Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cairns Transit the expense of City Place.

For the past few months there have been regular meetings at the Council chambers for all interested members of the public on the Cairns Transit Network. It was thought by many who attended the first one that this would be an ideal opportunity to be involved in the process of decision-making regarding this network. The subsequent meetings however, soon made them all aware that this process was more one of information rather than allowing them input. I have received several e-mails from concerned residents who did attend these meetings and were extremely disappointed in them.

Some explained that the meetings were more of a divide and conquer format, although through speaking up they managed to stay together as a group so that they could all remain active in the process. The speakers came from the Department of Main Roads, the Department of Transport and the Cairns Regional Council. Decisions had been made prior to the meetings taking place and this was simply an exercise in pretence, couched in 'community consultation' terms. The consultation process was long over. Nearly every person I have spoken to was unaware of the process and did not participate. So, who did?

Unlike many other recent consultation processes, there are no reports giving accurate figures regarding the local contribution to these plans. There is no transparency regarding this issue whatsoever. Instead, residents were given the final results and if there were objections to this, they were irrelevant.

The idea that we should link up our public transport and create a network is one which all agree needs to occur. The current system is largely inadequate and with the population explosion expected for this region it is well past time to get a system in place which will allow for that growth.

There are two contentious issues with the current plan. First, there is still no allowance for a bus service to and from the airport. An oversight for which there have been no explanations given. Second, and most important, is the removal of the City Place for through traffic and the bus terminal. This issue has created Facebook pages, letters to the Editor, e-mails to and fro and much angst in the community......but only if you are aware it's happening.

Yesterday I received a call. This call asked me if I would take a few minutes to answer questions regarding the Cairns Transit Network. Obviously the vocal objections to the removal of City Place are sinking in and the need for further consultation was deemed necessary. I was asked if I knew about the consultation for this initiative. The answer...yes. She was very surprised and said that she had been waiting all day for someone to answer in the affirmative for this question. Apparently only 5% of those responding had answered yes to that question. Quite telling isn't it.

She went on to ask me if I was aware of the plight of the City Place. Yes I was. Did I have any objections to them tearing it out and putting the bus terminal in it's place? Yes I did. Why? Because this public space, while irrelevant to most of us, holds fond memories for most locals and the Indigenous population have cultural connections to it. Will it one day be removed to make way for something else? Perhaps. But that time is not now. There is still too much emotional connection to it and that needs to be taken into account. Can it be rejuvenated? Surely the answer to that is....can we afford NOT to. It will never be the grassy slopes that it once was but it can be made much more user-friendly that it's current form allows.

Last question.......Where would you put the bus terminal and how would you design the Transit system? I have had a lot of time to think about this answer. I have read the e-mails sent to me regarding the process and the ideas floated by those present. I never made it to the meetings due to their timing but the information was vast so I could easily ascertain what went on. I already had a few ideas of my own so I incorporated mine with theirs and came up with my own version of the Network.

The bus terminal is an easy one....It should obviously be in Bunda Street. Parallel to Cairns Central shopping centre it would also allow for a link up with the train services and at a future date, if money comes our way, the future suburban light rail system. This location is ideal as there are a few vacant lots in this area which would make perfect positions for car parks. This way, residents can drive into town, park in Bunda Street and catch a bus to work.

The second part of my plan concerned the actual city. How would you get people from Cairns Central to city locations? Particularly if they are workers, elderly, disabled or have several children in tow and can't make the long walk from the shopping centre? Simple. Add three small buses seating 12 each. Make sure they are as environmentally friendly as possible....perhaps electric. Then get those small buses to do a city loop every half hour. This would allow a bus to be caught every 10 minutes from Cairns Central. The buses would stop at 7 different locations around the city area allowing people the opportunity to get off almost at the doorstep of their destination. The small size of the buses allows for easy parking at stops. Bus stops in 7 locations would not be impossible or even difficult to achieve.

Buses could stop right out the front of Rusty's, City Place, Cairns Base, Muddies, the Lagoon, The Entertainment Precinct and the Council building. Buses loop back to Bunda Street and the entire process repeats. Simple, effective and cheap. Bunda Street has ample space for a bus depot and it's central location means easy access from Sheridan Street, Mulgrave Road and Ray Jones Drive.

The City Place can then be beautified by adding several shade sails from the current stage area. These should be brightly coloured triangles that sit side by side creating a big tent, carnival like atmosphere. Shade is the most obvious problem at the site and the first thing to do is fix that. Then add lots and lots of seating. Simple, effective and not costly. Bring back the buskers and the colourful characters and the entire place will be transformed.

