Category Archives: social change

Our world in transition

Petra White wrote this evocative poem, published in The Age on Saturday October 11

A History of the Siege


Dark days are here.

Nothing can stop them,

they crowd like hair around the temples,

everyone knows

and now we can say, at last, it is dark.

On Manus, they are walking along fine edges of themselves,

under a borrowed moon, a borrowed sun.

Nobody follows them, they would lead

only to an end of the world.

When was it darker than this?

Oh it was darker.

And the darkness is genuine,

our fingers have been dipped in it, it is felt

by all who would feel.

Where does it come from?

Us, in our masses, the massing cloud?

Our politicians, they who balance us

in their thready hands, and then plunge portions

of us and them into the pit?

Up there, a human form lies over the land.


I really appreciate this poem; it speaks of our world today.

Our dark times was the subject of a recent article by Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, in which he wrote: 

We appear to have reached one of those extraordinary moments in history when people everywhere, communities and even entire nations, feel increasingly stressed and vulnerable. The same may be said of the planet as a whole.


Last night I attended the second of Joseph Camilleri’s  public lectures called Rethinking the Future. His topic:  Coping with Risk and Uncertainty: Volatile Markets, Anxious States and Tentative Social Movements. He described our world as one in transition where people, goods & services, capital, technology, arms, information, images, carbon emissions, and viruses move across borders at ever increasing scale, speed & intensity. Such rapid transition, he claimed creates certain risks and stresses experienced by people, communities and the planet. We’re familiar with the stresses and we also understand that these will only get worse.

But what was really disconcerting was his assessment of our governments’ abilities to handle the many crises facing us – describing this as very limited. You can give up any hope that those in power will come to their senses and govern ethically with concern for the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants. For they are accustomed to finding themselves trapped between competing pressures and maintain the tendency to overstate certain dangers and understate others. For example: The Australian government’s overreaction to refugees and on the other hand its understating of the need to act on climate change. We witness this happening of course but it is good to have it explained, and more debate and discussion on this state of affairs can only be a good thing.

So where is any change or agitation to come from? During the lecture we were reminded of the wonderful social movements that graced our lives in the 1960s and 70s: feminism, student activism, gay liberation, civil rights, peace activism, and environmentalism.  Such movements:

  • politicised technological change
  • called into question the legitimacy of the state, its decision making processes, and in particular its inability to manage risks to life, health, security and identity
  • insisted on bringing ethical considerations into bureaucratic and technical discourse
  • Expressed a new conception of space & time

These social movements are still in existence but are less visible and less active. They are unlikely to gather sufficient numbers to force change.

Joseph Camilleri concluded rather optimistically that though the future will be difficult, all is not lost; dynamic knowledge remains, our technical skills enable greater transparency and accountability, and there is increasing disenchantment with politics and business as usual.

This is a good sign although disconcerting as unrest is sure to ensue as the public sector shrinks and with it diminished access to public health, housing, and a healthy, happy environment.

Bring on the revolution!








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Constancy and tranquillity are trashed in our market-driven world

Are you sick of this market-driven world? You should be, writes George Monbiot.

These words speak to those of us who feel at odds with life.

I live across the road from a new housing development, the creation of which has disrupted my tranquil mornings, my peaceful days, and heightened my angst with ‘the self serving con of neoliberalism’ that Monbiot claims has eroded the human values the market was supposed to emancipate’. The 300 new dwellings have no gardens to speak of  and are cluttered so closely together that any semblance of privacy will be nigh impossible. Human values and common courtesy have no place in the rush to transform this once quiet green neighbourhood. Both young and mature gum trees have been sacrificed to this altar of greed where  bulldozers and excavators fire up at 7 and don’t stop until tea time. But it will be all worth it in the end, won’t it? Mass produced, shoddy dwellings for 1100 more residents – whatever it takes!

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On my nature strip I have a large tree – a constant feature and the provider of ample shade in the hot summer  months. Without consulting me, the construction company dug a deep hole  around the tree exposing its roots in order to access infrastructure. Calls to the company resulted in mere excuses that the work is delayed and the backfill of the tree is not imminent. Although the council arborist has assured me the tree will not suffer, I am not so sure and have taken photos of the tree in its splendour and again in its present state- with its roots dangerously exposed. Constancy and tranquillity are trashed in our market-driven world and as a result I am at odds with the world and not ashamed to say it.

