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I am writing a series of pieces documenting my thoughts on the lead up to the Australian Federal Election to be held on 7 September 2013. As a young woman, it will be my first experience of voting in a Federal election. I am not endorsing any particular party or politician. All opinions are mine unless stated otherwise, and while I will try to include honest information at all times, nothing should be taken as fact without further investigation. You can view my first post here and second post here.

Men in Black

Men in Black

With the election less than five weeks away, the Government and the Opposition are well and truly into their campaigning across the country. Both parties seem to be most concerned with the state of the Australian economy, and the action of the Reserve Bank today, has only given the economy a more prominent position in the debating arena. The Australian dollar is down, as are interest rates, but so is spending. Australians are saving their money, and as a result, the retail and business sectors as struggling. Shops are closing, private organisations are going into voluntary administration and liquidation sales seem to be on every second street corner.

Asylum seekers are making every effort to enter our country in the hope of a better future. Both major political parties are doing their best to ‘Stop the Boats’. I am currently reading Geoffrey Robertson QC’s Crimes Against Humanity. Robertson speaks in detail about the UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the agency’s ‘hurculean task’ of supervising millions of asylum seekers and processing their claims.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. Yet politicians are deeming these so-called boat people, ‘economic immigrants’, therefore denying the legitimacy of their asylum seeking.

It is interesting in the context of the 2001 Tampa case where Australia had the humanitarian duty to consider those on board the sinking boat’s claims to asylum. I am reading the 4th edition of Robertson’s book, published in 2012.

Robertson writes: ‘Many Asian countries refuse to sign the [International Convention on Refugees] and have become notorious for pushing ‘boat people’ back to sea as prey for pirates (Malaysia) or for turning a blind eye to the bribery which makes them a transit point for people-smugglers (Indonesia).’

He then comments on the Tampa case, saying the country bribed Nauru to take the majority of the refugees, which ‘may be explained by the fact that the government was in the throes of an election, and took the opportunity to boost its popularity at the expense of refugees and respect for international law’. Sound familiar? It’s great to see how much progress our nation has made in the name of equality, acceptance and diversity, (note the sarcasm).

Labor says it will increase the country’s refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 per year, inline with the recommendation of the Expert Panel of Asylum Seekers. The Coalition argues any increase in the quota is both unaffordable and would send the wrong message to people smugglers. The Greens say they will boost capacity of UN in Indonesia and Malaysia to speed up assessment and resettlement, yet as mentioned above, these countries have not signed the Convention, and thus are less likely to be open to much negotiation.

The Solomon Islands are also uninterested in being a part of the Australian Government’s new ‘Pacific Solution’ for processing and resettling asylum seekers. However, the country’s Prime Minister makes a good point: ‘We have to respect the choice of asylum seekers, and the choices that these people have made is that they want to come to Australia.’

The state of mental health care in Australia and across the world is dismal. This piece published in the New York Times is incredibly poignant in describing the urgency of improved and expanded mental health care in the States, but translates easily to other nations, including Australia.

Labor has the $2.2 billion mental health packages announced in May 2011. The funding aims to provide ‘genuine, practical and sustainable mental health reform to ensure that Australians living with mental illness get the care they need, when they need it’. Both the ALP and the Coalition will back EPPIC, an integrated and comprehensive mental health service model aimed at addressing the needs of people aged 15-24 with early psychosis, and promote the growth of treatment and opportunities for those with mental health conditions, including employment prospects.

However, progress and action in regards to mental health seems to be happening on a smaller, state-wide basis. New South Wales police will receive specialised mental health training from as soon as next month, while in Victoria, Labor’s mental health parliamentary secretary Wade Noonan has said ‘Our acute mental health services have reached breaking point under the Napthine Government, which increases the risks to both staff and patients’. In a similar response to assaults on nurses, the ACT government will speed-up the timetable to build Canberra’s first secure mental health unit after receiving Opposition support for the proposal.

Yet despite all of this, Former Australian of the year Pat McGorry, Brain and Mind Research Institute head Ian Hickie, and former chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, John Mendoza, have today called for and end to political talk without subsequent action and voiced concern that neither parties had ensured adequate funding for mental health.

Tying two issues into one, the Greens will commit to setting up an independent panel of medical and mental health experts to monitor asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Labor and Coalition policies, after reports of suicide threats, hunger strikes and severe trauma amongst asylum seekers.

