Since #Census2016 has everyone concerned about privacy…

I’ve just completed my #Census2016 with great satisfaction. I’m a community service provider’s dream on the census. I am all the needs for services in an area. They wish there were more of me to quantify their funding desires. I have a disability, I’m of Aboriginal and foreign decent. I’m the child of a refugee. I have a low income. I require assistance due to a permanent disability and health condition. I don’t work but I do volunteer. I rely on public transport. I have children. I am all the needs dependent on the community for assistance. Do I get all that I need? Shit no. I make do with what I have and I’m often pushing shit up hill trying to get anything more than the minimum, but I’m good with that. I’m a fighter these days. Lets face it I have nothing better to do with my time right? Pft

I’ve been following the whole privacy concerns about the Census this year and I still for the life of me can’t see anything different about the last time I did it other than it was online and for the first time I can put no religion as an option for religion.

I’m not worried about putting the information in an online form since now that’s what Centrelink, Child Support, ATO, Medicare and a bunch of other government departments now force me to do and they know way more about me than the Census asked. I can’t lie to any of them since they’re all connected. Centrelink tells the ATO how much money I earn. The ATO tell Centrelink if I tell them about any additional money or if an employer tells them they paid me and I didn’t report it. Child Support tells Centrelink how much money my kid’s father gives me. Centrelink tells Medicare what kind of concession I’m entitled to and Medicare tells my doctor. Medicare tells my kid’s dentist how much money they’ve given them to spend on dental work and the dentist tells medicare how horrid my kid’s teeth are. The ATO even tells me how much interest I earned from my bank accounts. Thanks to this amazing capability I found two bank accounts I had forgotten about. Nothing in my life is a secret.

When it comes to questions that are an invasion of privacy, applying for Disability Support Pension was the most invasive process I’ve ever had to go through. Some might say you don’t get a choice with the Census… well… I didn’t really have a choice about DSP either. It was that or die starving and cold in a park somewhere.

When it comes to the collection of your private information and the sharing of it there’s no guarantee it won’t be shared somewhere. It was harder for me to get my medical records from the hospital than it was for my doctor. Go figure. Whether or not you have a choice is a matter of perspective. I have a choice whether or not I want to have a Facebook account. I had no choice whether I wanted to be treated in a mental health facility. I have a choice if I want Facebook to show my email, date of birth or relationship status. I didn’t have a choice that things about my treatment in a mental health facility were recorded without my consent or knowledge.

We have a choice to sign up for a rewards program that tracks your spending habits. We don’t have a choice about our pay provider tracking our spending habits… oh… wait… that’s only for “welfare bludgers”.

Ok, let me elaborate.

The federal government are very concerned about what people who “receive taxpayers money” are spending it on. See, some people have problems that are considered of an anti social nature. Some of those people, whether it be because of those problems or not, receive welfare benefits from the Department of Human Services, formerly known as Centrelink, formerly known as Social Security. We actually have a social security Act in Australia so that we don’t end up with a (ahem) poverty problem in what is a first world country. Any one who meets the eligibility requirements has the right to apply for welfare assistance in Australia. Some (particularly in government) don’t refer to it as a right though. They call it entitlement and apparently entitlement is a dirty word in 2016. The federal government are so concerned that all the people of antisocial nature are all getting hardworking taxpayer’s money for nothing that they want to restrict it even more than it already is. I don’t know about most people but the $470 odd dollars a fortnight I use to get on Newstart Allowance didn’t exactly get me a full fortnight’s party worth of drugs, alcohol and gambling, let alone keep a roof over my head, run a car and clothe and feed my kid but the federal government are so concerned that I might spend the money of hardworking tax payers on something self indulgent that they are now seeking a method to not only prevent it from happening but also track what I might spend “their” money on.

Okay Okay, let’s ignore the fact that I was prior to acquiring an incurable, progressively debilitating and degenerative disease through no fault of my own other than the stars I stood under, I was a hard working tax payer person. I worked so hard I had two taxpayer jobs for many moons. In fact, just because I had a second job, the great southern land laws meant I would be taxed MORE at that second job just because I chose to work harder. None of that matters when you stop doing it. You’re no longer considered by these people as a contributing member of society anymore and you’re suddenly beneath them. Never mind the fact that these said people are also paid by the taxpayer and when they STOP working for it still get paid by the taxpaying peoples. Now just don’t you worry about that.

