Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Locals helping Locals- works every time!

Ever get the feeling that ordinary people power, instigated by extraordinary people, is far more effective than what our representatives can achieve?

In the past few months especially, with the effects of Yasi and the downturn in Cairns employment and tourist numbers, there have been so many occasions where real results have been achieved by simply getting involved in an event, function, group or cause and running with it.

Success is in the eye of the beholder and for some it may mean enough money to buy the dream car and the dream house while having enough spare cash for the yacht....for others however it's much more tangible than that. Success for them is seeing the people in their community thriving. Jobs, access to services, a roof over their heads and businesses that are viable is all any community really needs.

While there have been many, many occasions that warrant a mention here, there are two unfolding right now that I would like to bring to everyone's attention. Both have similar outcomes in mind but it's there that the similarities end.

In Daintree there is a serious downturn in tourism numbers (up to 50%) and as a result, many businesses are struggling. Not the ordinary struggling, meaning you may have to hold a sale or close on Mondays, the seriously struggling....as in the business will fold very shortly. The businesses in question are not asking for a handout, nor do they want our pity, they are simply asking for the Council to make it much more attractive for locals to visit. How? By giving all Cairns Regional Council rate payers the opportunity to enjoy the same ferry deal that the former Port area rate payers currently get. $13.50 for a pass that gives you unlimited access till June 2012.

This would encourage locals to get up there and while they are there, spend a few dollars, thereby saving the businesses. Sounds logical to me. In fact, sounds great! I'd go in a heartbeat.

The problem is, Council CEO says no. Not in April anyway, which is when school holidays and Easter are on, maybe not in May and possibly not the few months after that. Apparently, these things need to be studied (sound familiar) and no decision could be made at such short notice. Several Councillors disagree and have said they would support the move but without the CEO on board it's unlikely to even reach a vote.

Vince O'Flaherty has decided that is not good enough. He went to The Cairns Post and stated his case. A survey is available online which was advertised via the paper. Within days he had 50 responses. (Sadly, only 2 were from the south side) All of which stated they would take friends and family up to Daintree and Cape Trib if the ferry cost was no longer an obstacle. By the time I write this, the numbers will be much higher. In no time at all he will have received more responses via that survey than any of the recent consultation surveys that the Council have undertaken.

You can fill out a survey form to win 2 nights accommodation at Ferntree Rainforest Lodge at beautiful Cape Tribulation as well as family passes for Crocodile Express Cruises and entry to the multi-award winning Daintree Discovery Centre. Simply go to Daintree Rainforest River Cruises website and click on the 'Register and Win' link to join in the fight to get the businesses of our tropical rainforest region a fair go. These people are trying to help themselves, lets give them a hand.

The next great initiative is one for the yuppie in us all. In Yasi affected areas there are still concerns for the health and wellbeing of those who have, and continue to suffer hardship. Basic services are still not fully operational and for those who have chosen to stay while the re-build occurs, home is often a tent or a single room for an entire family. Food is difficult to prepare and the morale of these people is waning.

Rotary Club in Tully and Innisfail have been supplying food from a kitchen in Tully that they quickly invented in the aftermath of the cyclone. From this facility they have also branched out and helped the communities in many and varied ways, all of which are essential and appreciated by the local residents. Now it's our turn to help keep those facilities going.

The Flood Relief Fund will eventually make it's way into this area but for now there is not one cent going there for essential services. Two residents (Jodie and Lauren) decided to try to make a difference and an idea became a reality as on this Sunday (3rd April) the Reef Hotel Casino will host a luncheon titled 'Bring Back the Paradise Charity Luncheon'. The cost of the event is $85 per person which includes a $25 donation to Rotary. If a glass of bubbly, live music, three course meal and live runway show are not enough....you really need to see the prize list. It's astounding. Valued at $26'000 in total there is something there for everyone, including me. Tickets are available from Brothers Leagues Club or Stockland Earlville but you will have to be quick.

What a great way to have a fun afternoon while supporting a very worthy cause and helping to ease the way for people in our region who are facing a long wait before any sort of normal life can resume.

Once again, residents have taken it upon themselves to make a difference, refusing to sit around waiting for things to happen, they have chosen instead to make things happen. Proving that they will not be victims they would much rather be part of the solution.

I would like to wish both groups well in their missions. I have responded in the survey and will be buying my ticket for the lunch tomorrow.....they did all the hard stuff so that I can make a difference without much effort at all. I can't speak for the entire region but I certainly can from me.....Thankyou very, very much.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Political Dissent - And the need for it.


