Every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands – Senator Cory Bernardi
March 25, 2017
Not for the first time and I suspect not for the last time, on behalf of the Australians Conservatives I am going to take the path less travelled, if I may put it like that.
I may be the only person in this place who thinks that $8.5 billion per annum spent on child care in the last 12 months, rising to $12 billion by 2020, for the government to pay service providers to look after families’ children, is more than enough.
As I said, already the figure is scheduled to rise to in excess of $12 billion in the next three years. That is $12,000 million that is being given to parents effectively to pay other people to look after their children.
It is another significant cost to the budget. It is absolutely created and sustained by delivering more debt that those very children, who all of us in this place want to help and bequeath a good, positive, healthy country to, are going to be forced to repay.
Once again I come back to it. Our debt in this country is spiralling out of control and there does not seem to be any real determination to redress it. That is a moral obligation we owe to our children.
So throwing another couple of billion dollars into child care here and there is not going to solve the problem, but it will indeed create greater problems, which will be magnified by the effect of interest and growth over time. Every child who is purported to benefit from this package will actually end up paying a very hefty price for it from the multibillion-dollar largess that is starting today, and I can promise you the demands will increase in the future for it to continue.
Australian Conservatives know that there is a better way. There are three key areas in which I can believe that this can be more effectively addressed. Firstly, we have to break this nexus between a government subsidy and a rise in the price of child care.
It seems to be a catch 22 where every time the government puts more money into the system it creates more demands for the child-care operators and the prices go up and there does not seem to be that greater benefit for the Australian families under the current guise.
Secondly—and I congratulate the government for its endeavours in this regard—there needs to be a determined effort to stamp out the significant rorts that are in this space.
Thirdly—and this is very important to me and I have communicated it to the minister—we need to remove the mandated prejudicial policies that disadvantage so many families and effectively establish a pecking order of who is allowed into the child-care system first.
Let me deal with the subsidies and costs. From a person who seeks less involvement in government it is far better for us to stretch every government dollar by streamlining processes and deregulating the sector. Every time we add additional compliance, additional requirements, additional reporting or any other additional regulation the cost of administering and providing child care escalates, sometimes exponentially, and I will detail some of those figures in a moment.
We need to end the ‘money shuffle’, if you will, where we collect taxes from people, throw it through the bureaucracy where sometimes it returns 50 or 60 cents in the dollar—sometimes less, sometimes more—and then give it back to those we deem worthy of it to subsidise the care of their children. I think that is inefficient.
It would be far more efficient for the government to allow tax deductibility, up to a maximum threshold, for childcare services. It would enable families to take responsibility for administering those costs themselves. It would allow families to claim it on a weekly or monthly basis with the ATO, as they do with other tax concessions, or on an annual basis. It would make child care more affordable.
With no guaranteed government funding, people could distinguish for themselves the service they want and the hours they want. That would create a much more competitive environment.
You mentioned the link between subsidies and costs. I want to take you back briefly to some research by the Australian National University which demonstrates the runaway price rises attached to child care in recent years.
Starting with March 2000 as our baseline, there was effectively parity between the market price of childcare services and the subsidy; in medical parlance, there was ‘no gap’.
Soon afterwards, a couple of years later, there was a modest gap, which parents were expected to meet, but there was virtually no difference between the subsidy rate and the market rate. But then between July 2002 and July 2007 the gap expanded.
By July 2007 the subsidy rate was 175 per cent of the March 2000 price. Not surprisingly, because of the additional onerous burdens on the childcare sector and the increase in subsidies, the cost of child care had risen by about 225 per cent.
So there was about a 50 basis point difference between the subsidy rising and the cost of child care. So no matter what levels of money were thrown into it, families will pay more.
What happened then was that there were cuts in 2007 and 2008 but the regulations continued to load up on the childcare service providers and there became a huge gap between the subsidy rate and the market price. The market price has continued to track upwards.
It has been higher than inflation ever since 2002, when, dare I say it, the sector recognised that by putting their prices up they could prompt demands in this place for more subsidies to be thrown at them and those demands would inevitably be met—just as we are discussing today. You cannot blame the sector for doing that.
If they can get away with it, they will continue to do it. We have to consider not capping it or putting any other forces on them but putting market forces on them.
We need to allow parents to make determinations about where they send their children so that the market itself will put pressure on the costs and prices.
So the gap—or gulf as it was then—went from about 50 basis points to about 150 points. It tripled in real terms. And then the subsidy rate returned to the March 2000 rate but child care prices keep going up and up and up.
At last check, that gulf is still widening. The market rate is about 460 per cent of the March 2000 price. In 17 years it has gone up 4½ half times, well in excess of inflation, and it has been fuelled by the money that has been thrown at it from this place.
And it is because of compliance. Since 2008, compliance has become so burdensome that the gap between the subsidy and the cost has risen from 50 basis points then to 300 basis points now.
That has a deleterious effect for every family and it is not going to be fixed by us throwing more money into the system. We have to take pressure out of the system. If we can reduce compliance, if we can reduce bureaucracy, if we can reduce regulations and red tape, child care will be more affordable and parents will have more choices.
And that will be sustainable because it means we will not have to throw more than $12 billion a year into the system; every dollar will go a lot further.
The second area in which Australian Conservatives believes there can still be significant improvement is in the area of rorting.
Lest anyone think I be uncomplimentary, I do want to congratulate the government and the minister for making significant efforts in this regard but, dare I say it, they are not enough.
I think there needs to be more diligence and more application to stamp out the rorts that are ripping off the taxpayer. I want to give you a few examples.
In 2015, an investigation in Albury in New South Wales revealed a $4 million family day care fraud in August 2016, authorities swooped on an operation in Lakemba in Sydney.
One of the accused was actually someone with alleged links to Islamic State. That did not stop them from profiting from and ripping off the childcare system. They stood accused of collecting over $27 million since 2012.
A known Islamic State sympathiser has been involved in an operation that has gathered $27 million of taxpayer funds, rorted within the childcare sector since 2012, and there are suggestions that some of that money has found its way to funding Australia’s enemies abroad.
The information I have is that in New South Wales, where these rort occurred, there are 324 services in operation but only 19 of them have been audited. If the other 305 underwent an audit, imagine how much more of this rip-off money they might find. In 2016, at Point Cook in Victoria, authorities raided families in the Somali community who in 18 months had claimed almost $16 million in grandparent childcare benefits.
Remember, these were additional payments brought in to assist grandparents who were looking after their grandchildren. But the $16 million worth of care was never provided— just the money was delivered.
Then the coalition government, to their credit, made the child swapping rort illegal on 12 October—bravo! Child swapping was where a childcare worker put their child in the care of another childcare worker and vice versa.
Before that, an estimated 11,000 parents were receiving $8.2 million per week, swapping over 31,000 children. That is $8.2 million per week of people just saying, ‘You take my child and I’ll take yours, and we’ll both make money out of the operation.’ It is wrong, and congratulations to the government for stopping it.
In 2016 a Melbourne woman of Sudanese origin was accused of claiming $800,000 a fortnight in a western Melbourne system that allegedly took $15.8 million in false payments. That $800,000 a fortnight is not a bad gig if you can get it, unless you are the taxpayer having to fund it. That is what is going on in our current childcare system.
A woman running Aussie Giggles, a family day care centre, was found guilty in 2016 in the New South Wales District Court of 81 fraud and forgery offences designed to defraud childcare benefits to the tune of $3.6 million in special childcare subsidies for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. She claimed that as many as 14 of these children from disadvantaged backgrounds were in her care when they were not. And yet this was never picked up in an audit.
In 2016 the Queensland Labor government confirmed a trend in childcare rorting and noncompliance in ethnic communities.
Nationwide, almost all the family day care services hit with restrictions or closure were run by Somali, Sudanese or other African migrants. One Sudanese migrant received $1.6 million in 16 months to run a family day care network which authorities could not confirm involved people he claimed were employed by him.
There is a problem here. The minimal audits that have taken place and the maximum exposure of rorts—I have highlighted just some of them today—says we can do much, much better and stretch every one of those $12 billion much, much further.
The final aspect of where my concerns lie I raised during estimates. It is that there is a priority list for allocating places in childcare. Some may defend that. I may describe it as prejudice. It was news to the minister and to the department when in estimates I quoted to them words from their own guidelines:
A child care service may require a Priority 3 child to vacate a place to make room for a child with a higher priority.
In simple terms, if you are a white, middle-class person and your child is in child care, and if the government says there is someone more needy—I will get to what neediness is—your child can be removed with 14 days notice to be replaced by that child they think is more needy.
In some of these areas there is genuine need. The first priority for allocating places is ‘a child at risk of serious abuse or neglect’.
Instinctively, a child at serious risk of abuse or neglect needs much more than child care. They should not be put into child care for the day—the eight or 10 hours or whatever it is—and then returned to an environment where they are at serious risk of abuse or neglect. It needs to be dealt with at the very root cause of it. If they are not safe with their own parents they need to be taken out of that environment permanently.
The second priority is ‘a child of a single parent who satisfies, or of parents who both satisfy, the work/training/study test under Section 14 of the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999’. To be honest, I do not get that. I do not understand why one parent working is more important or less important than another parent working or another parent choosing to study or undergo training.
The idea is to provide this resource to Australians so that they can further their careers, their education or whatever the circumstances may be. I just do not buy it that we should all be paying and prioritising one person over another because of the job they are doing.
The third priority, of course, is ‘any other child’.
Within these categories there is even more entrenched prejudice. There is a priority list within the first priority group, the second priority group and the third priority group. If you are a child in an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family, you get priority. A white kid can be removed from a childcare operation with 14 days notice to be replaced by an Aboriginal kid. I think that is wrong.
A child in a family which includes a disabled person gets priority. I am not making light of the difficulties that disabled people and their carers undergo, but I cannot come to terms with the fact that because you have a disabled sibling or a disabled parent you should have priority and someone should be removed from an existing childcare place because they deem you to be more worthy. I am not underselling the difficulties of it, but who are we to say: ‘I’m sorry, bad luck. Out you go and in you come.’ It is wrong. Even the department eventually admitted it was wrong.
Then, of course, we discriminate on the basis of income.
Apparently, if you do not earn enough money or if you do not have a job you are actually a greater priority for child care than the person who is actually out there earning money, paying more taxes and maybe employing other people—I do not know.
They can lose their place because they are earning above a threshold or they actually have a job—God forbid! Isn’t child care meant to be for getting people back into the workforce?
Finally, this is the one that really strikes me as odd, considering all the rorts I outlined before: children in families from a non-English speaking background get priority. I am not sure where they rank in the list, actually.
I am not sure whether coming from a non-English speaking background trumps being a low-income earner, having a disabled or less abled sibling or parent or having an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander family. I do not know whether it is the colour of your skin or the language your parents speak. I cannot determine this.
What I know is that any critical or reasonable assessment of it says it is wrong to remove someone in an existing place because of the colour of their skin, the language their parents speak or the income their parents have in favour of someone that a government of any stripe or persuasion deems more worthy.
Earlier, Senator Gallagher asked about deals that are done and things, and I have my doubts. I think that is very clear about the wisdom of throwing more money into this sector until other aspects of it are absolutely cleaned up.
I made it very clear to the minister that I have an open mind with respect to this package, but there are some things I would like addressed.
I really believe that if you are going to make child care available to every family, you are going to subsidise it to the cost of $12 billon-plus per year and more on the horizon, then it has to be available equally to every single family.
