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Politics for good

Poliomyelitis is an infectious disease with consequences ranging from a mild illness, through lifetime disability to death. The disease is also known as polio. It is spread by contamination of drinking water and food and those affected may be contagious for up to six weeks without being aware of their illness. Once you have polio, there is no cure – treatment is based on assisting sufferers to live with the condition.

In 1988, around 350,000 additional people were infected with polio across the world. In 2016, the grand total was under 50. Most of us would be aware that disease infection rates usually don’t ‘drop off a cliff’ like polio apparently has, so the obvious question is why?

There is a vaccine that is proven effective against the disease, however it requires multiple doses and some discipline in the administration to be completely effective. If you lived through the 1960’s through to the early 2000’s in Australia, you might remember being given a small plastic spoonful of a syrup on a few occasions when you were lined up for vaccine injections. The syrup was the Sabin polio vaccine, and was replaced by one of the parts of an injection given to babies in 2005.

Australia and other wealthy countries can afford to fund immunisation programs with beneficial results, others can’t and it probably wouldn’t be a surprise to find that the less than 50 newly reported cases in 2016 were in countries that have other massive issues to solve, namely Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. While the World Health Organisation declared the south west Pacific free of polio in 2000, there is a risk of the disease being reintroduced to Australia from travellers bringing polio into the country with them. Accordingly, the vaccine is still administered today.

It might surprise you to know that the worldwide service organisation, Rotary, is one of the prime funders of efforts to eliminate polio in our lifetime and their program commenced in 1979

When James L. Bomar Jr., then Rotary president, put the first drops of vaccine into a child’s mouth, he ceremonially launched the Philippine poliomyelitis immunization effort. Bomar joined Enrique M. Garcia, the country’s minister of health, in signing the contract committing Rotary International and the government of the Philippines to a joint five-year effort to immunize around 6 million children against polio at a cost of about $760,000.

In a 1993 interview, Bomar recalled how the brother of one of the children he’d immunized tugged on his pant leg to get his attention and said, “Thank you, thank you, Rotary.”

There is a cost to attempting to eradicate polio from the earth and it is

estimated at US$1 billion dollars every year. While Rotary’s contributions make up a substantial portion of the yearly global polio eradication budget (and exceed the contributions of most individual G20 nations), Rotary’s advocacy has been even more influential, resulting in in more than US$7.8 billion to date in polio-specific grants from the public sector and consolidation of a partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that will see the foundation commit a further US$1.8 billion in coming years. Rotary envisages that its own contributions to the global polio eradication effort will exceed US$1.2 billion by the time the world is certified polio-free.

Of course that’s not to mention the countless hours and resources Rotarian volunteers worldwide devote every year to ending polio, both by fundraising in local communities and working internationally at the coal-face providing oral vaccinations to children. Simply put, Rotary remains one of the easiest channels through which everyday people can get involved in fighting polio, a fight which will be won by vaccinating one child at a time.

But the costs pale in comparison to the substantial dividends that a polio-free world would gain. Financial savings from the forgone costs of treating polio could exceed $1 billion per year, while a 2010 study published in leading medical journal Vaccine estimated the economic benefits of halting polio to amount to US$40-50 billion.

By attempting to eliminate polio, Rotary are demonstrating they exist to help fix what they perceive to be the unmet needs in their communities, as do Lions by funding research to eliminate cancer, Apex Australia by supporting Guide Dogs for the Blind, CWA, Surf Livesaving, Scouts, Guides, St John Ambulance and a host of other community organisations.

All of these organisations are experts in recycling money to achieve their aims. This is where the politics for good comes in.

When you grab a sausage from Bunnings, buy the ticket in the raffle for a trailer load of garden equipment, donate to the lifesavers rattling a tin at the transport interchange or shopping centre, get the Christmas Cake or attend the Gympie Music Muster (a fundraiser for the Gympie Apex Club), you directly support the community services that the individual club is supporting. It could be erecting rubbish bins in the local park, patrolling the beaches to ensure safety, assisting a local child to access educational opportunities, funding respite accommodation at hospitals or eliminating polio.

There is obviously a structure to the individual service clubs and they all belong to a hierarchy, which helps with club administration, financial and physical protection for the club members (who are inevitably volunteering their time and other material) and a method of connection between like-minded people in different towns, states and (in the case of Rotary and Lions at least), nations.

