People without lists are listless

Bob’s list: “Sorry dear, there was no kale (or cabbage).”

Someone (possibly one of my lecturers), once said: ‘People without lists are listless’ – perhaps an observation on my then lack of motivation.

Decades later, I went in search of the origins of this quote and came up empty, although there are many other pithy quotes about the universal ‘to-do’ list.

Author Mary Roach, who has many opinions about lists, says that by making a list of things to be done, she loses “that vague, nagging sense that there are an overwhelming number of things to be done, all of which are on the brink of being forgotten”.

Alan Cohen, author of 24 popular inspirational books says “The only thing more important than your to-do list is your to-be list. The only thing more important than your to-be list is to be”.

I’ve been enslaved to The List since realising, as I tackled university at the ripe old age of 30, that if I wasn’t organised, it would not happen.

I‘d read a few time management books, back in the days when I aspired to be a supermarket manager, but later, embarking upon a three-year Arts degree, I made up my own system. This included hand-written term calendars posted on big sheets of butchers’ paper on the study wall. I had a diary with all lectures, tutorials and assignment deadlines colour-coded and a daily to-do list. The chief instrument of production was a huge old Olympia typewriter I bought from a Toowoomba police office sale. I decorated a large pin board with cartoons and illustrations which had something to say about productivity.

My thoughts on list-making were sharpened on a week-long trek to Gympie’s Heart of Gold film festival, followed by a spot of whale-watching. We have three one-page spreadsheets on which we tick off items every time we pack the caravan for a trip.

For reasons not easily explained, we departed from this time-honoured system and subsequently left home without a dozen items, including bath towels, phone charger, camera charger, SD card (from the camera), video camera (whale-watching, right?), a bottle of olive oil, my favourite pillow, oatmeal soap and a water bottle. Replacing the last two items was a cinch and we bought two towels from a discount department store (wash before using, the label hopefully said). The moral is, if you keep lists, actually look at them.

The three most common types of lists are (1) shopping (2) domestic chores and (3) motivational.

Motivational types will tell you it is not the items on your to-do list that matter, it is the prioritisation. People in general, but mild-mannered, non-assertive people most of all, consistently leave the most urgent and stress-inducing items for last. (Crikey, Mavis, we must talk to Jimmy (16) about his marijuana breath).

Since computers, tablets and smart phones became commonplace in homes and workplaces, the list story has taken precedence. The majority are ‘click bait’, which means whoever invented the list is getting paid for every click that takes you to an ad-festooned page. The worst of these show only one item per page, forcing you to click through if you really want to read about the 10 most successful bandy-legged men.

Some lists are, well, just way over the top. Like the one Franky’s Dad found, a list of the top 34,000 albums of all time. No, M, you don’t have time for this!

Journalist and bloggers have found that the quickest way to write a compulsive article is to turn your topic into a 10-point list. If you write a couple of paragraphs about each item you’ll quickly get to your deadline.

Lists pop up on social media all the time – ten ways to tame a wombat, 25 things you never knew about armpit hair, the top 17 crazy tattoos and so on.

Trivia aside, the shabby state of leadership and lack of sensible policy in this country suggests we all make a short list of important issues about which we feel outraged.

If you come up with more than three major items involving bad policy, prevarication, procrastination or short-term-ism, we need a change of government.

1/ #KidsoffNauru: This has become such a crisis doctors are signing an open letter to the PM; a coalition of humanitarian organisations have given the Federal Government a deadline to get 80 kids (and their parents) off Nauru. About a third of the child refugees left on Nauru are showing signs of Traumatic Withdrawal Syndrome. It is no longer OK to say it is a matter for the Nauruan government and its contractors. Whether these children are brought to Australia by November 20 or not, this has been an appalling outcome of the Federal Government’s refugee policy and should be judged so at the ballot box.