There should not be a priority allocation. You should not be able to kick a child out because their parents happen to be the wrong colour, speak the wrong language or happen to be able-bodied and earn money.
Pauline Hanson insists addicts must cover the costs of their treatment
The West Australian 4 March 2017 PAUL MURRAY
Based on a recent opinion poll, more than half the West Australians who will vote for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation next weekend are driven by a dislike of both Islam and the major political parties.
So while those who will actually form government continue to spend like drunken sailors buying votes, One Nation gets the bulk of its support at no cost to the taxpayer.
As is usual with protest movements, Pauline Hanson’s is best known for what it opposes rather than for things it supports.
But many voters might be surprised that the fledgling WA arm of PHON has released a range of policies in recent weeks that have escaped widespread media scrutiny.
That’s despite the possibility Hanson could hold the balance of power in the Legislative Council in a week’s time and have an arm lock on the next government.
So even if PHON voters are not interested in policy detail — preferring Hanson’s broadbrush nationalism on things such as foreign ownership and immigration — everyone else should be concerned about the party’s platform.
That’s because the next Parliament might just be dancing on it to Pauline’s tune.
For example, PHON wants methamphetamine-addicted criminals to pay for their own compulsory — and indefinite — treatment. The cash will be taken by force if necessary.
“One Nation WA proposes a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ policy to help tackle the methamphetamine scourge in our community,” the policing and community safety policy says. “If a meth user is caught two times, they will be sent to a rehabilitation facility and kept there until their addiction is under control.
“Addicts must cover the costs of their treatment, either by having assets seized, or if on welfare, payments will be forfeited to the state. No debt will be wiped or worn by the taxpayer, even if the user is on welfare payments after release.
“Monies will be taken from their account until paid in full. If users hold a job, it will be taken from their wages on the same basis as maintenance payments.”
Juvenile criminals, too, are in for a shock, with a promise to introduce controversial “broken windows” laws in WA. They crack down on minor crimes to create an atmosphere of law and order but are criticised for being inherently unjust and not addressing the causes of disorder, which are often racial.
“A philosophy of coming down hard on minor offences with juveniles in particular in order to deter future offending,” is how the PHON policy describes the approach.
The party also promises to examine new laws making parents accountable for the criminal behaviour of their children. It also supports a “Fagin’s Law” approach which targets those procuring young people to commit offences.
PHON also wants to build more prisons, for punishment rather than rehabilitation, and to make life inside tougher.
“Prisons are no longer a deterrent to crime,” the party says. “Society as a whole needs to consider what role prisons play in punishment and rehabilitation.
“Prisons should not be the home prisoners never had. We believe sufficiently punitive measures should exist for lawbreakers.”
Tough-on-crime promises are standard at election time, but the One Nation policies released so far miss several hot-button issues such as debt reduction and WA’s GST share and strangely ignore health, the biggest spending part of the Budget. There’s nothing yet on electricity prices, other than keeping Western Power in State hands — which doesn’t stop costs rising and won’t cut debt — but it wants to drive down gas prices by reserving more for domestic use.
On affordable housing, PHON says the key is to cut immigration levels and deter foreign buyers with a 20 per cent penalty tax. Labor wants a 4 per cent surcharge which it says would raise $21 million.
PHON wants no “racial/ethnic preferences” in public housing allocations and promises a minimum of 15 per cent of all government land and home developments would be targeted at low-to-moderate income households.
The party also blames immigration for Perth’s congested roads and services.
So to “ease congestion, lift productivity, generate economic growth and jobs and keep our assets in Australian hands”, it is proposing to start its own bank.
“A WA Infrastructure Finance Corporation would be financed with seed funding and direct public funding and operate on a commercial basis,” the party says, clearly forgetting Brian Burke’s similar experiment with the WA Development Corporation.
“It would help finance infrastructure projects in our State, at concessional interest rates, thus spreading the costs across the generations who would benefit from these projects.
“This method would allow WA to finance and construct major projects while earning a return for the taxpayer. It would allow the government to cut its Budget expenditure, freeing up funds either to pay down debt or to invest in education, health, families, policing and other areas.”
Most of these policies are highly contentious — and in some cases deeply flawed — deserving scrutiny against the likelihood that One Nation will have enough influence in the coming Parliament to exert substantial pressure on whoever forms government.
One Nation believes that communities and governments must take a strong stance if we are ever to maintain control or stop this epidemic.
Solutions for Ice Addicts
One Nation proposes a three strikes and you’re out . If an ice user is caught three times, they will be sent to a rehabilitation facility and kept there until their addiction is under control.
Addicts must cover the costs of their treatment, either by having assets seized, or if on welfare, payments will be forfeited to the state. No debt will be wiped or worn by the taxpayer, even if the user is on welfare payments after release. Monies will be taken from their account until paid in full. If users hold a job, it will be taken from their wages on the same basis as maintenance payments.
Solutions for Dealers
Extremely harsh penalties should apply to anyone selling ice.
Each gram of ice sold, should equate to a mandatory year in prison.
Their assets will be sold to offset the costs and will be recoverable, even after time spent in prison.
If foreign nationals are convicted of drug crimes, a treaty will be sought for jail time to be done in their own country. Too many foreign nationals commit crimes within Australia because the rewards are far greater, and prison sentences are no deterrent.
It’s widely known as ICE, yet it’s also referred to as Crystal Meth or Methamphetamine. No matter how it’s referred to, the drug is with certainty, followed by misery.
Statistics now show there are 270,000 regular ‘ice’ users in Australia and the numbers are growing rapidly. Wherever I go throughout the country, the main issue raised by people is ice. Nurses and doctors are having to deal with ice users in our already overrun and understaffed hospitals, while other patients are forced to wait. A nurse informed me she was aware of a man losing his life due to a heart attack while waiting for doctors attending an ice user. This is simply unacceptable!
Our police and ambulance officers face regular abuse or attacks from overdosed ice users. Some of you might say this is a State Government issue, however this drug in particular is having national consequences and it’s about time the Federal Government encouraged the states to take a unified approach in combatting ice.
Two young mothers at Tweed Heads (NSW) told me the drug is out of control and ice can be purchased in a matter of 5 minutes in their community. They are in genuine fear for their children and themselves. It appears no place in Australia is free from ice and the devastation that comes with its use. Small country towns in the outback are also under attack. These once peaceful communities are being destroyed by crime, abuse and fear associated with ice. The Vulnerable and youth are being targeted, leaving parents and loved ones not knowing what to do, or where to go.
I have no sympathy for drug users. I do however for their families, friends and communities who deal with the destruction they cause. The ice users are ‘bloody idiots’ to say the least. Everyone has a choice in life. Being depressed, out of a job or feeling sorry for yourself is no reason to take ice. There are many people who can claim these ailments that turn to drugs. People have to start taking responsibility for their actions.
I am fed up with the innocent and taxpayers having to pick up the pieces for thugs and idiots, or irresponsible and selfish non-contributors in our society. I cannot understand the reasons why someone who is a hardworking, family person, wants to take ice?
Communities and governments must take a strong stance if we are ever to maintain control or stop this epidemic. I propose three strikes and you’re out. If an ice user is caught three times, they will be sent to a rehabilitation facility and kept there until their addiction is under control. They must cover the costs, either by having assets seized, or if on welfare, payments will be forfeited to the state. No debt will be wiped or worn by the taxpayer, even if the user is on welfare payments after release. Monies will be taken from their account until paid in full. If users hold a job, it will be taken from their wages on the same basis as maintenance payments.
Extremely harsh penalties should apply to anyone selling ice. Each gram of ice sold, should equate to a mandatory year in prison. Their assets will be sold to offset the costs and will be recoverable, even after time spent in prison.
If foreign nationals are convicted of drug crimes, a treaty will be sought for jail time to be done in their own country. Too many foreign nationals commit crimes within Australia because the rewards are far greater, and prison sentences are no deterrent.
I am not interested in do-gooders supporting the ‘rights’ of these criminals. When greed and disregard overshadows the impact on human life and society as a whole, they should forfeit all freedoms.
JUDGES will pocket up to $500 a week extra in plump pay rises next year after blaming ice addicts for worsening workloads and job stress.
Federal Circuit Court judges have demanded a bonus two weeks’ holiday and a doubling of superannuation contributions and service leave.
The Remuneration Tribunal yesterday gave federal judges a 4.8 per cent bonus from January 1, swelling the salary of Australia’s first female High Court chief justice, Susan Kiefel, to $573,046 next year.
Other High Court judges will pocket an extra $23,818 — bumping their pay to $520,028.
Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant told the tribunal cases had “increased in complexity”. Picture: Hollie Adams
Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant told the tribunal cases had “increased in complexity’’ due to an increase in drug use — especially methamphetamine — as well as mental illness and allegations of sexual abuse and family violence.
She said some litigants posed a “real/significant threat’’ to judges.
And she warned the “extraordinary number of cases’’ involving family violence “has put the courts under considerable pressure’’.
“The parenting cases … require difficult fact-finding about contested issues including sexual abuse of children, family violence … mental health issues and substance abuse,’’ Chief Justice Bryant states in her submission, kept secret for a year and made public yesterday after a Freedom of Information request by The Daily Telegraph.
The Chief Judge of the FCC, John Pascoe, told the tribunal that Federal Circuit Court judges receive only four weeks’ holiday a year, compared to eight weeks for Family Court judges and 10 weeks for Federal Court or NSW District court judges.
He called for at least six weeks holidays — as well as six months long service leave after five years in the job.
“Annual leave of four weeks a year is inadequate given the demands of trial judge work,’’ his submission states.
“Failure to deal with these issues to date has had a deleterious effect on the health and wellbeing of judges of the court.’’
Cartoonist Warren’s perspective.
Chief Judge Pascoe said the Federal Circuit Court — which hears family law cases, refugee and migration claims, consumer lawsuits and counter-terrorism issues — was the “primary face of federal justice’’ and its judges should be paid 90 per cent of a Federal Court judge’s salary.
“The average Australian experiencing difficulties in family life, at work, or in their business will appear before this court,’’ he said.
Chief Justice Pascoe said Federal Circuit Court judges’ superannuation contributions should double from 15.4 per cent to 30 per cent of salary, because they were missing out on the usual judicial pension of 60 per cent of their salary after 10 years’ service.
But the tribunal rejected the claim, handing Federal Circuit Court judges a $17,046 pay rise instead of the $23,599 they asked for, and ignoring the holiday and superannuation demands. The Remuneration Tribunal ruled that a 4.8 per cent pay rise “recognises the increased complexities faced by judges … in an environment of continued economic and wages restraint’’.
Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe said superannuation contributions should double from 15.4 per cent to 30 per cent of salary. Picture: Renee Nowytarger
The judges’ pay rise is double the 2.4 per cent awarded to Australia’s poorest workers this year, and comes on top of a 2 per cent pay rise for federal judges in 2016. The federal Attorney- General’s Department fought the proposed increase, noting that Federal Circuit Court judges’ salaries had doubled between 2002 to $355,130 this year, while the average wage had risen 71 per cent to $80,415.
“Given the large number of judicial officers and the generous level of remuneration they receive, any percentage increase in judicial remuneration will affect the government’s budget position,’’ it told the tribunal.
The NSW government complained that any federal pay rises will trigger “me too’’ pay claims from judges in this state. NSW Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal head Richard Grellman warned if NSW failed to match federal pay packets, it “may have an adverse impact on the ability of … NSW … to attract and retain the best available people to the NSW courts’’.