My angst is common, for it is now recognised that we are witnessing a time in history when individuals, communities and countries are becoming increasingly stressed and vulnerable.  Writing for The Conversation Professor Joseph Camillleri  asks:  Is a vulnerable world teetering on the edge of a new Dark Age? And how do we explain the long list of financial, environmental and humanitarian emergencies, epidemics, small and larger conflicts, genocides, war crimes, terrorist attacks and military interventions? Why does the international community seem powerless to prevent any of this?

He explains that a new cold war is in the making amidst our costly military interventions in the middle east . But our unease about endless wars and the future of humanity are not shared by those whose dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism. Many seek to do very nicely out of our intervention in Iraq once again. Stock prices for Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman set all-time record highs last week as it became increasingly clear that President Obama was committed to a massive, sustained air war in Iraq and Syria. In fact, It’s nothing short of a windfall for these and other huge defense contractors, who’ve been getting itchy about federal budget pressures that threatened to slow the rate of increase in military spending.

Monbiot reminds us that : The market was meant to emancipate us, offering autonomy and freedom. Instead it has delivered atomisation and loneliness. I don’t envy my new neighbours who are buying into the housing development and taking out huge mortgages they can ill afford. Screen shot 2014-10-01 at 6.15.12 PMTheir massive houses are surrounded by concrete, they have no cooling gardens. There will be little time to walk in the park , most will spend the best years of their lives working at meaningless jobs that do little to foster humanity. It’s no wonder so many of us feel at odds with the world.

Monbiot offers reassurance as he writes:

So, if you don’t fit in, if you feel at odds with the world, if your identity is troubled and frayed, if you feel lost and ashamed – it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud.





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Surrogacy-male violence against poor women

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On ABC TV’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’ program July 8, reporter Jane Cowan took a critical look at commercial surrogacy. The Last Resort was filmed in Cancun, Mexico where poor women, often from rural villages come to the popular tourist city hoping to become surrogate mothers. In Mexico successful surrogates are paid up to $13,000 for the delivery of a child to desperate infertile western couples.

The business of surrogacy takes place at Planet Hospital, run by ‘rogue operator’ Rudi Ruprak, a former software developer. Now I would have thought that anyone running a surrogacy business would have to be medically trained but this is not how it happens at least here in Mexico, and in India and Panama where Ruprak has operated and left failed surrogacy ventures.

A former employee-turned patient claimed that Ruprak targets gay couples and single people who due to India’s new surrogacy laws find it difficult to access surrogacy there. In Cancun, Planet Hospital draws its surrogates from poor women, often those escaping male violence, women essentially alone and vulnerable. One of the women featured on the program dreamt of becoming a surrogate so as to earn enough to set up a business enabling her to support her extended family. Sadly her hopes were never realised. When she miscarried at four months, Planet Hospital had already closed its doors leaving the former surrogate penniless and alone in Mexico. She mourns the loss of the child saying :’We also have feelings’. And the gay man who spent $22,500 on embryos could not even access them because as the business went belly-up his embryos were locked away and only accessible should he agree to pay off some of the failed companies’ debts.

I think that this was a powerful program and one that concentrated on the lack of regulations that exist in the industry. There was not a lot of emphasis on the abuses that the women are subjected to, such as the physical effects of the surrogacy and its accompanying treatments, the deprivation of a normal life for the nine months when the women are essentially locked up and kept apart from family and friends. And then if they make it to the end of the pregnancy, once they give birth, they are separated forever from the child. This is abuse and exploitation of women and especially of the poorest, most vulnerable of women who have little job prospects and need this money to improve their families’ lives.

This program makes us think: Does everyone have to have a child? Because this is an industry that only exists because increasingly society seems to believe that everyone is  owed a child while in reality there are plenty of unfortunate children who need the love and attention of rich, childless people.

Screen shot 2014-07-12 at 5.49.51 PMKajsa Ekis Ekman, author of ‘Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self’ claims that surrogacy is ‘child trafficking’. She refers to the industry as a ‘capitalist creation story’ where the parent is the one who pays and the product is a baby. Ekman is to speak at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House in August. The organisers of the festival have labelled her talk with the provocative title: Surrogacy is child trafficking. Kajsa’s presentation is sure to get the attention it deserves!


