Politics and human frailty

Many years ago, way back in the 1970s, for a journalism project at the University of Hawaii, I wanted to spread and track a rumour from the West Coast to the East Coast of USA.

My wise professor told me no… it would be irresponsible and betray the principles of the journalism profession. Although disappointed, I was also a bit chuffed because in telling me ‘no’ I realized  that he, too, believed I could probably achieve what I was proposing.

It was an important lesson in responsible actions that has stayed with me in subsequent years of my life.

Back in those days, the media was still revered and spoken of as The Fourth Estate. It prided itself on its objectivity, intelligence, and integrity and novice reporters were taught to explore, investigate and question their way to the truth.

Fast forward to today and news is no longer a revered commodity in our internet based and device (iphone, tablet, computer) driven culture.  The Fourth Estate has been virtually replaced by a social media that becomes a mockery of objectivity, intelligence and integrity. It has become the tail that wags the media dog to go for the best story that will deliver the most ‘hits’, rather than the truth.

There don’t seem to be many elder statesmen teaching new recruits in the media these days. The new standard of journalism is to write personal impressions, not facts, with little reference to what has gone before… and it shows. It breeds mediocrity and an unfortunate self-centeredness that makes objectivity impossible, because journalists today seem to be writing for and competing with social media and competing with ‘here today gone tomorrow’ deadlines. They are writing what they think they know, rather than having any opportunity for time to report what they discover.

The same mediocrity is happening with our politics.

We have just had an election in my State where neither party achieved the required number of seats to form government. The Labor party would require help from one Independent and the Liberal party would need support from both Independents in order to form Government.  The Liberal Party had achieved a clear first preference voting majority, despite achieving one less seat in this election, but an independent’s frailty has now given government to the Labor Party. To hear Independent MP Geoff Brock interviewed on television the night of the election, and to then witness his submission to the carrots offered him a few days later shows how easily human independence and valor, becomes human frailty and ego.

He is reported as saying he gave minority government to Labor (and accepted a high-paying Ministry in the process) to ensure stability of Government for our State.

Why are there no journalists asking this man about the alternative scenario, i.e. the State’s voters going back to the polls and Geoff Brock possibly  losing his seat in that process? Is he really wanting us to believe that scenario was of no concern and that this was not simply a selfish decision?

Why are there no journalists questioning why this man was so quick to sign up with a minority Labor Government, despite earlier saying he would wait several days. And why  did he not even have the courtesy to speak ‘one on one’ with the other key player in this race, Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, rudely leaving him a voicemail message instead?

His press conference was more important than having this respectful phone call first, yet Geoff Brock tells us he is about saving our Government’s stability!

I was at the pre-polls handing out ‘how to vote cards’ and the mood among Labor and Liberal volunteers, and the majority of voters, was that it would be a resounding victory for the Liberals, it was time for a change, everyone was saying. Curiously, the polls were knife edge on polling day.

We ended up with two elected independent MPs, Bob Such and Geoff Brock, holding the balance of power yet both of these independents were overwhelmingly supported by Liberals as the next highest voters in their respective electorates.

To make matters worse, Bob Such takes emergency leave in the week following the election while votes are still being counted, due to illness. It is then reported that Dr Such had deliberated for over a year whether he should run again, with his health factors as a major consideration.

A journalist wrote a column in a local paper arguing that the Liberal party in my state can never win a clear majority under the current electoral system, and judging the last few elections where the Liberal Party has won the popular vote, we have to begin to believe there is some truth to that theory.

Geoff Brock runs as an independent in a predominantly Liberal electorate and before the election is even declared and you can say ‘Yes Minister’, he has told Labor Premier Jay Weatherill he will give him government.

A local Holdfast Bay councillor, who ran and lost for the Labor Party for the third time in an unwinnable seat, unabashedly declared he ran just to give himself an edge in the local government Council elections later this year. He also refers to the Liberal Opposition Leader as Stephen Marshall, when his name is Steven Marshall.

Maturity, intelligence and fair play  are  missing from our political system.

A few years ago I was at a politics forum to celebrate the history of the first South Australian State election.

People at this forum were remarking about the reluctance of people these days to engage in community politics, whether it be at the local, State or Federal level. It has a stigma about it.