NSW judges are paid more than judges interstate, with the Chief Justice of the NSW Supreme Court earning $482,470 this year.
Microbes living in people’s bodies can tell when you when they died
By John Ross – The Australian 23 Dec 2016
Higher Eduction Report Sydney @JohnRoss49
The balance of bugs in the body is crucial to quality of life. Now scientists are turning to bugs to get a better measure of death.
US researchers have found that the “microbiome” — the bacteria and other microbes living in and on people’s bodies — provides a surprisingly accurate gauge of how long they have been dead.
They say the discovery could sharpen forensic methods, shedding new light on murder investigations and corroborating or disproving alibis.
The team based its findings, outlined in the journal PLOS ONE, on DNA analyses of bacterial swabs from 21 bodies at various stages of decomposition. They used a “machine learning” approach to develop an algorithm equating microbial composition to time since death.
Team leader Nathan Lents said while it was a proof-of-concept study, the results had exceeded expectations.
“In a few years we’ll have a good idea of how to use this in forensic applications,” said Professor Lents, a molecular biologist with City University of New York. Recent research has uncovered links between the microbiome and Parkinson’s disease, bowel cancer, mental illness and autism, with microbes in the gut even harvested for new antibiotics.
Professor Lents said existing methods of determining time of death were accurate to within about six hours for the first two days after life.
From then on they mainly depended on analyses of insects in dead bodies, yielding “solid guesses” that often ranged over a few days.
“Beyond a week, no one really trusts the methods,” he said.
The new approach could estimate time of death to within about two days, even after four weeks of decomposition.
Microbiome analysis could also supply information such as a victim’s drug use, “even when the traces of the drug itself are long gone”.
He said it could possibly help determine cause of death or provide insights into places victims had recently visited.
In a study published last month, Californian researchers showed microbes on people’s mobile phones could be used to help identify their owners.
Queensland’s small-town battlers feel disempowered, disillusioned and angry as hell. Sound familiar?
The Weekend Australian 17 Dec 2016 By Trent Dalton
The chain has snapped on Russell Roberts’ work trike and Malcolm Turnbull’s gonna have to pay. The chain snapped because Roberts was pedalling his heavily modified black tricycle under too much pressure, towing a cart holding a line trimmer, three five-litre cans of petrol, a pair of wicket keeper’s pads and a Masport Utility 460 lawnmower. “Dirty Jobs R Us,” the cart states. “Lawnmowing, odd jobs, yard clean ups, free quotes.” The cart’s rear end bears a personalised plate that Roberts would like to fix above the entry doors to Parliament House, Canberra. “RUTED” the plate reads.
Prick of a day. Blazing Queensland sun. Snapped trike chain. The Masport clapped out three times this morning during a five-hour job that paid a grand total of $50. Five hours of hard sweat and throbbing lower back pain, all for a pineapple, almost a dollar for every one of his 49 years on this contemptible continent. Now that smug and carefree little green man in the traffic lights on Mary Street is taking his sweet time to wake up. “I’m just sick of all the shit,” Roberts says. He’s not alone.
Roberts once made a solid living fencing, building the endless wire and wood borders that criss-crossed Gympie’s fertile and vast dairy farm industry until deregulation of milk prices, drought and floods forced farms across Queensland’s glorious Wide Bay region to close. He was a builder’s labourer until the builders stopped building. He was a storeman until the stores closed. He packed fruit until the fruit arrived from someplace else. “I built this meself six years ago,” he says, kicking the trike’s front tyre. “Converted a tri-axle pushy to hold all the gear. It’s hard to get any jobs in town here so I decided to do this. There was nothing in town for us to do. I had to do this.”
He pushes his burdened and rusty trike up a hill running across Monkland Street, past Gympie’s Royal Hotel, his face purple as a plum, sweat across his cheeks and his calf muscles and his belly. “What are you sick of exactly?” I ask. “You know, all the f..kin’ shit,” he says. “All this bloody shit facin’ the country.”
I do know. Everybody in Gympie keeps telling me about it. The hard-to-crystallise, harder- to-convey frustrations of a regional Australian town existence. The years of being ignored by city bigwigs and sharp grey suits in Canberra. The unemployment rate across Wide Bay that spiked last year at 14.5 per cent, the worst in Queensland. The lives lived between the cracks of the city’s privileged progressives. The throbbing orb of Australia’s left-behinds, the great and growing mass of the voting discontented filling the voids – all those long-forgotten small-town craters – of political disillusionment. The forgotten people. The voiceless who are finding their voice in rogue leaders raised far outside the Canberra cradle. The immigration policies. The crime. The lack of decency. The lack of national pride. The lack of national direction. The broken bloody trike chain. You know, all the f..kin’ shit.
“All they say in Canberra is they want to reform all this and nothin’ gets done,” Roberts says. Then a thought enters his mind and it lights up his eyes. The first kind ray of sunshine he’s had all day. Just one wish, a fantasy really, that Malcolm Turnbull might fly immediately to Brisbane then hop in a hire car and drive two hours north to Gympie by the Mary River and meet Russell Roberts by the traffic lights on Mary Street and Monkland.
“Let me push that for you, Russ,” he would say. And the Prime Minister would haul this rusted apocalyptic trike utility all the way up that Mary Street hill in the blazing Queensland sun. “Just one day,” Roberts says. “I’ll take his job and he can have mine. I’ll show him how bloody hard my life is.”
The PM would probably have to abandon the trike about five shops up Mary Street, somewhere near the Fancy That Op Shop.
“Yeah,” laughs Roberts. And that thought makes him happy.
Ron Owen says the major parties only represent themselves.
“Oh, they’re not happy here,” says Ron Owen, former president of the Firearms Owners Association of Australia, sitting in his office in Owen Guns sipping from an oversized tea cup marked “The Boss”. “People in Gympie are realising they get no representation with the major parties. The major parties only represent themselves; they don’t represent the people anymore.
He’s visibly buoyed by Brexit; doing his best not to belly laugh with glee over Trump. “Well, we knew beforehand,” he says. “It was across Facebook. There was a change and it didn’t occur this year. Last year it happened, the whole thing began swinging around when there was all these images of millions of Muslims going into Europe. And it probably goes right back to 9/11. You might not be racist but you can’t ignore it. And that’s one of the problems. People are really pissed off with not being able to speak out. But the world is realising if it doesn’t pull its finger out, it’s stuffed.
He walks into a back room. It’s a gallery of sorts where he has arranged his jaw-dropping collection of rifles into wall patterns, weaponry art installations in nautilus shapes, guns moving through time like shells in the undertow. He has a whole display dedicated to early 1900s rural life that only exists now in history books and in the minds of more than a few locals who’d like to go back there.
“Don’t worry about Trump’s wall,” he says. “The wall has to be built up just past Black Mountain somewhere.” And the glint in his eye suggests Owen may only be half-joking with this talk. “The cities have got the numbers, but we’ve got the resources,” he says. “If you built a wall around Brisbane and said, ‘Well, you’re not going to get any more of our electricity because you don’t want our coal because you’re all greenies, so we’ll use the coal out here, and all the oil and all the food and all the resources’, I think it would be good.
“This lot down there in Brisbane, they’re building roof-to-roof ghettos. They’re producing rabbit hutches. They got nothing down there but houses.” He laughs. “And lattes. Lots of lattes.
The real wall, of course, is one of misunderstanding, a deep disconnection in towns like Gympie that the major political parties ignore at their peril. Politicians, like the media, have misread Gympie for decades, Owen says. “You all think we’re rednecks and we’re only two hours from Brisbane,” he tells me. “You’ll be the same. You’ll go back and you’ll turn us into potatoes: ‘Look at what these potato rednecks think’. I’ve had that done so many times.
The town remembers an article by Queensland criminologist Paul Wilson in a 1997 issue of Australian Penthouse in which he described Gympie as “Hell Town”, “the most undesirable place to live in all of Australia, full of hypocrisy, sexual violence, fear, drugs, murder, incest, pack rape, economic stagnation and rabid right-wing gun fanatics”. Locals found the piece so laughable they started to place “Hell Town” bumper stickers on their cars. Adam Martin found the name so irresistible he named his hotrod customising and auto fabrication shop just out of town Hell Town Hotrods. No surprises that people here took a keen interest in the recent trial that found Paul Wilson, 75, guilty on four child sex charges dating back to the 1970s.
Last month, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson walked through Gympie’s streets and was welcomed like royalty. “Thank you,” locals said, despite her having done nothing yet in Gympie to give thanks for. One Nation’s candidate ran third in voting at the last federal election in this LNP seat, but Gympie is just one of at least 10 Queensland seats political analysts say could fall to One Nation in the state election to be held in or before 2018. “Gympie is hers to lose,” Owen says. “They would only be negligent and silly if they didn’t win it. Pauline speaks her mind and she appreciates the problems, even though she’s not been able to do anything about them.
He takes a sip from The Boss cup and adds another thought to that sentence. “As yet,” he says.
Elenka Parkin with three of her kids.
Potatoes. Elenka Parkin is a 38-year-old single mother of five children, aged 19 to four, who can tell you a thing or two about the potatoes in Coles on Nash Street: “$3.50 a kilogram!” she roars. That price scares her. That price makes her worry for the future of her children. She was raised in North Queensland, where she dropped out of school to work on cattle properties in her late teens.
“Gave me a perspective to appreciate farmers,” she says. “We can get a 20kg sack of potatoes up there for five dollars and they have to throw away their produce because they can’t sell it. No one wants to buy local produce. I can get you the best mangoes in Australia and they’re dumped because they don’t go overseas and they don’t go to the local market. Pumpkins, watermelons, lychees, we grab by the uteload for horses in the paddocks because no one wants to buy them.
“We need to get a bit more independent. We have enough cattle, we have enough sheep, we have enough fruit and vegetables ourselves. Why do we need to import all this food?
Parkin is wearing a black T-shirt with the words, “Who cares?” stretched across it. She says that message is more hopeful than nihilistic. Who actually cares anymore? Case in point, a boy she knows who suffers a life-threatening illness that his parents have been managing by desperately raising funds for medical treatments adding up to almost $300,000 a year. “I hand-wrote a letter to Gina Rinehart asking if she could help this family out and she couldn’t,” she says. “And I wondered what happened to the Aussie spirit.
“People don’t like Pauline Hanson’s bluntness but she’ll go well here because we’ve had enough. She understands we’ve been dragged around and taken for granted. We’ll see Turnbull’s shovel, a photo of a brand new shovel about to go into the ground, but has he ever busted arse and dug one of those holes for a living? No.
“Pauline, she’s been through hell and back,” says Audi Small, a 35-year-old Gympie mum of three who works in retail. “She understands me better than anyone in Canberra because she’s been me. She’s been a battler. She could have quit a long time ago but she hasn’t.
“I’m not a racist but a lot of what she says makes sense. We don’t treat our own as well as we treat illegal immigrants. Give poor pensioners a house, you know. Give them food, give them cigarette money and all the luxuries these people are getting. It’s not fair. My mum is 74 and the pension she gets is ridiculous. It’s not enough.”
Audi’s mum, Lillian, is a widow. “She lives next door to me,” Audi says. “She has no super because my dad and her lost a printing business and then my dad passed away from cancer. They lost everything. I remember when Mum went to get the pension. She felt so violated, all the questions they asked. She said she felt like she was begging for money.And she had given back to the country her whole life. I’m not against immigrants, but let’s treat our own well, too. Let’s take care of our own before we embrace everyone else.