Back to the elaboration part… So concerned about what welfare bludging peoples might be spending a taxpaying person’s money on, they are trying to introduce a method of controlling and tracking what we do with the “gift” we are given every fortnight.

Healthy welfare card - how it affects payments

It’s marketed as “The Healthy Welfare Card” but there isn’t much very healthy about it. It has been outsourced to a third party to do it (the first step toward privatisation) which is a company by the name of Indue. Indue are a company that provides payment management systems. What they’re doing for our government is providing a payment management system for people on Centrelink. It supposedly works just like a VISA card only you are limited to the amount you can withdraw in cash and you can’t use it at any venue that sells alcohol or gambling products or services. You will no longer use your traditional bank account for your payment to go into. Your payment will only go on this card and this card is your only access to your (their – the taxpayers) money. Of course this invites a whole conversation about the insurmountable amounts of issues this will cause people (oh but they have answers for everything apparently) but that isn’t my most significant concern.

Since we’ve been talking about information privacy, imagine your employer said from now on your pay will only go onto a card that we provide you with and we will track every transaction you use this card for. There’d be uproar. The civil libertarians, the unions, the Privacy and Data Security Commissioner, gosh even Get Up! would be all over that shit. No, you can’t do that to people right? Well that is exactly what Indue are currently doing to people on Centrelink. No, not all of us. Yet.

There are two trial sites. East Kimberly in WA and Ceduna in SA. Both are remote communities that have issues that many remote communities face and differ from more metropolitan communities. One of the biggest issues being lack of access to support services. So naturally the results of the trial are going to translate to every area in Australia right? Cos all of us welfare bludgers are the same.

Again back to focusing on the privacy issue… when you read through Indue’s privacy policy it’s quite frightening. I can’t help but question not only why is it necessary for Indue, a third party that is NOT a government department to have so much information about me but also why it’s necessary for them to share this information with OTHER third parties.

Healthy welfare card - indue privacy mother's maiden name

My mother’s maiden name? Seriously dude why don’t you ask me for my Netflix password too? What difference does it make to me being stigmatised by being identified by a one size fits all card, which benefit I get? My own bank didn’t even ask what country I was born in. Or my marital status. And they damn well don’t need my concession card details. What business is it of theirs if I have other bank accounts? I won’t have any freaking money going into them anyway.

Worse still… why is it necessary for Indue to track our transactions? And reading between the lines of the privacy policy suggests they may provide this data collected on me back to Centrelink (I’m guessing for a fee, also paid for with money from the taxpaying peoples). Why is it necessary for Indue OR Centrelink to know when and where I get my hair cut and how much it costs? Why do they need to know I had a donut with my coffee today? Do they really need to know about that Adult Shop purchase that was a gag gift for a friend? (Hey that’s the story I’m sticking with). They already know how much medication I take and where I buy it! Why do they want to know about my multivitamins?

Most of all… why does Indue get to profit from welfare? (Interest earned from money stored in bank accounts – cos lets face it if the national welfare bill is $240M per year then that’s some nice freaking interest earned even on a standard savings account). AND – if this is a service that at the end of the day MUST be privatised…. why was this never put out to tender? (Unless I totally missed that story, and if so, I want details.)

You think the Census was an invasion of your privacy? Please. Just pray you don’t end up on this card as a welfare recipient. They’ll know where you are, when you’re there and how much it cost you. Them. Oh, you know what I mean.

 

My Bleeding Heart

It’s been a while since I’ve written. It happens from time to time. It’s either because I’m so busy, or too sick or I just haven’t had anything stir my passion enough that justified writing here. It’s been a bit of all of that of late but the past week has really stirred me.

When I was a kid I didn’t know that we were different to other families. I didn’t know there were different classes of people and that you were treated accordingly. I just treated everyone the same. I was the kind of kid who brought all the strays home. I was the kid who cried when we saw a dead animal on the side of the road. All I ever wanted was to be happy and to be included.

I was excluded from very early on though. My father left when I was very young and we had a step father. I wanted so much to be accepted I would forgive his crimes and abuse. Every time we were referred to as the step children or my mother’s children in that family I would feel myself hanging onto a rope trying to climb my way up. He only ever taught me exclusion. He was a racist bastard, always belittling us for the clothes we wore or the friends we chose or the music we listened to. He would call it n*gger music. I hate that word. I hated him.

