludging on welfare.

The major parties bicker and tie themselves in knots over the practical application of ideologically-generated cruelty. And while they seek to defend systematic and institutionally-supported expense rorting, Pauline Hanson continues to rise, a glowing phoenix emerging from of a puddle of stinking, rancid faeces.

Firing candidates for anti-gay remarks, and offering support for medicinal cannabis, she is charging ahead while the rest of the elected representatives fumble around in slush.

What is happening to Australia?

Social media is awash with petitions and memes declaring her to be the new saviour. According to the constant click-bait, Hanson is Brexit, Trump and the She-God-Almighty, destined to haul the wriggling, squirming nation back to greatness.

How has Australia come to this?

Why?

What grievous sin did ordinary people commit to have this woman and her motley crew of conspiracy theorists and right-wing nutjobs forced upon them?

It is clear Hanson’s popularity is growing. A recent poll in Queensland put her support at ten percent, almost double that at the 2016 Federal election. Apparently forty-five percent of respondents in a survey felt Hanson and One Nation addressed Queenslanders’ concerns better compared to other parties, with the results promoted as being support for Hanson as Prime Minister.

According to Queensland MP, Steve Dickson, a former LNP member who has now defected to Hanson’s One Nation Party, “the two major parties were out of touch with the electorate”, and “have lost their way.”

This is no surprise. According to Australian National University research, trust in Australia’s Government and faith in democracy reached an all-time low in 2016.

This was before the explosion of the latest politician expense scandal, and the unconscionable Centrelink debt debacle where welfare recipients are being intimidated into paying money back to Centrelink that they do not owe.

In the past decade, both the Coalition and Labor Party have fought to out-do the other on matters of public interest. They stand side by side in trashing basic human rights with national security and border control. Much of the rhetoric coming from the Abbott and now Turnbull Government is very similar to Hanson’s policies, despite Turnbull and his Minister’s seeking to distance themselves from the controversial Senator.

With trust in the major parties disintegrating rapidly, the Government’s anti-refugee, anti-immigration, anti-climate science policy adds believability to Hanson’s platform and reinforces the views of an alarmingly growing number of voters that Hanson is a credible option as the leader of Australia.

It would be suicide for Turnbull or Shorten to declare that refugees offer no threat to Australians’ way of life. It would be suicide for either major party to back away from the essential, yet suffocating so-called national security laws, such as the unnecessary and unfair visa cancellations and deportations which have mainly seen New Zealanders sent back across the water, or mandatory data retention, which is already suffering extraordinary scope-creep with a plan to use the data in civil cases.

On the back of such brainfarts as permanent visa bans for asylum seekers, shameful, paternalistic policies such as the cashless welfare card, and the ongoing torture of vulnerable people in island concentration camps, Hanson’s latest proposal to fingerprint every Australian and issue identity cards to cut down on welfare fraud, could almost be a current Liberal National Party policy.

The political climate is perfect for the rise of Saint Pauline.

Disillusioned, angry and frustrated with the system that doesn’t appear to work for them, thousands of Australians need and want change.

Hanson promotes herself as offering that change.

And thanks to the current batch of conservative politicians, her views are no longer seen as extreme. With policy differences so subtle the average voter cannot see the difference, she attracts people alienated by a Government so wrapped up in its own murky stench it cannot relate to the average worker.

Yet Hanson is no friend of the Aussie battler. She is not the answer. She may shake things up, cause a stir and rattle the establishment. But she will not make life better for Australians desperate for a share of economy, for a chance at success and a slice of the proverbial pie.

However the major parties have provided Pauline Hanson with the perfect environment to thrive.

With each new scandal, every new cut-throat act of this Government, disenchanted Australians are lining up to give the middle finger to the system.

And Hanson, like a phoenix will rise, to be the living embodiment of that finger.

 

Bearing the brunt of state-sanctioned thuggery: the Centrelink debt debacle

In a classic operation, most commonly perpetrated by telephone conmen and door-knocking scammers, the Turnbull Government has hit the jackpot. Boasting of returns of over $300 million after hitting up only 169,000 Australians, someone deep in the murky depths of Government has clearly been taking lessons from the lowest of predatory scumbags.

The operation, fondly promoted by the Government as a fair way to claw back taxpayer funds from those who were overpaid social security benefits, has reportedly caused significant angst among the most vulnerable in the community.

The debacle was first reported a couple of weeks before Christmas. In July 2016, the Government introduced an automatic debt identification and recovery system which compares annual income reported to the Australian Tax Office (ATO), with self-reports that welfare recipients provide to Centrelink on a fortnightly basis.

The results have been absurd.

Instead of providing people with a chance to address any identified discrepancy, the ‘system’ simply asks recipients to confirm their total income for the year on the MyGov website. If it accords with the ATO assessment (which it will, for any person who has correctly filled out their tax return and honestly reported their income to Centrelink), an automatic debt notification letter is sent where the system has calculated an overpayment.

Now this sounds fair enough – if a debt is owed.

But the process by which the system calculates the debt is scandalous. By averaging out annual earnings over 26 fortnights, it immediately assumes the person has earned income in every fortnight, was not entitled to benefits during the time claimed, and has therefore committed a fraud against the Commonwealth.

If a person disputes the debt, the Government still insists a payment arrangement is made to clear the debt.

If a person doesn’t pay the debt, it is quickly sent on to the debt collectors.

Those who allegedly owe a debt are threatened with jail if they do not pay.

Centrelink itself (the faceless Government organisation tasked with demanding money with menaces), has recommended distraught residents call the suicide prevention hotline, Lifeline, if they are concerned about receiving a debt notice.

Yet despite this blatantly clear admission of the trauma the system is causing innocent people, the Government is steadfastly proud of its money-making mission.

“From what we’ve seen in a high-volume system, it’s actually working incredibly well,” said Social Services Minister Christian Porter.

Here is some news for Mr Porter. Threatening people with unpalatable outcomes if they do not pay money (whether or not they owe it) is a tactic which has been used by unscrupulously vile and hideous individuals and criminal gangs for centuries to generate cash.

Why? Because it works.

If a person is terrified enough, they will pay up.

And when it is the Government making the demands and threatening to bring in the police for non-payment, there is little wonder so much money has already been collected.

The poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged have no chance against the state-sanctioned thuggery of the Turnbull Government.

The Government, in its attempt to save money and create efficiencies, has resorted to the lowest tactic possible: extortion.

Extortion is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. It is a criminal offence when practiced by any other individual. It is applauded as an efficiency when practiced by the Government.

While Porter continues to defend the unconscionable system, which violates every ethical principle and is an abuse of legal process, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce attempts to distract from the shitfest by focusing on those who may have been genuinely overpaid.

“I make no apology for making sure that those who didn’t need it, who got it, pay the money back,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said.

Little thought seems to have gone into the many innocent people who are caught up in the mess. The Government has admitted itself that around 20% of debt notices are falsely sent and those people owe nothing at all. Of course, the number of those falsely accused of owing money may well be higher if you consider some recipients have been accused of owing thousands of dollars, but may have been overpaid a mere ten or twenty dollars.

The outcry from the general public has been huge. The media, normally keen to stick the boot into the poor, has jumped on it, but the Government is holding its ground.

