How much health can you afford?

Australians tend to be rather contemptuous of the US health system. We brag about universal healthcare, and deride a system that only provides care to those who can afford it. But our universal healthcare is being steadily eroded, as people are pushed into private healthcare.

I have a minor heart condition. For the most part it’s not an issue, but it has escalated over the past week or so and I felt pretty ordinary this morning. I called the Nurse on Call advice line, described my history and my symptoms and she calmly told me that I needed to get myself to an Emergency department. Now. She said if I couldn’t get there within 45 minutes I should call an ambulance. She was quite forceful about it. Unnervingly so.

So I told my husband and we scuttled off to the nearest public hospital. Where I stood in a queue around 6 people deep and waited for 20 minutes before even telling anyone why I was there. They took my history, checked the oxygenation of my blood, and then told me to talk to the clerk and give my details, and then sit down and someone would come and get me to do an ECG.

So I did all that. And I sat. And I waited. And I looked at all the people who had been there before me, who weren’t being taken in. And I reminded myself that clearly the oxygenation of my blood must have been ok, or they’d have rushed, right? (Although they hadn’t actually told me what it was…)

So I sat.

And I waited.

After one and a half hours I asked them if they had any idea how long it would be. They said “hopefully not long, now that we’ve got some more staff on. But we don’t know how long it will be before you actually see a doctor.” They looked harassed.

So I sat.

And I waited.

Meanwhile I was getting dizzy, and nauseous, as well as very aware that my heart was doing funky things. My heart.

So I bailed. I called the two nearest private hospitals with emergency departments and asked about their queues. One had a queue of 2 (there’d been a “bit of a rush in the last half an hour” apparently). One had no queue at all. So we went there.

Two hours later I had been tested, treated, fed, and sent home. Not two hours of sitting in the waiting room. Two hours of active treatment, compassionate care, and several interactions with nurses and a doctor.

Had I not been able to afford the private hospital, I have no doubt I would still be waiting in that public hospital 8 hours later. Likely in a bed in the emergency ward by now, but maybe not even having seen a doctor.

I was lucky. I am fine. But that whole scenario could have ended very badly.

My bank account determined my level of care.

Apparently being financially secure means I am worth looking after.

No.

My bank account does not determine my intrinsic worth as a human being.

The quality of my healthcare should NEVER be determined by my ability to pay.

People are worthy of compassion. Quality healthcare. Timely healthcare. And dignity. All people. Bank account status just should never appear in this context. We already have an education system that allocates opportunity and resources based on wealth. And it is so many levels of wrong I can’t even begin to cover it. But we are now moving faster and faster towards a health system that does the same.

We have to stop. Now. Malcolm Turnbull with his millions is worth no more as a human being then a homeless woman without a penny to her name.

Money should not determine the worth of a human life. Not now. Not ever.

 

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Expectation management

I’ve been thinking a lot about political tactics of late. Tactics that make people shrug and go “oh well, it’s just the way things are done now”. Politicians say things they know to be outright lies, and we go “oh well, what did you expect? That’s politics.”

Gay candidates have whisper campaigns run against them in conservative communities – which seems to me to be unspeakably foul – and we say “well, it works, so of course they will try it.”

I think it’s time we stopped shrugging. I think it’s time we valued decency. I think it’s time we told each and every candidate that negative campaigning sickens us. That we want to know what they will do, and what they believe, not how much they hate their opponents.

A few weeks ago the new Labor candidate for the federal seat of Bruce, Julian Hill, was outside my daughter’s school when I arrived to pick her up. Seeing an opportunity to grill him on asylum seekers and climate change (two of the most urgent and compellingly moral issues Australia faces right now, in my opinion), I went to talk to him, much to the disgust of my kids. (“OMG! Mum, he’s a politician! Gross!”)

I was intending to go in hard, because I am bitterly disappointed by both of our major parties on most issues, and on these two issues I am enraged. I was taken aback, therefore, when Julian proved himself to be thoughtful, considered, and compassionate. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I could not help but respect the fact that he had thought things through and didn’t just spout a series of pre-prepared slogans, which seems to be the standard political response these days.