I wasn’t the cool kid in school. I was a lot of things but not cool. I think I experienced almost every kind of exclusion there is throughout my life. Social exclusion, racial exclusion, even in my life as it is today, disability exclusion. I wanted a different life for my children and the last thing I wanted was for them to be anything like the people who excluded me in my lifetime just because of who I was, the colour of my skin, the country my parents were born in or that I use wheels instead of legs sometimes. I want my boys to grow up into the kind of men who will be great community leaders and embrace the differences in their community.

So when my child is excluded I teach him to stand up for his rights. I do that by standing up for him. Even when it means I will be shunned by the community I am fighting for him to be included in.

There have been a few occasions in different environments but none that stunned me more than the sporting club we’d been members of for over a year. He’s 11. He’s got his father’s genes and he is a bigger kid. I don’t want him to be fighting the same chronic illnesses his father is that can be prevented by managing his weight. So as well as trying to manage his diet and teach him good food habits (a battle and a half when his father teaches him bad habits), I wanted to ensure he has regular exercise. In the summer we swim. In the winter we tended to hibernate, so I went looking for a sport that would suit him.

Mr11 has already experienced exclusion on a social level mostly because of his learning disabilities and behaviour disorders, but no one knows more than I do how hard he works at trying to “fit in” and how much it hurts him that he doesn’t. He’s a great kid. Very compassionate and so witty. He has his struggles though and I was worried about finding a sport that would be understanding to his needs.

I was introduced to a club in the Queensland Christian Soccer Association. I liked their values and thought it would fit well with his needs but most of all they promoted inclusion of kids with disabilities. So it seemed, since he had voiced an interest in soccer, this was worth a try. For the first year it was brilliant. He had his moments of struggle but it seemed that the coach and the team really tried to ensure all the kids felt included. It had a very inclusive feel about it and he loved going to training every week and playing games. They were a strong team. Went through the whole season undefeated. For the first time in his life he felt like he was good at something. He knew he wasn’t the strongest member of the team. Many of the other kids had been playing for several years but he enjoyed it and he was active. The following year something changed and I know he doesn’t cope well with change, but he seemed to be handling it. The team had been boosted from a division three level to a division one. The competition was much more difficult. For the first time he experienced loss and even though other team parents feel differently than myself, I was glad to see them lose. It broke down the cockiness they had developed from not losing. Mr 11 needed to experience being a good loser as well as being a good winner. He did pretty well.

IMG_4873

About half way through the season, he came home from training one night, visibly upset saying he hated soccer and he was never going back again. When he calmed I managed to find out that another team member had said to him, “You’re not even a good player I don’t know why you’re on the team.” He no longer felt included. Instead he felt blamed. He saw this as meaning it was his fault they lost.

It took me a good four days to convince him he was not to blame. They played as a team, they won as a team and they lost as a team. It was no one person’s fault if they lost and certainly in no way was it any one person’s doing alone if they won. That he had strengths and weaknesses just like any other member of the team. I convinced him to play that weekend but he did so begrudgingly. I could see his heart wasn’t in it. Until they won and he was singled out by the coach for playing well. I had hoped this was proof enough to him that the other kid was wrong.

Even when they didn’t win I hoped that he enjoyed himself on the field. That he saw it as fun as much as competition. After all it was one of the key values the club and the association promoted and we all know if kids don’t enjoy it, they won’t exercise. Many of the clubs had struggled to maintain a steady membership. So what happened next was so shocking to me I had no choice but to speak up.

We had made our way to an away game. A field with no toilets, no food, no coffee and the weather turned. On arrival it began to rain. We sat there in the cold wet only to have our child along with three other subs benched for the whole game. This had never happened before. I was so disappointed for him. For them all. I could see how disappointed they were that they didn’t get a play. Most of all I was disappointed with the coach’s reasoning. He wanted to put a scoring team on the field and his language suggested that to win this was required and if this was required it “might be the way it has to be.” So effectively he was telling those four kids they weren’t good enough to play on the team.

I am not a religious person. I followed the club’s code of conduct and values out of respect. I didn’t feel that respect was mutual. The club’s values were not being shown to these kids. So I complained. My complaint was met with a that’s the way it is response, so being the kind of person that I am, I took the complaint further with club management.