Alright, got that out of the way. Now, to the four people still reading may this blog entry cause you to openly discuss the issues you feel are important, and encourage debate in the community.

What do Lawrence Springborg and Stuart Traill have in common? What do Penny Wong and Peter Garrett have in common? What about Malcolm Turnbull and Natasha Stott Despoya?

The differences are obvious, the commonality perhaps not so much.

In the first instance, both of these men spoke out against a direction the party they were involved in had taken. Lawrence only yesterday saying that the Liberal National Coalition had agreed NOT to make changes before the State election and the following week had removed it's leader and replaced him with a 'caretaker' and a Mayor who can't even enter Parliament to speak. His view had not much to do with whether the choice was a good one and everything to do with the fact that a decision had been made at Party level and it was disregarded. In his opinion it is difficult to be involved in a party if the majority ruling is ignored. Essentially, what's the point?

Stuart spoke out, loudly and publicly, against the decision to sell State Assets made by our State Government. This decision is completely against party policy as stated in the policy platform members have to agree to adhere to. Whether of not the decision is necessary or inevitable is irrelevant. The real problem is obviously, how can you have one set of rules for the membership while the leaders of the party quite simply have a completely different set of rules?

Penny Wong is gay. She has never made any secret of that fact, nor has she been particularly vocal about it. It's her private life, why should anyone else be privy to that? Knowing this, why did the Federal Labor Party insist on forcing her to 'toe the party line' when she was questioned by media about her views on Labor policy regarding Same Sex Marriage? Surely she could have been given the opportunity to represent herself on this issue as it's public knowledge that she has a vested interest in the outcome?

Peter Garrett is an environmental advocate. He has written songs protesting the Uranium mining we do in Australia. This is also common knowledge and readily accepted by the Australian public. While he may well be the Minister for the Environment, could it not have been perfectly acceptable for him to make the announcement regarding the Governments Uranium Policy but also state he was not in support of the policy and would continue to advocate against it in the party room? We all understand that majority rules, but shouldn't personal convictions count for something?

Malcolm Turnbull was effectively removed from his position as Opposition Leader based on one single issue. The Carbon Tax. He firmly believes that the Tax is necessary and has always stated that. Why is it so hard to believe that he, like any other politician, would abide by majority decision yet hold his own personal views and stance on the issue, even if the majority did not agree? To the best of my knowledge, he still holds the same opinion.

Natasha was vocal in her opposition to directional changes within the Democrat Party while she was leader. She felt the need for change was required and a return to the original focus should occur in order to keep the party viable. Turns out she was right but at the time she was unceremoniously dumped, in favour of Andrew Bartlett who proceeded to run the party into oblivion.

While I am not advocating mass dissent within political party's I do believe that personal stance should be accepted within the membership of all Australian politics. Forcing people to vocally agree with a policy they very obviously morally oppose is a real issue for the Australian public. How are we supposed to form alliances with political ideals if they are changeable? How do they expect us to trust our politicians if they are forced to tell blatant untruths? Why is is so hard to believe that we are smarter than that?

Every major party in Australia has the same problem, except perhaps the Greens. The ideals and policy platform of that particular party have remained constant for decades. Once upon a time, the same could be said for the ALP and the Liberal and National party's. No longer is that the case.

It has long been argued that the direction of the ALP has been in complete discord to the original foundations of the party. I would argue that the exact same thing can also be said of the Coalition. Neither party have held to any cause in the past decade and both are prone to disorganisation and chaotic messaging. The original National Party was rural based representation. The Liberal Party was white collar representation and the Labor Party was blue collar representation. If those same values were still what carried each party our political landscape would be vastly different.

I have a dream. That my vote in any election matters. That I can have my say within a political party and it will be heard. That the choices facing all Australians are not 'the lessor of two evils' but rather a choice that best represents your own values and beliefs for a better country. That, if the party you vote for does not win, we still have a progressive, idealistic Government in place, just one which has a slightly different focus.

We have been promised change for a long time now and thus far the promise seems an empty one. While our political leaders engage in more tit for tat behaviour, our country is beginning to lose the momentum it gained during the GFC. Is it too much to ask our politicians to be honest? To hold convictions they can publicly state? To make decisions (sometimes tough ones) for the good of the people and not just to win elections? To stop with the popularity contest and start truly representing their constituents?

No. It's not. It's what we, the public deserve. It's what we want and it's starting to be recognised as a real issue. The next step is for us all to remain vocal, or get vocal within the party that used to hold the beliefs and values you yourself hold. Only then can we finally be given a real choice when we walk into the ballot box.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Culture Precinct.......An Information Session with a difference.