2/ Climate Change: A panel of 91 scientists has definitively told countries what they need to do by mid-century to avert the worst effects of global warming. Our Federal Government’s response to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (which recommends phasing out coal power by 2050), was predictable. Deputy PM Michael McCormack (who may one day rue uttering these words), claimed that renewable energy could not replace baseload coal power. He said Australia should “absolutely” continue to use and exploit its coal reserves, despite the IPCC’s dire warnings the world has just 12 years to avoid climate change catastrophe. The Guardian quoted Mr McCormack as also saying that the government would not change policy “just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do”.

3/ Homelessness and the cost of housing: You might dimly recall Bob Hawke’s rash promise in 1987 that no Australian child would live in poverty by 1990. Three decades later the goal is as unattainable now as it was then. Even when you take into account that Hawke mis-spoke (the script said no Australian child need live in poverty), it was an empty promise. Nine prime ministers later, close to 731,000 Australian children are living in poverty.

The official homeless figure at the 2016 Census was 116,000, with about 7% (about 8,000 people) said to be ‘sleeping rough’, defined as on the street, on a park bench, under bridges and overpasses, in their cars or in makeshift shelters. These statistics damn all sides of politics, worsening through a period in which there has been no meaningful increase in unemployment benefits or disability pensions.

Meanwhile, property investors continue to borrow money and claim expenses (notably interest payments) against rental income. In 2014-2015, 1.27 million property investors (12% of taxpayers), reduced their personal income tax through negative gearing. No government has yet had the guts to scrap negative gearing or change it in any way.

Economist Greg Jericho analysed a huge Tax Office data dump to glean a few insights – most importantly, 27% of taxpayers claiming on rental properties are in the $80k to $180k tax bracket (and another 8% earn more than that). Furthermore, just over 3% of taxpayers own six or more rental properties. The proportion that own more than one house has been on the increase in recent years.

It’s all too easy to raise other concerns, such as: Adani, Great Barrier Reef, Fracking, the threat to job security for gay teachers and even the Opera House furore (smokescreen that it is).

(Wow, that sure puts my forgetting the towels into perspective. Ed)

 

Odd socks stamp out mental health stigma

mental-health
Odd socks for mental health, photo supplied by www.grow.org.au

My choice to wear a matchless pair of socks today was a deliberate tribute to Mental Health Week. Odd Socks Day is just one of the many events sponsored through October to remind us that one in five Australians suffer a mental health disorder in any 12-month period.

I’d never heard of Odd Socks Day, but spotted a flyer in a café somewhere and tucked it away for future reference. It’s a national anti-stigma mental health campaign now in its fourth year, using odd socks as a metaphor that anyone can have an off day.

Despite the fact that the majority of people visiting GPs are consulting them about mental health or psychological issues, those with physical ailments are not confronted with the same level of discrimination, stigma and social shame.

Young people are particularly vulnerable to stigma. Research in 2016 uncovered some alarming facts about stigma and what an obstacle it is to people trying to recover from a mental illness. Headspace found that 26% of young people aged 12-25 would not tell anyone if they had a mental health problem and 22% would be unlikely/very unlikely to discuss it with their family doctor.

Fifty-two percent of young people (12-25) identified with having a mental health problem would be embarrassed to discuss the problem with anyone and 49% would be afraid of what others think.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recently found that 62% of people (via the traditional 10-minute consultation), were seeking support for mental health disorders.

The most common mental health ailments likely to afflict people are depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Sadly, many people struggling with depression use drugs and/or alcohol to self-medicate, often with negative results.

In my former work life, the notion of taking a ‘mental health day’ was anathema to your average hard-bitten journalist, for whom the deadline reigns supreme. But in recent years the previously taboo subjects of depression and suicide are now being freely publicised and debated. The hidden cost of not properly dealing with workplace mental health problems is now an $11 billion problem for Australian commerce. There is now an argument that $1 spent on mental health services equates to a ROI (return on investment) of $2.30. So why aren’t we spending?

If there is one indicator to show how stigma and mental health ratio is shifting, it is the NRL ‘casualty ward’, which lists rugby league players and their injuries. Through the season I recall at least six players said to be having counselling for ‘psychological’ or ‘personal’ issues, the latter covering a range of non-physical traumas. Dragons half Ben Hunt spoke candidly to the media this year about seeing someone to help overcome a slump in confidence. Armchair critics (virtual bullies) did not help Ben’s situation, with a steady stream of vitriol posted on social media.