I was reassured that this wasn’t the kind of practice they supported and that it would be resolved. I have to say I was really pleased with the club’s response and handling of the issue. They needed to handle it and be aware of it because if this kind of behaviour infiltrated the club it would destroy the very values and ethics the association was based on. Most of all it would drive members away. Many of us were there because other competitions and sports were too competitive for our kids’ needs. It wasn’t a selection based on skill kind of competition. It was to get more kids involved in sport.

The coach was not happy with my complaint, nor that the club reinforced this practice was against their values and wouldn’t be allowed. The next thing that happened, I can’t guarantee was accidental, but nonetheless I can’t help thinking it was fate. We received an SMS that was about us and not intended for us.

I was referred to as a “bleeding heart parent” with a “cotton wool kid”.

I was disappointed. Shocked. Most of all, I was angry. It couldn’t have been further from the truth. If I was really wrapping my kid in cotton wool then I wouldn’t have pushed him to play sport in the first place. I’d let him lay in bed playing Xbox all day. I wouldn’t be trying to protect him from losing by telling him it’s okay to be a cheerleader on the bench. I wanted my child to feel what it’s like to lose in competition. We can’t always win. We can’t always be the best at everything. Most of all, as a team, we have to support each other’s weaknesses and build on them. No, my kid was the one with the bruises and grazes. My kid has no idea what cotton wool is. He’s also the kid who has a parent who stands up for him and teaches him to stand up for himself. To stand up for what’s right.

I’m kind of fed up with this bleeding heart bullshit. If I stand up for disability rights I’m a bleeding heart. If I care about what happens to others I’m a bleeding heart. If I do whatever is in my power to stop injustice from happening I’m a bleeding heart. If I stand up for human rights I’m a bleeding heart. Until those rights are yours and then you want me on your side.

I’m pleased to say Mr11 is back to playing. He might only be a sub (when everyone else decides to turn up of course, when they don’t then he’s good enough to play the whole game), but he plays. He gets on that field when he’s sick, when he’s scared and when he’s indifferent. He faces his challenges and faces his fears. No cotton wool required. I’m so damn proud of that kid. Most of all, I can sleep at night knowing he’s proud of me. Because even though I feared I would be ostracised by the parent clique of win or die sideline parents (and some have made it pretty clear that’s how it is), I still stood up for him and what was right.

My bleeding heart beats just fine. How’s yours?

Me and My boy
Me and My boy

Cooking with no appetite

They say you should never go shopping when you’re hungry. In all honesty that’s the only time I ever do the shopping well. If I’m not hungry I come home with bare essentials that usually consist of cleaning products and regular stuff like milk bread and butter.

Since the progression of Parkinson’s Disease took away what use to be a superior sense of smell, my cooking skills deteriorated. I could no longer smell what I was cooking and naturally when you can’t smell it, your sense of taste also deteriorates. Everyone complained of burnt food bland taste and weird textures. When all you get is complaints you don’t really feel like cooking.

Lack of energy and difficulty managing motor skills just frustrate you. Eventually you reach a stage where you’re happy enough with a cuppa soup or a microwave meal to suit your needs. Which is fine when you live on your own, but no good for a growing family.

Everyone in the house now picks up the slack with cooking and cleaning and they all need to take a turn at cooking. The down side is that boys are the messiest cooks ever and I get to clean up after them, but at least they’re learning skills and have a good home cooked meal most nights.

I’m finding it really hard to come up with creative ideas or even the motivation to make anything more exciting than steak and salad for them.

I don’t feel hungry by their usual dinner time most nights. I often eat late afternoon so I just have no desire at all to cook.

 

While you were complaining about roads…

While you’re complaining about roads and being stuck in traffic Eleanor and I are trying to maintain some kind of independence in disability life on the footpaths of Moreton Bay Region. There are days I’d love to be stuck in traffic for a while knowing that eventually I will move again in a forward direction. Sometimes, the footpaths are blocked with no chance of moving any time soon and sometimes, the footpaths just end, leaving me with no other option but to go back.