Thursday night at 7 p.m in Cairns there was a Cultural Precinct 'information session' at Crosswell Hall organised by Barry Neal, a local resident and founder of Residents Against Crime. It was advertised as a great event for those who are opposed to the Precinct, want the Precinct and those who are 'fence sitters'. As a resident who would be extremely happy to see the Precinct built I went along to find out how I could support the project and to get as much information as possible to pass along to residents I meet who might still be unsure of the details.

Within 1 minute of my arrival it became apparent that my view was very much the minority view and this was not the forum I had imagined and hoped for. There were fliers in large stacks proclaiming the site earmarked for development was unsuitable and should not be considered for this project. I took one.....it's the paper I used to write notes on all night.

First up, Brett Moller. He spoke at length ( and when I say length, I mean it!) Close to one hour was spent listening to him have his say and watching him fiddle with the Power Point presentation. I have seen many people over the past few years struggle with those things, obviously their main purpose is to make grown men and women look foolish.

His main argument, after imparting his entire CV, seemed to be related to the fact that the residents of Cairns have had no real input into the size, cost and site of the Precinct. He suggested that our Council is weak and if they had any real strength they would take the money offered by Federal and State Government and tell them that the residents of Cairns will decide when, how and where we build our Precinct. Apparently, he feels we have been dictated to by the State Government and it's essentially none of their business what we do with the money.

An interesting point of view but not one I share. As far as I'm concerned, the proposal put to the other tiers of government was pretty detailed and the money was given to us based on that information. They would both be well within their rights to retract the offer if the deal changes. It would work the same way in any business proposal.

Second up to speak was the CEO of Sea Swift. He stated early on that he is a new resident of the region and has a vested interest in the outcome of this decision. Fair enough, honesty is always welcome. His view was that the shipping areas of our foreshore are not big enough and expansion will be necessary when our population reaches 500 thousand in approximately 50 years. That's not taking into account the one million our population will possibly get to in 100 odd years. Most areas with large shipping ports reclaim land when expansion is required. We can't. We do have the capacity to grow 2 to 3 times larger than our existing facilities but that's it.

Frankly, when our population reaches one million we will have already expanded ports in Mourilyan and Innisfail to accommodate the growth and hopefully, shipping will be supplemented by many and varied forms of transportation not yet thought of today. In one hundred years nothing will be the same. Any Arts Precinct we build will be obsolete by then anyway. It seems pointless to plan that far into the future. The 50 year target of 500 thousand is more appropriate. Growth of that scale will require additional shipping space but at less that double our current population, surely that would only necessitate double the current facilities? Even if it's higher, three times what we have should more than suffice.

Next up was Bob Manning, former head of Ports North. He spent the first half of his Power Point presentation (did I mentioned that the first three speakers all used them?) rationalising his former role and the decisions made while he was in charge. He never once mentioned that he was responsible for the sale of the Yacht Club. Probably because he knew it wouldn't go down well. Then the second half of his presentation was centred around the need for Cairns to have the ability to expand it's Naval presence.

As the second biggest Naval base in Australia we have the potential to grow that industry and (using my current favourite word) diversify. What he never got around to letting the public know was the following two facts. 1) He was responsible for gifting Admiralty Island to the Dept of National Parks and Wildlife. This island was originally slatted for Naval activity but after Bob publicly stated the need would not ever exist here in Cairns...he gave it away. 2) That the Navy have recently leased 16 hectares of land beside their current facility, for expansion purposes. This is deemed to be sufficient (by the Navy) for the next 50 years at least. Both interesting facts I would have thought. Both important information to give out on an 'information night' and neither passed the lips of one person present.

Last to speak was Mayor Val Schier. The only one without a Power Point to stuff up, she was very wobbly and unsure at the start. I am still not sure if that was due to the chill in the air from cranked up air-conditioning or the hostile crowd just got to her. She stated all of the facts regarding the costing of the facility. It will cost $1.5 million per year to upkeep. Currently it costs us 1.4 million for the Civic Theatre, a difference of 100 thousand. The first stage would include a 400 seat theatre, a 1000 plus seat theatre (which could be connected together), rehearsal spaces, sound room, backstage facilities and the plaza surrounding it. The cost for this would be $180 million. The cost for Cairns Regional Council would be 33 million. Borrowed over 20 years, it would not impact on rates at all. The site was given to Council by Ports North, all alternative sites have been vetoed and an entire Council voted unanimously to support the current proposal. Sounds pretty straightforward to me.