Just like the criminal underclass of old, who threaten, coerce and menace innocent people into handing over their life-savings, those responsible for the ‘Robo-Debt’ debacle stand firm. Instead of a baseball bat and balaclava, the Government uses the full force of the law and faceless institutions to muscle the vulnerable into submission.

The tactics used by the Government are nothing short of criminal. Those who are traumatized along the way, and who are pushed to the brink of suicide, are simply collateral damage in the Government’s quest to ‘balance the budget’. It has shunned due process and standard principles for debt identification and recovery. It is exploiting the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community for monetary gain.

Terrifying innocent people into paying money they do not owe is nothing to boast about. It represents a new low for the Turnbull Government.

But like all conmen and scammers, the only way to make the Government back down, is to show it Australians are not weak and will not put up with thuggery.

Every person who receives a debt notice must ask for a review, lodge a formal complaint if the debt is wrong, and contact the Ombudsman. Contact the media. Contact each and every politician involved, including the Opposition and local MPs.

This is a war on the poor that Turnbull cannot and must not be allowed to win.

Sneaky Fringe Benefits changes a cruel blow to working families

With no fanfare whatsoever, the Federal Government has launched yet another cruel attack on working families, directly impacting on their finances in the immediate term. The sneaky move, introduced part way through the financial year, will come into effect on 1 January 2017 and has the direct result of increasing the ‘incomes’ of working families, while offering zero tangible benefits and a guaranteed loss in real disposable income.

In a letter distributed this week, Centrelink has advised working Australian families that the way it calculates assessable income will change.

In just a mere two months, Centrelink “will use 100 per cent of your reportable fringe benefits, instead of the current 51 per cent, to calculate your rate” for Family Tax Benefit Part A and Part B, Child Care Benefit, Stillborn Baby Payment, Parental Leave Pay, and Dad and Partner Pay.

What does this mean?

Quite simply, any person who has negotiated in their salary package fringe benefits which exceed a total taxable value of $2,000 in a given Fringe Benefit Tax Year, will now have that total value included as ‘assessable income’ (instead of half) for the purposes of any family payments.

The astonishing increase, from 51% to 100% is not insignificant.

The increase in ‘assessable income’ (with no corresponding increase in actual income) may well be worth thousands of dollars and has the potential to be devastating to the finances of families who have used a perfectly legal mechanism to maximise their salary package and planned responsibly for their family finances.

This is an obnoxious attack on working families and makes absolutely no sense at all.

It doesn’t affect other couples or singles. The change has only a financial detriment to those who already have dependent children (or who are close to giving birth), and the financial consequences are now practically impossible to avoid.

The Government repeatedly insists that it wants women to return to the workforce after having children, it laments the lack of women in senior roles and leadership positions, it bemoans the burden that ‘non-working parents’ allegedly place on the taxpayer.

Yet here is a striking, crystal clear example of the Government deliberately disincentivizing families from attempting to improve their personal financial situations by negotiating favourable deals with employers to better their career prospects while balancing child-rearing responsibilities.

Parents of young children who have no option but to place their children in care if they return to work, are already faced with a huge cost for the privilege (even after Government rebates and benefits), while every dollar they earn goes against them. For many low income families, there is simply no financial benefit at all for both parents to work until children are of school age.

Yet for those who do manage to juggle young children, child care and work, every pay rise or offered promotion or increase in hours comes with the potential of a disproportionate hit to disposable income and the likelihood of tighter margins in which to meet financial commitments.

Responsible families plan and manage the costs, risks and consequences of raising a family and pursuing a career. Responsible families make decisions based on their outgoings and income and expected tax.

And now, the Government has completely changed the boundaries.

Fringe benefits are not the domain of the uber-rich. Ordinary, working families have access to salary packaging and those who do forego cash in place of a car or other type of benefit. And now those same families are being punished for making sound, sensible financial decisions to improve their personal circumstances.

Introduced part way through the year, the change in how income is assessed will impact the entire 2016-17 financial year at tax time. Any family who has, in good faith, honestly declared their income and either received a benefit or rebate, now runs the very real risk of owing Centrelink thousands of dollars in completely unintentional and unavoidable overpayments. This will particularly hit hard those who are just below a payment threshold, meaning they may owe the Government the entirety of any family tax benefit received throughout the entire financial year.

Of course, the Government cares nothing for the impact on working families. This Government has openly, repeatedly and actively attacked new parents and single parents, and has consistently attempted to find ways to reduce payments to the vulnerable, disadvantaged and unemployed. Yet now, even those parents who obtain paid employment to support their children are being actively punished.

The sneaky changes to reportable fringe benefits represent a new low in this Government’s vendetta against ordinary parents who are simply trying to make ends meet and raise a family. The lack of transparency around the changes demonstrates the contempt this Government holds all working families under.

It seems quite clear that the Government places no value whatsoever on working families and is determined to punish them for having a go.

centrelink-1centrelink-2

“Hey, Minister, it’s called democracy.”

The time has come. In just five days, the people of Australia will vote. And the fate of the Minister in charge of one of the most contentious Federal portfolios, will rest with the people of Dickson.

A Minister who has not only reigned over some of the most odious, repugnant and vicious immigration policies Australia has ever seen, but has systematically applied them with heartlessness and cruelty.

A Minister who has applied those policies without a conscience, compassion or even the faintest sense of humanity.

A Minister who, it appears, foolishly forgot that he is only in the position he is; a member of the House of Representatives, because he was elected by the people of Dickson.

And a Minister, who is slowly realising to his horror, that the people of Dickson can vote him out.

That Minister is Peter Dutton.

Minister for Immigration and Border Protection.

The Minister who won’t be ‘blackmailed’ into letting pregnant refugees have access to proper medical treatment – even if they are suffering life-threatening medical complications, or are seeking an abortion after a brutal rape.

The Minister who claims he will keep Australia safe by deporting men who have never been found guilty of any crime; even if they are a decorated soldier, simply because of who their mates may be.

The Minister who mocked Pacific Islanders who are facing the real consequences of climate change.

The Minister who ordered his henchmen to stop and search random people on the streets of Melbourne.

The Minister who has ruled over a regime that supports and covers up the rape and abuse of women and children and the torture of innocent people who have committed no crime in seeking sanctuary in Australia.

The Minister who threatened to jail doctors, teachers and other professionals for speaking out about the abuse suffered by the innocent people held hostage in island prisons by the Government of Australia.

Dutton, as Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, has systematically appealed to the lowest common denominator, resorted to scaremongering, and pedalled outright lies in his attempts to justify his appalling policies. His pitiful claims that ‘illiterate and innumerate refugees would take Australian jobs’ show just the depths he is willing to go to, to incite divide and hate in the community.

And now, in a typical act of petulant whinery, Dutton is accusing ‘bikies’ and ‘union thugs’ of threats and intimidation because a group of disgruntled Queenslanders are protesting directly outside his office in the electorate of Dickson.

The ‘threats’ consist of holding placards encouraging voters to ‘Put the LNP Last’.

It’s easy to understand why Dutton might be so frightened by such a thing.

A coordinated attack on his very elected existence is the one thing that could see an end to his reign of terror.

And an attack involving his self-declared enemy; members of one percent motorcycle clubs, has struck fear into Dutton’s heart.