A young man named Dylan Thomas Ryan exits Gympie’s Busy At Work apprenticeship and employment centre. “You done?” asks his friend, Maddison Brown, 20. “Yeah,” he says, rubbing his eyes. Dylan’s been looking for concreting work. “If you want to work, you gotta go down to Brisbane and start your own business,” he says. “There’s not a lot of work here, unfortunately.
Maddison points at the concrete footpath. “Yep, all the concretin’s done, see,” she laughs. Dylan rolls his head back, laughing. “No, there’s no buildings going up,” he says. “Every building needs a slab to start on but there’s nothing getting built in this place, mate. And it will stay like that.
“I’m gonna start a business one day,” Maddison says. Dylan asks, “What are you going to do?” That’s a hard one to answer because the only business she’s seen prosper in Gympie is drug dealing. “The game,” she says.
Maddison recently went to jail for 11 months. “Attempted murder,” she says, casually, like she’s talking about what she got for Christmas last year. She was embroiled in a shooting in Caboolture that escalated from a dispute over an outstanding debt and left a victim in an induced coma.
“The industry of drugs is real bad here,” she says. “Ice. It’s not the town, it’s some people in it. Before I went to jail it wasn’t so bad. When I got out, it was like, whoah. How much it had changed was incredible.” Dylan and Maddison don’t know where they’d begin to explain their lives in Gympie to any political leader, local or otherwise. “What leaders, mate?” Dylan says.
Adam Martin, whose customising shop is called Hell Town Hotrods.
Frank Huskisson was raised in Gympie, but moved away to work in the coalmines in Queensland’s Central Highlands. “They closed the mines up there and coal went arse over head and I moved back here 15 years ago,” he says. Huskisson is 60, a father of three. He found work in Gympie as a mechanical fitter. “There was a lot of work when I came but that’s all disappeared in the last 10 years,” he says. “Gympie had a great infrastructure when I grew up here. It was self-sufficient. We had all the dairy farms, all the small crops. Everything has closed down. Half of the south side of Gympie was dairy farms and they’re all subdivided now into five and 10-acre blocks. You can’t make a living out of that, trying to milk a cow. The government’s done nothing to help that.”
“Disillusionment,” says Michael Cordie, 57. “We’re getting disgruntled. We’re heading to change because we’re not stupid. We have values.” Values, says Cordie, like the kind Russell Roberts shows every morning when he wakes up to a day of pushing his cumbersome lawnmower cart through the baking streets of Gympie. Roberts has gone into the Empire Hotel to spend almost a quarter of his day’s pay on a couple of cold beers. His trike is parked by an electricity pole on the footpath outside the pub.
Cordie looks the improvised mobile business over with a smile. He ran a lawnmowing business himself before he retired, with cars and trailers to lug his mowers around the suburbs. “But nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he says of Roberts’ initiative. “If he works it right, he’ll save enough to buy himself a vehicle and he might get ahead.
But he fears Roberts faces bigger problems than a broken trike chain. “Australia feels white-anted out,” he says. “The whole system is ready to collapse.I don’t know where the answer is. The country’s not built on what it used to be built on. That’s a worry. You look at Australia and it’s all pristine on the outside and you go and poke a finger through it and she’s ready to fall over.
Steve Handel with Mickey.
Steve Handel wants to fly back to September 27, 1983. That was the day after Australia won the America’s Cup. Australia was beautiful that day. Australia was great that day. “I was driving coal trucks in Wollongong back then and there was hundreds of us on the road,” he smiles, standing outside the Empire Hotel, his chihuahua Mickey on a leash at his feet. “People were on the footpath as you drove by giving you the thumbs up; they were waving to you because they were that happy.”
The memory is so strong and sacred that it brings tears to his eyes, standing right here on the footpath of Mary Street, cars zipping by. “All the trucks were blowing their horns and car drivers were waving to you. They couldn’t believe it had happened.” Handel shakes his head. “I miss that.
He wants to fly back to 1964, the year he started working, back when a young man could walk into any pub in Australia and find a job. He wonders how he’d go walking into the Empire Hotel this very moment and saying to the crowded public bar, “G’day, I’m an honest hard-working man from Wollongong and I’m lookin’ for work”.
“Ha!” he says. Mickey the chihuahua would be the first to be booted out. “Because there might be some health inspector hiding behind a tree around the corner,” he says. “We’re over-governed. We’re over-regulated. Bureaucracy has gone wild. You can’t do anything. This is a country where they’ll show you how you can’t do it, not how you can do it.Open a shop, start a business, nothing but red tape and regulation. Can’t work a forklift without a ticket, can’t use a chainsaw without a ticket, can’t go up a ladder without a ticket, can’t go in confined spaces without a ticket. Certificates of competency for anything you want to do. I feel claustrophobic in this country.
“Australia is stuck in limbo. We keep changing governments. We keep thinking we’re getting a prime minister that will get us somewhere but we’re still just in limbo. We’re going nowhere.
Elenka Parkin feels the same. “We need to bring back the Aussie spirit,” she says. Audi Small agrees. “I want to go back to the way it was when I grew up in the 1980s,” she says. “We had it good. We really did.”
That might well be straight-up nostalgia. That might be rose-tinted spectacles but it’s a strong feeling they all share. They don’t know what exactly they want in a leader but they want someone to bring that old Australia back. They want someone to make Australia great again.
Whilst its tragic that so many people feel left behind, the issue is we can’t go back…we need to find a way forward. These towns out in the middle of very inhospitable country are terrible places to exist. I’ve lived in a few as a boy. Some of the points the people make in the story do hold water, but we need to meet in the middle.
We can’t shut down globalism, it has kept the world safe since World War Two, well in relative terms. We need to decentralise the cites, and build high speed rail. And for those who say it’s too expensive, or too hard…there is no other choice apart from the collapse of Oz. It doesn’t have to be done all at once, but it does need to happen…this would would act as a slow release and get some of these people left behind into jobs. We also need to start thinking about reeducation, and expanding into the jobs of the future…all the high tech stuff that is coming on-line, and which Oz is being left behind on. Most of the people in this article would need to be reeducated for the jobs of the future, and again this would act as a slow release.
Finally we need to redefine the concept of existence, i.e. getting a job and working all our lives because this is about to all change due the coming robotics age. We need to teach creativity, so people can add to society in other ways, culture now is more important than ever…and not the sort of cringe stuff that Oz did in the past…it wont past muster in the globalised world, we need to look back to Europe and The Romantics, along with The Modernists and borrow to create something new. It can still have an Oz flavour but this new cultural renaissance needs to be visionary like the two aforementioned movements, not fearful like Oz culture was in the past of Oz’s place in the world.
We need steel, vision and courage now…and whilst I cringe somewhat at the ill-informed opinions of people in this story, we can’t leave anyone behind.
Every time I read a story like this, I think of the prosperous cities in the dry hot inland deserts of America. Like Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Australia’s press looks down on anybody who does not live in the coastal cities, as though they are dead-beat no-hopers. Useless, Not intelligent. What a massive waste. Its as though any money spent inland is a patronising gift from the coastal elite.
The inland and its people are a massive resource that is going to waste, because of the blind ignorance of the law-makers. Unless a few people like Pauline can make some progress, we will wake up one day, and the inland will belong to those who CAN see its potential. Those people may not be Australians.
Whatever is the matter with our journalists? Why are they not reporting the country’s real problems?.
Our country is bleeding and we used to be very good at quick decisive action to at least enlighten people So help could be forthcoming. Or at least ways around the problem.
. Now the more everyone is engrossed in seeing how many likes journos have achieved on Facebook, twitter etc The less the real country seems to matter to an entire mudswamp of people.
This is not just a problem for America.
Our National Party, has become too silent, too compliant, too politically correct for anyone’s good including their own.
Of course if Pauline selects people with very good communicative skills, who are prepared to stick to their ideals and clearly state what they hope to achieve at the beginning, they will no doubt be the new spokespeople for the areas, most adversely affected by sheer neglect.
The Liberal Party should lift its game in the country, There may well be some very good people who are being ignored. Journalists should take stock of what, insignificant relics they became to Americans when it mattered. That never should be forgotten? by them.
The day that truth died in America coming from Journalists. The day of the truthful reporting of situations, where help is needed, appears to be obsolete in too many quarters..
@BarbaraOur reporters are in unions. That’s the first point. Secondly, granny knickers have more impact than grannies dying. Celebraties will always come first, however the Oz did report the NG tsunami. Where have we gone wrong? Government as we knew it changed when Rudd was knifed by Shorten and Gillard was dropped in his spot. When the election was held, the moral fibre of this country and the respect for our political parties went downhill when three, Oakshott, Windsor and Wilkie gave Gillard the leadership of this country. This was an opportunity for the minor parties and independants to barter and win changes that brought nothing but spending on waste. Our debt soared,Gillard introduced another burden on this country with the carbon tax, illegal migrants stormed into this country, drownings at sea were a regular occurrence and the people of Australia couls see we had lost control of our borders and lost total control with spending.
Further respect for our politicians was lost on another knifing with Gillard deposed and Rudd reinstated. It was too late, the damage was done and the credibility and respect for parliament and its members zeroed. Then we had the election where Abbott took the LNP to an outstanding victory. However, he introduced a tough budget to get the deficit reduced and was howled down and Abbott was rolled by the press and a bunch of gutless party members who placed Turnbull at the top. This was a major blow to the country, a toothless waffler leading the country who took the country to an election and lost the super majority Abbott had won.
Throughout all of the past eight years, dumb politician after dumb politician has failed in leadership and doing what Australia does best…rely on its country folk to bring home the bacon. Exports of sheep, wool, beef, cattle, grains, fruit, vegetables etc etc. are the staples that the world needs, food and more food. But no, we allow our vast areas of arable land to be decimated by tax free multi-nationials that are ripping the guts out of the country.
Pauline Hanson may not be the smooth talking, articulate person like Turnbull, or the sneaky, union promoting, Shorten, but she is listening to the people and that’s more than those other two usurpers.
The common theme in so many of these stories about people who are disillusioned or fed up or angry, etc., is that it is the all the fault of someone else. They expect the Government to fix everything – to give them the lives they want.
Not a lot of self-sufficiency or taking personal responsibility going on. And their answer seems to be to vote in independents or minor parties who by definition cannot implement any real change – they can just keep getting in the road and cause the sort of non-achieving governments that they so dislike.
@Chris The people may be in part responsible for the circumstances they find themselves in, however the answer is NOT SSM, reduction of so-called greenhouse gasses, a back-packer tax, Safe Schools and any other rubbish the latte set like to chatter about and that Malcolm and Bill like to argue about. These people need encouragement to help themselves, not government handouts that LibLab love to handout with other peoples money (hard working-tax payers). We need some leaders like Trump who can give people HOPE!
@martin If you’re interested, why don’t you look the immigration numbers up on the Australian Bureau of Statistics website, martin? It’s no secret, it’s all there in black and smudge under item 3412.0 – Migration, Australia. The statistics on 457 Visas are published each and every quarter by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
The real numbers are readily and publicly available.
If Elenka is keen on reviving the Aussie spirit perhaps she could make a contribution by paying due respect for the Australian flag. Draping the flag upside down over the fence with part of the Southern Cross obscured is highly disrespectful. The upper hoist or canton, the Union Jack in the case of our flag, should always be uppermost and to the left, regardless of whether the flag is draped vertically or flown horizontally.