The lady on the other end of the phone liked my ideas but she was very careful to also say the following. "You do know that this is already decided don't you?" To which I replied....Yes. Even if my ideas are rubbish and those other's present at the meetings had ideas that wouldn't work, the overwhelming feeling of uselessness in this process and of remaining unheard was apparent in every form of correspondence and in the phone conversation with a very apologetic woman.

So, in a few years it appears that our City Place will be gone. Replaced by big buses which we have to negotiate around as they will have right of way all the way through our city heart. I have never lived anywhere that encouraged buses in high pedestrian areas but soon I will. I have no idea if there was any point in this process where public input was actually taken note of but I can tell you without doubt that the next time I see a small snippet of information about any kind of changes occurring in our city, I will be turning up to have my say and encouraging all others to do the same. In the meanwhile, join the Facebook page to save City Place if you love the venue and write to The Department of Transport....maybe it will make some difference.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

FNQ Early Years Forum.

The Cairns Colonial Club played host on Friday to the FNQ Early Years Forum. A mini conference running the entire day with several speakers and a host of workshops, it was an opportunity for all child service providers in the region to get together, network and learn.

The turnout for the event was very good with the conference room around 3/4 full with tables and chairs set out in a reasonably informal way. An excellent setting, the Colonial Club creates an relaxed, open ambience that makes it so much easier to engage in a conference where active participation and sharing of ideas is an essential part of the experience. The location of the venue in the centre of all surrounding suburbs was also ideal as it was central for all participants allowing for maximum attendance.

The first speaker (after welcomes and opening statements) was the keynote speaker Hetty from Bravehearts fame. This is a wonderful service provided to local children of all ages with specialised programs for individual needs.

The focus is on getting children to understand what is acceptable and what is not in terms of assault and abuse. They are taught about their bodies and which parts should not be touched, how to avoid situations in which abuse can occur and the importance of telling someone if you are uncomfortable. The two most important things these children are taught are how to listen to your intuition and the importance of having a 'safe' group of people you can talk to if there is a need.

They advocate choosing people who the child is most comfortable with and the list of possible sources for this is huge. This allows children to feel okay if they do not choose a parent or guardian as one of those on that list. Realistically, as a parent, I would prefer my child tells someone if they have a problem rather than bottles it up simply because they don't feel comfortable telling ME about it. Giving children the power to choose and feel however they like is a very necessary part of stopping the abuse in it's early stages, resulting in less long term harm for the child involved.

I know about this program because every year for the past 6, all three of my children have participated in it in some form or another. Two at Day Care, one at school. I know that it works because my children have a list each of their 'safe' people (I am on it thankfully, but only on the top on one.) and they often talk to me about people they come across who make them feel uncomfortable for some reason. None of those were potential dangers but it was interesting for me to note that they are aware of their 'gut feelings' and know the importance of it.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, I missed Hetty speak. Due to a particularly bad case of sinusitis I had to wait for my medication to kick in before venturing out. I did however, speak to several audience members in the morning tea break and throughout the day who were there for her and each confirmed what I already knew. She was amazing, inspirational and just an incredible person all round. The highlight of the day. Which is of course why I missed her. It's called Murphy's Law.

Anyway, next on the agenda was Dr Kate Freiburg from JCU who came to speak about a program run in conjunction with local public schools, Mission Australia and the Uni called Pathways to Prevention. She was not the most compelling speaker and could have got away with a 30 minute slot rather than the hour she was given as she became slightly repetitive in the end.

What she had to say was essentially information we all know. Intervention is key to any change of potential outcome. Sustained, consistent approaches work best. Collaboration with school and home is essential for success and early intervention is the best way to achieve real progress. Her favourite words were 'holistic' and 'efficacy'. Efficacy was actually a new word for me and I will now be using it as much as possible as it's an excellent word.

She also said however, that intervention can be classed as 'early' at several times during a young person's life, provided it is right before one of the main stages of development. Just because a child has reached school age without intervention does not mean nothing can be done to support the child and family and successful outcomes can't be achieved.

The largest cause of 'at risk' childhood behaviour is stress. Accumulation of stress throughout early childhood creates a reactive brain which will not necessarily think well before acting. This is because the brain uses the lower functioning areas when dealing with stress (the Limbic System) and as it's used more often, it becomes the 'default setting' when anything occurs in life that is upsetting, confrontational or difficult. Therefore, the best way to stop this from occurring is to nurture parents so they can nurture their children. Parents with low self-esteem, or efficacy, lack confidence. If we teach parents the tools to parent with it is useless if they do not have the confidence to implement what they have learnt. Teaching self confidence is not an easy task though, particularly when you are referring to adults with years of practice at putting themselves down.