While Dutton has torn families apart, deprived young children of their parents, stranded long-term residents overseas, completely abrogated responsibility for the deaths, abuse and torture of people under this care, and persistently insisted he is doing so to protect the people of Australia, one of the very minorities he is targeting, is fighting back with democracy.

Grass-roots activism. People power.

Encouraging the voters of Dickson to put the LNP – and Dutton – last.

The terrifying reality of the precariousness of his situation has hit Dutton hard. Begging Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to tell the protesters to stop, Dutton has revealed the extent of his fear.

But it is not just protestors physically standing outside his office that Dutton need be afraid of.

GetUp! Has raised over $190,000 through public donations, to assist in the fight to unseat him.

For the past two years, the fate of thousands of people has rested in Dutton’s hands. But now the tables have turned. Dutton’s fate rests in the hands of the voters of Dickson.

It is time to hit Dutton where it hurts, with the thing he fears the most.

Democracy.

Dutton must stop holding pregnant women hostage

What kind of a sick, evil nation do we live in, where pregnant rape victims are held to ransom by the Government? What kind of vicious society forces a vulnerable woman to endure a pregnancy and consequent childbirth, against the strongest recommendations of doctors, simply to gain political points in a nasty campaign?

How tragic that S99 was raped while enduring an epileptic fit, causing her to become pregnant, in the months preceding a federal election.

How gruesome and abhorrent for Dutton to deny that he holds a duty of care to S99, all the while whisking her off to a third world nation where termination is illegal, to get rid of the problem.

How inconvenient for decision-makers, that refugee advocates keep trying to hold them to account, when they would prefer ‘policy’ was adhered to, even where that puts a woman’s life and mental health in danger.

There is a huge difference, emotionally, psychologically, and physically, in an abortion carried out in the first trimester, compared with the second or third. Yet this is not the first time that a woman who has suffered a violent assault while under the care of the Australian Government, who has requested a termination as soon as they have known about their condition, has had medical treatment delayed or denied.

And for what?

So a minister can use these innocent women as political playthings to satisfy the bleatings of the ignorant.

This is a government who sees no issue with torturing human beings who have sought asylum in Australia. A government who is content to subject real, live, viable human children to such awful conditions they are some of the most traumatised that health professionals have ever seen.

Yet these same animals delay a simple medical procedure for a vulnerable woman until it requires surgical intervention, because of politics.

And even then in some cases, delay it further, until the desperate woman, now able to feel the unborn move in her belly, is too conflicted to undergo the operation.

The ideology of the Australian Government puts these women in danger; Liberal and Labor politicians who defend the island concentration camps.

It is an undeniable fact that if not for their incarceration on Nauru, these women would not have been raped and consequently pregnant at this time. These women have been raped on Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s watch, while under Dutton’s care. He cannot abrogate this responsibility. It rests with him.

Yet not only does he deny he has responsibility, he delays, day by day, week by week, month by month, the necessary medical treatment for these desperate women.

Even when a woman wants a pregnancy, many suffer from daily sickness and obvious physical side-effects. Anxiety, stress, depression, fear, and apprehension are all common. For women who have become pregnant from rape, forcing them to endure this for even a week through lack of action, is abhorrent.

Every week is critical. Every week delayed puts more torment on that poor woman and makes the moral decision even harder for women who may be culturally opposed to termination but quite simply cannot face having a child.

These politicians, forcing their moral opposition to termination on rape victims, by deliberate legal and bureaucratic delays, is vile and the worst kind of abuse.

The trauma and suffering the self-righteous moral crusaders inflict on these women is a million times worse than terminating a pregnancy.

Dutton and his cohorts erroneously insist the boats have stopped, they insist that lives have been saved, that no one has drowned in Australian waters under a Liberal Government.

Yet when a woman is raped while under Australia’s care and becomes pregnant, Dutton and his Department knowingly delay intervention, forcing a women to undergo the most riskiest journey of her life; pregnancy and childbirth: A journey, which in in a first world western nation, rarely results in death, but in third world countries accounts for almost 800 deaths a day.

How much more trauma does this Government intend to inflict to attempt to gain electoral advantage? Will S99 be forced to enter her third trimester before she is allowed a safe and legal abortion, simply because Dutton is fearful the floodgates of women deliberately allowing themselves to be raped and impregnated just to get into Australia will be opened?

The inhumanity is disgusting. The moral repugnancy is astounding.

Dutton’s actions, or more accurately, inaction, is repulsive.

This Government must stop holding pregnant women to ransom. It must stop exposing vulnerable women to sexual assault and abuse. It must stop denying it has a duty of care, and stop refusing immediate medical intervention.

The Coalition and Opposition are both complicit in the torture and abuse of innocent men, women and children. It cannot claim any moral fortitude by opposing the termination of an unwanted pregnancy.

Using rape victims as pawns for political point-scoring is vile. Refusing or delaying safe, legal termination of unwanted pregnancy when care is readily available, is a deliberate act of bastardry.

Under any other circumstances, the Government and authorities would be slammed viciously for their lack of action, but no, the Australian public allows this to continue, and endorses, with its silence, Dutton holding pregnant women hostage.

“They come for help and you torture them.”

Dear Mr Dutton,

Words cannot express just how disgusted I am in you and your Department.

It is clear that your abhorrent asylum seeker policies have nothing to do with ‘saving lives’ and everything to do with securing votes from bigots, racists and xenophobes.

I know it is too much to ask that you show empathy and compassion. You’re clearly too busy blaming refugee advocates for stirring up trouble instead of taking personal responsibility for the disasters happening under your portfolio, because that is just how you roll.

What will it take to make you change your policy? How many more women need to be raped? How many more children abused and traumatised? How many more men have to die from lack of medical treatment? How many more people will be pushed to attempting suicide because of your cruelness and inhumane stance?

How many more nasty, brutal, and completely preventable deaths must occur before you stop dragging out the same tired lines about ‘drownings’ and ‘people smugglers’ and ‘illegal arrivals’?

The cost of off-shore detention is no deterrent to your insistence on torturing innocent people. Clearly the illegality of Manus Island is no issue to your insistence that men be held there against their will. It is blatantly obvious that you would rather send a pregnant rape victim to a country where abortion is illegal than give her treatment in Australia.

It is evident that you would prefer refugees commit suicide than drown in the perilous crossing to Australia.

Is that because you can blame them for their choices? Do you really think a sane, rational person, with hope, opportunity and a safe home to live in sets themselves on fire?

How dare your Department not immediately bring Omid to Australia for treatment. How dare you let him suffer for hours with no morphine in a stinking, repulsive, ill-equipped hospital on Nauru.

You let him die, Mr Dutton, through you and your Department’s inaction.

And now, after your henchmen dragged an innocent women from her bed in Brisbane, a refugee who fled to Australia for sanctuary as a 16 year old, after you sent her back to Nauru, so desperate, frightened and full of despair, she too has attempted to kill herself.

This is also your fault, Mr Dutton.

Your treatment of these people is pushing them to desperate measures, and you stand back and watch them burn.

It is disgusting.

Don’t think I am all ‘misty-eyed’. Don’t think I’m not rational.