During the course of the night, when a statement was made by one of the speakers that the crowd agreed with they would clap. Most of those comments were regarding the need for using the land as future possible port development. During the Mayors speech she said one particular thing that resonated with me. I was not quick enough to write it down but it was along the lines of....With a Cultural Precinct on the foreshore of our city Cairns would once again have an attraction that would re-invigorate and enliven our city. My response? I clapped. One other person decided to join me. The Mayor thanked the two supporters she had up the back and that said more about the attendance to the meeting than anything else could.

Question time came next and at this point, it was time to leave. The attacks to the Mayor could be heard further down the street as I headed to the car and nothing being said was too surprising.

I went along to this meeting in the hope I could find out answers to the few questions I have regarding this facility. When will the choice of designs be available for public viewing? Is Stage 2, with the museum and South Sea Islander exhibition space, still part of the plans and how far off will they be? What is the current prediction for work to commence on this site? Could we possibly work hard to ensure local tenders for construction of the facility get preference? I had plenty of questions. None of which I felt comfortable in that environment asking. To the best of my knowledge, a debate of this kind should include one speaker for the project, followed by one against, then one for........etc. Having three against, all with the same reasoning, makes a mockery of this process.

I would like the next forum, and the organiser is promising more, to invite TTNQ, Advance Cairns, Ports North and the Navy. This would ensure a fair and even picture could be created of the entire project. Perhaps the decision would still be made that the Precinct is unsuitable in it's current position. Maybe Cairns will miss out on the first development of this scale in more years than I care to remember. At least the decision will be made with ALL the FACTS and not just through opinion.

Thursday night at 10.30 p.m. I found myself at Havanas enjoying a cup of hot chocolate, the music and the atmosphere. Looking around me, I spotted several well known faces so took it upon myself to interrupt their meals and ask them their opinion on the Precinct. I spoke with the owner Brett. His staff. Rick Montgomery of Johnno's and Music City fame, Gabby Thomasz(organiser of the Ukelele Festival), Tim Grau and several patrons who were strangers to me (not anymore!).

The response was overwhelmingly in favour of the Precinct. It was stated that Cairns is bland, colourless and one even went so far as to say that we could not call ourselves a city, not even a town....we had reverted to village status. A comment was made that TTNQ and Advance Cairns, while supporting this venue, very often ignore the nightlife of Cairns. The focus for both of these groups is seen to be the standard business hours of nine to five. On reflection I would have to agree with that sentiment. A suggestion that the Cultural Precinct feed into the Convention Centre and then the entire of Lake Street be filled with cafe and restaurant facilities that feature live music, giving Cairns city centre a New Orleans/ Amsterdam feel. This would allow patrons to wander along the street, stopping for coffee, cake or tapas along the way, enjoying the various forms of music we are lucky enough to have in abundance in this region. Frankly, I love that idea. Apparently licensing regulations are so strict it would be very difficult to achieve this outcome but we should at least give it a go. This street has become the focal point for the arts community with exhibition spaces and music currently taking up space here, it's not too bold a stretch to imagine this being expanded all the way along.

Two of those I chatted to had just come from an event at Jute Theatre, one from the Waifs concert which was sold out, one came from a local production put on at the Rhondo Theatre. At each of the events they attended, the crowd was far bigger than the one at the Cultural Precinct information night which just goes to show you how busy and vibrant our arts community is. With over 50 arts organisations in this region alone, we have ample reason to build them, and us, a venue on a large scale. The arts has received very little substantial funding opportunities in the Far North. We have an active arts community that deserve a large local injection of confidence in them.

The schools will pay less for their awards nights. Currently paying $25-30'000 for the hire of the Convention Centre. Bentley Park College can't fit the entire school in so parents are missing out on seeing their child participate in the night. They can't afford to hire it twice so the situation will remain the same until a new, cheaper alternative is made available to them.

There are plenty of very good reasons to start work on designing and building our Precinct and only one against. The site is free, the government has thrown in a huge amount towards it, the Navy doesn't need the space, long term forecasts suggest that shipping will NOT be our main freight option and even if it is there is space to grow up to three times it's current size which is ample for any realistic future growth models.

I will be attending the next 'Information Session', hoping that the bias will not be quite so obvious and that more people attend with views apart from the negative ones. I would then like to ask the questions I still have written on my notebook. Until then, I urge you all to do the research and keep an open mind. The Precinct is something that I obviously want but that doesn't negate those who want it stopped. If there are reasons BESIDES the expansion of the terminal and the cost, both of which have proven to be false, I will be much more accepting of the opposition to this development.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Diversity.....and Cairns.