So how do they decide what they will recycle the money on?

When Rotary President James L. Bomar Jr. gave the first dose of polio vaccine in the Philippines in 1979, it wasn’t because he woke up one morning with a great idea and decided to implement it with $760,000 of other people’s money that he had temporary control of. What would have happened is that club members in a Rotary Club somewhere in the world would have noted that polio was a destressing condition and killing or permanently disabling hundreds of thousands per annum across the world. That person would have discussed it with his (in the 1970’s Rotary was male only) Rotary Club, and successfully argued that the concept be referred to the clubs in the district.

Once the district had approved it, it would have gone to the next level and so on until it received support from the Rotary International Convention. Along the way, the concept for the elimination of polio would have changed from an idea to a fully blown business case with costings, implementation programs and expected benefits just as if it was a business – because in reality it is. There would have been a number of lobbying efforts by those in favour of the proposal to ensure a majority of the delegates to the International Convention saw the merit of the scheme.

Then after implementation, the actual results would be assessed and changes made, just as any corporation would, to retain product relevancy. This would have been referred back to the Rotary Clubs for grassroots members to see the worth of their financial and physical contributions to the cause. The good news in this is that service clubs usually don’t want to see people fail, so they will support the club members responsible for the plan and assist with developing strategies to achieve success by helping to write business plans, organise sections of events as well as whatever is necessary to assist the ‘real’ organiser. As the Apex Club of South Toowoomba points out¬

We have a policeman who project manages a statewide fashion show and a publican who runs a multi-layered national organisation.

When there are competing ideas, there is usually politics involved. We don’t know what other concepts were pitched within Rotary around the time that the eradication of polio was supported and who knows, one of them may have had greater worth. However, it is a prime example of someone, somewhere having a plan that is literally improving the quality of life for everyone, then feeling the encouragement to speak up and in turn receiving support for the concept. The concept is now 30 years old and demonstrably effective. Just as effective is funding the erection of rubbish bins or shade sails in the local park; the politics is working out what is the best use of the physical and financial efforts of the individual club members. Rotary Clubs have certainly funded other projects around the world in addition to their ambition to eradicate polio, and what is considered to be useful in one community may not be so in another.

This is grassroots politics, having an idea, convincing others of the worth of the idea and then implementing the idea which has a significant community benefit. Politics is not about Abbott working out how to perform the latest ritual knifing of Turnbull, or if Joyce and the other ‘foreign’ Nationals should have even been elected to Parliament while finger pointing at other parties to deflect blame because the National Party apparently didn’t do any due diligence. These behaviours, along with the ongoing sagas and finger pointing between the LNP, One Nation, NXT, Greens and ALP are just greed and hatred. It’s a pity that we are all paying for the hatred with increased taxes, fuel prices and a lack of co-ordinated genuine activity that would benefit all of us.

There are groups in your community that care enough to make a difference. You have a far greater chance of achieving a result for your community in any of these groups than you would by running as either an independent or political party aligned candidate at the next election, as you have to ‘pay your sponsors back’ in ‘politics’ by conforming to certain behaviours, while service organisations help and assist those with the ideas. You could join the local Lions Club, attend your children’s school Parents & Citizens Committee, volunteer for Meals on Wheels, patrol a beach or help run a group you or a member of your family is already a member of. They would certainly welcome your help, you will learn how politics should work and who knows, you might have the next earth changing idea. If more people know how politics is supposed to work, we as a community can hold those inhabiting the corridors of power in the state and federal capitals to account to a far greater level than is currently done. A lot of them play a greedy and hateful politics with the rest of us solely as a means of self-promotion.

At the very worst if you join a group, you will meet some great people, have a feeling of accomplishment because you are doing something useful, probably learn some useful skills that you never would have thought necessary (like the policeman running the fashion contest for Apex Australia) and wish you had done it years ago.

Disclaimer – The writer is a retired Apexian and a current member of Lions. He has cooked more sausages and stood behind more temporary bars than he chooses to remember.

This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.

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  1. Joseph Carli

    It seems a sorry failure of state administrations and federal politics when charities are drawn in to provide what ought to be State obligatory health initiatives. The generous time and monies donated via events organised and attended by volunteers and money given from the pockets of wage earners that ought to be drawn from the public purse instead of the many times limited resources of the household budget is little more that a confession of the failing of the caplital-based economy as against the socialist responsible economy.