While this entire speech was useful in parts, there was a decided lack of practical knowledge to compliment what we learnt. Unfortunately this left many present feeling like a huge gap had opened up and to be frank, some found it a bit dismal. Talking about all of the ways things can go wrong is essential so that we can learn how to halt the process but without the tools of change, it can't occur. More needed to be said about the actual program they have in place. The facts regarding what has worked or is working for them and what did not. This enables those present to immediately implement strategies in their own workplaces or environments. Instead we were given a science lesson without the practical side.

My other complaint actually goes to all of the speakers I saw during the day. There was plenty of notice given to the importance of Playgroups and other methods of encouraging supportive environments for very young children. Schools and their role were often lauded as being critical to the process of change, particular attention being paid to White Rock School and it's programs. What was not mentioned once though, was the role of Day Care Centres.

Many parents do not have the luxury of being stay at home mums or choose to re-enter the workplace for personal reasons. This leaves a large chunk of children in an environment without parental support and lacking in programs and services like those touted at the conference. Admittedly, Bravehearts is an anomaly but none of the others are even thinking about Day Care as an appropriate and necessary venue for some of these ideas.

It worries me that the focus may prove too narrow in encompassing only those children whose parents are not working as these are seen as the most at risk of future problems in social, developmental and educational arenas. The stresses of working and still failing to make a dent in bills and leaving a child behind to do it are surely going to affect the well-being of the child in question? Anyway, it was just an observation....probably made because the person sitting next to me was representing a Child Care provider.

Next to speak was Deborah Winkler. She came to us from the Department of Health and Aging and presented the Autism and Mental Health reforms. Her talk was informative, completely non-emotional and succinct. Facts, facts and facts. That's her job and she appears to do it well.

I found out that the Better Start for Children program which was announced last year, was one of the major winners in the recent budget. Help for those with ASD has been given for children up to age 7 for several years now. $12'000 to access services and an additional $2'000 for rural and remote areas to assist in travel or technological requirements. This has long been thought of as insufficient in terms of who is covered but also has been acknowledged that it's a long way forward compared to previous assistance (which was none). This year the scope will be expanded to include children with Downs Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, sight/hearing impairments and deafblindness. Hooray!! This is a huge step in providing adequate care and assistance for these children so that they can have the best possible start in life and the possibility now exists of a real change in potential outcomes for so many.

The other huge achievement was the announcement in the budget that children with ASD would now be eligible to access services and specialist care for up to 20 visits between the ages of 7 and 15 provided a plan is written up. This plan must be completed before the child can access help but can be done right up to the age of 13 years.

The best part of this news I only discovered after calling the Helpline that was set up in May for parents and carers (which I only heard about because I went to this forum). The number for those interested is 1800 989 530. I was told that the plans can now be done by Specialists (such as Paediatricians), medical consultants and (now here's the important change) G.P'S. This means that those who previously could not afford to have their child diagnosed now have the opportunity to access the help their child needs. It has long been recognised that a major obstacle in diagnosis was the cost involved and to remove that obstacle is a massive step in the right direction.

This helpline is only for assistance in directing parents and carers to the help available and is not unfortunately available to those who just need someone to talk to about the difficulties they face in raising these kids. This service remains a necessary one and one which I am still lobbying to achieve.

The rest of the forum continued without me as I needed to return home to dose myself back up in order to continue in my other life as mother and wife successfully so I am unaware of what happened next. I did speak to the following speaker at lunch and know that she was a lovely person who had a great interest in her area. Teeth and dental care. Health is of course a huge component of raising a child and poor dental hygiene is a real concern for children in our region.

I hope that the other members of the audience got just as much out of the day as I did and that the large crowd was enough of a reason to encourage this style of forum to be repeated in our region on a regular basis. The conversations during meal breaks were almost as informative as those occurring on stage and I am sure that many, many worthwhile connections were made on the day.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Households are struggling on $150'000 - or are they?

This week we had the release of the Budget. There were no real surprises in it as most of the details had been 'leaked' over the past month and nobody was under any illusion that it would have nice bonuses and tax breaks in it. It didn't really have many increases in taxation either though so in the overall picture what we ended up with was more of the same.