Of course, there are other significant issues and policies in this year’s federal election including education, jobs, a price on carbon, transport, and DisabilityCare. The ABC is hosting an educational tool called Vote Compass, that is designed to help you ‘discover how you fit in the Australian political landscape’. By answering a few short questions, you will be given a numerical and visual representation of how your values and interests sit in comparison with those of the major political parties. You can find Vote Compass here.

Additionally, make sure you’re enrolled to vote. You must be enrolled by 8pm on Monday 12 August. Visit the Australian Electoral Commission here.

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It’s so hard to know where to draw the line, sometimes.

Do you lift a pencil before the procrastination can begin, or knock of the pen’s lid only to twiddle it between your second and third fingers? Drawing the line can be preventative or experimental. There’s the line separating the platform from the railway. The lines that run in perfect parallel (tautology?) across the pages yearning for your scrawl. The points of high and low across a musical score, the bars on a cell, the perimetre of your windows and doors. The lines created through positive and negative space when observing the heating vents on your floor. The pinstripes of your pants, the lines of the law. Script lines, spoken words, paraphrases, Southern drawl. Accents have lines and are lines. Exclamation points, marks on a page, seats on a stage.

What is a line? Are all lines straightforward, or are they up for interpretation? Some lines are a way of expression, they are creative, help us make sense of things.

girl-and-a-house

Sometimes things seem so black and white, with a definitive line separating two distinct parties. Good and evil, right versus wrong, high and low, speech and song.

I wonder if it all comes down to respect.

And just because one person crosses a line doesn’t necessarily make it okay for us to follow suit.

I saw a man yesterday. And I saw another man. The first man was in trouble. But he was troubled. He may have done wrong but he wasn’t wrong in himself. He needed help. And how can one be helped if one keeps to them-self? The first man was scared. He was under pressure. He was paranoid and upset. Then the second man took it upon himself not to offer support or a kind word, but to take out his phone and captured the first man’s pain. He literally filmed another man in crisis. And that cannot be okay. There has to be a line there. And man number two crossed it.

all-people-are-killing-themselves-preview

Today, a young person going through a rough time has found herself to be a headline act featured across newsstands worldwide. I am aware that by writing about this I too, may be partaking in the media frenzy. But I have chosen to voice my opinion for a purpose. If someone is suffering, don’t make jokes. You may think you know the whole story, but for better or worse, people do draw their own lines. There’s the stuff they tell you, and then there’s the stuff they don’t. They might do it to protect themselves, or to stop you from hurting. And suddenly, a single person transverses the line, whatever it may be, and the whole world knows everything person ‘A’ wanted to keep secret.

angry-sun

Boundaries are both helpful and unhelpful. But, put ourselves in the situation of another and many of them suddenly seem to make sense. Line’s are a protective mechanism, a signifier of privacy, a marker of difference, or a connector between two people or events.

Some lines are straight forward, clean cut, obvious and matter of fact. Practical, functional, statement, simple. Other lines are elusive, you can’t quite catch them, or if you do, you can’t properly grasp them.

But all lines have a purpose. So, if your lines are hazy, broken or you’re feeling uncertain, call another line for help. Because that’s a healthy choice you can make to expel, settle, and regain focus.

Helplines.

***

And, here’re some lines I wrote for artsHub this week:

‘Prince Harry Kills Me’ Banner Left Out of Biennale

Understanding Arts Audiences <— *this is really interesting*

On the train home from university this afternoon, I boarded a carriage with very few spare seats. I set up shop (read: positioned myself in a corner with The Age) opposite a distinctive group of individuals, who were chatting excitedly with smiles miles wide on their faces. Usually I try to steer clear of noisy groups, whether it be business men, school kids or screaming children, because I like to read in peace and relative quietness. But for some reason, I decided to stay put and have their conversation as a background soundtrack to my travel home.

The train took off and I started to read. But I was soon taken by the conversation this group of people were having. The first thing I noticed were their accents. Each person seemed to speak our mother tongue with their personal flavouring on top. Some were sweetened and drawn out, others spoke in sharp consonant soundbites. One man I found quite difficult to understand, yet another spoke clear and precise English, as if it was a language she’d known from birth, with just a hint of something special on the side. As I studied their faces, I noticed the diverse ethnicities they represented. Of the six people, some were dark, some of Asian heritage, and another appeared to be Middle Eastern. I heard one man speak of his hometown in Saudi Arabia. He was a hardware worker. One woman thought he’d said ‘hairdresser’ rather than hardware worker, and after clarifying his profession through adjectives they both understood, they had a laugh about their mixup. They bonded over their struggle to learn English but their pursuit of it, regardless.