Suicide is often the end-game for people fighting ongoing battles with mental health disorders. Australia’s standardised statistics on suicide are not as high as some (11.7 per 100,000 people). Lithuania (28.6) and South Korea (26.3) head the World Health Organisation list, but Australia is nonetheless in the list of 10 countries with a suicide rate in double figures and has been for a decade.

In Australia, men are three times more likely to commit suicide (17.8 deaths per 100,000 people) than women (5.8 deaths per 100,000 people). More than 75% of all severe mental illnesses occur prior to the age of 25, and youth suicide is at its highest level in a decade.

The telling statistics revealed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners clearly show that the system is under untenable strain.

Author Jill Stark wrote about it in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece – ‘What happens when the answer to R.U.O.K is no and there’s nowhere to go?’

Stark wrote from a first person perspective, after  fronting up to a GP with what she suspected was an acute recurrence of anxiety and depression. She was handed a form to fill in – a routine step in such a consultation, so the GP can make a more objective assessment of the patient’s mental health state. As Stark related, she scored 25 ‘mild to moderately depressed’ and was prescribed medication (after first being asked if she was suicidal).

The answer was no, but on the way home Stark reflected that should she indeed want to kill herself, she’d been prescribed with something well-equipped for the job.

As Stark bluntly pointed out, the time for wristbands and hashtags has passed. Doctors need the financial support Medicare can bring by allowing longer consultations for patients with complex psychological problems.

“As a matter of urgency we must stop rationing psychological services to 10 subsidised sessions per year,” she wrote.

So that was Jill Stark, wearing her odd socks in public. Bravo.

People like Jill who are having an acute mental health crisis need expert support at least once a week for as long as the crisis lasts.

The Black Dog Institute reminds us that 45% of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. One in five mothers with children younger than two will be diagnosed with depression. At 13%, depression has the third highest burden of all diseases in Australia (burden of diseases refers to financial cost, mortality, morbidity etc).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that depression will be the number one health concerned in both developed and developing nations by 2030.

That gloomy prediction was no doubt behind the WHO’s decision in 2013 to introduce an eight-year plan to change the direction of mental health in its 194 member states. The plan’s main objectives are to:

  • strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health;
  • provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social care services in community-based settings;
  • implement strategies for promotion and prevention;
  • strengthen information systems, evidence and research.

Global targets and indicators were agreed upon as a way to monitor implementation, progress, and impact. The targets include a 20% increase in service coverage for severe mental disorders and a 10% reduction of the suicide rate in member countries by 2020.

These are noble aims, but as the WHO observes, it requires effective leadership and governance to implement meaningful change.

Odd Socks Day is one of the rare light-hearted efforts to raise awareness of mental health. Grow, the organisation behind the campaign, runs an in-school peer program that helps young people support each other through their issues.

The overall cost of unmanaged or mismanaged mental health in the Australian workplace is approximately $11 billion a year, according to Dr Samuel Harvey. Dr Harvey, a Black Dog Institute consultant, leads the workplace mental health research program at the school of psychiatry for the University of New South Wales. He was the lead author for research published in The Lancet which found that workplaces that reduce job strain could prevent up to 14% of new cases of common mental illness from occurring.

Quite clearly, we all need to pull up our socks, odd or not, and change our attitude. If only 35% of Australians in need are actively using mental health services, we need to do more than ask R.U.O.K.

Resources: Lifeline 13 11 14, beyondblue.org.au

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Keeping the Toowoomba carnival afloat

Macca-Toowoomba-carnival
Photo: Macca amongst the people at the Toowoomba carnival of flowers – by Bob Wilson

So there we were at the unaccustomed early hour of 7am in Laurel Bank Park, Toowoomba, trying to catch Macca’s eye to say, “Mate, we’re here.”

