Tag Archives: social policy

Order of Australia

This Australia Day, my Dad won an award! Even more – he was accepted as a member of the Order of Australia, which as far as I can make out is like Australia’s chillaxed version of the British knighthood.

“Sir Frederick and Lady Wentworth! It would be but a new creation, however, and I never think much of your new creations.”
– Mary Musgrove, Persuasion, Chapter 9

Haha! I had that quote in my head all day after I found out!

In all seriousness I am very proud of my Dad. I think I had the most memorable Australia Day celebrating with him, both at the local council ceremony where he was given his award for local citizenship, and at the big party my mum threw for him afterwards. My Dad works really hard, it was very special to see him recognised. He is going to have a great time when the Governor (General?) gives him whatever he gets to acknowledge his Order of Australia membership later in the year!

 photo Dadaward_zpsf40c9ecc.jpgThat’s my Dad, getting an award 🙂

The day was also memorable for opening up two new experiences for me:
1. My first ever citizenship ceremony.
2. My first party almost exclusively attended by agnostic and atheist 50+ year olds since I starting working in Christian ministry.

So, along with overwhelming feelings of pride in my Dad and sharing his joy, my head was also abuzz with 500 other thoughts:
– What does it mean to Australian when everyone is disagreeing over indigenous history and migration policy?
– How do Liberal party members manage to sing the second verse of the national anthem with any integrity?
– If I was making a bingo sheet to take to a future citizenship ceremonies and awards ceremonies, what politically contested buzz words would I include?
(my list so far includes: ‘contribution’, ‘celebration’, ‘invasion’, ‘survival’, ‘migrant’, ‘heritage’, ‘volunteer’, ‘founded in 1788′, ’50 000 years’.)
– What on earth is the deal with Baby Boomer spirituality? They all seem to be believe in some kind of weak-but-still-spiritual pluralism that I have never encountered in anyone outside of their age cohort. They also all seem to assume that everyone else thinks the same way they do.
– Will Baby Boomers ever understand that Gen Y and those coming after them will never be able to purchase homes close to the Sydney CBD?

Lots of things to chew over, lots of difficult questions. Maybe I’ll tackle the easy one first and work on my bingo list for next year.

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It is finished

Last Tuesday was World Food Day, and the third day of Anti-Poverty Week in Australia. It was also the day that Anglicare Australia launched their annual State of the Family report, which this year was focused on the food insecurity research that our team has been working on for over a year. It was finally published! So exciting!

PhotobucketThe report authors (minus Sally), with Senator Rachael Siewert (third from left), who launched the report.

The study was centered on a household food insecurity among low income households, who were sampled from clients accessing Anglicare services all around the country. We used a tool developed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The whole experience was incredibly eye-opening, it was very depressing at times and needed lots of hard work to publish it by the World Food Day deadline! I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be involved in this.

You can read the report if you like: it is available here. Volume 1 is mainly reflective essays from different Anglicare agencies; Volume 2 is our research report so download that one! If you are not up for reading the whole thing (it’s very long!) then chapters six through eight are the most interesting. They have the most direct quotes and stories from the clients who participated.

I’m hoping that this research raises awareness bout what poverty is like in Australia, but even more, I’m hoping that Christians especially sit up and pay attention. It would be wonderful if churches started responding as quickly as possible by considering how they can be welcoming places for people who struggle with household food insecurity. That would be much better than waiting for the government to do something.

“It affects everything. The school wants to know why the kids are hungry. You try and avoid as you can’t afford to feed them. It’s embarrassing. My kids have no shoes. He’s come home with black eyes ‘cos he’s the poor kid.”
Page 42

No-one in Australia Goes Hungry

This week I conducted food interviews at Summer Hill – lovely, local Summer Hill. EVen though only half my appointments turned up I had a pretty good time. Everyone I talked to was interesting and genuine. I loved most of all hearing about the local initiatives happening so close to where I live. There is apparently a caravan set up by the indigenous community in Marrickville offering free meals a couple of times a week. A lot of the supermarkets and fruit shops in the area helpfully lump all the discounted produce together so my participants knew that if they shopped in the right place at the right time they could get a pretty good selection of cheap fresh fruit and vegetables to cook up into soups and stews. One lady even talked about occasionally picking herbs from the new community garden and public herb and vegetable boxes which have been set up in Norton Plaza.