Our flag is significantly more than a prop for a photo.
@Ian More to the point, are you? Do you think the Australian flag is just a bit of cloth to be dragged out any which way? I don’t. Do you think that flag hangs over the back fence or did they drag it out to make some sort of misguided point?
And exactly what is “the issue“, mate, that takes precedence over respect for our nation’s flag? A bloke who no sooner gets $50 in his hands but he’s off to the pub? A single mum who doesn’t know the actual price of spuds at her local supermarket? A town pining for the good ole days?
@Mick You have the same problem as the politicians, you see the flag, but you don’t see the issue. At least it is an Australian flag and not an ISIS one. The majority of the flag, the Union Jack, most of the Southern Cross is there and it is not on the ground, so let’s look at the issue and not some point scoring.
@John Well, short of time travel, John, no we can’t go back to the good old days; they’re long gone and they’re not coming back. Do you think they are?
And since you ask, no, John, I’m not from the Labor Party. I’d suggest that someone from the Labor Party would be falling all over this story, wringing their hands and calling for immediate government subsidies and grants of all descriptions in the interest of saving people from the consequences of their own poor decisions.
@Ian Ian, I volunteer with a community services organisation that helps people 24/7. I work on a regular basis with people in need, I’ll be there on Christmas day doing just that, so save your exhortations about opening my eyes and heart.
As an ex-serviceman, what I object to is having the Australian flag dragged out like a cheap prop just to Aussie-up a photo to get a bit more sympathy.
Opening your eyes and your heart is all well and good but you need to balance that with your head, mate.
Go One Nation! The sooner you get the balance of power in the State Parliaments and the Federal Parliament, the better this country will be. Word of caution Ms Hanson, spend the time to ensure candidates are thoroughly vetted and are of good calibre because that will be your Achilles Heal.
We had a One Nation State Parliamentarian here in Gympie once , that lasted until she fell out with her party and ran again as an Independent . Never heard of again .
As much as I agree with some of Ms Hanson’s ideas I have absolutely no faith that she can corral a bunch of malcontents into a party that actually works. Just look at the clown from Western Australia she endorsed and now fights with and multiply that ten times.
@Douglas That’s what was said about Brexit and Trump. Do you honestly think this country will elect the union loving thug or the waffler who wants to be hugged? It may not be just PH, however, NXP and his troops could also make a difference.
Why do we need to spend billions on subs?
Why are we closing down the cheapest form of energy?
Why aren’t we escalating the development of the food bowl?
One Nation and the NXP have interests in these issues.
I’m not from a small town and I’m as mad as hell too. After six years of university study I worked as a professional software engineer for over thirty years. After more than four years of looking I have been unable to secure full time work. I have had some work but a long way from full time. I believe my situation is due to my age, I am over 50, and the governments policies on immigration. Allowing 10000 ICT workers into Australia last year on 457 visas is a scandal.The claimed shortage of ICT workers is a nonsense. The 457 visa holders will work for a lot less. I know other people with a similar background who are having a similar experience. In addition one third of computer science graduates have been unable to find full-time work. I know many engineers in the same boat. It does make you wonder why the government is pushing STEM so hard when it is clearly trying to destroy those careers. I’d recommend those who are attending university next year to avoid STEM and seek careers in the medical industry or perhaps property development. Not exactly top export earners for Australia but if the government doesn’t care what should individuals.
@John@John Sorry to hear about your employment problems, John, but let’s try to keep the debate on a factual basis. There were only 6,880 Information, Media and Telecommunications 457 visa holders working in Australia as at the last Subclass 457 quarterly report (not 10,000!); they represent about 15% of all 457 visas issued. The Average nominated total remuneration for primary applications granted in 2015-16 to 30 June 2016 for Information, Media and Telecommunications 457 visa positions was $91,300, that’s 1.6 times the median starting salary for Computer Sciences bachelor degree graduates, so it’s a bit hard to see how 457 visa workers are taking jobs from recent graduates.
The employment rates for bachelor degree graduates in civil, electrical, electronic, mechanical and mining engineering are all significantly better than computer science graduates; only aeronautical amd chemical engineering graduates have employment prospects that are on par with computer science graduates.
Anyone pursuing a career these days needs to be cognisant of their own capabilities and motivations, the growth and development prospects of their preferred career path and, perhaps most importantly, the locational dependence associated with their choice.
The following figures come from a report titled Immigration Overflow : Why it matters by tapri.
17185 ICT workers on both 457 visas and permanent for 2015-2016.
Source: Department of Trade, visas issued data, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16; Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2015-16 (BE 10296.01)
According to the ABS, the average Australian salary for full-time non-managerial employees in professional level IT occupations in 2014 was around $100,000.3 For the 5,722 of the total of 7,329 who were Indian nationals in these two occupations in 2014-15, the salary level was very low. Some 61.4 per cent had a nominated base salary below $70,180 — some $30,000 below average ITprofessionals’ salaries (see Appendix I).
A quick look on an online employment website shows over 100 job vacancies paying up to $85,000 a year in and within 80 kilometres of Gympie. Among the vacancies are casual Parks Labourers earning $25 per hour (Russell might be interested but he probably couldn’t go to the pub for a couple of coldies whenever he felt like it), wait staff at local cafes, sorters at the local rubbish tip, cooks assistants, carers and care support workers.
And you can get a 2 kg pack of Red Royale Washed Potatoes at the Coles in Gympie for $4.50; that’s less than the price of one regular Big Mac meal down the road at McDonald’s.
Get back to me when you’ve taken some of the people that figure in the story for a couple of job interviews, gone shopping with Elenka to see what she buys for the kids and had Ron Owen explain how he’s managed to run a gun shop employing three staff if things are so tough in Gympie. Or better still have any one of them tell you what Pauline is going to do to improve their lot.
@Mick In my experience a lot of jobs that are advertised do not exist, agencies place them to collect resumes. Even if the jobs do exist if there are 100 applicants Russell is unlikely to be successful because of his age. I do not believe there is enough work for everyone who wants it. Your assumptions are totally demeaning, Russell is obviously trying to make the best of a bad situation and he should be given credit for that.
@John Yeah, sure, there’s a booming market in collecting resumes for unskilled park labourers. I’ve made no assumptions, demeaning or otherwise, I’ve just stated some facts; inconvenient ones if you want to believe the “poor me” story of “Rum Pig” (that’s his “personalised” plate) Russell working for beer money.
@Mick@John there is a market for resumes… they get binned if they think you are totally unstable and might be kept on file for 6 months if they think you might be useful.. then it’s delete time and no one calls you. You have to be constantly calling them.
Had few tell me there are no jobs it’s almost Xmas, then they advertise … replies from them that client specific.. which means 18-22, preferably traveler.
they need money you see to stay in Straya… no one gives a damn that you have bills and need to eat.
@Anna Yeah, sounds like you’re describing the way most people go about finding a job, Anna. They get off their coit, go looking and chase jobs down; they don’t expect the Job Fairy to sprinkle some magic dust and have employers come looking for you.
Yes, reality check, you do have to have to be constantly calling them. And, well sorry, but we’ve all got bills and need to eat – that’s not going to get you into the priority queue.
@Greg Oh, of course, how silly of me. I guess that the statistic that well over a quarter of people who are placed in new roles nominate “Advertisement on the internet” as the means by which they found out about the role is fake as well.
Well two of my kids went for their first jobs in rural Australia this year and it was frankly too easy. A lot easier than I remember and paying over $25 hr for junior untrained labour with as much overtime as is legal. Still the companies cannot get enough starters.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the new data showed that taxpayer-funded benefits could be providing a disincentive to work.
By Sarah Martin The Australian 28 October 2016
Thousands of parents claiming government benefits are financially better off not getting a job, with new figures showing they receive at least $45,000 a year tax-free, more than the take-home pay of most Australian workers.
As the Coalition embarks on an overhaul of the welfare sector, new government data obtained by The Australian reveals that the top 10 per cent of those on parenting benefits, about 43,200 people, received at least $45,032 in 2014-15.
The amount is boosted when families have multiple children and claim a range of government benefits, such as family tax payments and childcare rebates.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the new data showed that taxpayer-funded benefits could be providing a disincentive to work — a systemic flaw that required government attention. “Among the many areas that require attention to system design is the fact that the broad generosity of the Australian welfare system manifests more often than people might expect in circumstances where the money people receive in welfare payments is comparable to being employed,” Mr Porter said.
“What is not in any recipients’ best interest is to be deprived of the incentives to reduce income from welfare with income from work.”
The minister, who recently announced that the Coalition will reshape the welfare sector to encourage people into work, said the government had a “moral” responsibility to address welfare dependency.
Under the current system, a single parent with four children who did not work and was not receiving child support income could receive more than $50,000 a year from the government, the equivalent of someone earning $65,000 a year before tax, such as a full-time teacher, nurse or entry-level public servant.
A single parent with four children aged 13, 10, seven and four years, who paid $400 a week in rent without any employment income or child support, would receive a basic parenting payment of $738.50 a fortnight, along with an energy supplement of $12 a fortnight and a pharmaceutical allowance of $6.20 fortnight.
This provides a base payment of $19,728 a year, which would then be augmented by family tax benefits A and B, further supplements for each child and rent assistance, which would pay an extra $32,331 a year.
Finally, energy supplements for each child receiving family tax benefits would total an additional $463 a year, bringing the total take-home pay to $52,523.
According to figures from the Australian National University, the median full-time wage for 2014-15 was $61,300 a year. After tax, this leaves the median wage at $49,831. However, the median overall wage — including part-time workers — was $46,500, which equates to $39,841 as take-home pay after tax.
One of the government’s first steps as it seeks to overhaul the welfare system has been to announce the $96 million “Try, Test, Learn” fund for trials of intervention programs for welfare-dependent young parents, the young unemployed and young carers.
Parents younger than 18 are deemed to be particularly vulnerable to the risk of long-term welfare dependency, with 70 per cent of the 4370 young parents receiving the Parenting Payment in 2014-15 expected still to be on income support in 10 years.
Taxpayers will spend an estimated $191 billion on future welfare payments for all people currently receiving the Parenting Payment, with current recipients having the highest average future lifetime cost of all payment groups, at $441,000 per person.
Young parents are expected to have a higher average future lifetime cost at $547,000 per person.
Mr Porter said the data being collected by the government showed that there must be “better ways” to encourage parents back into the workforce and off government payments.
“It is morally incumbent upon us in that in developing policy … and in making the welfare system fairer we look at mutual obligation and the requirement to prepare for, search for and accept work,” Mr Porter told The Australian.
“We need to find better ways to ensure parents retain current, work-ready skills or develop them even when receiving welfare so they are prepared for and able to accept work when it becomes appropriate for them to do so.”
Government attempts to scale back family tax benefit payments have been largely resisted by Labor and the Senate.
A compromise in the government’s omnibus savings bill this year preserved the energy supplement for current recipients, but reached agreement on a new schedule that limited access to the FTB Part A supplement to those earning less than $80,000 a year.
A Priority Investment report released last month showed that in 2014-15 there were 432,000 people receiving the Parenting Payment, of whom it is estimated that about half will remain on income support after 10 years, and only 22 per cent will have left the welfare system.
The average Parenting Payment in Australia is $29,100, and people can qualify if they have a child younger than six when partnered, or a child younger than eight if single. It is only paid to one member of a couple.
