The naked retiree and life in the ‘Lucky Country’

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Retirees on park bench – Image by Just call me Mo https://flic.kr/p/eiewLK

Now that the naked retiree headline has got you in, time to say a quick hello from Stradbroke Island where I am taking a couple of weeks out with family. Today let me introduce you to guest blogger Kathryn Johnston who has a few thoughts to share on how retirees are getting on in the “Lucky Country.” Kathryn wrote this, the first in an occasional series, on New Year’s Day, coinciding with a new pension regime for retirees.

By Kathryn Johnston

This post titled “the naked retiree” is the beginning of a perspective of what is happening in Australia for older Australians. What does it mean to be a naked retiree? It is not about going to Alexandria Bay Beach on the Sunshine Coast or skinny dipping in a backyard pool. It is about the political landscape in Australia and its impost on older Australians. Politicians are our country’s custodians. They are elected to manage our country, our wealth, our health, our future.

As an older Australian I am interested in how older Australians are faring in this “great” country of Australia. Even while I write these words “great country” I ask, are older Australian’s getting a “fair go”? In 1964 when Donald Horne’s book “The Lucky Country” was released most of the populace understood he used the term ironically. Horne penned the words “Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.” Over time, others misinterpreted Horne’s message and have used the term “lucky country” to mean we have the best of everything in Australia. In Australia, today, as we live on borrowed money and older Australian’s live on borrowed time we find we are not so “lucky”.

My question is “why are older Australians subject to ‘unfair’ political decisions made law through the parliament, laws that no politician will ever be subject to?” The decisions have been made and older Australians are the target and method for “getting the budget back on track”. The catch-cry is that without the changes to age pension entitlements commencing today – 1 January 2017, the age pension will no longer be sustainable in the decades ahead. Is there another way?

This matter first came to my attention when I was in Tasmania in October. There was an article in The Mercury newspaper titled “retiree battles to stop pension cuts”. Ron Tiltman, 76 years of West Hobart tells how he will be affected by aged pension cuts. From 2017 he is $14,000 worse off a year. For Mr Tiltman he decided to take his superannuation in cash after his partner and former teacher became ill with cancer. After her death, his entitlements under the current rules were he would receive $33,000 a year of her defined benefit superannuation and a part age pension of $580 a year. At the start of 2016 Mr Tiltman’s pension was cut to $270 and as of today, he will not receive any government pension. The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) benchmarks the annual budget needed for Australians to live a modest and comfortable lifestyle. These are detailed below:

ASFA Retirement Standard   Annual living costs        Weekly living costs

Couple – modest $34,216 $658
Couple – Comfortable $59,160 $1,138
Single – Modest $23,767 $457
Single – Comfortable $43,062 $828

For Mr Tiltman to live a comfortable standard of living, which is what he planned for, he will need a yearly budget of $43,062. Now, under the government changes to the age pension, he must live a more modest lifestyle. As he said “it was implied that it would only be wealthy people affected – this is just wrong. Many of these people (i.e. those affected by the changes) are on very modest incomes and in fact 68% of those affected have a defined benefit income of less than $35,000.” Further, he said “this has hurt me – I’ve paid my taxes and now you see these politicians walking out of their jobs with huge pensions of their own” [1].

On 17 December, 2016 I read a letter to the editor of the Toowoomba Chronicle from Ray Harch who explained how he and his wife’s pension will be cut by more than $130. In his words “a great Christmas present”. If they had purchased a retirement unit at $500,000 they would have been eligible for a full pension but they chose to keep some money aside for unforeseen events as they aged. He questioned why older Australians should be penalised, those who had saved and planned for a more comfortable retirement. As he said the government “while at the same time wasting billions on other, in many cases, stupid programs”.

Then in the Brisbane Courier Mail it was reported that “half of older Australians fear they are ‘financially unprepared’ for retirement with looming pension changes. More than a quarter of Australians aged 55 and over are worried they will not be able to afford food or household bills, new research has shown.”[2]

One of the most telling stories [3] I have read in recent months is from Bob Parry, a pensioner who has more than 60 years’ experience as an accountant. Mr Parry was so angry about the changes he wrote to the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull. Mr Parry did several calculations and found that a single pensioner who had total assets of $541,295 under the “old” rules would receive a part pension of $9,761 per year but under the “new” rules they would lose their entire part pension. Their fortnightly income would drop from $955 to $579 a fortnight. Similarly, a pensioner couple who own their own home with joint total assets of $814,128 under the “old” rules receive $14,065 per year. Under the “new” rules their fortnightly income would drop from $1480 to $939.