“You know it? The one in Leichhardt?”, she said.
“Yeah!” I couldn’t help blurting out. “I used to work there!”

I love the idea that Norton Plaza, even in all its attempts to be polished and cosmopolitan, has done something so wonderful for the community!

However despite the positive stories and coping strategies from my Summer Hill cohort, there were also terrible tales of woe. I had one woman burst into tears in the middle of the interview and another who, while calculating the number of days she had gone without eating a meal, excitedly remembered that today didn’t need to be counted: “wait – I get that voucher today! I’ll get a feed right after this!”. Most of them were skipping meals (or sometimes entire days of eating) and losing weight but they weren’t actually feeling hungry because they were so used to it.

After the final interview I headed across to visit Yiayia and Papou who are only a few blocks away from the new community centre. I was excited to visit while Papou was home and excited to spend some rest time with them after the draining interviews. It’s not actually what happened though. It was time to me to experience a whole other unexpected and draning aspect of the food surveys: the opinions of others.

“No.” said Yiayia, when she asked about work and I told her about what I’d been doing.
“I don’t believe it. No one in Australia goes hungry.”

I wasn’t really sure how to respond.

“You know what it is?” she continued. “It’s the pokies, the powerball. People waste their money. People are lazy.”

I had conclusive proof that she was wrong. But I was stunned, I still didn’t know what to say!

She followed with a tirade. People don’t know how to cook their own food. People eat junk. It costs $10 to get a sandwich at the cafe. People spoil their children. No one saves for a home. People are lazy with their money. Papou even chimed in to tell me about the overweight woman in the Ashfield food court who eats an enormous breakfast there every day.

Oh my goodness.

I know that she and Papou have been through much worse than many of the people I have interviewed. I mean Papou’s village was cut off by the Nazis in WWII and they basically only had what they could grow for a couple of years! And they both knew hard poverty from a young age and they grew up and worked menial jobs in Greece and Australia and they sacrificed so much to make sure that their children had food and an education and a home. And now they live on a pension and they still get by. But I also know that everyone is in a different situation and lots of people I have spoken to have had no control over the things that have led to their lack of food.

I tried talking about people who have to choose between expensive rented accommodation and going homeless. About single mums in “emergency housing” who indefinitely live in motels, without kitchens, until a department of housing place becomes available. About people who have high expenses for health conditions and disabilities. But she wouldn’t have a bar of it, and I couldn’t push her. What right have I to tell her what hardship and poverty is when I was brought up so comfortably by my own parents?

So I ended up at home yesterday with twice the usual angst. Not only was I carrying the stories from the participants, now I was burdened with the words from my Yiayia. Both her own tales of poverty AND her adamant denial of all the other stories I have been hearing. In her eyes there was no way they could be authentic. How could anyone in Australia, a country that gives out pensions, ever go hungry? After all, she and Papou get on fine. In her eyes, if it’s happening to anyone it’s because those people have brought in on themselves.

Now I have to work out how to hear and affirm her own story without letting her discount the stories I have heard from everyone else. It makes my heart tired.

Deserving Poor

I don’t feel comfortable using the antiquated phrase “the deserving poor” in my day to day work but it’s an interesting concept to toss around when reflecting on how welfare services work. If you spend time meditating on the phrase it doesn’t take long before you find yourself diving headlong into the power plays at work in welfare services. Who makes that decision about whether or not a person deserves to be a member of the “deserving poor”? Oh dear, it’s a squeamish term that we don’t like to use anymore but the power balance it represents is still secretly there in the minds of pretty much everyone: “Some people deserve to be helped (but others don’t – shh, don’t say that bit out loud!). I am confident in my own wisdom to judge where people sit on the scale of deserving.”