I came to realise that among this group, one woman seemed slightly out of place. She was an Indian woman, significantly older, spoke of navigating Melbourne’s public transport system, and with correct grammar and articulation. She asked questions of the others, and stimulated conversation through these open-ended inquiries. The other members were only too happy to answer, practicing their English and enjoying the interaction and celebrating their achievements in managing to construct appropriate and coherent responses.

They discussed what might happen if they missed their exit station the next time they took the train, alone. The older woman pointed to the map on the train wall behind them, and used her finger to guide them along the line as she explained how to navigate the map of Melbourne. They were to get off at Parliament, today, and the group carefully named the stations before and after their stop, to familiarise themselves with the suburban stations surrounding the city loop.

As the train pulled up to Parliament, what I had thought to be a group of six suddenly ballooned into a group of a much larger scale. The woman turned around and announced to the seats behind her that they were arriving at their station, and to get their Myki’s out, ready to touch off upon exiting the station. As I scanned those I’d previously ignored in the nearby seats, I began to realise what they had in common. I can only assume, but I’m fairly confident, that each of those youthful individuals were new arrivals on our shores. These people were migrants from war-torn countries, others coming from backgrounds of poverty and hardship. Some had left behind their families and friends, and all were making an enormous change in hope of a better life in a land more prosperous and filled with opportunities, than their home.

It was incredible to see how excited they were. They were so full of energy, hope and delight. They were making friends, overcoming obstacles and making the most of what life has given them. And I was able to gauge all of this from about five minutes on a train. Not even speaking with any of them directly. Just overhearing their conversation.

As they left the train and stepped onto the ground at Parliament, my eyes turned back to my newspaper. I scanned the page titled World. Bombings, corruption, hope for basic human rights and democracy, suicide. Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt. Bulgaria, Myanmar, Libya, and Syria. So much violence, and seems so far away. But it’s closer to home than many of us care to realise. We are a multicultural society, and it is so important that we continue to welcome people to our country. They may be escaping, fleeing, or simply looking for a better life. Some will stay, others may return to their homeland. But we should accept people not just for who they are, but because they are who they are. Everyone has a different story, and it is only through sharing these stories that we enrich our own lives and in turn, the lives of others.

These people appreciate what we take for granted, they persevere and fight for their human right to be treated with respect.

So in the midst the politics of 457 visas, stopping the boats, illegal immigrants and the like, maybe what we need to consider is the value of our culture as a melting pot. We should consider the risks people have taken and the choices they have made in coming to this country, and treat them as whole, and special, people. We need to stop treating people like abused animals; herding them, dictating to them,  mistreating them, and start to speak with them, as our equals.

Because that’s the right way forward for Australia. And politicians aren’t doing us, or themselves, justice, if they choose to act otherwise.

My piece Do Not Discriminate – In the Firing Line of Hate, has been tailored and published on We Matter Media, and now a similarly edited version has also appeared in RMIT’s student magazine, Catalyst. You can view it online here, but what is also exciting, is that it is my first print publication.

This is the first edition of Catalyst for the year and the new editors have totally revamped the style, facade and interiors of the magazine. It looks amazing. In addition, they’ve initiated and launched Catalyst online, which basically means you have no excuse not to read what’s on the minds’ of RMIT students no matter where you live. So bookmark it and be sure to check back regularly for updates.

photophoto-1

Imagine how different the world would be if we were confined to the boundaries of our hometown or city. If we could visit other states and countries but had no option to relocate permanently or temporarily, despite feeling more comfortable in the alternate environment. What if the path you chose as a 17 or 18 year old, confined you to one industry or one vocation for life? There was no option to retrain, go back to university, no excuse or remedy for a ‘mid-life crisis’, no way to shift between sectors or orientations. What if the materials of your childhood home defined you in some way or other, the hospital you were born in restricted your options in life, or your first word was utilised as a tool for dividing the population in groups that would somehow shape the rest of their lives. Each factor above contributes to the way we live, how we shape our relationships, how we build our sense of self, how we interact with others and respond to our feelings. Certain people are able to cope with change better than others. Some people are born into wealth while others struggle just to get by. Some people are brought up vegetarian, others are brought up as surf-lifesavers. We can be city people or country people. We might come from a small family, be born to a single mum, or have a dozen brothers and sisters to play with in a bustling household. I might play netball while you choose hockey as your preferred sport. I like Modern Family, you like Neighbours. I eat spearmint Extra, you chew on peppermint. My mum taught me to tie my laces with one loop but your dad ties his with two.