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Work until we all drop!

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“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” declared Bette Davis, once upon a time. I would have to agree with the first lady of the American screen about the formidable rigors of ageing. This final stage of the human condition is to become even more uncomfortable as the demands for baby boomers and their offspring to extend their working lives, increase. The age of retirement is predicted to rise to 70 years. Continue reading

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Australian politicians to study the Nordic model of prostitution

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The news that a group of Australian politicians will spend three weeks in France, Sweden and South Korea  studying prostitution law reform is most welcome. ACT Liberal MLAs Giulia Jones and Vicki Dunne will be joined by West Australian state Liberal backbencher Peter Abetz and Victorian Labor state member Christine Campbell. Continue reading

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Every gun is a theft from those who hunger

Screen shot 2013-10-12 at 5.38.36 PMAbigail Bray is the author of Misogyny Re-loaded. Recently I spoke with her about her explosive manifesto where she links the present era of sexual sadism to the rise of an authoritarian militarised violence.  Continue reading

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A rethink on ageing and work

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As business woman and journalist Ita Buttrose stepped down from her position as Australian of the year 2013, she urged people and business to support older Australians in the fight against age discrimination.

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Premier Denis Napthine has reignited the debate over women’s reproductive rights

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Common sense should dictate that the issue of abortion be left to pregnant women to decide. But when the history of women’s fight for the right to abortion is considered, it’s no wonder it’s still firmly in the hands of wheeling and dealing politicians.

In the state of Victoria, abortion has made the headlines for the last two weeks with the Independent and balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw  plotting the removal of a section of the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Act which makes it mandatory for doctors who are conscientious objectors to abortion, to provide a referral to another medical practitioner without an objection, thus giving the woman a chance to see another doctor who can help her with her decision.

In 2008 The Victorian Parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Act which allows for a registered medical practitioner to perform an abortion on a woman who is not more than 24 weeks pregnant and allows for termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks only if the medical practitioner believes that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances; and that she has consulted at least one other registered medical practitioner who also reasonably believes that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances.

But it’s Section 8 of the act that Independent MP Geoff Shaw and several other Coalition and Labor MPs do not support and it deals with the situation where a woman requests an abortion and the doctor has a conscientious objection to abortion. In this case the practitioner must refer the woman to another registered practitioner whom the referring doctor knows does not have a conscientious objection to abortion. The other provision in contention is the allowance of terminations up to 24 weeks’ gestation.

The Premier Denis Napthine was one of the 32 MPs who voted against the decriminalisation of abortion in 2008, mainly because he did not agree with these two most controversial provisions. And in an article in The Age last week, Mr Napthine was reported to have said: ”My personal view was that 18 or 20 weeks would have been a better number, but I respect that was a decision of the Parliament.” So five years after the decriminalisation of abortion law in Victoria we have the Premier Napthine, not so respecting of the parliament and saying that he would consider any attempt by balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw to overhaul the state’s abortion laws.

Such a move by the Catholic, Dr Napthine is both personally and politically motivated as the Coalition government needs the support of the balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw. According to the Opposition leader Daniel Andrews: ”Denis Napthine will do anything and everything in a grubby deal with the independent member Geoff Shaw to hang on to the premiership and to hang on to government. ”Regardless of your view [on abortion] this should not be the subject of a secret backroom deal,” he said.

Abortion should not be a plaything for politicians hungry to hang on to power.

Screen shot 2013-12-08 at 6.57.24 PMIn today’s Sunday Age Dr Jo Wainer, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University faculty of medicine, nursing and the widow of abortion campaigner Dr Bertram Wainer, wrote about the long, dangerous and difficult campaign  undertaken by Bertram to change public awareness, to ensure women who needed to end a pregnancy could do so with safety, dignity and affordable care. Jo Wainer concludes her opinion piece:

Section 8 requires health professionals, including doctors who preference the wellbeing of the foetus over that of the woman, to tell her so and give her information about another doctor she can see who will treat her as a person capable of making her own morally sound decisions. It is a small thing to ask.

But it is no small thing to those who seek to overturn the contentious sections of the 2008 Act of Parliament. I don’t have a real problem with anyone having an abortion – women have a right to choose whether to mother or not and there are plenty of reasons that this may not be in the best interests of the mother, or the child she may bring in to the world. Motherhood can be hard, constant and never-ending. Single mothers have a very hard time with pensions a thing of the past, and society largely prejudiced against them.