I am perfectly rational. I am not the slightest bit misty-eyed. I am angry.

Do not attempt to write me off as a teary, irrational, hand-wringing, bleeding-heart.

There is nothing irrational about my assessment of you as being one of the most vicious, evil and psychopathic Immigration Ministers Australia has ever seen. You have beaten Scott Morrison’s efforts hands down.

It is not acceptable to torture people to achieve a political purpose.

It is not acceptable to hold innocent people hostage to secure votes from ignorant racists.

It is not acceptable to send a pregnant woman to a country where abortion is illegal because your policy is to inflict as much suffering as you can on these people who seek our help.

It is beyond comprehension that you would leave a man to suffer with serious burns all over his body, because your policy is to torture asylum seekers to send a message to ‘people smugglers’.

It is abhorrent that you seek to win votes at the expense of innocent peoples’ lives.

Your current policy is unsustainable. It is unconscionable. It is disgusting.

You can change it, Mr Dutton. Or are you adamant that you go down in history as a man who willfully tortured innocent people to stay in political power?

If you think torturing these people gives you some kind of moral high ground over Labor because there have been no drownings in Australian waters in the past two years, you are gravely mistaken.

Torture is torture. Abuse is abuse. Deliberately traumatising men, women and children is despicable.

You cannot justify your treatment of these people in any way.

Enough is enough, Mr Dutton. I know that you do not care, and no amount of death, trauma and public outcry will make you change your mind. But you are being judged, and judged harshly by millions of Australians and the rest of the world.

And when you finally scuttle off from whence you came, history will record you as the vile specimen that you are: a man who deliberately inflicted the worst kind of treatment on innocent people, for the sake of votes and winning an election.

Sincerely

Eva Cripps

Sussan Ley: the best friend Cancer ever had

Cancer is one of the leading killers in Australia – it accounts for approximately 3 out of every 10 deaths. In many cases, it can strike without warning; young, old, rich, poor. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Even the healthiest of people can be torn down by a cancerous cell.

The verdict from doctors is practically unanimous. If detected early, many cancers can be successfully treated. Instead of a guaranteed death sentence, a simple test can save the pain, heartache and trauma of millions of Australians and their families.

That simple test requires pathology services.

The same pathology services Health Minister Sussan Ley wants to decimate with her ill-informed and ominous cuts to the bulk billing incentive for providers.

The truth is harsh. The reality is brutal.

Sussan Ley’s plan to scrap the bulk billing incentive will result in preventable deaths.

The link is obvious. It doesn’t require a $100k degree to figure it out.

Already stretched to the limits, pathology providers have made it clear. No incentive, combined with frozen Medicare rebates means something has to change. Sussan Ley’s pathology cuts are the final straw.

So what does this mean for Australians?

With no incentive to bulk bill, pathology providers will simply charge up front for services. The patient will have to pay the full cost of tests, scans and x-rays at the time of consult, then seek reimbursement from Medicare.

There may be a gap: out-of-pocket expenses, and potentially every time, for every test.

If a person can’t afford the upfront costs for pathology services, they will simply miss out.

And people will die.

Cancers will go undetected until it is too late.

Serious illness and disease will go untreated.

Doctors will not be able to properly diagnose patients.

Chronic illnesses will not be properly managed, leading to further complications and onset of disease.

Preventable sickness will become the norm.

Sexually transmitted disease will flourish.

Pregnant women may forego routine testing putting the health of themselves and their unborn child in danger.

Hospital admissions may increase as people wait longer before seeking treatment.

The general health standards of low income, vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians may decrease, putting further pressure on already struggling hospitals, health and support services.

Men, women, children and babies will unnecessarily die.

And for what?

To save Sussan Ley a paltry $650 million over four years. $162.5 million a year.

The government has spoken.

It has put a price on a human life.

And that price is a measly $1-3 per test.

In 2014-15, 98.7% of out-patient pathology services were bulk billed.

There is absolutely no doubt at all, that after 1 July 2016 that percentage will decrease.

That percentage represents real people. Real people receiving 112.8 million pathology services a year (based on 98.7% of the 114.3 million out-patient pathology services provided in 2014-15).

That percentage represents mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles or aunts who may have to decide whether to pay the rent, put food on the table, or be tested for Cancer.

For every 1% drop in the bulk billing rate, that is 1.143 million Australians forced to put a price on their health.

That’s $30 out of pocket for each of the 2 million routine pap smears estimated to be conducted a year (a crucial tool to test for early signs of cervical cancer in women).

That’s upfront payments of $93 for an x-ray, $396 for a CAT scan, a minimum of $85 for a mammogram, up to $186 for an ultrasound and up to $1,000 for a PET scan (according to the Australia Diagnostic Imaging Association).

Those stricken with Cancer may face initial upfront costs of around $1,500 and out-of-pocket expenses of up to $400 after receiving Medicare rebates. Over two years the costs could escalate to over $3,000, with out-of-pocket expenses of up to $725.

The 1.7 million Australians with diabetes may now face up to $400 a year in upfront costs just for basic urine and blood tests.

Cancer doesn’t wait for payday.

Cancer doesn’t care if you lose your capacity to pay because you’re too ill to work or your insurances have run out or your private health cover don’t include pathology services.

Cancer doesn’t care for vain attempts to win the lottery.

Cancer doesn’t care that bills need to be paid.

Savagely, fiercely, stealthily it comes, and it stops for no one.

Yet one simple thing has the chance to stop Cancer.

Early Detection.

And Sussan Ley has her heel planted firmly on Early Detection’s throat. As each day draws closer to 1st July 2016, she grinds her heel a little harder.

It won’t be long before Sussan Ley kills Early Detection, with any hope or chance for millions of Australians suffocated by the weight of Financial Hardship.

Sussan Ley is Cancer’s best friend. Which makes her the enemy of every Australian.

Unrelenting, emotionless and insidious, Sussan Ley’s refusal to acknowledge the devastating consequences of her policy, has much in common with Cancer.

When sickness, illness and disease hit home, lives are destroyed. People lose jobs and homes. The pressure it puts on families; physically, emotionally, psychologically and financially, is enormous.

When Cancer, or any other illness strikes; serious, chronic, terminal or otherwise, it is never just one test needed. Weeks, months, sometimes years or a lifetime of diagnostic treatment is required.

For millions of families, Sussan Ley’s cuts may well be a death sentence.

For millions of others, Sussan Ley’s cuts will be the final twist of the knife.

The Government’s wilful blindness to the ramifications of de-incentivising bulk-billing is staggering.

Yet it is not surprising.

It is election year. Sussan Ley’s cuts will come in before Australians have the chance to vote, but before the full force of the consequences are felt.

It is deplorable that the availability and affordability of diagnostic tools, which are crucial to properly manage the health of Australians of every age, are being played against the interests of massive corporations and businesses.

Bulk-billing should not be used as a tool to threaten the Australian public – all pathology services should and must be bulk billed. If the Government wants to make savings, it must find another way.

There is still time to make a stand. All the advances in technology, medicine and science will be futile if Australians avoid critical diagnostic testing. The best doctors in the world cannot save a life once the point of no return is passed.

Australians are not yet at that point. There is still time to tell Cancer to shove its viciousness, vileness and foulness somewhere dark and gloomy where it cannot take hold and destroy lives.