Ian McNamara,* the host of Australia all Over, who sometimes plays music by our band, The Goodwills, had invited us to attend his second OB (outside broadcast) of the year.

Laurel Bank Park was pretty as a picture, thanks to a big team of gardeners and a decision by the Toowoomba Regional Council to water the town parks, despite the drought. It makes little sense to have a famous Carnival of Flowers without making some attempt to preserve the gardens.

The Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers has been going for 69 years, attracting ever-larger crowds each year to take tours of the prize-winning gardens, watch the grand parade and dine out in the city’s eclectic ‘Eat Street’. It was sentimentally appropriate that we were in Laurel Bank Park, where rumour has it we (She and Me) once had a re-affirmation of vows ceremony, cunningly disguised as a bush dance. We lived in Toowoomba in the 1980s (and my how this sprawling country town has grown).

Last weekend, we stayed with old friends at Highfields, now a satellite suburb 10 kms north-west. Our friends bought an acre of land and a house there when it was still in the bush. Now there’s a service station on the corner (and traffic lights). We drove into town to watch the Grand Parade on Saturday, parking in a secret place known only to locals. On the way we detoured up Bridge Street, past what used to be the Toowoomba Foundry, now home to the biggest Bunnings store I’ve seen for a long time. The Foundry facade on Ruthven Street has been left standing, along with remnants of the old saw-tooth factory roof, which you don’t see much of in this era of tilt-slab concrete industrial sheds.

Toowoomba has certainly become not only bigger but more multicultural since we lived there. Walking past St James Anglican Church on Russell Street, we saw many Sudanese people gathered outside. They had just returned from the funeral of the Rev James Ajak, a respected priest and community leader among Toowoomba’s large South Sudanese community. A thousand people, some who came from as far away as Western Australia, attended his funeral at the Centenary Heights State High School Assembly Hall.

Multicultural-Toowoomba-carnival
Multicultural Toowoomba carnival

Multicultural groups were well represented in the grand parade of floats, bands, vintage cars and dancing schools. Our host told us an amusing story about a grand parade from years gone by when it rained relentlessly. There were two elephants on a flat-bed truck, he said, and one of them heeded nature’s call, leaving a wet pile of dung for the people following behind to negotiate.

It wasn’t really the right mental picture for a lovely Spring day with a big crowd of good-natured people enjoying the hour-long parade, led by the Toowoomba Caledonian Pipe Band. I was never very good at estimating crowds, even though I was given a few tips by Toowoomba police back in the day when I worked at The Chronicle as a general reporter and columnist.

Thousands, let’s say, drifting down Margaret Street to Queens Park where floats were lined up for inspection (and judging). Our host’s grandkids cunningly detoured Pop to sideshow alley, while we strolled hand in hand through one of our special places. If Queens Park had been watered lately, it was still thirsty, not surprising given the city has had only 70mm of rain in the past six months. Only one of those rainy days amounted to much (20.8mm). As gardeners would know, this is when you have to think about what to water and when.

Nonetheless, Laurel Bank Park, with its topiary, flower beds, scented garden, flowering peach trees and bowling green lawns was at its showcase best. We did catch Macca’s eye, as he roamed among the 600 or so people who showed up to listen to his four and a half hour live Sunday morning broadcast.

We sang a couple of songs and listened with admiration to local duo Kay Sullivan (accordion) & Peter Freeman (double bass) accompany Mimosa, a gypsy jazz duo from Terrigal, with Toowoomba trombone player Ian Craig chiming in as required. Macca sang a couple of songs and the band played along – as if they’d all had rehearsals. It was impressive.

Later I was reminded of the column I once wrote for the Toowoomba Chronicle in the 1980s. It started life prosaically as This Week with Bob Wilson and later became Friday on My Mind. We were reminiscing about the time our local folk club built a scale model of the Glenrowan Pub on the back of a truck and entered it into the grand parade with a bush ranger theme. I satirised this in one of my old columns (September 1984). Such fun to quote yourself:

“The float-building gang were having a right old bludge. There was Bluey swarming all over the back of his smash repair truck pulling ropes and lugging hay bales while the gang of nine procrastinated beneath a tree where someone had thoughtfully erected a makeshift bar, keg and 10 seven ounce glasses. Ted and Hughie arrived with their contribution to the float – a four-metre high model of the Ryebuck Shearer complete with black singlet, hand shears and a big placard which read “One out, all out”. Bluey inspected the newcomer and tapped its 44-gallon drum chest.