Every city in the world has an industry that it is built around. The infrastructure, businesses, even housing, are based around the main industry of that particular city. In Cairns, it's tourism.

The tourism industry has long been considered the focal point for any new developments, cash injections and future vision for the area.

Right now in this region we have the biggest unemployment rate in the country. We have huge companies burning out on a weekly basis, the latest being CEC. Almost all of our local construction companies have disappeared and the future of our city is looking grim.

There are some businesses that are thriving in the current climate. Most notably coffee shops and cafe's which are popping up every day and family hotspots such as Paradise Palms and Coconut Village. These are all examples of businesses that are working because of the local trade. They are always busy and the service and standards of products are high.

Restaurants, bars, retail outlets and other service industries are closing every day. New ones are not moving in to take their place. This lack of confidence in our region is causing headaches for the Council, the State and Federal Governments as they field constant questions from residents concerned about the future of their city. The answer is always the same. Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Should we prop up the tourism industry again and suffer the potential consequences the next time the global financial world hits a snag? Should we let the industry shrink further until it becomes a tiny part of the landscape? No, neither will work. The tourism industry has been a stalwart for Cairns and is a lucrative one when it's in full swing. With the tourism season fast approaching, now is the time to invest in the future possibilities.

Tourists are jaded. They want to see things they can't see anywhere else and do something they have no opportunity to do anywhere else in the world. The success of shows like 'Man v's Wild' is testament to the adventurous ideals that so many people have. Cairns could quite easily become the 'Adventure Playground' of the country. It would not be too difficult to make harmless fun a little more sinister and attach some danger and excitement to it. I can guarantee that people from all over the country, and the world, would flock here for the experience of a lifetime. The beauty of the region and the stunning views of the Barrier Reef used to thrill, but the population is not interested in such 'mundane' things these days. Fools they may be, but that's what's happening.

Meanwhile, back at the 'All the eggs in one basket' city formally known as Cairns, there needs to be real investment in this thing they bandy about so often. Diversity.

The Cultural Precinct is much maligned by the 'vocal minority' but the stark reality is that an investment of this scale in our city is long overdue. Spending the same money on bits and pieces throughout the area would not create anything worth noting at it's conclusion. The Precinct will employ the workers laid off by the collapse of our building industry. For a long time. The end result will be well used by large portions of the community. People are already lining up for sold out tickets to the Waifs, Billy Connolly, awards ceremonies, The Man in The Pinstripe Suit.....just to name a few from the past few months alone. A venue much bigger and a hell of a lot smarter will generate the same interest as the current facilities but have the capacity to hold them all! How can anyone deny that this will be a very useful part of our vision for the future?

The money is irrelevant. You can't keep stating that nobody is spending money in Cairns and the infrastructure is getting old, while businesses are failing...then baulk at a huge cash injection that will create jobs, industry and be well patronised. Diversity is the key.

Our arts community is large and the results speak for themselves. Using a decrepit old structure that seats only a few hundred in ugly surrounds they have consistently produced world class shows and performed the most beautiful music you are likely to hear anywhere in the world. Imagine what they could do with a facility this grand?

The building will also house a South Sea Islander exhibition space. This is a culture not explored much by locals but is right there on our doorstep. A space celebrating their history, beauty and future is a much needed and very welcome initiative from the Cairns Regional Council. Here comes that word again....diversity.

Then there is the final stage of development. Did someone say 'museum'? Really? But we have the tragic, tiny space in our city centre for that. It's small, yes. Nobody even knows it's there, yes. But it's got dedicated staff who work tirelessly to show the three people coming through daily the history of this region and of the people of Cairns. You know, the ones who made this town a city. Who grew the tourism industry and created the clever, artistic, progressive community we all know and love. Do they really need a bigger, better, more useful space to showcase this? Hell yes!

The museum is slatted to include a small theatre so that interested locals and tourists alike can watch old footage and documentaries on the early beginnings of our home. Worth it? Absolutely. And what do we call this initiative? Oh yeah, diversity.

Then there is the ecological side of our city. Having won awards in this area through accommodation sites, facilities such as Skyrail, the opening of Cattana Wetlands and sustainable Council practices, don't you think it's time we explored this further? What's wrong with injecting money into the future of this industry? We could design, develop and manufacture any number of ecological products with very little effort. Once again creating jobs, generating investment and creating a whole new focal point for Cairns. It's all about diversity.