There is still time to make it clear to Cancer’s best friend, that Australians will not tolerate having their lives held to ransom by anyone, or anything, including an evil, callous, heartless pathogen.

Let’s bury Cancer, not Australians.

No Census anonymity? It is time to be afraid

There has never been a more terrifying time to be an Australian. Sure, there have been darker days, and longer nights, but nothing compares to the insidious and downright sinister moves of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to retain all the personal identifying information of every person resident in Australia from the 2016 Census.

The Government rotates between favoured bogey men. This has played out in many ways throughout history; there was the White Australia policy, the Yellow Peril, and Reds under the Bed.

Unsurprisingly, the latest iteration follows a predictable propaganda trail, with declarations of war against terrorists, war on bikies, and a crackdown on pregnant asylum seekers and their babies trying to blackmail Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

But through it all, while the mainstream media shrieks and sensationalises and propagates mere nothings, while facts and evidence and reality is ignored, while more and more freedom-encroaching laws are enacted, harsher penalties are introduced and more powers are given to enforcement agencies, Australians have slept sound in the knowledge that their personal privacy, the daily workings of their lives, is, for the most part, protected.

As of the date of the 2016 census, this will no longer be the case.

For the first time ever, the ABS will retain the names and addresses in the Census of Population and Housing; all of which will remain linked to deeply personal and comprehensive responses, to ‘provide a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia through the combination of Census data with other survey and administrative data.’

What does this mean?

The answer is extremely obvious. The Government, through its various agencies, is building a comprehensive and detailed profile of every single person in Australia.

While the ABS claims to have processes and policies in place to prevent the release of such personal information, the naivety and sheer incredulities of such a claim is astonishing.

Since 2002, there has been at least 51 additional national security laws introduced or proposed, including new crimes, increased and expanded legal, police and intelligence powers, and greater government oversight; including the mandatory two year retention of metadata.

Since 2007, state and federal governments have ramped up the attack on so-called bikies, and introduced a range of extraordinary, far reaching, draconian laws, the vast majority of which don’t apply just to those committing serious organised crime offences, but impinge seriously on the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of ordinary, law abiding Australians.

Laws have been passed by state governments to ban protesting, with ludicrous new penalties for people defending their rights and freedoms, and standing up to businesses or government ideology. Penalties are harsher for ordinary Australians standing up for their beliefs, than for a company director prosecuted over a workplace death.

The innocent majority are punished for the sins of the few, with lock out laws introduced, and completely disproportionate penalties for what are largely regulatory offences.

Doctors and other professionals have been threatened with two years jail for exposing and revealing child abuse and torture in Government sanctioned concentration camps. The right to silence, a fundamental protection for the innocent, has been seriously eroded, if not abrogated in part, with legislation across jurisdictions giving greater powers to alleged crime fighting commissions, and New South Wales attempting to abolish the right altogether.

All of these laws, in some way, violate the basic principles of Australia’s legal system. They threaten the basis of democracy.

But what have these legislative developments, as repulsive as they are, got to do with the ABS’s intention to retain the personal identifying information of Australians?

Everything.

The national trend of tighter secrecy, greater control and abrogation of civil liberties has been fungating in recent years.

Detection, investigation, prosecution and government vilification depend entirely on agencies having access to personal information.

Associations.

Networks.

History.

Data.

Personal information.

And now the ABS, with a stroke of a pen, has given the government the final piece of the puzzle. The ABS, collectors and harbourers of all things ‘data’, are connecting the dots to create the intricate map the Government so craves.

The ABS said itself in its media release: The Census information will be combined with ‘other survey and administrative data.’

The gross encroachment of rights and freedoms has nothing to do with keeping people ‘safe’ or ‘building a dynamic statistical picture’ of the population.

The Census information will be used for ideological warfare. Maybe not this year. Maybe not in the next. But it will be, because the tools will be there to allow it.

The ABS asserts for now, the personal information of Australians is safe. No doubt in much the same way the Immigration Department assured 10,000 asylum seekers their information was safe before inadvertently publishing it all online, exposing them to immense danger if returned to the countries they fled.

It is no surprise that the ABS, given the grave concerns about data protection and security, is jumping to assure people that the information will not be misused.

But the past is a great predictor of the future. And it’s about time that history was noted.

There was a time that people who obtained citizenship believed they, and their children, could finally call Australia home. There was a time when people could seek asylum on Australia’s shores by boat and not be detained in an island prison camp for years. There was a time when a doctor or teacher was obliged to report child sexual abuse, not be threatened with jail for doing so.

The time now, is a time for fear. With a Government already intent on targeting minorities, vilifying people because of their associations, and legislatively suffocating those who stand up for their beliefs, it is completely realistic that at some point, not too far away, the ABS data will be used for an entirely different purpose than the original intent.

Anyone who believes that the Census data, from 2016 and the years to come, won’t be used for sinister purposes is naïve and quite simply deluded.

‘If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide’ is little consolation when you have no way to hide even if you are innocent.

“The best way to deter criminals is to abuse and traumatise children.”

The repeated and consistent claim from both the Coalition Government and Labor Opposition is that the offshore detention regime is necessary to deter the people smugglers. Neither major party wants to see a return of asylum seekers drowning in Australian waters. Neither major party wants to encourage desperate people fleeing warzones to take the perilous journey across the sea from Indonesia to Christmas Island. Both major parties have adopted an approach of ‘the end result justifies the means’.

The ‘end result’ is the prevention of men, women and children drowning in Australian waters.

The ‘means’ is subjecting innocent men, women and children to such appalling conditions that they would rather die in a warzone than seek asylum in Australia.

In an attempt to stop people drowning, or rather, in an attempt to spare the rescuers the traumatic task of pulling dead bodies from the water, both major parties have adopted the most extreme of approaches. The offshore detention regime is designed to be so horrific, that people seeking asylum would rather not risk the journey. It is designed to instil such fear in them, that if they survive the sea crossing, they will instead face years of torture, abuse and a slow death through loss of hope.

But the major parties know they can’t publicly trade off ‘death by drowning’ with the ‘torture of innocent people’. Instead they claim the harsh regime is necessary to stop the criminal activity of people smugglers.

Seeking asylum is not a crime. People smuggling is.

Yet both major parties fully endorse a policy which punishes those seeking asylum, with almost no negative consequence at all for those who are actually breaking the law.

The policy of both major parties can be summarised as follows:

‘The best way to deter criminals is to abuse and traumatise innocent men, women and children.’

When spelled out this clearly, one must wonder just how Australia got to this position? At what point did our elected representatives become so morally devoid and ethically repugnant that they were prepared to torture innocent people to stop criminal activity?

The slow march to national shame and disgrace has been so gradual, so carefully engineered by political campaigners aided by simplistic slogans, that Australia as a nation has come to accept cruelty, evil and insanity as ‘normal’.

The application of the policy is as follows:

Men will be housed in detention centres where they are set to languish, without hope, opportunity or any semblance of humanity. They will be subject to abuse, physical attacks and torturous conditions until they lose the will to live. They will be vilified and degraded. They will eventually reach a point where they will attempt or successfully commit suicide, or beg to be returned to the country from which they came.