What is worth noting however, is the few details that the media have latched onto and run with. Most notably the perception that $150'000 per household would now put families in the class of the working poor. It's amazing to think that we may have reached the point here in Australia that our costs of living have shot upward so high that we are creating unliveable situations for the bulk of our country.

If we look at it realistically, we have most of our population under the $150'000 per household mark. In fact, most regions are well below that. Around 20 percent of our total population are living in households with more than $150'000 so that leaves a massive part of our population in dire straits, if you are inclined to believe Today Tonight, A Current Affair and the Murdoch press.

Of the remaining 80 percent how many do you suppose are living on around $50'000 per household? Quite a large chunk actually. Hence the rental crisis around the country as more and more families are priced out of the housing market. According to Gavin King's research (I know, I never thought I'd quote anything from him either), the average household income in Cairns is $80'000. As an average that doesn't sound too bad but if we take into account the 15 percent who are on quite high incomes, the bulk of Cairns residents are more than likely hovering around $60'000 per household. It's not a lot of money is it.

Then we have those earning $150'000 who are announcing to the general population that it's damn hard to live on that paltry amount these days. Makes it kind of tough for the rest of us to continue trying to reach that status if getting there will only mean we are still struggling, just in a nicer house.

Gavin is also correct in his assertion (I know, it surprised me too) that we are spending more and more on 'things' that we really don't need. Nobody needs more than one TV per house, or more than one bathroom, or a media room, or an entire bedroom per child, or two lounge rooms, or a formal and non-formal dining room, or any number of added 'necessities' that once upon a time, around 20 years ago, were luxuries that not many could afford. We have created monster sized spaces inside our homes, at the expense of the size of our backyard, and wonder why we are overweight, our kids can't socialise and small mindedness is rampant? That's what happens when you build yourself a beautiful cage.

Money is subjective. If you have none, getting it becomes the primary purpose of your life. If you have plenty, it's still not enough and the ways and means of getting more continue to rule your days. How much is enough? I'm not sure.

In my opinion we should have the capacity to earn enough to buy our own home and it needn't be of showroom quality. We should be able to afford childcare for our children if we choose to return to work. There must be enough in the bank each week for fresh food so that our families eat well and petrol for us to get to work and pick up our kids. We need to have enough for our utilities, rates and insurance fees and enough to adequately clothe our families. Apart from that, a little bit extra to put into a savings account for a yearly holiday would be a nice bonus for all of us.

So, how much would all of that cost? Well, I took a few averages and added them up. Let's start with the home. A 3 bedroom home without an office, ensuite, pool or other luxury add-on is averaging $300'000 in the Cairns region. Current interest rates puts the repayments of this at around the $570 p/w mark. Rates on that property will be about $55 per week.

Next, childcare. An average childcare facility in this region will set you back approximately $75 per day. Over one week that equates to $375.

Fresh food is an expensive option these days but a shop at Rusty's, the Farmers Markets or the market stall at Stockland will cost you around $70 for a weeks worth and then we add the same amount for meat and an extra $50 for pantry items and spend for one week is $190.

Petrol if you work close to home could be as low as $25 per week but for the bulk of us it would be a minimum expense of $40 and that's provided you don't use the car to 'duck' down to the shops at any point.

So, what's next? Utilities. Well, average household (I am using the standard, 2 adults and 2 children scenario for each household) cost is $400 per quarter, this figure is only relevant if you have no air-conditioning, dishwasher, dryer or second TV. Broken down that makes it about $35 per week. Water.....$8 per week. Phone bills with one mobile and one landline will equate to close to $25 per week on the cheapest rate available. We will consider internet a luxury in this instance and not count that cost. Obviously gas and solar would change those numbers but lets face it, they are still luxury items so most 'average' households don't have them.

Next we deal with insurance. If I am honest on this subject, most households are severely under-insured so the average is actually only $250 per month. What it should be, for home, contents, life, health and income protection or trauma cover is $600 per month. I'm not making that up, scary isn't it. So we have a weekly amount of $125.

Clothing per week we will make up and say it's around the $20 mark. Provided we shop at sales and op-shops and make do with 2 pairs of shoes each. This figure is very low and would not allow for uniforms or any growth spurts for children.

And lastly, a small amount to put away each week. Let's say for arguments sake a holiday a year in Australia for a family for an entire week costs $3'000......that would make a payment into your savings account of $60 per week.

Now add it all up......$570 + $55 + $375 + $190 + $40 + $35 + $8 + $25 + $125 + $20 + $60 = $1'503 per week. After tax. I am not even going to look that one up to see what it would equate to as a yearly wage because I am pretty sure it would be close to the magical $150'000 mark. Damn. And to think I never even counted costs like school, sports, swimming lessons, dvd hire, take-aways, lunches and dinners out at restaurants, haircuts, coffee catch-ups etc........