“Good welding job. Thing must weigh a ton.”

“He used to shear 100 sheep a day, mate,” said Molly.

Ben turned up in his bright green Ute with two sheep in the back. Hollering things like ‘Bewdy’ and ‘Have a go’, Ben carted the bewildered animals (one under each arm like Colin Meads), and plonked them on the back of the truck.

“I’ll bet we need a permit to transport live sheep on an open truck during a street parade,” said Cautious Col.

By midnight the day before the grand parade, the Ryebuck Shearer had been bolted to the back of the truck cab, a sheep chained to each of his formidable legs.

“You’re not going to leave them sheep here all night are you?” Bluey said. “They could clean up my back yard before tomorrow.

“It is tomorrow,” said Molly, “And I’m going home.”

Later, about noon, the Rybebuck Shearer was disqualified from the parade because stewards ruled that neither he nor his placard could pass safely beneath overhead power lines. Ben’s sheep (Banjo and Henry), were also pulled out of the race. Rain fell on the parade and the bloke who’d lent the hay bales said they weren’t worth a pinch of sheep now and charged them $2 a bale. Bluey’s truck got a flat tyre as he tried to turn it round in the marshalling yards. Molly started crying into her rum and coke and the barmaid from across the road came over and said anyone with pub glasses please take them back or she’d lose her job.

“I told you so,” said Col.

*Rebecca Levingston interviews Ian McNamara on South Bank’s Ferris wheel, August 2017 (log in to Facebook first).

https://www.facebook.com/abcinbrisbane/videos/10155634496309669/

Clarification: Last week I referred to the cost of a visitor visa to Nauru as $800. It is $8,000 for a journalist.

 

About Nauru your petitioner humbly prays

Nauru-refugee-children
Refugee child ‘Roze’ on Nauru, provided by World Vision Australia

I could count on the toes of my feet the number of petitions I have signed in this life, but I could not refuse the Kids off Nauru campaign. More than 100 human rights groups, churches, charities and organisations, including World Vision, Amnesty International and the Australian Lawyers Alliance are behind Kids off Nauru.

The e-petition to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten leaves no room for negotiation. Children in detention on Nauru, about 40 of who were born on the island, have witnessed lip stitching, self-immolation and other suicide attempts. Many have developed traumatic withdrawal syndrome, characterised by resigning from all activities that support a normal life. The Australian Medical Association has called for immediate action to assure the health and wellbeing of those on Nauru.

As one of the NGOs involved in the campaign, Plan International says, “This can’t continue, not on our watch”.

“We’ve seen report after report of children who are in such despair, for whom life in detention is so miserable, that they have withdrawn socially, stopped eating and even attempted suicide,” Plan International said. “In August a 12-year-old girl tried to set herself on fire.”

The petitioners want all 120* children and their families off Nauru by November 20, 2018. The date is not random – it is Universal Children’s Day.

You all know this shameful story, where the Australian Government re-invented an offshore processing solution for people who’d mostly arrived without permission by boat, seeking refuge in the big open country they had heard was egalitarian and tolerant.

Nauru, a small island north-east of PNG and the Solomon Islands, was once known for extracting and selling phosphate for fertiliser. The resource is exhausted, so the Nauruan government could hardly refuse the lucrative offer from the Australian Government.

It’s difficult to get an accurate count* of children on Nauru, quoted variously as between 106 and 126. Meanwhile the official number from the Australian Government is 22. But wait, the fine print refers only to children in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre (Australia’s responsibility). Other refugee children are accommodated in centres run by the Nauruan Government. The latter is not at all transparent about the welfare of refugee children and their parents. A New Zealand TV reporter was detained briefly when reporting from the Pacific Forum because she went ‘off reservation’ to talk to refugees “without going through proper channels”.