Women will similarly be housed in detention centres, where they are set to languish, without hope, opportunity or any semblance of humanity. They will be subjected to abuse, physical attacks and torturous conditions. They will have to beg for basic sanitary items. They will have to shower and toilet in front of male guards. If they are raped, they will be denied treatment and forced to remain living in the same vicinity as their attackers. If they become pregnant, they will be used as political playthings by the Government, with the main aim to provide a deterrent to criminals. If they have a complicated pregnancy they will be forced to give birth in a third world hospital which does not have the equipment or facilities to deal with high risk, complex medical conditions in mothers or babies.

And the children? Regardless of age, children and babies will be housed alongside their parents in stinking hot, rat infested tents. They will be denied access to hygienic living conditions, sufficient fresh water and appropriate education. They will be deprived of basic sanitation and forced to shower in front of guards. They will be subject to sexual abuse, rape and physical attacks. Children who are sexually abused will be forced to live alongside their attackers. They will be so traumatised that children under ten years old will be suicidal. 

If men, women or children disclose any abuse or assault against their person, the local police will ignore it. Australia will ignore it. Those who make complaints will be vilified.

Men, women and children will be pushed to the limits – so far that they suffer from serious mental illness and resort to self-harm.

Dare to flee a warzone? Dare to flee persecution, genocide and violence? Dare to come to Australia by boat? Australia will punish you.

The Australian Government is doing everything within its power to make sure the people who dare to help themselves by escaping traumatic circumstances are subjected to the worst possible torturous treatment. It has made every attempt to make the living conditions so devastating that the detainees will beg to be sent back to their former hell.

It matters not, to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Minister for Border Protection Peter Dutton and Shadow Minister Richard Marles, that the people being punished and effectively tortured by the Australian Government have not broken any law.

As far as both major parties are concerned, the best way to stop the people smugglers is to inflict as much pain, damage and trauma on their human cargo as possible.

The punishment for not drowning at sea is the state-sanctioned torture by the Australian Government.

The reward for people smugglers attempting to smuggle people to Australia is cash payments to return to Indonesia and/or freedom.

Both major parties know the offshore detention regime is repulsive. That is the only reason they both fully endorsed and supported the law which threatens doctors, nurses, counsellors and other professionals with two years in prison for speaking out about the abuse.

The offshore detention regime may be legal, but it is immoral. There is simply no ethical or moral justification for deliberately subjecting innocent people to abuse in an effort to deter those who will break the law.

The major party’s state they want to take a compassionate approach to asylum seeker policy while also ensuring the people smugglers are stopped. Perhaps then, instead of torturing people seeking asylum, the Government can quickly process their claims and free them. And instead of rewarding people smugglers with cash payments, new boats and freedom, they can arrest them, charge them and have them tried in a court of law.

The policy of punishing the innocent to deter offenders is a national disgrace.

It’s 2016. Why is breastfeeding still an issue?

It’s 2016 and people still get excited over breastfeeding. Men, women and babies. While hungry infants are excited for all the right reasons, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, adult men and women are still getting their metaphorical knickers in a twist over whether or not a woman should use her mammaries for feeding a baby, and even more relevantly, whether she should do so in public.

It is astounding and disappointing that this conversation is even happening. It is disturbing that people still shame women for being responsible; that is, providing her child with nutritional goodness when the baby actually needs it, not half an hour later when the mother can find a suitably clean and sanitary toilet to cower in with her breast barely exposed, if at all.

Recently, a photo posted on the CFA (Country Fire Authority) Facebook page of a breastfeeding volunteer firefighter caused a huge stir, with the typical media reaction. A Spanish politician caused an outcry after breastfeeding her baby in parliament. A café in Queensland allegedly ‘unfairly’ copped a social media grilling after ‘the woman who was breastfeeding was not courteous enough to minimize her exposure.’ These aren’t isolated incidences. In January 2015, a restaurant owner, in denying his staff asked a breastfeeding customer to leave, said that if a woman was breastfeeding ‘we would find a quiet corner for them so it doesn’t bother anyone else.’

Seriously?

Why is it that women who breastfeed their babies in public, or share photos of breastfeeding on social media, are practically accused of committing an act of gross indecency? Why are they being publicly sidelined for the sensitivities of other people who are offended by a perfectly natural thing?

Why, in 2016, do people still have an issue with breasts?

Of course, the loudest detractors insist they are not anti-public-breastfeeding or indeed, not anti-breastfeeding at all. Apparently they just don’t like women exposing themselves or being exhibitionists.

It appears that the condemnation is not for feeding a child with a breast (because that would be so politically incorrect), the condemnation is for doing it in such a way as to publicly draw attention to the fact the mother is breastfeeding.

But it doesn’t seem to matter if there is flesh showing or not, there are still cries from men and women alike, for the mother to cover up, be ‘decent’, stop exposing herself and have some modesty.

The reality is, the vast majority of women do not breastfeed their babies in public because they want to display their breasts to the world. They do not do so to elicit a sexual response from men salivating over the mere thought of a soft, pliable, fleshy boob. Women do not eagerly request someone photograph them breastfeeding because they are desperate to share an image of their breast flesh with every man, woman and child for their own personal gratification.

The vast majority of women do not breastfeed their babies in public because they want to announce to the world that they are YAY! BREASTFEEDING. They are not making a public statement. They are not doing it to rub it in the faces of women who cannot breastfeed. They are not making a self-righteous point about how ‘breast is best’ and therefore how much more responsible and caring they are as mothers than parents who bottle feed. They are not attempting to elicit a negative response so they can storm back to their social media accounts and cry ‘discrimination’ (by the way, it is perfectly legal in Australia to breastfeed in public.)

Astoundingly, the vast majority of women who breastfeed their baby anywhere, do so because their baby is hungry or needs comforting.

That is it.

Yet non-private breastfeeding still brings out a swarm of whingers, whiners and holier-than-thou critics, who seem to find the sight of a nursing mother more offensive than leaving a child to scream and starve.

The condescending, patronising and downright rude comments from men and women alike implies that feeding a child in a completely natural and normal way is morally repugnant and akin to engaging in a public display of pornography.

It is astonishing that in 2016, a woman providing an infant with a healthy meal still causes such a stir.

The main reason, it seems, is society’s perception of ‘decency’, and the inability of some people to see breasts as anything other than sexual things.

The whole concept of ‘exhibitionism’: extravagant behaviour that is intended to attract attention to oneself, seems to have been taken off the stage and applied to mothers who are doing what mothers do; feed their babies.

Yes, breasts may be considered sexual organs. However it is ridiculous that in 2016, displaying breast flesh, or even alluding to the fact a woman has breasts, is still only acceptable if it can be sexualised in some form. It is even more disturbing that people cannot differentiate between breasts as functional baby-feeders, and something to attract a mate.

People barely bat an eyelid at breasts in a bikini. Breasts cupped in a well-fitting, supportive and shaped bra nestled beneath a smart, yet low cut blouse. Pictures of breasts in silky, sleek lingerie plastered along shopping centre walls. These are all okay.

But breasts in the mouth of a hungry child? Outrageous.