Under the Turnbull government, whatever way you look at it, it is a mean-spirited cut for older Australians. Those who have worked conscientiously over their lifetime and gone without, in so many areas, will no longer have a comfortable retirement.

Due to the cuts and changes, many older Australians will soon be “skint” with savings eroded as they dip into their capital. The changes will make every older Australian spend their savings until ALL older Australians are in the same “paupers” pool relying on the full pension and a less than modest lifestyle. The government changes are successful in one area, that is, in penalising “middle Australia” to improve the life of the less advantaged. This is the life of the “naked retiree” – skinned to the bones! Older Australians who depended on and planned for retirement under the “old” rules – living in the “lucky country”.

You can read more on the “naked retiree” and other reflective topics in Kathryn’s blog, Scattered Straws. https://scatteredstraws.com/

Notes

[1] Story by Jessica Howard, The Mercury, Friday, 28 October 2016, p. 17

[2] Story by Monique Hore, Brisbane Courier-Mail, 30 December 2016, p. 18

[3] http://thenewdaily.com.au/money/retirement/2016/09/14/age-pension-assets-test/ – story by Jackson Stiles

Next week: She Who Also Sometimes Writes will have a pre-election piece for your greater edification. Meanwhile, I’m going for another nap.

 

Wikipedia and the 105-year-old blogger

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Dagny Carlsson (aka Bojan) image by Almega – https://www.flickr.com/photos/almega/9206567927/in/photolist-f2xXun-f2y4TM, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51725946

For reasons yet to be linked to Wikipedia, this week I ended up on the home page of a 105-year-old Swedish blogger who goes by the moniker Bojan. I know, it sounds like material for a Nordic noir series. When starting out with the online arts at the age of 100, Bojan starkly rejected comparisons with the ‘100-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared,’ (a popular Swedish novel by Jonas Jonasson).

Bojan’s invariably short pieces reflect on the wonders of daily life that people half her age take for granted. She comments often about the seasons, the weather, old age and being single and alone.

In one recent blog (I found one dated November 5, 2017), Bojan wrote about Swedes who live by themselves. The Google-translate app I suspect renders the English somewhat less fluent than it might be in, say, a Henning Mankell thriller. But you’ll get the drift.

“The other day I read the news that in Stockholm, there are thousands of single-family households, more specifically 380,000 or 40% of the population live by themselves. In the past, there was some suspicion of living alone, but now it is more tolerated. It’s also easier to be single when there are several of them. I myself have been single since 2004 and I think so, of course. It was obviously more enjoyable to be part of a flatness (sic?), but it is pointless to feel sorry for it. Single households are today Sweden’s most common housing form, and nobody thinks it’s something strange. At first, I thought it was pure sorrow to live by myself, but one must get together and live on.”

Bojan started getting together and living on at 100, after buying a computer and teaching herself how to use it. Some of her more recent posts suggest she has become a reluctant ‘cause celebre’ through the conventional media’s fascination with a centenarian who has mastered the online universe. She has done many interviews, appeared on TV chat shows and been the subject of a film, “Life Begins at 100”.

Filmmaker Asa Blanck tracked Dagny Carlsson down and persuaded her to participate in a project which even he admitted was likely to be thwarted by the subject’s death. But no, Dagny turned 105 in May and continues to amuse readers, day by day. (A sequel is planned – the very definition of optimism).

Dagny’s blog is as Blanck found her – “a brusque old lady – all gallows humour”. She promised readers she would not be intentionally nasty but if she ‘trod on toes’, she did not really give a damn, or det kvittar mig, as they say in Sweden. Dagny dreamed of being a teacher when she was young but ended up working as a seamstress. She escaped an abusive first marriage and found love with her second husband, who died when she was in her 90s.

As Blanck observed: “She had managed to rise above her strenuous, grey existence and she had decided she would finally do what she had wanted to do all her life: write.”

Sweden’s blog-readers soon caught up with Bojan’s racey, funny insights and seemingly outrageous behaviour for ‘someone of her age’. For example, she writes about women wearing jeans and how they never did in her day. At 101 she went out and bought a pair of denims.