With the current crisis in Japan highlighting the dangers of nuclear power, it's past time that our country spent real money on developing more sustainable and ecologically friendly power sources. In our region we have some of the brightest minds in this particular field and I am positive that with the future of our country as incentive (and funding) we could lure other bright sparks to us and create a think tank that could change the world.....and save it. If we spent the money on the manufacturing industry and it was viable and up and running, we could easily translate this from the 'think tank' to develop and manufacture the ideas coming from them, creating yet more jobs and perhaps ensuring future growth in our region.

There are many, many other ways we can diversify our region without having to change our way of life or who we are. The talk of moving Government Departments north to create another diverse option is a good one, but probably more suited to Townsville. They have the nuts and bolts in place and many industries that are not reliant on transient populations or international money chaos. Townsville diversified years ago and have proven that it works. You just have to make sure that the ideas you implement will work here. Not everything will.

The next thing on the agenda is the Community Consultation meeting to be held this coming Monday in the Council building at Spence Street from 10a.m. till 2p.m. If it's at all possible to attend I urge you to do so. Unfortunately at the moment, with the current consultation procedures being utilised by our Council....we have to go to them, they aren't coming anywhere near us. It's a shame but that's the reality.

Lets see where we are in 6 months time. Will we have chosen a design for our Precinct and be champing at the bit to get it started? Will we be announcing plans to open a centre for ingenuity somewhere in the region? Will we be starting to manufacture the first of many future ecological products that will change the way we live? Or......

Will we be ruing the lost opportunity to build a facility of world class standard while we sit in sticky seats at the Civic Theatre? Will we be despairing about the 200th business that has failed to make a profit and is announcing it's own 'fire sale' before liquidation? Will we be considering Nuclear Energy as a viable, sustainable method for powering our southern suburbs? Probably not the last one, at least I hope not.

What can we do to rebuild our city and to halt the constant collapse of all of our local business interests?.......Buy local......and DIVERSIFY!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bullying in our schools.

There is a child at school who hides every lunch break. In the toilets, behind the classroom, in the library....wherever invisibility can be found. This child could be 6, 10, 13 or 16. In fact, this child is found in every school, in almost every class.

There is another child who cowers in fear, every day at the same time, in the same place. Somewhere on the school grounds, this child is afraid and nobody is there to help.

Another child cries every night before bed. This child spends time catching up with friends online almost every day. This child has friends, is smart, has a great family and not a care in the world. Yet there they are, crying.

Then there is the child who is hurting themselves, on the outside. In places they want nobody to see, this child is bleeding. Careful not to show the painful scars to the world. This child is always sad, has no friends, doesn't see the beauty of the world and has much worse scars on the inside.

The one connection that these children have......is the bully.

The first child cops the taunts, the jeers and the sarcasm of an entire class. The first child is overweight, far too smart and 'different' from the others. The bully is popular, slim and exactly what all the others aspire to be. At home, the bully has been taught how to mock and belittle everything that is different from themselves. This is an ignorant bully.

The second child is being stalked. Every day at the same time a crowd gathers to watch this child get punched, kicked and humiliated. The crowd loves it. The bully loves it. During the day the bully stretches out a foot just to watch this child fall over. The anticipation of knowing that at the end of the day a real 'event' will occur is enough to keep the bully empowered, the crowd coming back and the child afraid. It's also enough to ensure that this won't stop. At least, not on it's own.

Next we meet the child being bullied by another who feels stronger and more powerful because of the disconnection to reality that the internet affords. They have not been taught how to interact online. They have not been shown the dangers of making an insidious and nasty comment in a place where everyone can see it. This bully has a friend and together they are being spiteful in cyberspace. The hurt the bullied child feels is invisible to them both and the tears remain unseen. This enables the bullies to continue to push and to cross the line, until the line is so blurry nobody can see it anymore.

The last child is being bullied by the worst kind of bully. This bully is an adult. Raising a child who is hurting on the outside and hurting on the inside, and it's all their fault. The bully is seen by the world as the quiet one. The one nobody really notices. The invisible one. The bully was once the first child. Hiding in the library from the taunts, the jeers and the laughter. Now the bullied is the bully. The powerless child has become an adult with too much control. Will anyone notice what is going on before it's too late?

Teachers are doing courses all of the time on how to understand childhood labels. They are now much better equipped to deal with children with ADD, ASD, ADHD, learning disorders, speech impediments, and the list goes on. While the teachers are learning all of this, bullies are running the schools.

Some are acting out right in front of authority but the schools are powerless. In the past two decades we have seen significant changes in the structure and workings of our schools in Australia. We have seen the teachers lose the cane, the ruler and the back of their own hand as disciplinary measures. Many will argue that this move was a good one, and I believe it was, but you can't take away one form of disipline without replacing it with another. It's a void that needs filling.