“I breastfed all my children,” tap the self-righteous women, the introduction to prove they are not, per se, anti-breastfeeding, “but I did it discretely, with my baby’s head covered in a crocheted quilt, hiding behind a wall of pot-plants. I didn’t exhibit myself and flaunt my naked nipples to other women’s husbands in a desperate attempt to show them my swollen, milk-filled mammaries and entice them away from their wives. I had self-respect back in my day.”

“I too breastfed my child,” chips in another pious anti-exhibitionist. “But I don’t want my children to see that. I don’t want my husband to see that. It’s just not necessary to flaunt them and flop them around.”

“I just don’t feel comfortable staring at breasts”, sniffs another.

These sanctimonious critics might as well say, “OMG! She’s deliberately exposing herself for the sexual gratification of me/my husband/that man over there who will work himself into a masturbatory frenzy over her exposed flesh! And not only that, she is making all women look like shameless whores because she has her BREASTS out!”

What gives any man or woman the right to tell another woman how and where she should and should not feed her child?

Breastfeeding in itself, is not ‘making a statement’. A photo of a breastfeeding mother should attract no more attention than a family Santa photo.

Breastfeeding in public is not exhibitionism. It is not a public display of vaginal knitting – and even the vaginal knitting exhibition in question was not for external validation.

It is ridiculous that mothers who breastfeed are still expected to stay at home, cover up, or sit in a corner so as to not offend people with their breasts. Mothers are volunteer firefighters, politicians, professionals, community members, and, unbelievably to some, completely normal people. The Department of Health recommends babies are exclusively breastfed until 6 months of age, and continued up to 12 months or longer if the mother and baby wish. Yet in Australia,  by the time a baby is four months old, less than 40% of women still breastfeed and by 6 months, less than 15% of babies have breast milk. Many women struggle with breastfeeding, and it is disgusting that mothers are subject to negative community attitudes instead of support in the first year of their baby’s life.

It is long past the time for people to stop being offended by breastfeeding, and it is time for people to stop manufacturing offence on behalf of others. Almost every single Australian child, teenager, and adult man and woman has seen a breast at some point in their lives – their own mother’s, their own, their wife or girlfriend’s. If a person has ever gone to a sunny beach or swimming pool, they have seen as much breast flesh, if not more, than that which is displayed when breastfeeding. And if a mother flashes a little bit more? Why does it matter?

If the smugly righteous prudes cannot handle the sight of a suckling child, or the overly-sexed perverts feel they cannot control their sexual urges if they catch sight of breast flesh pressed against the cheek of a hungry baby, the issue is with them, not the mother. The solution for the offended is incredibly simple – just don’t look.

Centrelink sprung telling eligible parents they can’t apply for Paid Parental Leave

In an appalling case of pre-emptive bastardry, Centrelink customer service employees have been sprung telling at least one new mother that she should not apply for Paid Parental Leave (PPL) because it is ‘double dipping’. The new mother, who does not want to be named, approached Centrelink on two separate occasions in late 2015, with queries about PPL. The conversations, with two separate Centrelink officers – in person and on the phone, left the new mother in tears, not least because she was essentially accused of trying to rort the system when she was enquiring about her perfectly legal entitlements.

“When I rang them they tried convincing me not to apply. That it wasn’t all that much money and I got maternity leave so I shouldn’t be applying anyway.”

The Health and Human Services website clearly states that “the current Paid Parental Leave scheme has not changed. It will continue to be available to eligible customers.”

Why then did Centrelink officers give this new mother such grossly inaccurate information about her eligibility for the scheme? Are the staff so untrained, unskilled or incompetent they do not know the facts about PPL? Or, have officers have been told to go ahead with enacting the Abbott/Turnbull Government’s planned cuts, despite the changes still facing resistance in the Senate, and even then, not planned to come into effect until 1 July 2016?

The new mother initially approached Centrelink in person at the Hobart shopfront, and explained her situation. She asked the officer:

“… could [partner] take Dad and Partner pay at one stage and then later the PPL… I was told that was double dipping and I shouldn’t be trying to get maternity leave and PPL since it’s one or the other.”

Why is a Centrelink officer deliberately attempting to mislead the new mother? Since when has it been appropriate for an employee of the Commonwealth to infuse political propaganda with providing advice on lawful entitlements?

The Centrelink website clearly states under the information for Dad and Partner Pay: “If eligible, your family can receive Parental Leave Pay or the Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement for the same child for whom you receive Dad and Partner Pay … As an individual, you may be able to receive both Dad and Partner Pay and Parental Leave Pay, but not at the same time.”

Additionally, the Centrelink website, and legislation provides for the first primary care-giver to later transfer PPL to the other parent, provided that other parent also meets the eligibility criteria. The criteria are as follows:

  • be the primary carer of a newborn or recently adopted child
  • meet the Paid Parental Leave work test
  • meet the Paid Parental Leave income test
  • be on leave or not working from the time you become your child’s primary carer until the end of your Paid Parental Leave period

Paid Parental Leave does not just apply to mothers, it applies to parents. The test is not the gender of the applicant, but the nature of the care-giving responsibilities.

“Being told I was double dipping really made me mad. They just don’t understand the concept of men taking parental leave. It is PARENTAL, not MOTHERS. [Partner] needs a bond with [baby] just as much as I do.”

Both the new mother and her partner met all eligibility requirements in this case, yet again, just days after the birth of her first child in November 2015, the new mother, who had commenced her maternity leave early due to medical complications, called Centrelink, who tried to convince her the newborn supplement was the most appropriate payment, repeatedly trying to dissuade her from applying for PPL.

It was a few days after [baby] was born and I cried. I cried at everything for a while. She really, really tried to convince me that the new born supplement payment was what I should get. The different is very big. If it were the same dollar amount I wouldn’t mind, but there is a huge difference. She put through the claim I needed in the end. Just took ages.”

Given that two separate Centrelink officers in two separate locations and at different times provided almost identical and misleading advice, it can only be assumed that staff have been told to dissuade eligible families from accessing PPL.

“She really did not like the idea that [partner] was getting the PPL… ‘It is meant for the mother to spend time away from work with their child, you are getting maternity leave so you really should just apply for newborn supplement, it isn’t intended so that you get both’… ‘it isn’t all that much anyway, only about $600 a week, that’s not much’…”

The PPL scheme introduced by the Labor Government on 1 January 2011 was designed to work with employer paid schemes to enable the primary care-giver to take as close to 6 months off work as possible. The scheme envisaged the mother in particular, would receive her usual maternity leave entitlements as well as the 18 weeks Federal PPL paid at the minimum wage. The PPL was always intended to supplement employer paid schemes and could be transferred to the other partner if required.

However it seems that Turnbull doesn’t want to wait until his unpopular changes are forced through the Senate, if they go through at all. Turnbull is determined to leave the lowest paid workers up to $10,000 worse off immediately, without any legislative change at all.

How many other women have been told they are not eligible for PPL? How many other families have been left worse off because of incorrect and misleading advice from Centrelink officers? How many new mother and new fathers have been lied to by the Government?

In this case, the new mother persisted and eventually put in her claim.

“What I don’t understand is why they are saying this when the policy isn’t even passed? It was an idea at one stage; that PM is gone. So why are they still saying this? And why are they having an opinion on it?”