I raised the question with Bob Such, who was a participant in this forum, that we should perhaps be promoting Civics as a subject in our schools. He disagreed, saying he thought it was up to the political parties to teach people about politics!

But civics is not really politics, you see, civics is about systems of government.

This last election proves Bob Such was wrong. We need to objectively teach young people Civics…what a democracy means, how the various levels of government work, and why it is so important for us as a society to choose wisely among the candidates we can elect to represent our points of view.

I was amazed at the number of people at the polls who did not even know what electorate they lived in, many did not even know the names of their candidates.

Democracy is such a precious attribute of our society and it is so sad that the media, candidates and population at large take its existence for granted.

If we started teaching civics in our schools, students might then engage with the systems of government because they were genuinely interested in establishing good governments, not simply because of a steadfast allegiance to a particular party line, or to be different from mum and dad, or because someone else tells them how to vote, or to tick a box because they couldn’t care less.

The challenge, of course, would be finding civics teachers who could be objective and explain systems of government with truth and integrity and intelligence, rather than simply expounding their preferred party line.

Jan Smith

Let’s mind the Ps and Qs of education

You can tell we are in election mode in my State, with all sorts of ‘them’ and ‘us’ positioning between political parties.  The old chestnut of private school vs public school has reared its predictable but ignorant argument, yet again.

Private schools do not deserve a cent from our public funds Twittered my local Labor candidate for the forthcoming March State election. I wonder if he thought to survey how many Labor voter parents agree with him on this issue?

Is this pronouncement based on what is best for the balance sheet, or what is best for a particular child? If it is the former, I hope he doesn’t get within cooey http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Cooey  of any public office that can impact on our State’s  education policy.

We don’t make our children all wear the same brand of clothes, we don’t insist that they all have the same number of parents or siblings in their family units, we don’t insist that they all play the same musical instrument, or play the same sport. We encourage our children to be individuals and have choices. It is one of the first benefits they learn of living in a democracy. So why is this Labor candidate insisting that his party should penalise ‘choice’ in education… if people want their choice of private education in this candidate’s world they will  have to pay twice … first through the school fees, and then again through no government subsidy for their chosen school.

The choice of where you send your child to school should never be a political football about money.

And it is a fallacy to say that only the wealthy send their children to private schools. Most parents of private school children are on moderate double incomes and are striving to give their kids the best educational opportunities they can provide for them. Their children are entitled to a government subsidy for education as much as any other child. It is a facile argument to deny private schools access to public funds—a bit like the old ‘car pool’ arguments we used to hear in the ’70s that people who drive alone in their car to work, when it can hold four people, should be taxed extra.

Private schools are not the enemy… they make our public schools better. If there were no private schools there would be a huge dumbing down of our public education system because there would not be the mass income from the leagues of private school parents who are currently subsidising community education, as we now enjoy. It would mean that the greatly increased cost of public education would have to be funded somehow . (If there are no private schools it follows that all those former private students will flood the public system.) The diversity and infrastructure that our education system currently provides our society through public and private means would have to scale down into a public system that risked depending on  superficial political viewpoints like  the twittering candidate that focus on the money, rather than the education.

A political correctness is already sweeping though our public education system that denies religious emphasis, patriotism, disallows strong discipline, and favours teachers who work to union rules and ideologies. Private schools have more freedom to focus on a given religion, to encourage self-discipline in students, to hire teachers who are prepared to work on extracurricular after hours activities. A private school offers parents a democratic choice of the societal values they want influencing their children, and they are prepared to pay extra for having that choice.  However, they are still entitled to a basic right of government subsidised education. That is the right of every child in our country.

Sometimes a child needs a particular type of school, whether it be co-ed, single sex, religious, etc.  for it to be the most conducive to promote the child’s academic and social progress.  Some children live in remote areas and boarding at private schools is their only option for a comprehensive education. Private schools give parents that choice to find the right environment for their individual child and it is naïve and simplistic to argue against private education on the basis of money. The private vs public school debate is not about rich people taking advantage of poor people as this would be politician and others will have you believe.