In a speech at the National Press Club last month, Mr Porter warned that without further action Australia’s annual $160 billion welfare bill would top $4.8 trillion for those presently on welfare.
Warning that the system faced having more households drawing income from the national purse, than contributing to it, Mr Porter said it was “like a snake eating its own tail”. “That is to say that it does not work so well after about halfway,” he said.
Economists call it the impact of high effective marginal tax rates. It’s a fancy way of saying that, for some welfare recipients, work doesn’t pay.
The combination of relatively generous welfare payments (particularly if there are several dependent children), the withdrawal of payments if work is undertaken and the payment of tax means that adults in some families, particularly single parent ones, are better off staying on welfare than getting a job.
Ten per cent of people on parenting benefits, more than 400,000 people, each received more than $45,000 in benefits in 2014-15. This is well above the fulltime minimum wage, which is $35,000. Throw in receipt of the childcare subsidy for which no activity test applies and these parents don’t even have to spend much of their time looking after the children.
Many of those on single parenting benefits, particularly if they are accessed from a young age, will be in receipt of welfare payments even after their children have grown up.
The truth is that being out of the workforce does them no favours, nor their children. There is clear evidence of intergenerational transmission of disadvantage. The government is right to try to break this cycle, including assisting welfare recipients to become job-ready.
There are lessons the government could learn from Britain and New Zealand. In Britain, one principle is that no one can be better off on welfare compared with having a fulltime low wage job. There are limits on the number of children for whom benefits are paid.
New Zealand policy has a mixture of carrots and sticks. Early intervention in cases known to be associated with long-term welfare dependence is a hallmark of the policy.
For Australia, this is not just an economic imperative, it is also a moral one. Redesigning welfare payments is complex but the key is to ensure that work, not welfare, pays.
Brian Fitzpatrick said the trade union royal commission last year had failed to end corruption in the CFMEU union’s NSW division. “They are still taking money,” he said. “They don’t want to do anything about it.”
Aaron Patrick 20 Oct 2016 Australian Financial Review
A new construction industry regulator – one of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s top priorities – would end the corrupt union’s stranglehold over labour and reshape the entire industry, a union veteran says.
Brian Fitzpatrick, an organiser in the Construction, Mining, Forestry and Energy Union for 25 years, said the union was able to drive up wages because most workers were more loyal to it than their employers.
“It will shift the whole balance of power in the industry,” Mr Fitzpatrick said in an interview on Wednesday. “It will completely nullify the power of the union.”
He also said the trade union royal commission last year had failed to end corruption in the union’s NSW division. “They are still taking money,” he said. “They don’t want to do anything about it.”
The Australian Building and Construction Commission, which the Senate will consider approving next month, is shaping up as one of the bigger political battles of the year. It is unclear if the government has enough Senate votes to re-establish the commission. A failure would be a big political embarrassment.
Opponents, including ACTU secretary Ged Kearney and Greens leader Richard Di Natale, portray the commission as an attack on workers’ rights. But insiders like Mr Fitzpatrick see the agency as being used to shift industrial power away from the union, which critics say pushes up the cost of construction through aggressive bargaining and ignoring court rulings.
“Whoever gets the rule of law on their side will entirely be in control,” said Mr Fitzpatrick, who opposes the commission because he believes it will reduce union power.
A study by the Productivity Commission two years ago found wages in the construction industry had risen faster than other industries since 1998. Infrastructure Australia, a government agency, commissioned research that found Australian projects were 40 per cent more expensive than in the US and required 30 to 35 per cent more labour.
Mr Fitzpatrick, 73, coordinated organisers for the union’s construction division until 2013 when he fell out with its leaders in NSW after complaining of being threatened by another union official.
The Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption, which was headed by former High Court judge Dyson Heydon, found the CFMEU didn’t properly investigate his complaint and that he was victimised after making it.
Mr Fitzpatrick, who is still a member of the union, said other members were disappointed it hadn’t been cleaned up since the royal commission last year recommended charges against several current and former CFMEU officials.
“The feeling among the workers is very disappointed because nothing has happened,” he said. “In NSW it’s definitely corrupt.”
The union declined to comment.
When he became an organiser at the union in the 1980s, Mr Fitzpatrick said it had it had tough probity rules that were rigorously enforced. That’s ended now, he said.
“We were a very militant union but we were clean,” he said. “You take a pair of shoelaces, you are out. If someone gives you a bottle of wine you give it to the girls for a raffle. That slipped away.”
Legal experts say the new agency, which was abolished by the Rudd Labor government, is designed to curtail industrial tactics used by the CFMEU rather than fight corruption within the union.
RMIT University professor Anthony Forsyth said the commission would likely only “moderate” the union’s behaviour.
“It has to be remembered that this union tends to run the gauntlet of whatever laws are in place, including the limits on industrial action,” he said.
The proposed law would give the agency authority over of transport of goods to building sites and oil platforms; create new rules against illegal picket lines; increase penalties for unlawful industrial action from $10,800 to $34,000 for individuals, and from $54,000 to $170,000 for unions; allow the agency to take legal action even if the union and construction company have settled a dispute; and increase federal control over the industrial practices of companies tendering for federally funded projects.
Some experts, including Professor Forsyth, believe one of the biggest effects of the law would be a building code that would substantially limit the CFMEU’s ability to get clauses in workplace agreements that reduce workplace flexibility.
The West Australian Government has released a comprehensive policy aimed at combatting ice. The policy includes rehabilitation, prevention – focused on education in schools – and interdiction by the police. Drug legalisation and smoking rooms, similar in concept to injecting rooms, have been ruled out.
With encouragement from the Family Council of WA, the Council for the National Interest (CNIWA) hosted a Drugs Forum in Perth on August 14, 2016, featuring three speakers covering different aspects of the epidemic of illicit drugs that is sweeping Australia.
In preparing for this forum, the CNIWA investigated the evidence of the past 40 years and found that the policy of harm minimisation, instead of harm prevention, was the root cause of the increase in demand for illicit drugs.
Drug Free Australia chief executive Jo Baxter prepared an extensive presentation as to why Australia has achieved the status of ice capital of the world and how we can get fix this. Jo provided stark comparisons between Australia’s illicit-drug industry growth and Sweden’s reduction in drug use brought about by implementing a policy of reducing demand.
Statistics from the latest United Nations World Drug Report (2015) bear out the assertion that Australia’s per capita rate of drug use for 15–64 year olds is the world’s highest. Sweden, with 40 per cent of Australia’s population, has 29,500 problematic drug users. Australia has 220,000 dependent cannabis users and over 200,000 ice users.
The mantra of drug legalisers that prohibition does not work is clearly given the lie by the Swedish figures. Australia’s focus on minimising harm by giving priority to treatment instead of prevention and early intervention has resulted in the ice problem reaching pandemic proportions.
West African and Chinese organised crime gangs view Australia as a soft touch, with a lack of political will and leadership creating a demand for a highly profitable illicit drug business. Australians are paying world record prices for illicit drugs so it is no wonder organised crime syndicates are flooding the market. Ice is extremely addictive even when knowing the effects are extremely harmful.
Ice smoking leads to brain damage, increased risk to safety in workplaces, increased danger on roads, increased violence in communities, families and relationships. (Hospital emergency departments are on the front line of this drug scourge.)
To repair the damage of 40 years of harmful promoting of illicit drug use Australia should adopt the Swedish compassionate policing model, with court-enforced rehabilitation as against enforced prison, and with an emphasis on rehabilitation of all problem drug users. Sweden went from having the highest rate of drug use in Europe in 1970 to the lowest by 2000.
Australia can emulate Sweden with a restrictive drug policy while maintaining criminal use of drugs to emphasise the harm of illicit drugs, especially methamphetamines.
The WA Government Methamphetamine Strategy is a good start to combatting the scourge of illicit drugs. However, the emphasis still seems to be focused on rehabilitation rather than primary prevention if funding is any indicator. The Australian anti-smoking campaign is evidence of a successful social modification program that can apply to a concerted effort for combating illicit drug use.
Peter Lyndon-James of Shalom House
A complete contrast to the clinical analysis by Jo Baxter was the presentation by Peter Lyndon-James, founder and director of Shalom House Rehabilitation Centre in Perth. In a very forthright manner Peter described the conditions of addicts and his Christian ethics-based, cold turkey treatment of addicts who voluntarily enter his rehabilitation process.
Demand for his service is overwhelming, encouraging a growth in facilities to accommodate the number of damaged men seeking freedom from illicit drug use. Peter emphasised the importance of the addict asking for help, until which time the addict will not commit to the rehabilitation program that may take 12 months or more to achieve success.
Associate Professor Dr Stuart Reece presented an extensive review of research assembled in association with Professor Gary Hulse of UWA.
Professor Reece’s expose of marijuana and the negative genetic influences needs a full forum of its own to do justice to the material presented. The experience of the generation of the 1960 and ’70s experimentation with drugs that “did me no harm” distorts the reality of the cannabis market of today, with product 80 per cent stronger in cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the two main active ingredients in cannabis.
When combined with a vigorous illicit drug industry peddling brain-destroying methamphetamines, the wrong messages are being conveyed to today’s youth. Professor Reece offered damning research evidence that pregnant women and sexually active males should not be using marijuana. Otherwise, Australia’s next generation will suffer the deadly consequences of genetic defects from the use of cannabinoids.
Professor Reece’s message for Australians, and for the next three to four generations hence, is to ignore the evidence at your peril.
Pauline Hanson: “Non-custodial parents find it hard to restart their lives, with excessive child support payments that see their former partners live a very comfortable life.”
Fleur Anderson 25 September 2016 Australian Financial Review
The federal government’s independent auditor has flagged an investigation of the $3.5 billion child support system, a move that could provide further ammunition for Pauline Hanson’s claim that the system is unfair to non-custodial parents.
It’s the latest in a push to test the integrity of the child welfare system, which some claim is plagued by rorting by some parents trying to dodge child support payments and some childcare service providers who are blamed for almost $600 million in incorrect government payment claims.
The Australian National Audit Office has listed the child support system as a priority issue for audits for 2016-17 and plans to focus on the arrangements between the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services.
In the weeks following the federal election, Nationals MPs reported to their partyroom that anger over the child support system was a sleeper issue that risked losing voters to One Nation unless major parties started taking notice.
The accuracy and effectiveness of the child support system is based on parents lodging accurate tax returns to give their assessable taxable income.
In 2014-15, about $3.5 billion was transferred between separated parents to support about 1.2 million children.
In the same year, the ATO and Department of Human Services were behind 65,678 enforcement actions on parents’ tax returns to collect an extra $27.4 million in child support payments.
Another 105,202 tax refunds were intercepted to garnishee $121.5 million in child support.
But fathers’ rights groups and One Nation say the child support system must be overhauled and the formula that dictates the amount of child support payments should be reviewed.
The audit will focus on the effectiveness of the agencies’ enforcement activities, including intercepting tax refunds and reviewing the accuracy of parents’ tax returns.
One Nation leader Senator Pauline Hanson said in her maiden speech this month that some parents were left caring and providing for children without any financial help from the other parent, while others refuse to work altogether to avoid the payments.
“Non-custodial parents find it hard to restart their lives, with excessive child support payments that see their former partners live a very comfortable life.”
An interim audit by the Auditor-General of 21 government departments and agencies – including Education, Communication, Defence, Employment and Defence – for the year to June 30 this year found childcare compliance was the significant adverse problem facing government bookkeepers.