That is a very good question. Why do Centrelink officers have an opinion on Government policy? Their role is to provide advice to people based on the current law and eligibility criteria, not to spruik a policy that will leave up to 80,000 families worse off.

It is also completely unacceptable for a Government employee to call a mother who has just given birth a ‘double dipper’, and infer she is rorting the system when she is enquiring about a lawful entitlement. It is unacceptable that the officer should have such poor knowledge of the current law that they tell a new mother her partner is not entitled to his lawful entitlement either.

There is simply no excuse at all for Centrelink officers to be telling parents they cannot apply for PPL when they absolutely can. It is a disgrace. Luckily, in this case, the new mother knew enough about her rights to challenge the advice. How many other parents have not, and ended up missing out on vital financial support in the first crucial months of their new baby’s life?

If only pathology services tested for coal.

Modern medicine and science is an incredible thing. Compared with even a few decades ago, the options available for Australians to manage their health is impressive. A simple blood or urine test can reveal medical issues and potential complications even before symptoms appear or physical health noticeably deteriorates. No longer is a cancer diagnosis a guaranteed death sentence. MRI and PET scans, x-rays and other diagnostic tools have proven crucial to the early detection and management of cancer, disease and infection. Routine blood and urine tests are vital to the health management of millions of Australians.

Up until now, nearly all Australians, young, old, rich and poor, have had access to, and the benefit of a health system where everyone is largely treated equally, and lives are valued. Every person, regardless of gender, socioeconomic status, education, or employment status has had the opportunity of being bulk-billed for pathology services.

But not anymore – at least not if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Health Minister Sussan Ley have their way.

From the 1 July 2016, the Commonwealth Government intends on cutting the bulk billing incentive for pathology services, putting the final nail in the coffin of affordable and accessible medical diagnostics for Australians.

And it will put the nail in the coffin for millions of Australians. Quite literally for some.

What Ley’s cuts will do is change how Australians seeking crucial testing and diagnosis are charged. Pathology industry representatives have warned that if the cuts go ahead, instead of being bulk-billed, patients will be forced to pay up front for services: Potentially thousands of dollars up front, leaving the most vulnerable and sickest patients hundreds of dollars out of pocket after the rebate has been claimed back from Medicare.

Fiercely defending the cuts, Minister Ley and her office have resorted to the most ludicrous claims to attempt to distract from her attempts to put a real dollar price on the health of Australians. In refuting the claim that pap smears, (a crucial tool to test for early signs of cervical cancer in women) will cost $30 if the incentive is removed, Ley asserted that the Medicare rebate has and will not change.

Of course she is right. The Medicare rebate for pathology services hasn’t changed in over 17 years. However costs to pathologists have continued to rise. Critics warn that the industry simply cannot absorb any more costs or government cuts. And Minister Ley intends to cut a massive $650 million from pathology services over four years.

That is a lot of money and it will affect millions of Australians who may be forced to pay up front for vital services.

According to the Australia Diagnostic Imaging Association patients may have to pay up to $93 upfront for an x-ray, $396 for a CAT scan, a minimum of $85 for a mammogram and up to $186 for an ultrasound. A PET scan could cost up to $1,000.

But patients rarely need just one test.

Each year over a million Australians present to doctors concerned about possible skin cancer. If detected early, skin cancer rarely kills. However early detection requires testing – tests that may now cost patients hundreds of dollars initially. And for the thousands of people diagnosed, upfront costs of around $1500 and out-of-pocket costs of up to $400 after receiving Medicare rebates. Over two years the costs could escalate to over $3000, with out-of-pocket expenses of up to $725.

In 2012, four people died every day from melanoma. This will certainly rise if Ley has her way.

Cervical cancer has no symptoms. The only way to detect it is by testing, and the routine pap smear is crucial for women’s health. In 2009, over 2 million routine tests were conducted, identifying 28,000 cases of high-grade abnormalities or cervical cancer. As a result of early testing, the vast majority of cases were treated successfully, leading to only 152 deaths. However, around the world, every 2 minutes a woman dies from cervical cancer, the vast majority of these in countries who do not offer routine testing.

If Ley’s cuts go ahead, the number of Australian women who die of cervical cancer will almost certainly rise as women on lower incomes forgo the vital test.

Approximately 1.7 million Australians have diabetes; they may now face up to $400 a year in upfront costs just for basic urine and blood tests which are vital to detect early signs of kidney disease or cardiovascular diseases. The cuts may see people forced to choose between medication and ongoing routine tests. Experts warn that some of the patients may go blind where complications have not been detected early enough.

In the indefensible move, Minister Ley’s proposed changes will almost certainly see millions of Australians suffering financially, or even worse, their health deteriorating as a result of declining a test or scan due to the cost. The sickest and most vulnerable patients will bear the brunt of the cuts.

Any Australian who relies on routine testing, who has concerns about their health, any person who panics at the sign of blood coming from somewhere it shouldn’t, any person stricken by lethargy, unexplained pain, or weird symptoms that they cannot quite identify, may have to choose between paying for food to put on the table and accessing tests for diagnosis and treatment.

Conditions, such as cervical cancer, bowel and prostate cancers, hepatitis C, and many sexually transmitted infections, have almost no early symptoms. These conditions may go undetected, leading to horrific outcomes for Australians who may otherwise have been able to be treated.

In one of her favourite excuses, Minister Ley erroneously claims that the introduction of the bulk billing incentive in 2009 only saw a rise of 1% in bulk billing rates. Minister Ley additionally claims that bulk billing rates are already so high, no incentive is required. With 98.7% of all out-patients bulk billed for pathology services in 2014-15, it is virtually impossible to imagine much more of an improvement. However it is entirely feasible to see a massive drop in bulk billing if the incentive is cut.

There is little to climb from 98.7% but a very long way to fall.

Each 1% fall in bulk billing rates represents over a million people now having to pay up front for vital services.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Neither does serious illness or disease.

Cancer won’t wait for a pensioner to save up thousands of dollars for crucial tests.

Cancer won’t wait for a young child to grow old enough to tell their parents that they are in pain and need urgent medical attention.

Cancer won’t wait for a young man or woman to spontaneously seek a prostate or cervical examination, ‘just on the off-chance’ there’s an abnormality.

There is an enormous and very real risk that many Australians, already struggling to make ends meet, will be dissuaded from undergoing essential tests, or forgo treatment altogether, if they have to pay upfront for pathology services.

If the Coalition has its way, one thing will be certain. Hundreds of thousands of Australians will suffer, and families will be wracked with grief as they watch their loved ones lose the battle against illness, which if detected and managed early enough, could have been successfully treated.

Unable to publicly justify the cuts, Minister Ley’s office has fallen back on the Coalition’s favourite excuse; apportioning the blame on Labor. However stripping funding from pathology services is not the same as arguing who is responsible for a budget deficit. A pathetic whine that “Labor did it first, so why shouldn’t the Coalition rip more money out of a vital industry, thus putting the health of millions of Australians at risk, and potentially resulting in people prematurely dying from treatable cancer and preventable illness?” has a hollow sound when the real life ramifications sink in.

In response to the initial backlash, Treasurer Scott Morrison said, ‘the government could not justify what amounted to “handing out large subsidies” to the pathology industry.’

If only pathology services tested for coal.

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