Perhaps something as simple as using exercise to wear the cheek out of them? The old fashioned 'run around the oval 20 times' trick? It's probably much more complicated than that but it needs an answer.

We have seen the child's feelings, social skills and emotional well-being become almost as important as their scholastic education. If we are looking more carefully at the child as an individual. If we are educating ourselves on the signs to look for when diagnosing a behavioural anomaly. Why are we not noticing which child is being bullied and which is the bully?

Or is the answer much more about the power of a school v's the rights of the student? A school has limited options when coping with children who bully. They can give the child detention, suspend them or expel them. It is often said that suspensions are handed out too freely and have little or no effect on the behaviour of any student.

When I went to school we had a guidance councillor. That person held a dual degree in education and psychology. I always felt that it would be better if two people had this job and one had the education aspect covered while the other dealt with the emotional bits. I still believe it would be better to separate the two. Education and the outcome of a good one is a purely scientific and unemotional topic. The inner workings of the mind, stresses and personal conflicts are about as far from emotionless as you can possibly get.

Primary School and Secondary School students should all have access to a Councillor on site. Every student should have a mandatory visit twice a year. This visit should be confidential and last approximately half an hour. Not a quick 10 minutes that will do nobody any favours. In the same way that we get our kids to the dentist and have medical check-ups yearly, the mind of our child should also get a regular 'check-up'. This process would help identify those who need further assistance. Whether they are the bully, the bullied (I refuse to call them victims) or a child who has another issue that needs addressing.

Step one is complete. You have found the child within the school who needs help. Now what? Suspend them? Expel them? That would make the school a much better environment until the next round of bullies moves in. But it would not make any real difference in the long run and just pass the problem off to another school that is just as ill-equipped to deal with it as you are.

The answer is simple, expensive and really, more of the same. Continue the counselling. For as long as it takes, as often as required and do not stop until it is accepted by all parties (parents, teachers and students) that the problem is resolved. Counsel the parents as well, and any other person that may be part of the solution.

This will fairly obviously not happen. There is already a lack of real funding for programs within schools and the chances of that changing right now are pretty slim. We will continue to roll out anti-bullying programs and make children watch videos on cyber-bullying but nobody will educate these children on what to do if you are being bullied, or even better, how to avoid bullying behaviour altogether.

Start by teaching children from age 11 how to use e-mail, SMS and Social Networking correctly. Not the trite method taught right now which basically consists of this message to parents. 'Do not allow your child to go on the Internet without you watching'.

Are they kidding? What teenager would like having an adult, even worse...their parents, watching over their shoulder while they say hello to their friends? Highly unlikely. Why can't they teach kids the real stuff? That sarcasm does not translate well in text? That sometimes it's better to just STOP writing and think some more about what you want to say? That it's not necessary to respond to a comment you don't like?

Teaching kids the etiquette of the Internet and technological gadgets is surely a necessary part of their education these days? Children as young as 7 are using devices to stay in touch so this needs to be started much earlier than high school. It's easier to learn than it is to unlearn.

Failing all of that, watch the problem escalate. Watch Australian kids reach the point where they are filming bashings, taunts, dangerous behaviour and sick rituals and placing them online for the whole world to see.......oh, wait, it's already happening. And that's what makes bullying these days so much worse than it already was. The next child who is filmed picking up a bully and throwing them on the ground after suffering abuse for half an hour may not enjoy the fact that they are splashed all over the internet, the TV networks and become the most talked about topic in public. The next child may decide that the best way to deal with all of the unwanted attention is to commit suicide....or homicide. That's why this problem needs addressing so urgently.

Parents...... As the only ones who currently have any control over our children's behaviour during any part of their day, it's up to you.

Teach your children that while much in the the world is there for the taking, it's necessary to give back, often. While the day may seem long and dark, tomorrow may be brighter, or at the very least, shorter. Compassion and empathy are not just words, they are essential parts of living well. If there is something that is hard to understand or is different from what you know, don't mock it, educate yourself. Being nice is not that hard and the consequences are much easier to live with. If there is something that is upsetting and needs to be dealt with, tell someone so that it CAN be dealt with...NOW. And lastly.....the best piece of advice my mum ever gave me.....'No matter what you do in your life, how silly you feel or how stupid your actions, I have either done it too, or have done something much worse than that. So never be afraid to tell me anything!'

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Edmonton Leisure Centre.