It is interesting that the Commonwealth Government is currently trying to gain more autonomy for public schools so that, like private schools, they can shape their school to respond to the community they serve, yet the main force against the idea is the teachers’ union.

Our children deserve the best education we can give them. The private vs public school funding debate should not be about budgets, teacher working conditions, or socialism vs capitalism. It should not be an ugly portrayal of  haves vs. have-nots.

It should be about ensuring every parent has a choice to obtain the quality education they seek for their child, and that every child has access to the educational opportunities they need to become a happy, confident and productive adult in our Society.


PS : Interesting origins of Ps & Qs

There are several different theories as to the origin of the phrase, but there is no definite proof as to which is correct.

One explanation suggests that “Ps and Qs” is short for “pleases” and “thank-yous”, the latter of which contains a sound similar to the pronunciation of the name of the letter “Q”. This phrase would be used by parents to educate their children to not forget to use those polite words when they speak to people. Possibly, it meant “please” and “excuse me.” Young children would pronounce them as Ps and Qs.

Another origin comes from English pubs and taverns of the seventeenth century. Bartenders would keep a watch on the alcohol consumption of the patrons; keeping an eye on the pints and quarts that were consumed. As a reminder to the patrons, the bartender would recommend they “mind their Ps and Qs”


Civility Costs Nothing

Local Government and State elections are coming up this year and I suggest civility should be a major selection criteria for any candidate to get our votes.

A quick search of local government across Australia shows that problems of uncivil politics are rife across our communities today, not just in my seaside village. Equally, I have come across countless articles lamenting similar situations overseas. Google civility in politics and you’ll see what I mean.

Civility costs nothing, and buys everything is a quote attributed to the very interesting Lady Mary Wortley Montagu who lived from 1689 to 1762, so it is not a new issue for public discourse!

Perhaps we need to revive the term ‘Civil Service’ and give it new meaning for today’s elected public servants.

If my local government is any indication, we need to do something to stop the infiltration of crass and uneducated social media mores into the former credentialed statesmanship of being elected to public office.

We have a councillor who uses his position of Councillor and his Australia Day honour award post-nominals to gain credibility on social media, but does not then conform to the statesmanship that both those positions imply. He instead thumbs his nose at both by being as rude, disrespectful and crass as he can and then claims he is acting as a private individual (despite trading on the virtues that being a councillor in our community provide to him.) Childish behavior at best, uncivil at worst.

We have hopeful candidates in the upcoming March State election and later this year we’ll have local government candidates wanting to become councillors, or incumbents seeking re-election on their local Councils—in both instances, these candidates need you to vote for them to get elected.

If my local Councillor mentioned above is any example, we need to prepare ourselves for some very uncivil behavior. He recently undertook a campaign on social media to pre-empt a scheduled deputation to the Council by a community member on an issue they are passionately trying to negotiate with Council. The councillor proceeded to proselytize his personal view (while quoting his interpretation of Council opinion and policy) of this issue in social media, again trading off his ‘credibility’ as a councillor and honour award recipient, before the ratepayer’s deputation had even been presented and the councillor even had the gall to pronounce on social media that the presenter lacked integrity — before their presentation had even been voiced!

This is conduct unbecoming the role of an elected community representative. It is not only rude, disrespectful and uneducated, it is uncivil.

How do we fix it?

We make civility a prerequisite in all candidates. Here are three traits we can demand from potential or incumbent candidates.

  •  A civil councillor is always respectful and considerate of others and avoids being offensive in language or actions.
  • A civil councillor is always able to  respectfully acknowledge the positions and conclusions of others.
  • A civil councillor is always able to listen and make coherent and concise arguments and compromises, rather than simply attack other people and their viewpoints

Before you give a candidate or incumbent councillor your valuable vote… do the research and discover how they measure up in the civility stakes. Don’t take what they tell you about themselves for granted. If they are that prominent in your community others will have had dealings with them.

Attend a Council meeting and see incumbent councillors in action before you decide to re-elect them. Make sure councillors seeking re-election are responding with a knowledge base, not just their personal opinions, or being led by other councillors in the room. Talk to other visitors in the gallery and get their impressions of candidates.