Thanks to a 2013 change to the monitoring of childcare operators, compliance moved from inspections of childcare centres and family daycare operators to asking parents to confirm their child’s attendance in child care.
As a result the potential incorrect payments blew out to an estimated $693 million by June 2015, before being reined in to $587 million this year.
Education minister Simon Birmingham, who now has responsibility for the problem which has switched between the Education department and Social Services since 2014, said recent measures to close loopholes allowing “child swapping” by carers claiming payments has helped stop more than $400 million in suspect claims from being paid.
A $27 million crackdown introduced to Parliament last week explicitly ruled out people claiming childcare subsidies where the care was provided by the child’s own parents in their own homes “or even in the back of the car”.
“These new measures will ensure there are much tighter controls on who cares for our children – it is not good enough that existing rules have been able to be ‘worked around’ and these measures will put a stop to it in the interests of child safety and the protection of taxpayers,” Mr Birmingham said.
You, me and the smartphone: Electronic devices can be as devastating to relationships as any stashed-away lover.
Weekend Financial Review 20 August 2016
by Hara Estroff Marano”You’re with your other husband, again,” Marilyn Suttle’s only husband would say every time she turned to her mobile phone while the two were driving to dinner. She thought he was just being his witty self. Then his words began getting under her skin.
Suttle, who runs a Detroit-based professional training company specialising in customer service, always asks clients to look at their business through the eyes of the customer: “What’s the experience like, and what could make it better?” It was just after she had given the keynote talk at a leadership conference when it hit her: “Maybe this applies to me.”
“I thought we were having ‘together time’ in the car,” she recalls, “but my husband didn’t see it that way. He felt disconnected and left out.” And that’s not what she wanted, not for herself, not for her 32-year marriage.
Actually she wanted two things: “I wanted a loving, close connection between us. And, as the owner of a business that is always with me, I wanted to check out Facebook to get that instant charge of discovering what’s happening and what people are saying about the company.”
Suttle isn’t the first to discover that the two goals are increasingly in conflict. Couples everywhere are stumbling over what research is now documenting: technology, and especially networked mobile technology, while expanding our cultural and social worlds, is crushing our private one.
Despite the huge boost smartphones give couples in co-ordinating their everyday activities, they’re delivering a double hit to romantic life – on one side from the intrusion of the outside world and on the other from the new possibilities for the exclusion of a partner.
As one researcher puts it, quoting the French philosopher Paul Virilio, “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.”
It also challenges couples to reclaim life’s lulls, the unstructured moments of reflection and openness to each other on which feelings of closeness are built and sustained – the ones most prone to digital intrusion.
“I’ve been in practice for 15 years,” says Chicago psychologist Nicole Martinez, “and technology has become a significant issue for couples only over the past five years.”
In one study of young married women, 70 per cent reported that face-to-face conversations were stopped in their tracks by a partner’s phone use or even active texting. “Technoference,” family researcher Brandon McDaniel calls it – “everyday intrusions or interruptions in couple interactions or time spent together that occur due to technology.”
McDaniel, a newly minted PhD in human development from Penn State, along with Sarah Coyne of Brigham Young University, found that the women who experienced technoference in their relationship also encountered more couple conflict over tech use and diminished relationship satisfaction. Such dissatisfaction affects young adults trying to form relationships as well as people of all ages in established relationships.
According to a 2014 Pew Research survey, 42 per cent of cellphone-owning 18- to 29-year-olds in serious relationships say their partner has been distracted by a mobile device while they were together, which is more than the 25 per cent of all couples reporting such problems. And 18 per cent of young adults argue over the amount of time spent online.
Mobile enemies of intimacy
It’s not just that we have only so much time and attention. Smartphones actually transform interpersonal processes. In a much-discussed 2014 study, Virginia Tech psychologist Shalini Misra and her team monitored the conversations of 100 couples in a coffee shop and identified “the iPhone Effect”: the mere presence of a smartphone, even if not in use – just as an object in the background – degrades private conversations, making partners less willing to disclose deep feelings and less understanding of each other, she and her colleagues reported in Environment and Behavior.
With people’s consciousness divided between what’s in front of them and the immense possibility symbolised by smartphones, face-to-face interactions lose the power to fulfil. Mobile phones are “undermining the character and depth” of the intimate exchanges we cherish most, says Misra. Partners are unable to engage each other in a meaningful way.
On or off, smartphones are also a barrier to establishing new relationships, observe Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex in England. When they assigned pairs of strangers to discuss either casual or meaningful events, the presence of a smartphone, even outside the visual field, derailed the formation of relationships – especially if the participants were asked to talk about something personally significant.
Smartphones “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and reduced the extent to which individuals felt understanding and empathy from their partners”, the team reports in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Subversion of the conditions of intimacy, they believe, happens outside of conscious awareness.
Misra argues that smartphones fragment human consciousness. The lower quality of conversation in the presence of smartphones and the diminished empathy come about through our habitual use of the devices. They come to embody distant relationships and networks – social nuclei, Misra calls them – and, acting as environmental cues, they make other relationships and interests more salient than those directly in front of us.
“In their presence, people have the constant urge to seek out information, check for communication, and direct their thoughts to other people and worlds,” she says. They divide consciousness between the immediate and the invisible. Feeling less connected to a face-to-face partner, we avoid self-disclosure.
In body but not in mind
The ability of a partner to be physically present but absorbed by “a world of elsewhere” was first described more than a decade ago, in 2002, by Swarthmore College psychologist Kenneth Gergen. He called it “absent presence“. That, however, was before smartphones multiplied the power of mobile phones to remove us from the local.
In the realm of relationships, smartphones turn conventional understanding of vulnerability on its head – for it is the best couples that seem to be hit the hardest. The closer partners start out, the more irked they become by the presence of devices, says Misra; they expect the attentiveness of their nearest and dearest.
If there is a soundtrack of the new plaint, it’s less the gentle prodding Marilyn Suttle got than “Put down that damn phone and talk to me”, which captures the pain and frustration of being ignored rather than engaged by a partner – at least in an established relationship, where time together is especially important and, usually, precious.
(Rarely would anyone dare to be so direct in the getting-to-know-you stages of dating, researchers find, without courting the label “needy” or “controlling”.) It’s the sound of expectations being violated.
No longer accessories, smartphones, by their very embeddedness in our lives, bring the expectation of constant availability to everyone in our social network. But we also generally expect a partner’s interest and involvement when we’re together. And so smartphones, ipso facto, set us up for a clash of expectations and outright conflict, especially during intimate moments. It’s less clear what expectations for accessibility are when partners are just hanging out together – riding in the car, relaxing in the living room.
Nevertheless, as relationship researcher John Gottman has documented, the unstructured moments that partners spend in each other’s company, occasionally offering observations that invite conversation or laughter or some other response, hold the most potential for building closeness and a sense of connection. Each of those deceptively minor interludes is an opportunity for couples to replenish a reservoir of positive feelings that dispose them kindly to each other when they hit problems.
“Clinically we hear a lot of partners complain, ‘I feel neglected. You’re always checking your email, or surfing the web, or checking the news, even during dinner,'” says Gottman.
Attention takes effort, and software capitalises on distractibility. “The real danger is that people are checking their devices so often they’re not noticing a partner’s bids for connection.”
Saboteurs of love
Missing bids for connection is not the only effect of absent presence. In a study of technology use in classrooms, Jesper Aagaard, a PhD candidate at Aarhus University in Denmark, observed men and women ages 16 to 20 and then interviewed 25 of them in depth about non-classroom tech use. Technoference misaligns partners emotionally, he reports in AI & Society.
Their communication is marked by delayed responses, mechanical intonation and lack of eye contact; all result in an unintentional misattunement. Gone are the rhythms of responsiveness and synchronicity of feelings that flow between partners, hallmarks of satisfying relationships. What comes across is indifference, says Aagaard.
In the face of perceived apathy, partners keep restricting their responses, setting in motion a downward spiral of interaction.
Love may lurk in the lulls, in the interstices of everyday life, but those are now the times we are most likely to turn not towards a partner but to our devices. No one such moment may be grand enough to finger as a culprit, but collectively “the microflights from intimacy land couples on an icy couch”, observes New York psychotherapist Ken Page. They are stealth saboteurs of intimacy.
Andrew Blazer* is a physician on the internal medicine faculty at a major medical centre and a digital health innovator. He plumbs big data to discover and develop better ways for doctors to practise medicine and for patients to safeguard their health. In other words, he’s tech-friendly. But he is wistful about the subtle moments of connection that technology tends to obliterate.
“The way my wife winds down before bed is to look at Facebook,” he says. “For me that’s such an important time for talking and sharing the moments of the day, and for intimacy, physical and otherwise. She says, ‘Just ask me and I’ll put it away’, but that doesn’t feel very satisfying.”
It carries little receptivity to the kinds of probing conversations they used to have when they were getting to know one another, the kind of talk that comes unbidden, bubbling up from the depths through comfortable, warm silence – too fragile to rise to the level of significance demanded by a declarative “Let’s talk”.
“Technology is like a third party in the relationship,” says Blazer. His only consolation is the suspicion that couples everywhere are wrangling with the same problem.
We have to talk about porn
There’s another problem that’s increasingly troubling in relationships, that of porn use: videos and images often delivered to a portable device and viewed by one partner in secret from the other.
Complaints about porn use constitute the number-one problem walking in the door of many, if not most, couple and sex therapists today – a direct measure of the power that privacy afforded by handheld devices has to disrupt intimate relationships. In 2015, more than half of porn users polled regularly accessed it via their phones, and the number of porn videos viewed worldwide was estimated at 88 billion – 10 billion more than the previous year, according to research conducted by Pornhub.
About 90 per cent of young men report using pornography with some regularity – as do 34 per cent of young women. But if there is a stereotypical situation, it’s this: a woman finds her boyfriend or husband accessing erotic images or videos on the internet. The images bear little resemblance to what she looks like or to what she and her husband do in bed, explains Michigan psychologist Joe Kort.
She feels hurt and betrayed, almost as if she had found him in bed with another woman. She is ashamed of his interests, afraid of what they imply about her, and, given the distorting lens of sexual secrecy, concludes that his desires are proof of perversity.
“I think he’s a sex addict,” she says. “Fix him.” Ashamed of his secret use, he often agrees.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact: discovering porn on a partner’s computer can be an unnerving way to learn about a spouse’s sexual fantasies. But it’s often the only way. Couples almost never discuss their sexual desires. And both sexual appetites and sexual interests tend to be highly divergent between heterosexual partners.
For a number of reasons, a man may not be able or willing to talk to his wife about his sexual needs, says David Ley, a clinical psychologist in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The tragedy is that a woman may not even know she’s not meeting her partner’s needs, because he’s not telling her what they are.
Symptom of sexual silence
Compounding a woman’s distress in discovering a partner’s secret porn use are the conclusions she is likely to draw about herself. Data on the universality of porn viewing by males across the globe suggest that its use is entirely impersonal, but a woman is apt to experience it as a personal reflection on her.
“I’ll never look like that.” “Why am I not enough?” Or “Why is he masturbating instead of having sex with me?”
A woman’s self-esteem and feelings about her body are often potent indices of her reactivity to porn, experts report.
“Porn is never really the issue,” says clinical sexologist Claudia Six of San Rafael, California. It’s usually erotic differences between the partners. Most often, couples are clueless about their sexual selves. “They think there is one certain way to be sexual. With sexuality there is more variation than people give themselves permission for.”