    Of course, there is gratitude for the resulting good news story..it is just a sad disappointment that it seems many citizens of the state must suffer or perish before those who worship the capitalist juggernaut, many of whom find camaraderie and comfort in the shared opinions of conservative service clubs, are moved more to pin badges of honour on themselves or their organisations rather than push for a REAL social inclusive government…after all, I have yet to recall any of the above service clubs petitioning the Liberal Party governments on any of the three tiers to dedicate more of their budgets to equality of principle and peoples.

  2. Terry2


    it’s not so much a case of charities being drawn in to fill a gap left by government.

    I was in Rotary when they decided in the late 1970’s to make the elimination of Polio their global initiative and they brought together the resources and goodwill of their members to achieve this objective. this could only have been brought about with the facilitation and cooperation of governments and the WHO.

    Overall a good result on Polio ; the next challenge is Malaria !

  3. Joseph Carli

    Terry2..For the record: I would not dream of challenging the good-will of many members of both those service clubs, nor other NGO’s or indeed certain elements of the bureaucracy who only may have decent intention in their hearts..let us give thanke for such folk…that’s for the record.

    But as we of a certain age are only too aware, every large monolith throws an equal size shadow..and on the penumbra side of the good works of such service clubs, is the equivalent shadow of politically conservative boosting. Perhaps there are those who know better who could correct me on this, but I believe that the most smooth-paved road to entry into local government is via business membership of one of the more well known service clubs that “volunteer for the community”..Any old time ward politician could at any time of public event, be it the local footy fundraiser “new guernseys for the boys”…or the netball teams ; “Trip to the championships” or for this or that natural disaster BBQ/ sausage-sizzle fundraiser..be found with the gross-sloganed apron donned and with a grin as wide as ” the brown, sweeping plains of the greatest country in this;God’s little earth”..turning and dishing out the donated fare hot off the plate and telling the recipient to ; “Wrap your laughing gear around that little beauty….and don’t you go spoiling yourself there Mrs. Campbell..” followed by a salacious wink!

    And such “unstinting generosity” will be seen on his CV brochure come the next local govt’ election..his “accredited path” to council decision making where you can just bet he will rail against those Greenies, environmentalists and socialists; “who do nothing but carp against those who want to do good for the community and when have they ever been seen down the footy oval behind the BBQ. of selling raffle tickets outside the supermarket in the high street?…NEVER!”

    Cynical…you may say..or is it just the modus operandi of vast conservative experience in the realms of politics?

  4. 2353

    Thanks for the comment Joseph,

    While I agree with your comment about charities funding work that really should be performed by the state, it’s not that simple as you are well aware. Part of the reason that organisations like Rotary and Lions are successful and have had some longevity is that they don’t get involved in party politics (although a lot of party politicians do pass through). They are strictly apolitical for a reason.

    Terry2 thank you too.

    You’re right that a program at this level needed significant assistance and co-operation from others. This is why Rotary et al are strictly apolitical so they can lobby for good at this level.

  5. Joseph Carli

    2353…The suave sincerity of your measured response is noted..as is the well meaning devotion to your cause..But it did give rise to the memory of a short ..and also sincere..philosophic reflection I once heard from a used car salesman over a beer at the Nightcliff Hotel there in Darwin back in the seventies, where, upon wiping a modicum of beer-froth from his top lip, Casey..(the used car salesman) leant back in his seat and confessed to me ;

    ” You know, Joe..If there is one thing in this world that I am eternally grateful for and which has made me the financial success that I am today…it is the principle of “inbuilt obsolescence”…because if those f#ckin’ cars didn’t break down and up on a regular basis, I’d have no where to hang my hat!”

    He also was “apolitical”…

  6. diannaart

    Food for thought, 2353NM, thank you.

    Am already thinking along lines of:

    “we need more grass-roots, community action type groups than just the usual crowd – well meaning though they may be”,

    followed by, “well-established NGO’s also have well established power in control and may well need some invigorating competition”,

    to wondering “how many women are CEO’s or on boards of directors?”.

    Yes, I know there ie greater participation by women, I am more interested in who holds the power.

    “apolitical?” The personal has ALWAYS been political.

  7. Keitha Granville

    Good thought provoking article. No wonder the poppies don’t like Getup.

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