Interesting, too, at a recent meeting of my local Council, that there were several ‘observers’ who were attending on the basis of possibly standing as Council candidates later this year. It is an indication that frustrated community members are beginning to wake up to the fact that in an election year, the future of their community is in their hands.

If you are lucky enough to get a candidate knocking on your door, determine for yourself if they are genuinely interested in your community and if they are actually listening to your views, too.  Consider your community as your livelihood and measure up whether the person on your doorstep or leaving a flyer in your letterbox   can be trusted to represent your enthusiasm, interest, ideas, creativity and compassion for your community.

Have a discussion and pick a subject that you know the person will disagree with you on… see how they handle that and determine for yourself if they  possess the essential trait of civility.

Ask them what book they are reading, and perhaps what is their favourite television show for some interesting indicators to the real personality and the depth of character.

Don’t vote for the incumbent representatives  who don’t listen, who bully,  who aren’t interested in actually listening to your side of an issue,  who ridicule,  who are basically uncivil… just don’t vote for them and tell your friends not to, either.

Not one vote!


The Golden Rule of Christmas

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  Maya Angelou.

A new year begins.

There is a wonderful book by Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and that title describes how I often feel when Christmas comes round each year. Having been imprinted on a cold, snowy Christmas for years as a child, I have now, for many, many years  been living in a climate where Christmas is usually sweltering hot and somehow it still never does feel quite ‘right’.  For me, along with the current joys, this time of year is also always a time of unexplained ‘homesickness’ of Christmases past.

This Christmas was special with a new baby and a toddler to share the joys of our family’s Christmas and it is comforting to know that I am now contributing to the future memories of these little people …and how important it is in making good lifetime memories of love and happiness of how Christmas is supposed to ‘feel’, just as I experienced with my family all those years ago when I was a toddler having my first Christmases.

It seems to be popular nowadays for people to denounce religion and wear their atheism as some sort of badge of courage or perhaps, identity. Meanwhile, Time Magazine has declared Pope Francis as the Person of the Year in its annual feature issue for the closing of 2013.

And Christmas, too, seems to have a life outside religion with these declared atheists joining in Christmas cheer, Christmas holidays and Christmas gift giving. So far, Christianity is holding its own against the political correctness that tries to remove Christmas cheer from our classrooms and streetscapes in some sort of misguided attempt to sacrifice a country’s religious customs for fear they will ostracize non-Christians.

We went to the children’s Christmas Eve service of our local church. It was a lovely hour of children re-telling the Christmas story with humour and good will, and the church was packed with people and families of all ages, and all colours in a welcoming environment of Christian song, prayer and fellowship. It felt good to be there. It’s hard to explain but there is a ‘niceness’ to that experience. I felt sorry for the many little children in today’s society who won’t get a chance to experience a church service because their parents will never take them.

At the end of the day, religion is not about hellfire and brimstone, or about insisting that religious parables must take precedence over scientific fact. Religion is more about teaching the ethic of reciprocity, the golden rule that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us.

My daily newspaper today had a disturbing story about the rising statistics of primary school aged children now involved in crime in our State, from graffiti to theft, arson, home invasions, even a murder. The worrying statistics are being blamed by poor parenting, violent video games and children growing up ‘too fast’ with adult concepts.

There seems to be an anger, an unrest, and a spitefulness across much of our society and I think the golden rule goes a long way towards addressing this dilemma. We need to give kids (and adults, too) the skills to get outside of their own heads and understand the feelings of other people so that they can understand and relate to the consequences of their actions.

In my community we have pathways and roads that have to be simultaneously shared by pedestrians, cyclists and cars. If all these groups approach their journey with the golden rule in mind, I suspect we would not have the element of selfish rudeness and recklessness that sometimes occurs.

In my community we have wonderful playgrounds for children to enjoy. One day I had to go to three different playgrounds to avoid ignorant dog owners exercising their dogs  and ignoring the signs which declare their pets should be on a lead at all times. If these people were familiar with the golden rule they would instantly appreciate that their pet should be on a lead with small children present at a playground.

It’s now a new year and it holds a wealth of promise for us all.