Ah yes, now I remember how I ended up on Bojan’s blog. I’d been deeply delving into the Wikipedia universe – a free community encyclopedia we writers tend to take for granted. Anyone can contribute, edit or update ‘Wikis’ within Wikipedia. You just need to register as an editor and then be mindful your input will be monitored by a legion of truly vigilant Wikipedia editors. Your input could be as simple as correcting a typo to contributing a new biography of someone you think should have a Wikipedia entry.

One of the things that fascinate me about Wikipedia is the community vigilance which results in entries being updated very quickly. Within hours, it seemed, of the news of Tom Petty’s death, someone had updated his Wikipedia bio, including the premature announcements on social media and the controversy surrounding the timing of Petty’s fatal cardiac arrest.

Wikipedia is essentially a collection of some five million articles in English and another 40 million in 293 languages, all contributed pro-bono by people who care about history, accuracy and detail.

I asked my blogger friend Franky’s Dad if he had ever edited items for Wikipedia. Yes, said FD, a few hundred since 2006. He’d even created a piece about a singer, Bob Wilson. I was momentarily aghast until discovering the latter is a singer, guitarist and songwriter from Pleasant Valley California. Franky’s Dad, aka Lyn Nuttall, maintains a music trivia website www.poparchives.com.au, which aims to find out ‘Where Did They get That Song?’

FD reckons editing Wikipedia is one thing but creating a new entry can be hard yacka, what with their exacting standards for formatting and referencing.

The Listener’s technology correspondent Peter Griffin confessed he was a Wikipedia ‘freeloader’ until deciding to attend an edit-a-thon in Wellington. Events like this were attended by 70,000 people worldwide last year. The main idea is to pick a neglected subject and add to the body of work. There is also a push to correct what is seen as a gender imbalance. Griffin was not confident until encouraged by a veteran Wikipedia editor to “get stuck in and break things”.

The key intention is to keep it factual – not easy in the Trumpian world of fake news and flat-out fabrication. Griffin’s group were on safe enough ground, however, collating biographies of female scientists.

“The seasoned editors smiled knowingly as we fumbled along,” Griffin wrote in The Listener’s September 16 print edition.

“But after a full day, we’d created about 20 biographies of women in science and extensively edited 30 more.

“I’d like to think we increased the sum total of the world’s knowledge.”

Even famous racehorses have a Wikipedia entry. Australian racing’s latest super-horse, Winx, has won 22 races in succession, amassing more than $7 million in prizemoney for her owners. A few weeks back she won the country’s premier race (The Cox Plate), for the third time. No such profile for Regal Monarch, a racehorse with just four wins to its name, put down after falling in race four on Melbourne Cup day.

You’d think tragedies like this (remember Dulcify, 1979), would prompt connections to retire Winx to lush green pastures and make another fortune at stud. But there is an ambitious program in 2018 to race the mare again in Australia and against the best in Europe.

There was even talk she might contest the Emirates Stakes in Melbourne this weekend. But trainers know. Chris Waller last week said Winx would go to the spelling paddock. At least someone other than me could see that Humidor’s fast-finishing second in the Cox Plate did her in.

As Peter Griffin found at the edit-a-thon, only facts are allowed in Wikipedia, and each fact must be backed by a rigorous reference. So seriously is this edict taken, editors this year banned the UK Daily Mail as a source, citing poor fact checking, sensationalism and fabrication.

Additionally, bots continually crawl the Wikipedia site for signs of vandalism (intentional corruption).

So I guess I’ll keep my opinions about Winx to myself, then.

 

Many issues in unwinnable Queensland election

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Election special: Photo of old Maleny police station by Bob Wilson

In the interests of better community policing and the fact she had just called an election, Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk made an unequivocal promise.

The Premier, who somewhere in the Courier-Mail’s Monday election coverage recalls winning a Grade Nine competition to ‘help police fight crime’, made a commitment to hire an extra 400 police officers over the next four years. Based on a First Year Constable’s salary (including shift allowances) of $70,820, that’s a $28.32 million promise

We back our police with the resources they want, the powers they need and the pay they deserve,” she told the ABC last Sunday.

Crikey, they ought to send a couple up the hill here to Maleny, where the new $2 million police station in Macadamia Drive (staffed by four police officers), has a roaming brief to cover an area from Maleny out to Palmwoods, Beerwah, Conondale and Kenilworth.

Ms Palaszczuk’s election promise to hire more police comes a week before the 1950s-style police station in Maleny’s main street is sold at auction. The 2,344sqm property, which is zoned Community Facilities, includes an office/police station and a residence but excludes a separate lock-up.