Apparently, we are all living beyond our means, no wonder credit card debt is so high. And this entire process was based on averages for the most basic of situations. Even removing the extra costs I added for insurance and the savings account would not help enough.

I don't know if the whining by the $150'000 households is acceptable when there are families living on far less than that without complaint. The top level of income whereby allowances and rebates peter off has been that same figure for a long while and it was never an issue before.

Perhaps we can conclude that those living on less are really struggling to get the basic necessities in life while those on higher incomes are also struggling because they have the opinion that at their level of income they should be able to afford MORE than what is necessary. What we should have ended up with is a group of people living well on what they have but instead we have ended up with two groups of people who are facing bankruptcy because the standards of living they have set for themselves are equally as unobtainable.

I will end with an article from the ABC released after the budget announcements that I found relevant to this post. Here it is:

From the ABC Sunday 15th May, 2011: New research released today into people's attitudes to wealth has concluded that Australians suffer from an illusion of equality.

The survey of 1,000 Australians found wealth inequality - where 20 per cent of people own more than 60 per cent of Australia's wealth - is dramatically underestimated.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions commissioned the research on attitudes to inequality and the minimum wage in the lead-up to Monday's hearing of the national minimum wage case.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence says respondents believe Australia is far more equal than reality suggests.

"Australians actually think that Australia's society is more equal than what it actually is and they think that it should be more equal," he said.

Curiously wealthy people underestimated their value and poorer people overestimated theirs.

Mr Lawrence says respondents also believed the basic wage was higher than the actual base rate of $15 per hour.

"Liberal voters overestimate the minimum wage by the largest margin, about $2.22 an hour," he said.

"If you look at the total sample, 83 per cent supported raising the minimum wage with only 5 per cent being opposed."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2011-12 Budget.........overview in detail.

For those of you who couldn't be bothered reading the billion page 2011-2012 Budget don't worry, I did it for you. Well, some of it. Frankly I started to go cross-eyed and despite the third cup of coffee it just wasn't getting any easier to plough through. I did however, note several million important parts that I thought I'd share with you all. Some you might find interesting, some are not. I will leave my opinion out (I know, scary) as it's conjectural. There are good bits, and bad bits....and hidden quirks. Happy reading.

Not much happening in the Environmental section, probably due to the release of the Carbon Tax details due on July 1st, but the following two bits were interesting. Green loans, which encourage households and businesses to go 'green' by giving loans at a very low interest rate up to $10'000 dollars have now ceased. There will also be significant reduction in the Solar School Program with only a few million dollars left in the coffers for that one.

Now, onto Disabilities.

There will be changes in the current support for parents and carers of children with a disability. Where it used to end when the child reached 7 (and still does for children with ASD) it now continues till the child reaches 15 years of age. Changes are as follows......Up to 7 years parents and carers receive $12'000 to help with support and programs etc.....from 7-15 parents and carers now receive Medicare funded help with treatment and diagnosis so long as a plan is already in place. Those living in remote and rural areas will receive an additional $2'000 for help to access services.

1 percent of all those on a Disability Pension will be audited to check their eligibility. All Disability Pensioners can now work up to 30 hours per week and still receive part payment. In order to get this pension, claimants will have to provide evidence they tested their work capacity by participating in training or work before applying.

Wage subsidy for those on a Disability Pension is applicable only if they work over 15 hours per week for 26 weeks. This will be $3'000 extra for Employers and $2'000 for training alone.

Mental Health.

40 extra mental health support services. (cost 61 million- 18.5 of that in 2015-16). Personal helpers and mentors. (208.3 million- 60.2 of that for 2015-16)

Expansion of 'Headspace' Program for youth mental health (15-25) to cost 197.3 million.

409 million saved by reducing the rebate for GP's who complete Mental Health Plans with patients based on time it took to complete.

New mental health initiative called Allied Health Treatment Services will limit the number of services that those with mild or moderate mental health issues can access while ensuring that those with advanced mental health illness get appropriate care. Savings here of 174.6 million.


1.8 billion over 6 years to be spent in Health and Hospitals. 1.33 billion in 63 projects across Australia (including 265.6 million in 15-16) with 315 million of that already allocated to Hobart and Port Macquarie Hospitals.