The Responsibility of Inclusion

Picture is a drawn cartoon of a man in a wheelchair chasing a ball with a croquet mallet
Not so long ago I posted a photo on my disability access campaign Facebook Page, No Permit No Park of a very poorly placed disability accessible parking bay at my local soccer ground. We already had one that is fabulously placed and incredibly effective. Being a very large park someone in council rightly decided another had to be added to the marked street parking area, but in doing so kind of slapped the disability community in the face. While the size and marking of the space complies to the On Street Parking Standards of 19-goodness-knows-how-long-its-been-since-it-was-updated-96, that’s where the compliance and accessibility ends. Access from the space is incredibly difficult for many wheeled mobility users. As the permit holder has to enter or exit the vehicle, well you can’t even use it as a viewing spot.
Photo of a parking space marked with the international symbol of access. There is no safe direct access from the parking space to the path.

Typical unintentional ableism, slap the international symbol of access on it and call it accessible, job done right? No. Just no.

Why should I care so much anyway? It’s not like I’m about to run out there to play a game of soccer right? No, my reason is far more self indulgent.
 
See as well as a person with a disability, future crazy cat lady and incredibly cynical and sarcastic bitch, I am also a soccer mum. Ok not in the traditional sense but I have a kid who plays soccer and I love going to watch him. I’m pretty sure he likes that I come to watch him. Most of the time. When I’m not embarrassing him.
 
So today wasn’t at our most awesome local soccer field that is for the most, reasonably accessible. It was an away game. We drove from Murrumba Downs to Mansfield to arrive at a soccer field where my estimate is that with teams and club officials there’d be maybe 70 to 100 people in attendance at any given time from 8am through to 1pm. There was parking for 11 cars in the car park. Street parking was very restricted due to clearways and no stopping zones allowing parking for maybe another 20 cars max.
 
THERE WAS NO DISABILITY ACCESSIBLE PARKING. Or paths.
 
Imagine my inner GRRAAAARRGGGHHHH when I heard the registration number of my car (that someone else drives for me since I’m not currently allowed to drive) being called to move because they’d parked in the car park but too close to the emergency exit. I was still desperately seeking coffee! Meanwhile chaos had been created by the club not notifying our team that they were not in fact playing on that field but on another one they use way over the road behind the school.
 
I tried to politely explain to the grumpy old man impatiently waiting for my driver to come and move my car because he didn’t see the NO PARKING HERE ANYTIME sign that had fallen over, that they really needed to consider that there was no disability parking available and my driver was doing the best he could to ensure I was able to safely access the field. Wait it gets better I promise you…….
See the issue wasn’t that the sign was badly placed and not clearly visible apparently, nor that there was no reasonable disability access. It was that it’s not the club’s responsibility. True story. The grumpy old man told me to “take it up with council, they’re the ones who haven’t done it.”
Sure, this may be true. It is council property. It is council responsibility. Are council aware of what is needed at this particular park? Who knows. Clearly no one thinks it’s their problem so no one has bothered to raise the issue with council.
Here’s the thing Sports Clubs…. if you want to be inclusive, you need to take on some responsibility for inclusion. I’ve been to sports fields all over South East Queensland and you just can’t pick it when it comes to disability access. The ones you least expect to be accessible way out in whoop whoop country backwinds of some outer region are often the ones best equipped! Yet here in the big bad city with all the bling I turn up to find myself having two choices. Watch from a distance through the telescopic lens of my camera or allow my dignity to be lost to having someone carry me the distance, or hope that if I do decide to use the inaccessible toilet facilities I am able to get up by myself and not have to call out and ask some random to go fetch someone I know well enough to help me up out of the seat and pull up my pants.
Most of the time I can manage on my own…. for now. As I deteriorate I am well aware that those days are numbered. Regardless, I am also well aware that if I can’t manage, then many other people with disabilities would be even more excluded than I am.
The kids on your teams may not have disabilities. Your club may not have a specific program for kids with disabilities, but these kids playing, they have parents and sometimes, those parents are people just like me. People with disabilities. Clubs often wonder why they can’t get more kids involved in their club. More kids more fees, more fees more money to spend. On upgrading the club facilities. You make it impossible for some kids to get involved when their parents cannot access you.
 