In life, there are many circumstances we can’t control. You might be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the right place at the right time – either way, you could not foreshadow the events that day, or that hour presented you with. Other factors are a mixture of preference, influence and understanding – I say tomAto, you say toma(R)to. I like yellow and you like green. I like JT while you prefer Jay Z. No one is right or wrong, these things are a matter of choice, generally with reasoning behind it even if only that you see one more desirable than the other, or your were brought up one way rather than another.

Now if an employment agency were recruiting for a bunch of people to ‘sell’ the colour yellow as The Face of Summer, naturally they’d be looking for people who saw yellow as a happy colour, a motivating colour, maybe those who saw yellow as the colour of late nights on the beach and days running through a field of blooming sunflowers (or whatever). To employ someone who associated yellow with sickness and disease would be rather a strange choice. They are unlikely to get the same return on investment as their aforementioned, summer-loving counterpart. In the same respect, choosing someone who favoured green, purple or navy blue may not be a wise move, as their personal preference for another colour might present an obstacle in them achieving their targets, and in turn, yours, as the employer. But luckily for you, it would be relatively safe to assume that those who had gone through the application process, put in the hard yards to submit their resume, cover letter and maybe even attend an interview, are not the people who envision summer in shades of green, purple or navy blue. People apply for positions of responsibility whether paid, voluntary or for work (or life) experience based on their skill set, their passions and their curiosities. As a communications student, I am not going to apply for an engineering internship, nor would an engineering student apply for work at a public relations firm. Sure, in the future our interests and abilities may change as we steer ourselves in a different direction. And we are lucky to for the most part, have the chance and receive the respect to do just that.

What has promoted my thoughts on these issues today, is the current debate over a new rights bill that allows religious organisations and companies owned by religious groups to discriminate against potential employees that in some way, challenge their religious foundations or orientation. This includes public services such as hospitals and educational institutions. The Catholic Church are one of the largest employers in the country. International cereals company Sanitarium is owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. As outlined in their Guidelines, Sanitarium “recognise[s] the 7th day as a day of rest therefore we do not support events requesting commercial or promotional assistance during the hours of Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (the Sabbath).” Therefore, a business with an estimated turnover of $300 million a year and potential employment opportunities for hundreds of Australians, under this Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, will have the opportunity and the right, to deny those who seek to work commercially or on promotional jobs for the company on the Sabbath, as well as those who more generally are not in favour of such work, yet are neither opposed to it either.

Supposedly, the Bill will allow religious groups to discriminate against those if “is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion”.

While many people are subject to discrimination, the focus of this campaign lies predominately with discrimination against same-sex attracted individuals. Two of my closest friends are same-sex attracted. One male, one female. Some of my family’s closest friends (practically extended family themselves), are also same-sex attracted. The Oxford Dictionary defines discrimination as “the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex“. It is thereby, by definition, unjust to vet people based on their sexual orientation. Furthermore, allowing religious organisations to do just so gives them rights that extend beyond non-religious organisations, so far in fact, that if a secular organisation were to do so, it would be illegal under Australian law.

This is a Labor government. How can a party who by their own values say they strive to give “every Australian opportunities through education and training, ensuring fairness at work…”, continue to support a bill that will ensure just the opposite? And to further the contradictory action, the Minister looking after the motion through the Senate is Finance Minister Penny Wong – a committed Christian and a lesbian. She is quoted to have said that Labor are ”seeking to balance the existing law and the practice of religious exemptions with the principle of non-discrimination”.

And sure, I sympathise with the dichotomy the government are presented with. Well, at least to some extent. I do not want to discriminate against those of any religion. I don’t want to undermine their beliefs nor am I saying the circumstances can be easily navigated and resolved. I am, however, in favour of equality. I would never want to know someone, or even hear of someone, who has been denied their right to work for an organisation purely based on their sexuality. I never want one of my friends to find they have lost an important employment opportunity to someone with a lesser skill set, relatively no experience and sketchy references, just because they are gay.