I went away and researched some of the things he said and emailed him about them, and he replied immediately. Again he was thoughtful, rational, and decent. I found myself, a Greens member of long standing, contemplating voting for this man. You may think that decency is a pretty low bar to set, but it’s one I think a lot of our politicians would struggle to clear. Decent people rather stand out.

What really struck me about my interactions with Julian is that through talking to him and grilling him on his attitudes to various things, I became much more engaged with the political process. I am surrounded, for the most part, by people I agree with. That’s pretty normal – we tend to seek out people we have a lot in common with – but it does mean that my views aren’t challenged as often as they could be. That, in turn, means that my views aren’t always well thought out (shocking, I know).

I found myself responding to Julian with a lot of “I think”s, so I then went home and set about changing them to “I know”s, or “I was wrong”s by checking my facts. This is another thing there’s not enough of in our current politics. (Incidentally one of the things that impresses me, again unexpectedly, about Ricky Muir – he is quite prepared to find stuff out and be persuaded by evidence. How novel!).

Sometimes when I’m tired and grumpy I don’t like people challenging my views. But I always, always learn from it. (Sometimes what I learn is not to hit the “send” button late at night…)

Whatever your politics and whatever your usual voting pattern, it’s worth engaging with your local candidates to find out, as much as you can, who they are and what they believe in. At worst you might only get chapter and verse of the party line, but that in itself is quite revealing.  If you despise a party’s policies, but then find that your local candidate for that party  has more moderate views, a vote for them can influence the path of the whole party. Even parties who typically vote in lockstep have members with differing opinions who might just be worth supporting.

At best you might learn something about your local politicians. You might even reconsider your own voting patterns – maybe to confirm them, or maybe to change them. It’s a way to ensure that you are voting for the candidate who best represents your personal values.

Best of all it’s a way to make yourself think about what is important to you. And that’s worth voting for.

 

 

 

Stop Violence against who?

I’ve always been a bit uneasy about the slogan “stop violence against women”. Not because I disagree with the sentiment, but because I think it leaves a huge hole in the issue we need to tackle.

We certainly do need to stop violence against women. And against children. But also against men. And animals. Recent reports of native wildlife being shot with arrows, and wombats being deliberately run over in a NSW campground are horrific. Who does this sort of thing for fun?? Someone who sees violence as entertainment!?

What we have is a society that sees violence as a solution. That manages crowds of refugees with tear gas and water cannons. That deals with a bloody revolution by bombing civilians.

That deals with frightened, desperate people by stripping them of their human rights, exposing children to horrific abuse, and putting their lives at risk so as to appear “tough on border control”. Which, by the way, wins votes for the perpetrators.

We live in a society where violence is perceived as a solution to many things. Where a drug problem becomes a war, instead of a health problem that can be managed. Where our collective instinct, when threatened, is to lash out, notwithstanding the simple truth that violence begets violence, and that wars create wars.

So yes, let’s stop violence against women. There’s no question there’s far too much of it. But let’s also give everything we’ve got to build a society where violence isn’t the answer. Where communities are built and connections made. Where unhappy people can reach out for support, and the foundations of our society are the connections between us, not the walls we build around ourselves.

I know I’m a little naive. I’m not suggesting that the answer to Daesh is a group hug. I don’t know that there is an answer, although something clearly needs to be done. But I’m pretty sure that bombing them isn’t going to make them turn around and say “Sorry, you were right. We’ll just leave our weapons in a pile over here and become nice peaceful citizens. Sorry to trouble you.” More likely is that they will ensure, as far as they can, that civilians die in their place, and the west gets blamed.

I don’t hit my kids. But sometimes I do lose it and shout at them in a pretty aggressive way. And I know that when I do that it’s because I have failed to find a constructive way through whatever situation we are in. When I lose control of my temper it means I have failed to find a workable solution. And I always, always regret it.

Asimov once wrote that violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. To be fair, he had a character say that, and we probably can’t accuse him of believing everything any of his characters ever said. But it’s a compelling line. Violence isn’t a solution. It’s a failure.

