Standing and being counted

I’ve been remiss not posting about the election (or anything), but I’ve also been reluctant to comment too early. While I’ve been waiting, it seems like everyone’s already said it, so this is more a reflection on the past week than brilliant political analysis. (Because I could have thought of it all myself, of course.)

I have a bit of a thing for full disclosure, so here’s my political background. It would be churlish of me to say too much about my family members’ political opinions, so let’s just say that I had more leftish influences than rightish ones while I was growing up, with a fair bit of socialism in the mix. I was not discouraged (much) from my (brief) involvement with Socialist Alternative. Protecting the environment was a no-brainer; it was just obvious that plundering was not the way to go, even before climate change became a mainstream concern. We talked about politics and current affairs, and I developed my own opinions about social justice and other issues along the way.

So that’s politics. Civics, conversely, was murkier. A 10-minute rundown on the Australian political system stuck in my mind because it was delivered by a teacher I admired; this probably stood me in better stead than many Australians. I’ve lived in safe seats all my life and have, in the past, rocked up with opinions but without doing much research. I’ve relied on reading the instructions carefully and how-to-vote cards to get me through.

If Wikipedia serves me correctly, I’ve voted in three state and four federal elections. (I was too young for Howard’s first election and the 1999 republic referendum.) Thinking back on them doesn’t yield much information. I know I tended to favour the Democrats in the Upper House and Labor in the Lower House, but my memories are vague at best. I can’t remember voting in Melbourne at all, but I must have done so at least twice.

This time, I voted below the line, armed with the how-to-vote card I’d made for myself with the help of I live in a safe Liberal seat so I spent more time thinking about the Senate, but I don’t think I’ll forget putting the Greens first in the Lower House (I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve done so, but the fact that I can’t remember doesn’t please me).¬† It was kind of (nerdily) cool to look at my electorate’s results on the Australian Electoral Commission’s Virtual Tally Room and think of one of those numbers in the primary votes as being mine.

Maybe the voting age is too low, but 10 years after I was first eligible to vote, I finally feel like I’ve really participated and known what I was doing and what it meant. Or maybe it’s Twitter that’s helped me get my head out of the sand (I’ve blogged about that already), or just having time to “read about it” while breastfeeding. Either way, I’ve somehow become many friends’ election expert, although I haven’t forgotten how little I really know.

Ultimately, though, I’ve had a change in mindset since the last election. A couple of years ago, I laughed at a friend who claimed that Australia collectively made some decisions about which way the country should go by voting Howard out. And I still don’t think that was really true. But in 2007, I was firmly convinced that my vote, at least, didn’t count or mean anything.

But now? I feel like things are maybe, maybe happening and changing and that I’ve had a part in it, albeit a minuscule part. I’ve felt it since Gillard took the helm and I’ll feel it until I’m sure we’re back in the status quo. But I’m hoping we won’t, because this is way more interesting (except for the whole waiting business).


In some countries, democracy is a sham because a totalitarian regime controls election outcomes. In Australia, it’s a sham because the two options that are (realistically) available don’t seem to have any actual policies. You know, the things that politicians are meant to have? With the same Greek/Latin etymology? Yeah, those.

Instead of hearing some decent ideas about how they might run the country, we get name-calling. Having a female prime minister just makes it worse because it’s reduced to:

Abbott: “Girls smell.”
Gillard: “No, boys smell.”

This isn’t politics, it’s reality TV, fuelled by the media that certainly at least partially orchestrated Rudd’s demise. Whose members the politicians know by name. It’s poll watching and worm watching and adjustments based on these. A popularity contest. It’s all about dog-whistles and wooing voters.

How did we get here? I think reality TV does have to do with it. (If only we could vote Tony Abbott off the island, or at least one of the Ste(ph/v)e(n)s (Conroy or Fielding, either one.) I think the collapse of the Australian Democrats has something to do with it to. (Natasha Stott Despoja, come back, I beg you!)

I hate our preferential voting system. It’s downright depressing that my vote must go to an MP who will form a majority for one of the two clowns who can possibly become the Prime Minister. All I can take comfort in is the Senate. I will be voting below the line, that’s all I can say.

The post that had to wait

Being antisocial by nature, I have a love-hate relationship with social networking. Actually, I think a lot of people do; there’s plenty to be annoyed about. So it was only natural that sooner or later, I’d write a post about it. Admittedly, I was at least partly inspired by Buzz Bissinger, in a reactionary kind of way; also by a friend who deleted her Facebook account.

But you have to get your timing right with these things. I wrote the first sentence of this post on Wednesday, somewhere between 7.30 and 8.00 pm. Then I got distracted. By Twitter. Specifically, by the #spill hashtag. Without thinking about it, I got swept up in the instantaneous updates about the swift changes to Australia’s leadership.

My husband commented that he was surprised at how involved I got, but the truth is that without Twitter, I would likely have gone to bed without knowing and woken up with a new Prime Minister. With Twitter (which is still quite new for me), I was able to watch it all unfold from speculation into something real. And comment in real time.

But it only took me so far, because at around 10pm I turned to the same medium that I always turn to when there’s a real emergency: radio. The radio was on when Rabin died, when 9/11 happened, even when there was a blackout in our area (on my mobile). And then, I turned to my least-liked medium, the television, and watched Rudd address the press.

It was interesting to be a minuscule part of what may be a historic change in our society, and I think I can say that I get Twitter better because of it. But most of my beefs with social networking remain. Many of them have been covered already by The Oatmeal (which is brilliant), among others.

To me, what they boil down to is that social networking most often magnifies what people always were. Interesting people are interesting on social networking sites; I like many of the links that people share and the witty one-liners that make the most of Twitter’s 140-character limit. But people who were annoying before now have a bigger platform upon which to annoy their cohort.