Unlike the many determinants in our lives over which we have control, our sexual preferences and thus our personal identity, are not simply matters of one or the other. These desires are innate, they are unlearned. Unfortunately, many people with mental illness or chronic disease suffer these same or similar prejudices, and the stigma associated with conditions, preferences or individual (dis)abilities must be reduced if we are to exist as a society of equals, unhindered by possible rejection or unfair dismissal.

In November 2012, Australian marriage equality advocates welcomed a new draft national anti-discrimination law that aimed to protect gay Australians from unfair treatment in employment and services. Yet this is exactly what we are being faced with a mere two months later. Lobby group GetUp!, the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Greens have also all criticised the current Bill for not offering proper protections against discrimination for LGBTI people. Others who may face discrimination include pregnant women, women who are thought to “potentially” be pregnant, and couples living in a de facto relationship.

Amidst all this darkness though, there is some light. Social welfare charity, Anglicare, introduced a formal policy welcoming and supporting inclusion and diversity nearly a decade ago. South Australian branch chief executive, the Reverend Peter Sandeman is quoted to have said ”Jesus didn’t discriminate in who he associated with and helped and neither should we”. Another light shines from the south, where the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act penalises church-based schools and welfare agencies if they are found to discriminate against LGBTI employees, students or clients.

Now is not the time for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to be losing supporters. The year’s first Newspoll suggests the Coalition has retained the lead on a two-party-preferred basis, 51 to 49 per cent. But a more conservative government is even less likely to fight discrimination cases. So what can you do?

Start by signing these two petitions:

GetUp!’s WE ARE ALL E=UAL campaign, and

Community Run’s WHAT’S GOD GOT TO DO WITH IT? REMOVE RELIGIONS’ RIGHT TO DISCRIMINATE

The Bill itself can be viewed here. Public submissions can be seen here.

And just consider what it would be like if you couldn’t get a job because you were brought up in a brick house, when all a company was considering were those who’d spent more time in a weatherboard. That determining factor is or was, out of your control. You didn’t choose the house you lived in as a child. But it became part of who you are. That house shaped you and will forever be in your heart. So don’t discriminate, because you’re hitting out against someone else’s home every single time.

One might not have sensed a change

As they woke to the sun this morning

But switch on the radio, the TV, go online

And grief for a horror came pouring

The 10am news held the story for me

Of the tragedy telling many lives lost

Young children, their carers, responsible souls

A toll with too high a cost

When hearing, reading or speaking the truth

It’s fatality holds ever strong

Impossible to comprehend the trauma

That struck a nation, a globe, in one

Little feet, little toes, little toenails, perished

By a madman with motives unknown

Hearts have been shot and families torn

By weapons found too close to home

Dreams that will never be heard

And songs that will never be sung

Future presidents, musicians and educators gone

No more air passing through their lungs

As the world mourns the dead and speaks of their love

For those lost, those still here and those in care

Pray for the weeping, the blackened, the broken

At Christmas time, a family affair

No more jolly, holly or reindeers with bells

For the poor who have lost their beloved

This year, the next and for all those to come

December holds something better undiscovered

Nobody should lose their child, their sister

Their brother, to a rifle, a gun

Held and triggered by an unknowing hand

Whose mission, too easily done

Whether the law, the people or the state

Should stand up for change and for good

The sadness and fear to be curbed and cut

And justice be done as it should

The world needs peace, needs love and needs hope

A community battered and bruised

And sadly today we move farther and farther

From a place where such peace will be used

So it is my wish, my plea and my trust

That as people we will make it known

That the shot of a gun has no place near our children

Near our families, our friends and our homes

Reparation will never be paid

Not enough to those gone, not forgotten

The sinking, drowning, unforgivable truth

The lives on whom have been trodden

The unthinkable wails heard in Newtown today

Will reverberate around the world

For days, and weeks and years to come

Their lives will be remembered, uncurled

I pay my respects to those who lost today

Their daughters, their sons and their friends

And hold in my heart hope for a better world

In their honour. Please, godsend.

Thoughts are with those struck by the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gone too soon. Love and Hope.