HECS voluntary advance payments bonus goes from 10% to 5%. Discount on HECS paid upfront drops from 20% to 10%. These two changes will result in a saving of 479.5 million.

As promised to Member for Lyne and Member for New England, 500 million to go into the regional priority round from Education Investment Fund improving infrastructure, training and education in higher education.

Higher Education Regional Loading will receive increased funding to 109.9 million.

171.3 million over 2 years will go to Indigenous Education Support Programs.

Higher Education Capital pool has been dropped, saving 298 million.

ALTC, which administered grants, awards and incentives to promote quality in learning and in higher education has been dropped saving 87.7 million.

The Digital Education Revolution has been scrapped saving 132.5 million.

The new National Rewards program for great teachers giving cash incentives and bonuses based on performance criteria will cost 425 million.

The school chaplaincy program will be expanded, focussing on disadvantaged, rural and remote areas at a cost of 222 million.

200 million will be spent in schools to help support children with a disability.

Trade Training Centres in schools will be delayed and instead of a 11-12 commencement, will begin in 14-15, saving 102 million.


Grants for small business to implement family friendly working arrangements have been scrapped.

20 million for low language, numeracy and literacy programs.

101 million for mentoring of Apprentices.

Australian Apprenticeship Incentive Program will change to be applicable only if you are Indigenous, disabled, mature aged or doing a school-based apprenticeship. This will save 59 million.

Current job seekers must do 6 months per year of approved work, training etc....from July 2011 they will have to do 11 months per year.

Funding for Skill Assessments will be increased for those over 50 with trade skills but no qualifications. Organisations will receive $2'000 per person to assess them and an additional $2'000 for training to fill any gaps found.

34 Regional Strategists will be employed to develop regional education, skills and job plans. This was promised to Members for Lyne and New England.

Employment services will be streamlined saving 167.8 million.


PPP and PPS (Parenting Payments) will cease when the child turns 12 to encourage parents back to work sooner. Youth Allowance will rise to 21 years of age while Newstart will start at 22 from July 2011. This will save 183.9 million.

Paid Paternity Leave for fathers consisting of two weeks wage will be deferred to 1/01/13.

FTB parts A & B will be fixed for three years saving 803.2 million. Thresholds will also be paused saving 1'201.9 million.

Child Support will be re-assessed for those who have not lodged a tax return for at least 2 years. It will now be assessed based on last known Tax Return + indexed rises. Child support payments will also now affect FTB payments by reducing the amount received. No mention of whether this will still be reduced if payments are not made.

Advance on FTB A of up to $1'000 for unexpected large expenses to be paid back over 6 months. This is subject to assessment that this amount can be paid back without detrimental affects on the household.

All children aged 4-5 will be required to undergo a full health check before starting school. This will determine who is eligible for FTB A as parents who do not meet requirements for child health 2 years after the initial assessment will have their payments stopped.

Increase in funding for ASD Early Intervention due to increase in need.

Cape York Welfare Reform program will be continued and expanded. Focus will be on home ownership.

Immigration and Foreign Aid.

Indonesia will get 492.8 million for education and construction of 2'000 new schools. Elsewhere in the Pacific, 148 million for water and sanitation projects and 34 million for avoidable blindness.

Africa, South and Central Asia and the Middle East will receive 827.1 million.

Volunteer, NGO and community programs will receive 244 million.

PNG will receive 150 million for education and ending the violence against women.

Department of Immigration and Citizenship will have their funding reduced by 198.2 million for Corporate Support, Policy and Program Design and Service Delivery Functions.

216 million to pay for the acceptance of 14'750 immigrants from Indonesia yearly.

800 unprocessed immigrants will be sent to Indonesia in exchange for 4'000 processed refugees.

There were many, many pages of further information, I simply looked at those that are spotlighted. Feel free to take a look yourself if there is any other information you wish to have. I hope that my simple version of things helps in some way to understand where money was spent and what savings were made. I only had a cursory glance at Defence as it was convoluted and my brain was fried. I do know that 2 billion was saved but couldn't tell you where. Indigenous spending was a subject I did look at but with the exception of the Cape York Welfare Reform and some targeted Education, there was no new spending in this area. Single males, single females and high income earners were largely ignored.

Hope the post is helpful to all....Cheers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Budget my dreams....

It’s budget time again and this year we will be promised set top boxes for all pensioners, increased mental health beds in rural and regional areas, $6 extra per week for those earning less than $30’000 and many other inadequate bits and pieces. High income earners and mining companies will get a nice tax break that they don’t need and services we actually do need will be reduced or cut completely. All so that we can return to surplus next year, barring any floods or cyclones of course.

