Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Grey power needs to organise

By Graham Cooke

The call by the Council on the Ageing for a Minister for Older Australians to be part of the next Government deserves support. This is a segment of the population that is increasing in size and, potentially, influence and ought to be given due recognition.

We already have a Minister for Early Childhood and for Youth. There is a Minister for the Status of Women and for Indigenous Australians. It is true that Justine Elliot holds the non-Cabinet position of Minister for Ageing, but her portfolio is wrapped up in health and biased towards aged care rather than the broad spectrum of issues that concern the over 55s.

Ageism is the last of the 'isms' to be properly addressed in Australia. Legislation exists, but it is weak and largely ignored. It has also failed to keep pace with the ambitions and aspirations of older people.

Today's seniors are healthier and more active than at any time in history. An Australian reaching the age of 55 in 2010 can, on average, look forward to another 25 years of life. For many it is much longer than that.

So it is no wonder that many people do not want to spend this length of time sitting on the porch or playing golf, yet outlets - especially in continuing employment - are significantly limited compared to any other age group.

COTA says a Minister for Older Australians should have Cabinet clout and be responsible for reviewing all current legislation that might have inbuilt discrimination against seniors. That would be an excellent beginning.

However, there is one theory going the rounds as to why both sides of politics can ignore the demands of their older voters.

It is that by the time they reach their 50s people have locked into support for a particular party and rarely change, meaning the concentration must be on the swinging voters in the 18-to-34 age group where elections are won and lost.

This is a view put forward by the highly respected Chief Executive of Newspoll, Martin O'Shannassy, so it should be given some weight. In which case it is high time older Australians began to organise themselves around the issues rather than simply following long-standing emotional attachments.

Politics today has become as brutal and back-stabbing as it was during the schemes and plots of Regency England, and if the views of Australia's older citizens are not to be trampled in the day-to-day rucks and mauls they had better organise themselves and learn how to play the game.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Top cop has every right to speak

By Graham Cooke

What on earth was all the fuss about Victorian Chief Police Commissioner Simon Overland giving a speech at the school his son attended?

Commissioner Overland's planned address to a $100-a-head fund-raising night for the private Xavier College gave the Herald Sun apoplexy, with a front page lead story continued inside the newspaper and a leading article condemning his actions.

The newspaper was outraged at the fact the Police Commissioner was favouring his son's alma mater and demanded to know whether he would perform the same service for other, less privileged educational establishments.

What a ridiculous beat-up. Of course Xavier College has the right to ask a prominent citizen who has a significant link with it to assist in its fund-raising. It happens the world over and is a perfectly acceptable practice.

Certainly it was an expensive night out for those who attended, but that is the nature of fund raising. Presumably Xavier College knows its constituency and what that constituency can afford.

Whether Commissioner Overland would do the same for other schools is irrelevant and he was quite within his rights to refuse to answer that question.

The Herald Sun quoted Victorian Council of School Organisations President, Nicholas Abbey as saying it was "unfair the way some schools were able to raise more money than other schools".

Well Mr Abbey, life isn't always fair and schools without the resources to hold $100 dinners can always find other ways of raising smaller amounts more frequently through sausage sizzles, fetes and so on.

Much more sensible was the quote buried at the end of the article from the President of Schools Victoria, Elaine Crowley who said that she "did not find it unreasonable that [Commissioner Overland] is going to speak there given his child went there".

If this article discourages other prominent citizens from lending their name to school fund-raising activities, the Herald Sun will have done education in Victoria a grave disservice.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Gillard caves in to reactionaries

By Graham Cooke

The Australian Labor Government's new policy on asylum seekers is a bitter disappointment.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has caved in to reactionary forces and produced a position that is little different from what existed under the previous Howard Government.

Instead of the Pacific Solution we have the Timor Sea Solution.

It is to be hoped that the proposal will be roundly rejected by the Government of East Timor and that it will not give in to the financial inducements that will inevitably be offered to allow a 'Regional Processing Facility' to be set up on its soil.

In a prime example of the spin employed by governments of all persuasions these days that Gillard has attempted to dress up this objectionable plan as a way of halting the people smuggling trade, while trying to hide it behind the announcement that processing will begin again on asylum seekers from Sri Lanka.

The Coalition and Labor are now engaged in a disreputable race to the bottom, with eyes firmly fixed on how their pronouncements play out in the opinion polls. The concept that governments provide leadership on the important issues of the day is dead.

The sad fact is that this is really a non-issue. As the prominent lawyer, Julian Burnside, has pointed out, even at the current rate of arrivals, it would take 20 years to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground with boat people.

The problems existing in some of the outer suburbs of our major cities are real, but they are caused by poor planning and incompetent local authorities, not by asylum seekers arriving by boat.

We are entering a new and dangerous era in Australian politics where opinion polls and the pronouncements of populist media shock jocks form government policy and, therefore, the way we live our lives.

A not so brave new world.