It doesn’t take much to get some action on disability access though, when you’re leasing a council asset. If you’re prepared to ask council to mow fields and install toilets, if you’re prepared to pay the fees for the lights for training of an evening, then be prepared to assume responsibility for disability access and demand that council provide it since after all, you’re the one paying the rent.
The only assistance we were offered was being told there was parking over the road at the school. Looking across the road I saw a driveway with a locked boom gate. Our team hustled across and down the boom gate blocked road toward the soccer field they were required to be at while I shuffled along behind carrying my bag, blanket and coffee and trying in vain to not fall on my face. I was stopped by a soccer dad who very kindly gave me directions on how to get my car through the school using another driveway further down the road and driving around the school to a car park that was closer to the field we needed to be at.

Very grateful for his assistance I got my driver to drive me around following kind soccer dad’s directions and low and behold there was this magnificent parking lot fully equipped with disability accessible parking, parking for buses, parking for you, me and pretty much the entire club all just a few 100 metres walk away had they put out some signage giving people directions on where to park. Totally oblivious to the fact that the reason they are there to play is because other teams who are not familiar with their facilities are driving miles out of their comfort zones to be there.
Meanwhile, across the road, parents with disabilities are not signing their kids up to the soccer club because no one cares that on appearance it looks like there is no disability access.
Photo of the international symbol of access with a NO symbol painted over the top of it showing that this path is not accessible
Photo of the international symbol of access with a NO symbol painted over the top of it showing that this path is not accessible
I had another rather heatede public discussion with a football club once, after someone had posted a photo of a coffee van parked in their one and only disability space in the car park on instruction by the club manager. The club manager did not appreciate it when I made a very polite attempt to educate them about discrimination. They told me since THEY and not council were the ones who put in the disability parking space when it had been brought to their attention that there wasn’t one then THEY could do whatever the hell THEY wanted with it and if that meant putting the coffee van in it then so be it. Besides, there was plenty of other parking and THEY didn’t see anyone needing to park in it. True story. This actually happened. On the Facebook Page. It just so happened that the reason the photo was posted in the first place was because a grandparent wanted to watch their grandson play football and were, in fact, told they’d have to struggle on with whatever was available because the coffee van had permission to be there and the disability parking permit holder, well, didn’t.
I know I know. Please someone stab me in the eye with a blunt object so I don’t have to keep writing this crap.
Come on sports fans. Get onto your clubs. Ask them if they have a disability inclusion plan. If they don’t, strongly recommend they should consider it. They just might get more people signing up.

Sugar Soaped Sex-Ed

When I was young and my head was filled with fanciful, romantic ideas of my first time and how wonderful losing my virginity was going to be, television was still a pretty highly censored domain. That was mostly how it had been depicted to us through movies and television soaps. If only I’d seen Puberty Blues when it was first released in 1981 and not years after losing my virginity. Which was so not the fanciful romantic ideal in my head.

My parents’ idea of sex education was handing me “The Little Red School Book” circa 1970s (this was in 1986) and telling me to read it and ask any questions if I had any. My step father also referred to the first boy I ever had a crush on as a wog and asked what was wrong with the Aussie kids and “accidentally” put on a porn cartoon in front of my younger siblings and me when I was 11. From the start sex in our house was treated as something that was shameful. Talking about sex was even more shameful than the act itself. So I read the book wide eyed and fearful but I never asked any questions.

I spent my teenage life waiting for Prince Charming to turn up on his white steed and whisk me away from the wicked witch and her mangy toad and we’d flee to the castle and live happily ever after. I’m one of the few girls from my low socio economic suburb and disadvantaged high school of a single parent family living in public housing, to graduate from high school with her virginity in tact. However after 6 months of dating Prince Charming I decided it was time but there was nothing fancy about it. Maybe a tad of romance until I stated my surprise that there was no blood like I had been told there would and he looked at me weird and I said I’d been told girls bleed a little when they lose their virginity and he freaked out cos he thought I wasn’t a virgin even though I thought we had a clear conversation when I said I was a virgin and he said it was okay cos he was too.

No time for shattered dreams for this Princess though cos the second time I not only did bleed but it hurt so much I couldn’t walk properly for three days.

I hated it. I seriously could not understand what all the fuss was about because it was not enjoyable. Whether or not it was curiosity or my own damn lack of confidence at the time that if I didn’t give him sex the relationship was over but yeah eventually it got better. And then worse. And then better. You know. Life’s like that.

All of this was a distant memory hidden in the dark past I rarely resurrect until I was watching an episode of Home & Away (the kids like it, don’t judge me), with my son who turns 12 in a few months.