We look forward to seeing how the Government intends to get teenage mums and people on a disability allowance back to work or study. Not because we think the initiatives will work but so that we can call our Government idiots again and use it as fodder on Facebook and Twitter.

So, how could we deliver a fair budget without blowing out costs further? Could we see fit to allow the Government to return it’s budget to surplus one year later than projected due to the nature of the natural disasters this year? I think we could. It’s reasonable, unlike the budget proposals.

What we really need is to give those pensioners the cash and let them use it however they see fit. Every pensioner I know already has a stupid set top box! They might prefer help to pay for a luxury such as quality coffee for a change, or electricity.

Then we need to roll out child care facilities in secondary schools ensuring teenage mums to get the education they are entitled to and are encouraged to stay in school. This initiative would not cost that much to implement as there are very few young mums in each school and the teachers could also use the facility, allowing them to return to work faster after the birth of a child if they choose to do so. A simple crèche with places for up to 10 would be ample for the majority of schools. Incorporating baby wellbeing classes and encouraging prevention of pregnancies in a more pro-active way than the current methods would also be useful as an education tool.

Then we need to ensure employers are offering plenty of job share positions and other flexible arrangements so that those on a disability pension have options if they wish to re-enter the workforce. At the moment there are very few opportunities for people who are restricted by their disability and that problem needs to be addressed. This would include those who are suffering from a mental health illness as quite often long hours prevent them from working and many would return to work if there were more job sharing opportunities. Again, the cost of this is minimal. It’s more about re-educating employers than it is about changing workplaces. The jobs would not increase, just the amount of people doing those jobs.

Next, address the problems faced by many people on low incomes by ensuring that funding is allocated to get them to participate more in their communities. All families earning less than $45'000 per year (combined income) are currently entitled to a Health Care Card. This card should be able to be used to get a substantial discount on sporting endeavours for both adults and children. Many of these families call sport a 'luxury' and it shouldn't be. Other initiatives could also be included in this proposal so long as the benefit is community engagement. It’s well known that this would encourage people to broaden their minds and increase the instances where opportunities arise. Yes, it is who you know, not what you know, but if you aren’t out there getting to know people, the opportunities for you decrease substantially.

Indigenous funding should be increased with funding allocated to encouraging small business ventures within communities. Things like coffee shops, cinemas etc should be encouraged with the full support of small business services both federally and state run. This initiative would allow residents leisure activities that we in city areas are provided and also create business skills for other, more culturally appropriate businesses.

So, how to pay for all of that? Easy.........get rid of the My School website. It costs a fortune and is useless to parents, schools and teachers alike.

Next, do not reduce tax for those earning over $200'000 this year. By all means, once the 'surplus' is reached, do it then but now is not the time for unnecessary reductions.

Then change the asylum seeker policy to make it fairer and less expensive. The reason it costs so much money to hold asylum seekers is because the whole process is outsourced to a company who's primary focus is on making money (after all, that's what businesses do). Instead, use a not-for-profit organisation that will do it for wages and bonuses rather than to make huge profits. It currently costs between $55 and $90’000 per year (depending on which statistics you look at) to house one asylum seeker. If there are people in Australia living reasonably good existences on far less than that, with all the modern conveniences, something is very wrong with this picture. It’s acknowledged that the cost of securing these facilities is probably quite high, but when you average it amongst all residents inside it can’t be as much as that.

Also, speed up the processing. It does not take up to 4 years to decide if someone should be released into the community. That’s absurd. It’s also inhumane. Faster processing would allow space inside the facilities to be filled with new asylum seekers regularly. This would then mean that we would not have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on overseas processing. Saving our money and our reputation all in one fell swoop. By all means, do it properly and there are no objections to refusing status to those who do not meet the criteria and sending them home, just do it faster.

Those few cost saving initiatives mentioned above would cover the first few initiatives that would require spending from the Government. I am not an economist, couldn’t imagine a more boring job to be honest, but I am also no idiot.

Unfortunately, the budget is due today and these ideas are only mine, written for a blog and nothing more. I am saddened by the fact that the party I admire is no longer working with the best interests of the nation. It’s a terrible moment when you realise that the Government is changeable and lacks backbone. When they are making what they consider hard decisions but are not listening to what the people in their own party want, only the polls, it’s not a good feeling. Frankly, not that many people are polled……barely any in rural or regional Australia. I live in hope but must admit that today, my hope for change within the Labor Party is fading fast.