But where there is a real problem is with late-term abortions.  One very public example of this occurred in January 2000, when a 40-year-old woman was referred to the Royal Women’s Hospital by her general practitioner. The woman had been told that her 31-week-old fetus might have skeletal dysplasia (dwarfism). Arriving at the emergency department in a state of great agitation she threatened suicide and demanded that her pregnancy be terminated. The abortion was subsequently carried out with the woman delivering a baby girl with dwarfism.

This was an awful case. Today people with dwarfism are to be found in all areas of life. They are parents, teachers, engineers, musicians and social workers. As I was thinking about this case of late-term abortion, I remember reading Defiant Birth : Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics by Melinda Tankard Reist.

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In Defiant Birth, the author tells the stories of women who were told they shouldn’t go ahead and give birth to their babies because of a perceived disability or imperfection. These brave women went ahead and had their children anyway, many of whom died shortly after birth. But they were born in the belief that the life they shared, even for a short while, was worth it.

Abortion is complex but made more so by politicians and lawyers, when really it should be up to a woman and her doctor. But with most issues in the world today, simple resolutions to problems don’t seem possible anymore.


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‘The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka’ by Claire Wright – a review

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 8.57.20 PMThis post is timely for it is now 159 years since the famous uprising known as the Eureka Stockade. The story of the massacre in Ballarat on December 3, 1854 after police and soldiers broke the miner’s stronghold  is one of Australia’s great stories, but according to Claire Wright, author of The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, the story we learned as children neglected half of the participants-the women. Continue reading

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The high price of power

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Borgen is a gripping TV drama series where 40 year-old politician Birgitte Nyborg becomes Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. The production is packed full of political intrigues and deals but it’s the effect that her new powerful position has on her  home life and her relationship, that grabs my undivided attention.

I bought the box set of the first season and watched an episode every night. In the early scenes, I was delighted to watch a happy and playful Birgitte and her husband Philip, parents to their two children- and all of them apparently comfortable with Birgitte’s surprise ascension to power. But although I enjoyed the friendly domesticity, I had to wonder how long it would last.

Philip is a lecturer and each night after work  he tackles the domestic chores, tends to the needs of his children and the challenges of their school activities and home work. Philip jokes about having sex with the new Prime Minister but this rarely happens as Nyborg is forever late home or called in to settle some political deal or other. Through each densely drama-packed episode I remained cautiously optimistic that Philip would prove to be mature; a man who could bask in the success of his wife, and not become sullen and needy and childishly seek attention elsewhere. However, well before the end of the first season, it was clear that my optimism had little basis and the foundations of the happy home were fast crumbling away,

After too many long evening hours alone with his children, and his son who was now bed wetting and clearly missing his mother, it was clear that the idyllic relationship was not going to last. By the end of season one, Philip was heavily engrossed in an affair and the divorce papers were waiting for the unhappy Prime Minister to sign.

However, I did not find this separation and impending divorce convincing. Would a couple who were seen as so delightfully together in the earlier episodes  really have been driven to divorce? Why couldn’t they get someone to help with the domestic chores if that was the problem. But then it wasn’t just the domestic workload that was the issue. Philip couldn’t cope with his wife’s success and like most men he really needed a wife to mother him as well as his children.

As I watched the disintegration of their relationship I had to wonder how a man could leave such an attractive, clever and highly successful woman with whom he had two much-loved children, for a younger woman. But then the new model will no doubt make a fuss of him; she’ll laugh at his jokes, she’ll boost his flailing ego and she’ll mother him.  This  is what the morose, and formerly capable and dependable Philip needs and sadly what most men expect and demand. But I am still surprised and rather disappointed for I was hoping for a better outcome. As the second series plays, poor Birgitte, beautiful and powerful though she may be, is desperately unhappy as Philip and his new love and the children spend quality time together.

I continue to be gripped by season two, now shown on SBS on Wednesdays at 9.30 pm. I’m sure there will be better times for Birgitte, but I would have liked to have seen her partner able to support her in her new life. But let’s face it – few men are up to this task.

And of course his desertion for another woman meant for more drama on which such a program depends.

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