The secret use of porn is a symptom of the great sexual silence in many heterosexual relationships.
If viewing erotica is ubiquitous among males, why do so many men and women regard internet porn use as pathological? Being labelled “porn addict” by a partner, or even by oneself, has nothing to do with the amount of porn a man views, says Joshua Grubbs, assistant professor of psychology at Bowling Green University. He says, “It’s shame-motivated.”
In the face of guilt over pornography use, transgression becomes addiction, the team reports in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Grubbs calls it “perceived pornography addiction”. “It functions very differently from other addictions. If it were an actual addiction, one would expect to see some correlation between perceived self-control and porn use.”
Wired for Intimacy
Dr Bill Struthers – describes how pornography hijacks the male brain, using the latest brain science studies to show what takes place in the brain during sexual activity, whether licit or illicit. Video link here
But among those who designated themselves porn-addicted, actual rates of use were all over the map – from one or two views in six months to daily watching. “Perceived porn addiction is independent of actually being dysregulated,” says Grubbs.
Whether imposed by a partner or oneself, the label of porn addict reflects an impoverished understanding of human sexuality, says David Ley. People who believe themselves to be porn addicts need help understanding what their use of porn means.
“They need help unpacking the conflicts between their own sexual desires and the moral/religious society around them,” he adds. Men as well as women need to be educated about their own sexuality and explore why they respond to particular visual images.
Pornography is a scapegoat for all the conversations couples aren’t having, and it’s an easy target, says Ogi Ogas, a computational neuroscientist and co-author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts, a groundbreaking study of sexual interests revealed through internet usage.
Labelling porn use as pathological all comes down to one thing, Ogas insists: men and women have very different sexual tastes, sexual preferences, sexual interests, sexual fantasies. They are aroused by different things, prefer different kinds of sexual stimulation.
“But we each look at our partner and want his or her behaviour to be more like our own. When it is not, we get upset, and that leads to accusations of ‘porn problems’. We are not properly educated about the nature of sexual taste and sexual preference.”
The male brain is particularly responsive to and stimulated by visual imagery, first and foremost by pictures of anatomy that cut directly to the sex act. Women prefer dialogue and seduction – everything leading up to the sex act.
Dominance and submission: it’s mammalian
Men and women do share one big sexual calling, reports Ogas, now a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education – an interest in dominance, submission and power themes.
“In fact,” he says, “it is the only universal sex interest shared not only by men and women but by gay and straight, young and old. Everyone is turned on by one person being dominant, the other submissive.”
It’s also the primary theme of “romantopia” – the hundreds of thousands of romance novels that constitute women’s erotica, which our culture deems healthier than male erotica, or “pornutopia”.
All mammals have very specific parts of the brain devoted to the physical postures of dominance and submission during sex, and along with the physical patterns come psychological responses. We may live less in hormonal thrall than rats and rabbits, but we’re all likely to tap into a preference for dominance or submission.
A third of straight men and two-thirds of gay men prefer to be sexually submissive, while a small minority of straight women prefer to be dominant.
Porn is not about a relationship. “It’s not about his wife or his partner,” says Kort. “It’s about the freedom to be self-centred. Porn never says ‘no’, carries no opportunity for rejection. And no negotiation is needed.”
Men choose to watch porn because it is easy and quick – and they can escape the burden of pleasing a partner.”It’s a way for a man to relax,” adds Ley. “That is one of the main reasons a man can get an erection more easily with porn than with a partner. He doesn’t have to focus on her needs. You have to relax in order to get an erection.”
An end to secrecy
Joe Kort invites couples to talk openly about the differences between their erotic identities. Once partners take the mystery out of their sexual interests, they open the door to understanding and compassion for each other.
Either scenario calls for a willingness of both partners to be open about their sexual fantasies and drop the secrecy that now drives so many to their own devices.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
No matter if you’re an established couple or not, it’s wise to consider whether you and your partner have the same view of what is, and isn’t, fair game for posting about your life together.
Technology changes the boundaries of couple life in new ways, says Katherine Hertlein, associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and co-author of The Couple and Family Technology Framework. But most couples don’t realise it until one person feels there is a transgression – say, the other adds an old flame as a Facebook friend.
She urges couples to have an explicit conversation about how to manage tech use. The ideal time to do it is when two people become serious about their relationship. Since technology is always changing, however, it’s necessary for all couples. Here are discussion points: What are your expectations about tech use by your partner and by you? Exactly what kind of contact does each partner regard as cheating? What is appropriate to disclose about the relationship; about your spouse? Do you exchange passwords or not? Do you tell your partner whom you are texting? When is it OK to be anonymous online? What, if any, places in the home are off-limits to electronic devices?What are rules for use in the car? When is it OK to post photos of your children? How much checking on each other is OK?
When you need support, Hertlein advises, it’s best to text. But if you’re having a fight or otherwise trying to solve a problem, better to do it via email. (Or even face to face by voice.) Technology facilitates frequent but brief communication – not enough to get at core issues. Set aside time at the end of the day for old-fashioned face-to-face talking.
Juan Cartagena: “The problem of building trust online is not a fad but it is fundamental.”
Traity CEO Juan Cartagena knows how to measure trust
by Rachel Botsman 4 August 2016 AFR
In 2011, Spanish-born Juan Cartagena was scammed buying a computer on Gumtree, the second-hand goods website.
He lost £250 in the fraudulent transaction. Around the same time, he was trying to get in contact with a girl who went to the same school as he did, on Facebook. But at the start, she wasn’t sure about meeting him in person. Cartagena even sent her his résumé to try to convince her he was a decent person in the hope of getting a date. Both experiences pointed to the same problem: building trust and proving that a person is trustworthy online is tricky and taxing.
Cartagena, a 34-year-old entrepreneur with a background in electrical engineering, realised this was a problem worth solving not just for himself but for other people. In 2012, with close friends Jose Fernandez and Borja Martin, he founded Traity, a reputation standard to help people prove their trustworthiness across the web. To date, the Mountain View-based start-up has raised more than $US4.7 million.
In the age of companies such as Airbnb, Uber and eBay that depend on the willingness of strangers to trust one another at a global scale, the idea behind Traity seems big and logical. But as Cartagena has discovered, getting people to value their online reputation is challenging because we still don’t quite get how it works or understand its value.
Canadian ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky famously said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” It’s a metaphor that resonates with many visionary entrepreneurs. So how does Cartagena think Traity can crack the future of trust?
Why do you want to help solve the difficulties of proving you are trustworthy online?
The problem of building trust online is not a fad but it is fundamental. When people don’t trust each other, there are social and economic limitations to human transactions. And this is a big problem to solve because we now operate in very large communities, open networks, where we don’t know the buyers and sellers. We are transacting with strangers all the time and it requires a new level of understanding and trust between people. Because of my engineering background, I think about economic inefficiencies and how to solve them in ways that generate real economic value. So I figured I could build a trust engine that would help those transactions happen more fluently and eliminate barriers to trade.
What is Traity trying to achieve?
Traditional systems of proving whether people are worth trusting are not particularly effective or empowering. They diminish and devalue people when they go through the automated screening processes to get a credit score. This score then seriously affects how easy or difficult it is for people to make all kinds of transactions, from securing a loan to a rental agreement to getting a job.
I want to build a world where more people can trust one another and where we are not solely judged by traditional systems of assessment. There will always be lack of trust between people, but if we can make a dent into how people can enter into the economic graph, then it would be very significant.
How do Traity reputation standards work?
To help people trust one another online, we give people a reputation passport that consists of different dimensions. The first is to do with identification, which is proving you are who you say you are. Next, it has to do with behaviours, which shows interests you may have common with another person. For example, you both play tennis or love cats. The final dimension is about transaction data, which means analysing people’s ratings, reviews, history and testimonials to see how they have behaved in past. These components create a personal reputation standard you can use across the web that can empower people to achieve things or access opportunities that may not have otherwise been possible.
Traity recently received a patent for a “network of trust”. How will it work?
The patent basically says that we are like a social network. If you trust somebody on the Traity network, you use the “trust” button in the same way on Twitter you have the “follow” button. But if that person misbehaves in some way, that will have implications for you; it will lower your reputation.
Your reputation does not increase if the person you follow behaves well. It is designed this way to create incentives to trust only people you really believe are trustworthy and not have a network of a thousand followers. We expect people to have networks of three to five people who really trust each other and to be able to use the web of trust in different contexts.
You are working on future-oriented products. How were you able to convince investors to trust your vision?
At our first investor meeting, I said, “Look, Minority Report is going to happen. The key question is, who is going to do it? It may be Google, it may be Facebook, or it may be a small start-up from Spain.” They were very impressed by that because I was thinking 15 years ahead. When I talk about Traity, I tell stories to get people to empathise. I usually put people in the framework of a future that’s five to 10 years’ away, full of micro-entrepreneurs and micro-franchises of companies powered by the likes of Etsy, Uber or Airbnb. I tell investors that these companies can make a significant impact on the GDP and they all need better systems of trust.
What makes the founders of Traity a good team?
I met Jose, one of my co-founders, when we were eight years old in school. Jose completed his PhD in machine learning and I went on to get an MBA. I met Borja, a phenomenal programmer, when we were 18. We have complementary skills: Jose brings an academic point of view; Borja is the pragmatic executor who can design and deliver the actual products himself; and I am the hustler and driver of the long-term vision.
What are the challenges of making Traity a successful business?
When we started, we thought that people would want to see each other’s reputation and profiles from Traity, and maybe pay a few cents to see, say, your profile. That was not true. People aren’t used to paying for what they already think they know. That’s why we have shifted our focus on how trust profiles and technology can be leveraged to transform the delivery of products people already buy, like house insurance or income protection.
The insurance industry will fundamentally have to change from basing products on assets to focusing on insuring personal behaviours. Reputation data can help large insurance companies give more efficient pricing to people who deserve it.
What keeps you and your team motivated?
Two weeks ago, I got the team together for a meeting. I asked everyone to complete the sentence “Traity is important because…” When they finished, I said, “Take whatever you have written and write, “And that is important because…” It allowed us to focus on the inner purpose of what we’re trying to do. It was really exciting to see what everyone came up with because most people had written something to do with people deserving a fairer world. Thinking of that refuels me and I was reminded that I’m starting something that could really improve the status quo.
You are asking people to trust a start-up with their data. Why should people trust Traity?
We transparently explain what we do and how we do it, so people have confidence in how we’re using and treating data. As a company, we discuss ethics in terms of giving people full control over their data and giving them the right to eliminate an infraction on a reputation after a certain period of time. Our competitive advantage is not to tightly control data, but to empower people to use it better. There are tangible things we are doing to prove we are the right people to be trusted with sensitive data. For instance, we are fingerprinting everything on the blockchain, the public ledger technology that enables people to verify something actually happened. This means in the unfortunate case that Traity goes bust or a customer decides they don’t want to be a Traity customer any more, they can still have full control over their data and take it with them.
What will Traity never do with people’s data?
Large companies have made us offers such as: “We’ll pay you $50,000 if you can analyse our users in X way.” I’m very happy we’ve said no to those offers even though we don’t have any revenue yet. We don’t want to be a typical data analysis company. Traity is a company that focuses on giving people the proactive ability to decide how they want to use their reputation. To give them the same control as they would over a university [report] card; they decide where, when and who they’ll show their card to.