Friday, May 6, 2011 do we prevent it?

Every now and again you have a morning when you find you have to force yourself to get out of bed. Just occasionally you take a look in the mirror and don't like what you see. Sometimes it is very hard to ignore the hurt that lives deep down inside you. There are days when having a good cry is not enough.

In Cairns we have a problem. It's much, much bigger than we know and nobody is sure what to do about it. While you and I have days like those mentioned above, some of us are struggling EVERY day. There are some who haven't got the tools to fight the bad days and they build and build, until they break.

For many it becomes a diagnosable mental illness such as depression or anxiety but for a few who don't get the help they need, it becomes the end of their life.

Suicide in the whole of Australia is a real concern. The rates are rising and both sexes are on almost equal footing in these horrendous statistics. Looking at the numbers it's hard to see why this issue is not more heavily funded and more closely studied but perhaps that's part of the problem. We choose not to look.

In Cairns, and particularly the south side, the statistics are very high. These are people we are talking about though so the numbers are irrelevant.

If a person dies of natural causes, we see the ad in the paper announcing their death and giving us all details of the funeral. If a murder is committed, the people involved, including the victim, are paraded around in all forms of media right through till the conclusion of any trial that occurs. If a person commits suicide, we see an ad in the paper announcing their death and details of the funeral.

Essentially, a suicide victim is seen by us in the same light as a person who has died from illness or old age. Perhaps an illness has been the root of the cause but what we end up with, is ignorance of the scope of suicide. There is absolutely no question that we shouldn't respect their family's and we definitely should NOT be parading these lost souls in front of our television cameras. We should though, be more aware.

Youth suicide is at an all time high with those aged between 15 and 25 obviously having a lot more difficulty with life than generations prior to this one. This is not to say that suicide has not always been a problem, it has, but there must be definable reasons why it's escalating.

Ask any person you know and they will tell you of a friend, colleague or family member who lost their life this way. They will also tell you, if asked, that there were signs of a troubled soul beforehand.

So, why are our young people (and according to those in the know, both sexes aged 35-45) increasingly turning to suicide as an option? Have we become so disconnected to those around us that we are no longer engaging them in case it complicates our own lives? Are we becoming a selfish society that cares more about ourselves than the health and wellbeing of anyone else?

Perhaps part of the answer is all of the above. There are many, many reasons for the rise in suicide and that's a start. Having a reason gives us a measure by which we can create changes. Unfortunately there appears to be a lack of solid ideas on what changes should be made or how changes can occur. Ask your partner, your colleagues at work or a family member what they would do to fight the rise in suicide in the region. It's a very tough question to answer.

We all have opinions on almost all issues we face in our community, country and the world. We know what WE would have done if we'd found Bin Laden, what WE would do about climate change, what WE want done about our Entertainment Precint.......but nobody ever talks about what WE should do to halt the instances of suicide. Nobody ever mentions it. Even controversial subjects like abortion, depression and gay marriage are discussed almost everywhere you go. Still, nobody mentions suicide.

We know that inclusion in community helps us to deal with depression. It encourages those affected to seek help and we know that intervention works. We also know that the rapid rise in body image problems is contributing so our media have to address that issue immediately. We are aware that sudden changes in mood are a sign that things are not okay and sometimes it helps to just talk about it.

New media and social media are contributing to the disconnection our youth are feeling. Facebook allows us to let the world know we are having a really hard time but it does not allow for any meaningful conversation about it. So many times we see a status that reads......"Why do I bother, life is just too hard" and we carefully craft a trite response that we hope will brighten the day up. What we should be doing is reaching for the phone or the car keys and having a meaningful connection to that person. Sometimes those little notes go on for weeks or pop up on the same person's 'page' repeatedly but do we take notice? No. We start to ignore them because they are so annoyingly negative.

Frankly, I think we are often unkind and cruel in our appraisal of our fellow man. We are stuck in a vacuum and like our bubble so much that we don't know what to do when we see someone struggling.

Now, usually when I write a blog entry, I start with the issue, delve deeper into the problem and end by offering some solutions. On this issue though, I am lost. I hate not having some answers or suggestions for a problem but suicide is not something I believe has any simple answers that can be written up by a mum who has no psychology background. I even think that those who are qualified in the area would struggle to come up with simple solutions. The problem is so complex it needs many different methods to be implemented so we can have a multi-layered approach.

If anyone has any ideas, please let us all know. The only way to achieve anything is to at least try. Nothing should ever be put in the 'too hard' basket and something that affects so many should, right now, be front and centre in our minds.