One of the female teenage characters, Skye, sits down with excitement to tell her friend Olivia all about how she’d just had sex for the first time. She’s all giddy and cheery and describes it as wonderful and how he was so caring and gentle.

I watched the blank face of my preteen and realised this right here was the same sex education I had as a kid and I needed him to know the truth. The ad break came and I turned to him and said, “Don’t let this show give you any delusions about sex and relationships buddy. I can’t tell you what losing your virginity is like for boys, cos I’m not a boy. You will have to have that discussion with your Dad.” (Preteen made a face indicating that would just be gross but I continued). “I can tell you from a girl’s perspective though, that we do not walk away skipping and starry eyed and tell everyone how wonderful it was. We probably sit on the floor of the shower for an hour and then go back to bed with a hot water bottle. It’s not really all that nice. It can be awkward and painful.”

Naturally Mr preteen wanted to hear none of this! “MUM! I DO NOT want to hear about your sex life. At all. Ever.”

I tried so hard not to laugh. “Well I don’t really want to share it with you but I want you to know the honest truth. It’s important. You need to know these things even as a boy, because one day a girl may lose her virginity with you. I want you to understand that it might be weird and awkward and she may not be filled with delight about the whole event. I don’t want you to feel like you did something wrong. Cos it’s just the way it is. I also want you to understand that it’s just another reason NOT to pressure a girl to have sex with you. Cos even when we think we’re ready, it’s still not an entirely positive experience. So if a girl isn’t really ready, it could be even worse. Do you understand?”

The ad break was over, he nodded and said, “Ok mum, can we please stop talking about sex. I don’t even want to think about it.”

I know that will change. I know that I will eventually sit him down and we’ll watch Puberty Blues – or maybe the more updated TV series – and I hope that somewhere along the line I will give him the opportunities to learn the realities of sex and not just the Sugar Soaped versions that romance sells to us.

Please script writers…. if you want to know how to express real life situations in your soap dramas about teenagers… maybe you need to get in touch with your teenage self again. It’s two thousand and sixteen. We’ve come of age now and it’s perfectly okay to talk about sex.

Permission to Speak

By now I’m sure the social media world is tired of hearing about the Duncan Storrar saga but I’m not here to weigh in on whether he deserves the fund raised money, or to give my opinion on his character. I’m more concerned with the big issue it has raised and it’s not taxes.

It’s about who is and is not allowed to speak.

If nothing else has been more glaringly obvious than the fact that if you make any kind of “socialist” comment on Q&A you’ll be scrutinised, publicly lynched and burned at the stake, it’s that still in this progressive Australia the value of our opinions in a political arena is measured by the class of wealth you hold and the apparent “contribution” you make to society’s communal purse.

Duncan Storrar may not be a great example but he’s not alone in the way he’s been treated because he dared to ask a question. That was, why are people on higher incomes who can manage far better in the realm of liveability getting a tax cut they’ll barely notice when there are people still struggling just to break the poverty line? No, Duncan isn’t the first and it seems as far as the responses have been, will certainly not be the last to have his character condemned for asking a question and treated like he’s committed a mortal sin.

Scene from the movie "Oliver Twist" based on Charles Dickinson's novel of the same name where the young orphan boy, Oliver, asks the orphanage master for more food. "Please sir, I want some more".
Scene from the movie “Oliver Twist” based on Charles Dickinson’s novel of the same name where the young orphan boy, Oliver, asks the orphanage master for more food.
“Please sir, I want some more”.

Events like this strike fear into the souls of the damned. They slink back into their dimly lit moss covered caves feeling reminded that because they are poor, because they don’t put their conceived “fair share” into the collection plate, they don’t get a say. They dare not ask. They have no value.

Church collection plate with money collected. There is a discount voucher on top.
Church collection plate with money collected. There is a discount voucher on top.

While we continue to measure each member of society’s contribution on their ability to earn and the portion they pay, we miss the really important unseen value.

I have sat watching it all play out over the last few days wondering how things would have panned out if I were Duncan Storrar. What if it was me sitting in that audience and asked that question?

First thing is that I would have been told since I pay NO tax being a disabled pensioner and I’m only costing society more, I don’t very well have the right to ask for anything more. Don’t ask for an increase to the pension rate because your rent is 81% of your income. Am I allowed to call it income? Don’t ask for assistance with paying any other bills like electricity or phone. If you can’t pay those bills then you must be spending all your welfare benefit on cigarettes, drugs and alcohol! No, you can’t ask for cheaper public transport fares to get to medical appointments, taxpayers are already paying to keep bastards like me alive.