This blog has taken the longest to finish of all the blogs I have done thus far. The reasons for that will be explained as I go but rest assured, it's worth the wait. Especially if you live in the Bentley Park/ Edmonton area.

The Edmonton Leisure Centre is finally beginning! After months (if not years) of consultation, argument, funding arrangements and weather setbacks, the centre itself will begin it's building process any day now. This facility will be a fantastic one for all those living nearby as it will enable residents to attend a 'one stop shop' for most indoor sports, including swimming. Construction is due to be completed early in 2012 and if all goes according to plan it will open almost simultaneously with the GP Super Clinic nearby. As we all know, plans can go awry. The hope is that this one will stay on track and we will be swimming, playing, throwing, catching etc....before we know it.

The next stage of the development is the outdoor area. This part was last consulted on in 2007 and the needs for the area then were vastly different from what is now required. In the initial plans it was suggested that the facility hold an adult soccer field, two junior soccer fields, four hockey fields and an AFL field. As time has shown, this is no longer the optimum use for the area.

The space is large, the intent is there, my job this past week was to find out what was REALLY required for the residents of the south. Being a person who knows very little about sport, except that it costs money to participate, I needed to do huge amounts of research before I could make any suggestions. This entailed calling as many sporting organisations as possible with the intention of ascertaining the needs, wants and space requirements of those sports.

The end result goes something like this.

Hockey will need two of the proposed four fields. They are in the process of expanding the hockey space next to Tobruk Pool and this new area will meet almost all requirements for the sport in the short and medium term. Training of juniors would be the main use of any fields in the Leisure Centre area as this would negate the need for those children to travel so far after school on a regular basis.

AFL need none. Cazaly's own Fretwell Park and they are currently focussed on expanding that facility to make it more viable for players, staff and the community. This new facility will see an expansion of the restaurant, gaming rooms to almost twice it's current size and a facelift of the grounds is slatted as part of that process.

Rugby League is trying to get agreement from the State Government to give them/ loan them some land adjacent to Petersen Park which will be ample space for them to train and play. There is a petition currently circulating for this specific reason. There is no word yet regarding the site but the word is that the State will allow the sporting club to use the space and it's hoped that the decision will be made soon.

Cricket do not need more pitches. They currently occupy the park behind Fuller Sports and are negotiating with the State Government for a Grant which will let them build a clubhouse on the site, with amenities. The clubhouse will have an extra room attached that will house the RSL and they will share amenities, making this site very useful and an asset to the community. Once the Leisure Centre is build, the pools will be removed and the site will be large enough for any expansions of car park etc that may be required.

Soccer no longer requires the two junior fields but would be very pleased with one large adult sized field for playing and training on. This sport is growing at a fast pace and needs to be supported in terms of facilities in the short, medium and long term. Current facilities at Petersen Park need to be upgraded and the parking and amenities need to be expanded urgently. The State Government is looking into the issue and will shortly make a decision as to the scope of the refurbishments and upgrades.

Softball could not be contacted. I tried both numbers listed and attempted an e-mail but could get no response. In fact, one of the numbers was disconnected. That makes it difficult to make any judgements on their sporting requirements but the next group I contacted had plenty to say and the results may be good for softball too.

Baseball. Now, I contacted Cairns Baseball via mobile and the person who answered the phone was very enthusiastic. So enthusiastic that they put me on to the Regional Development Officer and he and I had a lengthy chat about the future of Dodgers Baseball and the requirements for a diamond. I have the exact specifications for fields but won't bore you with details. That information will be up to Ian Lowthe to ascertain and configure into the design. The basic thrust of the story is that a baseball diamond can be built in adult size with an Under 12 and an Under 14 diamond inside it. This would allow juniors to play and train during some afternoons and the adults to play and train at other times, making the one sporting field, very, very useful.

The added bonus is that Softball can be played on the same diamond. The junior size is the same size as a regulation adult Softball diamond and this means that essentially two sports can use it and several age groups can benefit. Sounds ideal to me.

I have probably left out some sports that will be deemed hugely important and receive responses asking why I did not include them in my research. As I mentioned before, sport is not really my thing.

According to the sports I have included, what is required for the site is a baseball diamond, two hockey fields, one large soccer field and the rest of the land could probably be used as extra parking, extra amenities (we all know that there are never enough toilets) and plenty of hills and stands to watch from.

The other thing worth noting is that three sports in our region are waiting on State Government approval before they can guarantee use of space for their needs. I urge all those involved in these sports to write to your MP and request this process be accelerated.

Take note CRC. Make the phone calls. You might actually get useful answers. I did.