Maybe I’m looking for more change than we can manage from where we’re starting, but it would be nice to see it at least part of the conversation. Stop violence against women, definitely. But let’s see if we can’t make violence itself unacceptable.

PS It’s been suggested to me by someone I respect greatly that I may be distracting from the effectiveness of the Stop Violence Against Women Campaign, and that stopping violence altogether is too hard. We have to tackle it piece by piece. But the more I think about it the more I think that it’s not going to work. Malcolm Turnbull today said “Real men don’t hit women.” With the very clear implication that real men can hit men and that’s ok. And that’s wrong on so many levels. Women are weak and can’t take it (rubbish). Men are strong and can take it (rubbish). We are all weak and strong in our own ways, but no-one should ever have to take it. Violence is wrong, and we can make it wholly unacceptable, not just against women but against anyone. We shouldn’t do a clothing check, or a DNA test, before we decide whether we can hit someone or not! That kind of attitude makes it ok to hit a transgender woman (“because she’s really a man”), or a homosexual man (“not a woman but not my sort of a man”). It relies on stereotypes that we should all be trying to leave behind. Of men protecting women. Of women needing protection. Of men not needing protection.  Support the Stop Violence Against Women Campaign – it’s important. But work towards stopping violence, full stop. Real men, real women… real people don’t hit.

There’s no justice. There’s just us.

Death once famously said* to his apprentice: “There’s no justice. There’s just us.”

Granny Weatherwax had a similar position, when Tiffany Aching cried out “It shouldn’t be this way!” Her response was simple and to the point: “There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.”

We human beings are very fond of the concept of justice. We are quick to say “it’s not fair” (which often means “I’m not getting what I want.”). We are eager to believe that our legal system actually dispenses justice, despite its manifest flaws.

And we still cherish the deep, although increasingly insupportable belief that a democratic government makes decisions based on facts and the good of the country as a whole, rather than on lobbying, donations, pressure from mining magnates and the country as a hole. We have the Minister for the Environment, who frequently makes decisions that put the environment at risk. We have the Minister for Education, who says we have a very particular responsibility for wealthy private schools – presumably believing that public schools are tougher and more able to fend for themselves. We have the Minister for Health who presides over deep cuts to our public health system. Yet we find it hard to name these ministers accurately and replace the “for” with “against”. It would explain so much. Minister Against the Environment. Minister Against Women. Minister Against Health.

Lately I keep coming back to Death’s quote. There’s no justice. There’s just us. We can’t rely on the government to govern in our best interests. We can’t rely on them to take decisive action on climate change. We can’t rely on them to fund research, to build up our health and education systems, to feed the hungry or protect the vulnerable. We can’t rely on them to be just, or fair, or even sensible.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that we can only rely on our politicians to seek power at all costs, and to misuse it once they have it.

And it’s easy to say there’s nothing we can do about that. It’s easy to complain about it, and believe we are powerless to act.

But we do have power. We have power at the ballot box and beyond. We have the power to vote for independents and parties that are not the big two, we have the power to STAND as independents, or as representatives of progressive parties whose policies are evidence based and in line with our own idea of justice. We have the power to speak out, to sign petitions, to attend rallies. To spell out the facts when we hear someone say climate change is rubbish. To explain reality when we hear someone say that refugees are queue jumpers. To stand up for our health system, and to rally for the education reforms we so badly need.

We have the power to tell our politicians that their behaviour is unacceptable. To make it clear that we do not accept this as an inevitable feature of our public officials, but as an unpalatable deviation from the ethical and moral government that we demand as our country’s right. Politicians are more poll driven now than ever before, so it’s up to us to drive the polls.

There is no fundamental balance that will pull our governments back into line. There is no moral compass on the floor of our parliamentary chambers. We are the government’s moral compass. There is no justice. There’s just us.