For instance. On Twitter, I was most recently staggered by the #amwriting hashtag. Oh, you’re writing a novel/screenplay/poem? Wonderful… but I don’t want to know about it until you’re done (and it’s published, but therein lies another story). You don’t get a gold star for being creative, especially not if you feel the need to stop and tweet about it. Just write the damn thing.

Which leads me to my other problem with social networks (is it ironic that I’m complaining about this on a blog? I think so), which is more a general internet thing. I’ve been online for about 12 years. First it was email, then IRC, then message boards, and now social networking. They all have the same problem: not only do they waste time, they seem to sap creativity. Mine, at least; I can’t speak for anyone who’s #amwriting (grammar cringe, I know).

Here’s my theory. I’ve got a certain number of words I can write per day. I’m not sure how many exactly, but I know I was prolific… once. But now, instead of being concentrated in one story, it’s diffused over all these ridiculous websites. So I’m currently quite jealous of my friend who deleted her Facebook. But I can’t do that, because I’m addicted. If you need me, I’ll just be out trying to find some discipline. BBL…

Time to grow up, Australia!

Rudd’s plummet in the polls is interesting from a psychological perspective, even though it’s obviously not over yet. And Ross Gittins’s article on the topic got me thinking that politics is disturbingly similar to parenthood. (It’s not the first time I’ve thought so; the idea often crosses my mind when considering Middle Eastern politics.)

Apparently, what we really want from our leader is a bit of tough love. Someone who’ll do the right thing for the country (and world, in the case of climate politics) even if it hurts us a little. And because Rudd hasn’t don’t that, he’s become less popular. Instead of telling us that we can’t have any more lollies, he’s allowing us to keep the jar.

Perhaps our whole model of politics is wrong. We don’t need one Prime Minister (or better yet, President); we need two: a soft one and a strict one. How many parents operate like this? As children, we want as much as a softer parent will allow us, but we know that the stricter one is right.

Adding a new political role goes against my tendencies towards libertarianism and anarchy, but if my other ideas about politics were taken up (becoming¬† republic, so we ditch the governor general; abolishing state government; dramatically reducing politicians’ paychecks and superannuation) it would more than balance out.

Jokes aside, it is kind of sad that we can’t have a political system based on the opinions of mature adults. Instead, when we’re not being cynically manipulated for a politician’s career, we’re disappointed because we’re not being babysat enough. Can we just grow up and get on with it already?

A simpler system. (Please?)

Health care in Australia is actually pretty good, compared to, say, Ethiopia. Still, there’s plenty of room for improvement. So I was interested in what would happen on 19 April, when COAG (the Council of Australian Governments) met to thrash out Rudd’s proposition to take over health care (currently divided between federal and state governments, the latter of which I personally believe should be abolished altogether).

I didn’t get my act together to comment on the results of the meeting earlier because I was busy with the aftermath of a hospital experience of my own — the birth of my second child. (I’ll get to birth politics in another post.) Since then, the Budget has yielded more health-related reforms to debate at dinner parties, but the agreement in April still holds my interest, and here’s why.

I’m generally a healthy person, so apart from a visit to emergency after spraining an ankle on a weekend, my main experience with the hospital system has been for natal (pre, peri and post) care. This was a fairly straightforward experience with my first child, at least in terms of continuity of care. With my second, however, things got a little complicated.

In retrospect, I didn’t help matters by choosing the “shared care” option of care. This meant that instead of taking the option of seeing the same midwife the whole pregnancy, I had most of my appointments with my general practitioner. This was more convenient for me and I like her, so it worked well until I was about 30 weeks’ pregnant and diagnosed with gestational diabetes. The midwife who broke the news to me slagged off my GP for not calling me to let me know (when actually she’d ordered the test so long before, I’d hardly expect her to be holding her breath for my borderline results).

And it all went downhill from there. I got a referral to an endocrinologist and a diabetes educator. I had to see an obstetrician to clear me to go back to shared care, and was transferred to a different obstetric team for that appointment, so that the appointment could be on the same day as the endocrinologist appointment.

Initially these changes, like the dietary changes and finger prick blood tests, were more of an inconvenience than anything else. But at 38 weeks, with work deadlines competing with my due date, I decided to skip my last endocrinologist appointment. I was meant to make a midwife appointment while I was there, but I figured I could see the GP instead. She was happy to give me a check-up but said that I really should be having my appointments at the hospital at that stage.

But we were both puzzled about who I should be seeing. The obstetricians had cleared me to go back to the GP but I’d been taken off my previous team, so I had no midwife to look after me. She called the shared care liaison officer and got a voicemail message. In desperation I tried to contact the diabetes educator and finally got lucky — another midwife, Fiona, answered the phone and squeezed me into her schedule. I made it to one appointment with her before my son was born.

The point of this story is that health care in this country is too complex, even for someone who’s fairly health literate. Communication between health professionals is poor. Outside of set appointment times, patients’ access to health professionals is pretty much non-existent. Fiona mentioned that the hospital was moving away from group midwifery (where women have one midwife looking after them for pregnancy and birth, which is obviously excellent) and more towards shared care — because the hospital was broke.

If this goes ahead, it will leave more women bewildered about where they fit in the system. When I worked as a medical receptionist, patients would often call to request a home visit when they really needed to have called an ambulance five minutes previously. Patients hold up GPs and even orthopaedic surgeons with their life stories, often (I think) because they genuinely don’t know who they really should turn to.

So when a government meeting promises to “[help] patients receive more seamless care across sectors of the health system”, all I can say is YES PLEASE. Whatever other criticisms can be levelled at Rudd and the current government, if they can actually achieve simplicity in health care, I’ll be impressed.