Let’s be grateful that our hearts can hold love, let’s try to listen and learn more than we ‘tell’, let’s be good parents, grandparents and friends, and let’s always do unto others as we would have them do unto ourselves in the cathedral of our being.

As the piece of string gets shorter as we travel life’s many roads, let’s move away from those self-centred people who are only about themselves, focussed only on their own achievements and needs, and instead find the many kind, truthful, and thoughtful people who are driven by ideas, creativity , helping  and sharing with others.

Let’s identify the ‘good people’ in our lives and then try and help our little people create the qualities those good people have.

Oh would some power the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us.

Robert Burns, poem To a Louse

Jan Smith

Calling in Well

There was an endearing 1980s novel Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins which remains unlike any other novel I have read since then.

The late singer songwriter Dan Fogelberg was inspired by this book to write his song  ‘Make Love Stay’, the group La Dispute wrote a song ‘One’ which consists of quotes from the novel, and the Drew Barrymore character is reading this book over and over each morning over breakfast in the comedy/romance film, 50 First Dates.

All these years later, passages from it are still quoted http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1105809-still-life-with-woodpecker

Woodpecker was written at the tail end of the LSD generation and in an age when people were more comfortable surfing their own minds than they are in today’s internet-friendly age.

I haven’t read the book since the 1980s and am reluctant to revisit … it is a bit like not wanting to go back to a place for fear that what delighted you then will leave you cold now – or worse — what you remember is not really what is there. This happened to me when I re-read The World According to Garp by John Irving, which was written around the same time as Woodpecker. The ending of the Garp book was not at all the way I remembered it to be, turns out I had rewritten a much ‘happier’ ending in my mind’s eye!

However, several of the many quirky sayings of Woodpecker have stayed with me, including Calling in Well. Robbins tells his readers he knows about calling in sick, but asks us to one day consider Calling in Well.

At this time of year, of holiday peace and goodwill and New Year promises, it is timely to remember that we all have the ability to ‘call in well’ and change our landscape.

Life is short so don’t waste time on negative or mean-spirited people. Call in Well to those people!

At a neighbourhood party the other day, several people were perturbed by a newsletter that was being circulated by a local councillor, full of opinionated misinformation that this man is renowned for distributing. I keep wondering if this fellow can possibly get shallower, and he never fails with yet another example.

This man is not going to change and, as I saw at this party, people were genuinely annoyed and unhappy with him. So what is the point of this?

Our local community should just call in well, vote him out of office and let their conversation be full of fun, imagination, ideas and inspiration rather than be drawn into a web of  negativity.

I provide this Tom Robbins quote for the councillor:

If you believe in peace, act peacefully; if you believe in love, acting lovingly; if you believe every which way, then act every which way, that’s perfectly valid – but don’t go out trying to sell your beliefs to the system. You end up contradicting what you profess to believe in, and you set a bum example. If you want to change the world, change yourself.

I provide this Tom Robbins quote for the rest of us who are letting ourselves get drawn into the councillor’s web:

We are our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.

For myself, I find it far better to smile and think a happy thought and Tom Robbins gave me pages and pages of that more than 30 years ago.

I thank Robbins for that – it stays with me.

Jan Smith

The gender dilemma…he, she or hen?

There’s a saying that everything that comes round, goes round and I’m beginning to suspect I’m in the midst of another revolution.

Back in the late ‘60s, the hot topic on campus and magazines was feminism — championing women’s individuality through the likes of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer and Jane Fonda, to name just a few.

Now, in a somewhat scary article in TIME MAGAZINE http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2155554,00.html, I’ve been made aware of a social innovation or experiment (depending on your point of view) underway in Sweden’s preschools, to again address this issue of creating a level playing field for men and women.

Sweden’s solution for gender equality is gender neutrality…they are trying to create a society where gender doesn’t matter. They are starting young by banning any form of sexism in pre-schools. That means having dolls that have a range of facial expressions, but no obvious gender. Girls aren’t told they might get dirty if they play with mud, boys aren’t told that only sissies like ballet. Girls and boys both dress up as pirates and princesses, without being influenced by parental expectations.

Sweden has even gone so far as to create a new pronoun to replace the equivalent of he and she.  Ironically, for those who speak English, the word hen is now the preferred gender neutral pronoun after children’s writer Jesper Lundqvist used it in his book Kivi and the Monster Dog, in which none of the characters are identified by their sex.