*Famous to Terry Pratchett readers. If it’s not famous to you, go read “Mort“. And then the rest of the Pratchett books. You’ll thank me later. :)

Newsworthy

My kids keep coming home from school with the recommendation that we extend their reading by making sure they read newspapers, and that they keep up with current events by watching the news. I certainly believe they should know what’s going on in the world. We talk about current events around the dinner table all the time, and they are well aware that I have strong political views. They have some pretty strong views of their own. But I will never agree that kids watching the news is a good idea. Even I don’t watch the news. Instead I pick and choose very carefully the news I read online.

We have this vague idea that “news” is a public service. That it is designed to inform us, educate us, and keep us up to date with what’s going on in the world. But it’s not. It’s not a public good. For all a strong democracy needs a well informed population, “news” is increasingly not serving that function. We need to keep firmly in mind the actual purpose of news: to make money. To sell newspapers, to sell advertising spots, to make money for its owners. That is the purpose of news. There is no other. Even the government broadcasters design their news to lift ratings and thus justify their own existence, and they have to match the commercial networks pretty closely to manage that.

I have no deep philosophical objection to making money. That’s not the problem. The problem is that to garner page hits, ratings, and market share, news has to be the stuff that attracts attention. So a quick look at the front page of a commercial news site will reveal: details of a horrendous murder (overseas), details of a horrendous rape, a heroic rescue from a warzone (overseas), speculation about Schapelle Corby’s boyfriend, criticism of a model for being too thin/fat/attractive/unattractive, a famous person’s suicide (which happened months ago, but details of which are on the front page almost every day), and fashion tips about what you absolutely must do.

Go look at the front page of any online news service. True, I picked a Murdoch paper for the above summary, which is, perhaps, a little unfair. But go look at the ABC site and ask yourself which of those stories my kids “need to know” in order to understand the world.

“No shirt fronting as Abbott talks MH17 with Putin.”

“China unveils sophisticated stealth fighter aircraft.”

“Authorities investigate travel company accused of rip-off.”

“Voters want right to recall poor performing MPs, survey says.”

“New York doctor now free of Ebola discharged from hospital.”

(top 5 headlines from the ABC site this morning)

Young people (and the rest of us!) suffer from increasing levels of stress, depression, and even anxiety disorders. They need to come to grips with the world around them, and develop coping strategies for the realities of life. But these are not the realities of life, they are ratings grabbing manufactured dramas. They are not events around them. They do not include vital knowledge about ways the world around them is changing. They do, however, include a lot of things to get anxious about. A lot of ways to misinterpret the world. A lot of ways to raise their stress levels and make them feel like the world is out of control. A murder that is sufficiently grisly will get airtime around the world for months after the event, and then again when the murderer comes to trial. Celebrities get airtime constantly. But this is not “current events”. This is saleable gossip.

Sure, we might talk about some of these things around the dinner table, but not in headlines. Not with sensational trauma stories designed to get ratings, but with reference to justice and compassion, in ways we believe our kids are old enough to understand.

And it’s not only the killings that we don’t want our kids to see. It’s the twitter attacks, the abuse of public figures because of the way they dress, and the obsession with Kim Kardashian. None of this is healthy. None of this is in the public interest. As far as I can tell the messages are: “The world is a terrifying and dangerous place, your body is both public property and the wrong shape, and celebrity equals importance.” None of this is stuff our kids need to have shoved down their throats 24/7. Certainly they will need to learn how the world “works”, but not at 7, not even at 11, do they need to hear these relentlessly negative messages, when they are so ill-equipped to process them.

When I watch the news I get increasingly alienated and depressed. I hate to think what it would do to an impressionable, compassionate 11 or 7 year old.

 

Senate Committee Submission

Scott Morrison and the Abbott government want to pass a law giving them the power to incarcerate and torture asylum seekers without anyone being able to stop them in the courts. Make no mistake. This is not about “stopping the boats”. As Julian Burnside said, someone who gets shot at home or dies in a boat on the way here is just as dead. If they don’t get on those boats, they risk death or worse at home. They are not economic migrants, they are the most vulnerable people, in desperate need of our help and compassion.