Today was my third day of interviewing for our research on food insecurity. I traded a day with my co-worker and covered her interviews at the community centre in Campbelltown. After finishing my load of four interviews I felt bleak and wanted to cry. The first three were stressful enough but the fourth left me feeling empty, standing along in the room after the participant left with my heart in my mouth and a headache.

No specifics of course, I think writing a public post detailing the experiences of participant number four will definitely breach confidentiality. All I will say is this: as the interview progressed and her story come out in bits and pieces I realised that the young woman in front of me could be me in only a few years. Her life had been so normal. And now it is so incredibly not normal. It’s actually incredibly awful. Deserving poor? I knew I shouldn’t be labelling anyone with such awful labels but I couldn’t help it!

At the end of the interview we hung around waiting for another worker to give her some extra food to take home. She asked me about the survey – how long was it going for and how was I finding it? This was a first. No other participant had ever asked me about the survey beyond their involvement.

“It’s interesting,” I said. “We’ve been going for a few weeks and we’ve been all around Sydney and the Illawarra”.

“Doesn’t it get draining? You must hear a lot of terrible stuff.”

I thought back to the other participants I had interviewed, mentally ticking them off and trying to work out how to answer the question without giving too much away.

“It’s interesting, and it does get draining sometimes. And you get surprised by what drains you. Sometimes people are in the worst situation but they are really resilient. Others are just at the bottom. It’s like your personality is almost as important as your budget for getting through the situation”.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “It makes a difference”.

Eventually her food parcel came and I went back into the interviewing room to pack up. I paused at the desk and the weight of what had just happened hit me like a wave. I had spent the whole interview struggling with my feelings. I’d tried all the time to listen openly and without judgement but I couldn’t help doing some very naughty things: firstly over-identifying with her and then flipping around and labelling her: she was “deserving poor”, deserving of anything and everything Anglicare can give her to help. And then she had turned around and offered me support and a listening ear – the potential for me to share the burden of all the stories I have taken on in these interviews. Who was holding the power? Who was providing the support? My heart was heavy with her story but now it was simultaneously freed and weighed down lower knowing that this woman is out there in the world, giving out of her poverty so to speak, looking out for the emotional wellbeing of others while she herself is on the brink.

I’m glad it was the last interview for the day. I got back in the car and hurtled back towards the city with Everybody Hurts by REM blaring on the stereo and garbled prayers in my mind. How do welfare workers do this every day?

Photobucket
Campbelltown referral brochures in the interview room

Prize

A couple of weeks ago, I won a prize on my friend Jeremy’s blog. I correctly identified that the new immigration minister, Chris Bowen, quoted Martin Luther in his maiden speech to parliament. To reward my awesome knowledge of quotable reformation quotes, Jez sent me a prize in the mail.

Prize

Elections

It’s election day tomorrow.

I’m incredibly terrified that the Liberal Party* is going to win.

So, I’m not intending this to be an open slagfest against the Liberal Party and their supporters. Most of my friends and family who are Liberal voters are voting that way because they really believe and support the traditional Liberal Party approach to the economy, to the market and to society. They know things about how Liberal policy works and they know things about how Labor policy work. They make an educated decision about who they think is better equipped to run the country.

The thing is that if Liberal win the election tomorrow, it won’t be because most of Australia has made an educated decision. Tony Abbott has not been basing his campaigning on classic Liberal policy. Of all of Tony Abbott’s campaigning, the loudest message that has come across is: “The Labor Government has let boat people in. We will stop the boats”. This campaigning has inflamed a really disgusting sentiment among people in Australia who don’t use their brain: that Australia is full, that asylum seekers are evil people who “jump the queue” and that they willl steal everyone’s jobs. Ugh.

And that’s not to say that Labor has had an awesome campaign. This has been the most negative, most depressing election campaign I have ever seen, on both sides – a race to the bottom.

But still, if Liberal wins and Tony Abbott becomes PM on Saturday, it will be shocking proof that Australia is a horribly racist country. I don’t think I will be able to handle it very well. The knowledge that there are some disgustingly racist Australians makes me sad. I don’t know what I’ll do if this groups turns out to be a majority.

*For overseas readers who are not up to scratch with Australian politics: The Liberal Party is, confusingly, the more conservative party.