According to the TIME article, in 1998 Swedish Parliament obliged all schools to work against gender sterotypes and the statistics are interesting — 47% of Swedish women now have university degrees compared with 26% of Swedish men, Women still dominate the university career paths that focus on caring, health and welfare, 45% of Sweden’s Parliament are women—way above the average of other industrialised countries, and 27% of Sweden’s companies have female board members, again way above the average for industrialised countries.

Contrast this with the world best-selling crime series Millennium trilogy, starting with The Girl with a dragon tattoo by the late Swedish journalist Steig Larsson. These books, graphic in their brutal sexual treatment of women, and with a brilliant but socially dysfunctional female heroine, have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. The Swedish title for the first book was Män som hatar kvinnor – literally, Men who hate women.

The interesting thing about the Sweden push to eradicate sexual sterotyping through gender neutrality is that both sexes are crying ‘sexist’!  Men’s groups complain that the project aims to turn men into women, the feminists are claiming it makes them targets of ‘anti-feminists’ and the political correctness of the experiment stifles any  ‘robust’ public discussion in the mainstream media.

Add to this mix, the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender families and the Swedish gender neutral pronoun hen (first proposed in the 1960sseems, at first glance, an easy and ‘fair’ solution to a complex societal issue.

But is it really fair and does it reflect the reality of our complex society?

The fact is we are comprised of girls and boys who grow into women and men. I think the sexes are different. Ask any man or woman and they will agree that men and women ‘think’ differently, they behave differently and our biology gives both sexes skills that complement the other. There’s a reason for that.

An attempt to achieve societal equality by a denial of biology is setting a dangerous precedent and one wonders who determines the success or failure, against what benchmark.

Are we going to tell the next generation of little boys and girls what makes them happy, do we have to have neutral words for expressions like pretty or handsome to describe men and women? Will the day come when we cannot have ‘sexist’ Cole Porter lyrics in love songs?

At the end of the day this seems an exercise in replacing one societal bias with another politically correct bias.

It also seems fraught with psychological dangers where you are encouraging children to discount their biological differences through politically correct behaviours and toys, when inevitably their sex will always be a societal, and personal, distinction impacting on their individual lives. Interesting, too, to see if these children, in their later lives, develop a thirst to emphasise the sexual distinctions and behaviours they’re now being encouraged to suppress.

Somehow, the bra-burning of the 1960s was a much gentler and less scary solution to the timeless and time-honoured dilemma of gender equality.

Jan Smith


 Various writing ‘lists’ on the gender equality issue tend to focus on women’s issues



When is enough, enough?

A few news stories these past weeks and a swag of emails debating the rights of an ageing building have aroused a strange synergy, for me, with the on-going euthanasia debate, narrowly defeated yet again, this time in Tasmania.

In the 1990s I wrote passionately for our politicans to support euthanasia in a letter in a national newspaper and was amazed at the responses I received far and wide, even overseas, from people who agreed.

My father had just died, at the time.

There is a black humour joke that goes something like this:

A man goes to his doctor and the doctor  says, Do you want the good news or the bad news, first?  The patient says whichever comes first. Well, says the doctor, you have terminal cancer but the good news is, you also have Alzheimer’s, so you will forget about both after I’ve told you.

That was the fate of my father, and I can assure you it was not a happy, nor a forgetful, ending for those of us who loved him. I still ache with the remorse that someone who had led such a kind, generous and distinguished life had to leave the world in such undignified and unkind circumstances.  The long years of being a handsome pipe smoker had come at a terrible price. The doctors had pushed my mother to buy time, what turned out to be less than four months, with disfiguring and pointless mouth and jaw surgery to avoid ‘the stench of rotting cancer’, yet his nurses were still lighting candles in his room to cut the stench in his last days when we visited the confused stranger we still called, ‘Dad’. My mother had a brave and positive few more years, but when alone churned herself inside out that it was she who had somehow let him down, no matter how we reassured her. She died within weeks of a  terminal diagnosis of a body that was riddled with cancer and we then learned just how brave and ‘never again’ determined she had been, long hiding her symptoms from us, so that she could at least spare us the heartache and die ‘her way’, and with dignity.