The good news is that you can make a submission to the Senate Committee detailing your opposition to the bill. Make a stand. Go on record as being opposed to our monstrous and appalling treatment of refugees. Getup has made it really easy.  My submission is below, in case you need inspiration (only took me 5 minutes to pour my heart out onto the keyboard), but please put it in your own words, as it will be more powerful that way.

Make a submission today!

Here’s mine:

I oppose this bill most vehemently.

Australia has a responsibility, both moral and legal under the 1951 UNHCR refugee convention, to care for and protect asylum seekers, regardless of their mode of entry.

In the past, Governments have egregiously abused their powers and not only failed to protect refugees, but further harmed them, as indeed our government is doing now. The only way to prevent this is to have them answerable to the courts.

Detention without charge or recourse is fundamentally abhorrent to any person who believes in basic human rights, and any person with any compassion and decency, yet this is what this bill proposes to allow. Without oversight, without recourse, without a shred of human decency.

I volunteer at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Dandenong. I have met people who are so traumatized, who have been through so much, and who still have no hope of a normal life. I know one family who has been in detention for 24 years, first in Malaysia and now here. They have been released in to community detention where they cannot work. They are in a remote suburb with poor public transport, separated from other family members and with no community support, and they are told they will remain this way for at least 3 years, after which there is no knowing what their fate will be. This is absolutely unconscionable.

Australia has the capacity to support and help these refugees. To resettle them and welcome them in to our communities. Please reject this appalling bill as the travesty of justice that it clearly is.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Linda McIver.

How could you, Mr Abbott?

I spent the holidays with my family having the most wonderful holiday I can remember. We went to Heron Island, where not only were our myriad food issues just brilliantly catered for, we made breathtakingly wonderful new friends, and relaxed properly for the first time in years.

The reason we were so relaxed, apart from bonding with fabulous people, was the Great Barrier Reef. We snorkeled for hours every day, and without fail we saw new and wondrous things every time. We didn’t have to leave the island, we just stepped off the beach, put our masks in the water and were overcome with the incredible biodiversity all around us.

We swam with turtles, who were magnificently unconcerned with our presence.

green turtle

We discovered sea beds carpeted with cow tail rays, shovel headed rays, and white spotted eagle rays, so camouflaged against the sand that we often didn’t notice until we swam right over the top of them.

sting rays

We saw fish and coral of astounding colours and variation, and learnt bizarre and wondrous things about the lives and behaviour of a myriad of weird creatures – like the sea cucumber who can squirt out its internal organs at you when it feels threatened (I do feel that “Stop, or I’ll throw my kidneys at you!” doesn’t sound like the most frightening of threats), the sea star who can casually drop off one of its legs and feast on it if it feels like a snack, or the beautiful reef sharks who are harmless to humans, despite their clear and slightly creepy resemblance to their larger brethren.

While walking among the coral at low tide we had an Epaulette shark swim right up to us and pose, helpfully, for photos.

Epaulette SharkAnd we saw brilliantly coloured sea stars just hanging out on the rocks. Sometimes literally, as they eject their stomachs in order to digest large food.

Blue Linkia Sea StarI could rave on for pages and pages about the astonishing and wonderful things that we saw, but overlaying the trip was an overwhelming, desperate sadness. This richly biodiverse environment is under catastrophic threat, and our politicians seem to be actively hastening its demise.

They do things like ignore the overwhelmingly strong evidence that human driven climate change will spell the end of this kind of environment in an alarmingly short time, doing away with an effective carbon tax and subsidizing coal and fossil fuels to an absurdly uneconomic degree. They approve coal ports in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. They decide that this stunning environment and all its creatures would be the perfect place to dump dredging spoil.

They are trashing our environment, our world, and our future, for reasons I cannot possibly begin to fathom. They may not be  playing dice with the universe, but they are playing God in an all too tangible and destructive fashion, and we don’t have long to stop them before this exceptional place is gone for good. And that will be just the start of our woes.

Fish and coral at Heron Reef

What right do we have to wantonly and irrevocably destroy this most remarkable place for a fistful of dollars? And how do we stop it??