I’d go and see for myself but they want $8,000 for a journalist visa.

Anglican Bishop Phillip Huggins wrote to then Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton seeking clarification of numbers published on the department’s website.

The (eventual) reply from Mr Dutton and Huggins’s interpretation of the answers is worth reading to get a perspective.

Bishop Huggins concluded that the harsh reality is that there were (in August 2018), 120 refugee children in Nauru (some have been resettled in the last month). Some are being assessed for resettlement in America; some may eventually be resettled in New Zealand.

Let’s ask the obvious question: New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern and her coalition partner Winston Peters have offered to take up to 150 refugees from Nauru. Former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull rejected the offer to resettle the Nauru refugees, making the woolly argument that this would only make New Zealand attractive to people smugglers. It may surprise readers to know that the New Zealand offer to resettle refugees goes back to the administration of former PM John Key (2008-2016).

The transfer of asylum seekers to offshore processing centres in the Pacific was first introduced by the Howard (Coalition) Government in 2001.Here’s an edited summary of what followed.

Seven months after Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Prime Minister in 2008, the last remaining asylum seekers on Nauru were transferred to Australia, ending the Howard Government’s controversial ‘Pacific Solution’.

In July 2010, then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard revealed that the Government had begun having discussions about establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region. Importantly, only 25 asylum seekers had travelled by boat to Australia to seek asylum in the 2007–08 financial year. By the time Gillard made her announcement in July 2010, more than 5,000 people had come by boat to Australia to seek asylum.

Gillard acknowledged that the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia was ‘very, very minor’ but she identified a number of reasons why the processing of asylum seekers in other countries was considered necessary, including:

  • to remove the financial incentive for the people smugglers to send boats to Australia;
  • to ensure that those arriving by boat do not get an unfair advantage over others;
  • to prevent people embarking on a voyage across dangerous seas with the ever present risk of death;
  • to prevent overcrowding in detention facilities in Australia.

Though it took another two years to secure arrangements, people began to be transferred to Nauru and PNG in the last quarter of 2012.

Two months before the 2013 federal election amidst growing support for the Opposition’s tougher border protection policies, newly appointed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Australia had entered into a Regional Resettlement Arrangement with PNG. Under the arrangement, all (not just some) asylum seekers who arrived by boat would be transferred to PNG for processing and settlement in PNG and in any other participating regional State. Mr Rudd subsequently made a similar arrangement with Nauru.

Mr Rudd now says this was meant to be a temporary arrangement.

So he we are with a humanitarian crisis on our back door and as per usual, those clinging to slender majorities do not want to make brave, decent decisions which might cost them their seat at the next election.

Petitions are a form of protest known to exert moral authority; that is, they have no legal force. But the sheer weight of numbers can force social change. One example was the millions of signatures on a petition calling for the release of Nelson Mandela.

Before e-petitions and ‘clicktivism’ became the norm, government clerks charged with the receipt and storage of paper petitions had a job for life.

The Australian government receives on average 120 petitions a year, a large proportion of which are e-petitions. Activist group, change.org, (https://www.change.org), the biggest generator of e-petitions, has 50 million subscribers world-wide.

Nigel Gladstone, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says 32,728 Australian petitions were started on the change.org website since 2014. More than 3.5 million people signed their name to support campaigns such as reduced parking fees at NSW hospitals and marriage equality.

Professor of Political Sociology at the University of Sydney, Ariadne Vromen and Professor Darren Halpin of ANU collected data from change.org to study online petitions over a four-year period.

“This form of political engagement is both mainstream and important,” Professor Vromen told the SMH. “In Australia Get-up were really the pioneers of using online petitions and that was a bit of a shock to the system, but politicians quickly became cynical.

“Change.org is different because citizens can start their own thing, so it is different to an advocacy group starting something.”

So will the advocacy groups behind Kids off Nauru succeed in their mission to force the government to act by November 20? Let’s revisit this in a couple of months’ time.

#kidsoffnauru

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