Just before the most recent vote, on the Tasmanian bill for legalizing euthanasia, I thought a poignant story on the TV news, did a good job of answering the question, when is enough, enough?

A gracious and obviously intelligent lady, suffering from Motor Neuron Disease http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/motor_neuron_diseases/detail_motor_neuron_diseases.htm    was straightforward and unemotional in her argument for her desire for assisted suicide to be legalised.

She was aware that MND can be an unforgiving disease and had already lost the use of one arm. She argued that when the disease progresses to her other arm she will lose her independence, and it is her choice not to end her days being dependent on someone else and suffering the indignity of not being able to attend to her own intimate body functions. She argued that unless there is a form of legal assisted suicide while she is of sound mind and body to make the decision, it will be too late, and deprive her of her right to die with dignity.

And fair enough, say I. Just as she has been in command of her life up to now, she should be able to continue to be in command when she has a terminal and incurable illness.

Contrast this story with another reported about the same time, of the woman who contracted a rare bacterial infection and against all odds, survived, but had her arms and legs amputated as part of that survival. She is rejoicing that she is alive and, unlike the MND lady, is up to the challenge that the loss of all her arms and legs for the rest of her life has presented. However, she is young and she has a loving young family. She has everything in her life to live for, particularly seeing her children thrive into aduthood. Her story might be different if this happened to her when she was 75.

Neither of these stories changed my stance on supporting euthanasia, but curiously a little parish pump squabble did… through a swag of emails about saving a local heritage building.

Many in my local community want to treasure this first public building in Brighton built in 1869. However, despite the structure being ‘local heritage’ listed, and a Strategic Plan for our city that contains a myriad of motherhood references to protecting and celebrating heritage, the  City of Holdfast Bay Council wants to strip the Original Brighton Town Hall’s community land status and sell it, with an adjacent parcel of land, to a developer. Outrageously, the Council suggests to the community that the historic Town Hall building will be better cared for, when in a private developer’s hands.

One councillor, in particular, seems to be obsessed with his need to ensure this building is sold off the Council’s ledger. If you study his voting record on any culture or heritage issues in his six years on Council it clearly demonstrates his bias against cultural history and prejudice for money over substance.  In the above mentioned swag of emails, he bullies, displays his ignorance, and spreads half-truths with little sense of fair play in his attempts to control any informed debate on this issue. He is only a ward councillor elected in another part of the city, not where the threatened building stands, yet he has appointed himself the ‘Walter Mitty’ mouthpiece of the Council and its Administration, without portfolio.

Disappointingly, it has been left to a  passionate member of our local community to seek State Heritage listing for this building, as a means to further protect it, with the Council again not matching its actions to the lip service words it uses in its Strategic Planning documents.

Despite a community public meeting voting unanimously in support of keeping this community land, and despite petitions supporting protection of the building, the Council ignores the community voice… because it can.

This is what happens when the wrong people stand for election to Councils, and when people lose sight of who they are meant to serve. This is what happens when people who are incapable of seeing any reflection except their own are given a taste of ‘power’.

If this lack of compassion, intelligence and empathy is so evident in our parish pump politics that it can eradicate in one ignorant action, unique local history that has stood the test of time through 144 years of previous Councils, it sends a strong message to err on the side of caution in future.

I can just imagine if someone in high level Government,  with the personality type akin to these sorts of councillors, had control of legalised euthanasia it wouldn’t take long for the terrifying prospects of sales of body parts to the highest bidder, and the local nursing homes would have to ‘knock off’ those residents who had outlived their usefulness, to make room for those prepared to pay more, and so on.

Yes, I’ve changed my mind on euthanasia and now think politics should stay away from legalising euthanasia. We should err on the side of caution and euthanasia should continue to be a moral issue between people and their God.

And at the local parish pump…we’ve had enough! We need to examine more carefully the calibre of people that  we want to represent our community voice when elections come around again.

For thought-provoking readings on these themes, I highly recommend:

Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings

Love among the ruins    by Evelyn Waugh

Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Jan Smith