Then they’d look a little deeper into my current situation and find that I didn’t just ask for a tax cut…. I’m running around town asking for all kinds of things! I mean, how dare this woman who doesn’t pay rates ask council to fix footpaths so she can ride her scooter around. That she probably got with government funding anyway (I didn’t but hey we know it will be assumed). She’s even harassing the State Government for better access to public transport! It’s bad enough she doesn’t even pay the full fare but now she wants special access at all train stations!

Okay lets find more discrediting evidence to prove she’s crossed the line here questioning a panel of politicians, asking if they actually know what they’re doing. Woah, her parents are convicted criminals. She’s from a whole family of welfare bludgers! Who does she even think she is? UNPAID TOLL FINES!!! She’s got hundreds of dollars in unpaid toll fines! EXECUTE HER! OFF WITH HER HEAD!

The Queen of Hearts screaming OFF WITH HER HEAD as told in the story Alice In Wonderland.
The Queen of Hearts screaming OFF WITH HER HEAD as told in the story Alice In Wonderland.

No seriously I have a stack of unpaid toll fines which I am refusing to pay until someone wants to have a serious discussion with me to resolve the issue and stop passing me back and forth between departments telling me that my hearing impairment isn’t their problem and if I want to know if my toll account is empty I need to set up auto top up. Another story for another time.

Okay so I probably don’t have much of a recorded criminal history but trust me there will be plenty of disgruntled adult children wanting to have their attack on my parenting by giving a very public interview about how bad I was in the past. Well….. there might even be one or two in the more recent past. I may or may not have, under the influence of unstable medication, lost my shit over the staging of an event that caused my child much heartache and hit some little trollop around the head with my walking stick. To be fair she gave it back and punched me in the head repeatedly where I tripped backward cos that’s what happens when you have fucking Parkinson’s and fell over and that was it, show’s over. Hey may as well get it all out in the open now, why let some media mogul profit from exploiting my story right?

I’m hardly Australian of the Year material. Still, I’m a registered voter and if I want to ask a question of the people who are anticipating that I may vote for them then why the hell can’t I? If you want to take away my right to ask questions then take away my right to vote. Oh wait that’s right…. they won’t just in case the down trodden and battling pews of the congregation are needed for vote winning…. you know like when John Howard decided it was a great idea to give out money rewards to anyone who was willing to go forth and multiply while most of that same government now condemn the single parent welfare bludgers who need to get off their lazy arses and get jobs without any idea where these 9-3 jobs are going to come from.

Yes, I’m a welfare bludging, delinquent, fine dodging, Medicare sucking, health system draining, imposition on society who has the hide to ask for the god damned footpaths fixed so she can ride her mobility scooter to her local MPs office to complain about the fact that no one is answering the phones at Medicare all week and her rebate has gone missing, without having to risk her life to do it.

I probably could have warned you Duncan, if you dare to make any part of your life public, even in a blog, someone is going to find a way to crucify you. Gosh I even get stalked online by random strangers who then want the right to anonymously question whether or not I’m really disabled or if I’m just faking it for a government supported retirement plan. True story.

Never mind the fact that for the better part of the best years of my life I worked two jobs. I also worked, studied AND volunteered at the same time. It’s really not relevant that despite the disadvantaged upbringing I had that I was a high achieving A grade student who was bullied and beaten by the same peers who were buying their drugs from her parents. Sweep under the carpet the number of people I’ve taken in to my home, fed, helped and harboured just because I knew what it was like to be down and out with no support. Forget that despite trying my best to avoid all the things that could deteriorate my health I still ended up with a disabling degenerative neurological condition that would gradually day by day, month by month, year by year take away anything good that was left in my life to enjoy.

No, I don’t “have a good job” so I can’t expect to buy a house. I don’t have wealthy parents so no one is going to cough up with a house for me. I’m poor so I shouldn’t expect to drive far or even own a car so the price of petrol really shouldn’t matter to me.

Most importantly of all, I don’t pay enough tax to have permission to speak. If I want to have a say in how decisions are made that affect my life then maybe I should go and live in some first world democratic country somewhere… oh, wait. Oops.