On my calculations, this sale alone should provide the Queensland Police Service with enough money to pay the salaries of an extra 21 police officers (over four years).

Against my better judgement, I bought the election special edition of The Courier-Mail on Monday after a three-year hiatus, prompted by a series of inflammatory, misleading and discriminatory front pages. Monday’s page one was no less lurid, presenting unflattering caricatures of the three main party leaders.

I worked there in the broadsheet days, pre-tabloid, pre-redundancies, pre-online editions, four editors ago. No regrets, Coyote, as Joni would say. I entered my 70th year on Monday, BP 120/80, feeling OK and supremely relieved I had no part to play in the CM’s graphics-laden presentation of an unwinnable election.

The first two pages of the CM’s October 30 election special purport to sell us the idea they have the State’s media covered. In what amounts to a two-page ‘house ad’, the CM confirms what we already knew – Rupert Murdoch’s Queensland media empire owns almost all of the print media titles. So yes, they have it covered, but you’d expect the coverage to be suitably mainstream; about 9% of the eleven-page election coverage was set aside for stories about the Greens and how they hope to win three seats, including Deputy Premier Jackie’s Trad’s seat of South Brisbane. It appears (from vox pops interviews), that some people in West End will be voting Green because of over-development (apartments) in the inner city suburb.

The rest of the coverage focuses on the resurgence of One Nation, how Labor will suffer from its seemingly intractable position on the Adani coal mine (no mention that the LNP are all for it too), a token story about the Katter Party and proportional space for (most of) the party leaders to have their say.

So to the unwinnable election

There’s a fair chance no single party will emerge from the November 25 poll with a workable majority, so in this sense it is unwinnable.

Crikey’s Perth-based election analyst, Poll Bludger, quoted ReachTEL polling figures from September showing the LNP with a 52-48 lead on primary votes. One Nation was polling at 19.5% and Greens at 8.1%.

An earlier Newspoll had Labor on 37% and the LNP on 34%. Some of you might take this to mean that the two parties will take 71% of the primary vote. This is roughly in line with election trends around the world where one in three people did not vote for one of the major parties. This leaves the unallocated 29% to be divided up between the Greens, One Nation, Independents, minor parties and the 2% of the electorate who cast informal votes.

The poll numbers, which focus only on primary votes, are not worth much in light of the return to compulsory preferential voting (CPV). To the uninitiated, this means numbering your preferred candidate 1 and then others in order of preference (meaning the party you like the least goes last). So if no single candidate has a clear majority, second preferences of the party that polled the least number of votes are counted until a winner emerges.

Many people do not understand preferential voting, so when handed a how-to-vote-card at the polling booth, they simply fill in the numbers as suggested (or number all candidates 1 to 6 consecutively, which is known as the “Donkey Vote.”)

An Australian Institute poll last year found that only 29% of respondents knew how to correctly fill in the (preferential) Senate ballot paper. So that is not a good sign for the re-introduction of compulsory preferential voting at this election. As Griffith University’s Paul Williams pointed out (in the CM), the Australian Electoral Commission is yet to conduct an information campaign to ensure CPV is clearly understood.

University of Melbourne honorary associate Adrian Beaumont has more to say about polling and CPV in The Conversation.

The Sydney Morning Herald suggested on Monday that the return of full preferential voting and new electoral boundaries could hand One Nation a balance of power role.

Enter stage right, former Senator Malcolm Roberts, booted out after a High Court decision found he had not renounced his British citizenship.

By challenging the seat of Ipswich for One Nation, Mr Roberts, best known for his climate change conspiracy theories, could attract enough LNP second preferences to win the seat, the article suggests. (I would go ‘aarrgghh’ at this stage but that would be editorialising).

ABC election analyst Antony Green told the SMH Roberts faced an uphill battle.

“It would be highly surprising if One Nation won there on first preferences, which would mean they would have to come from behind on LNP preferences,” he said.

Ipswich West was more likely to fall to One Nation, he said, adding that One Nation also had a good chance of winning the neighbouring seat of Lockyer.

Ipswich was where Pauline Hanson originally built her One Nation party in the 1990s. Should Roberts prevail, he is being tipped to lead One Nation in Queensland. What was that about the Lord Mayor’s show and the dust cart?

On latest polling, One Nation at 19.5% would seem to be in a strong position to win seats in Queensland and maybe also control the balance of power. A scary notion for some, but you have to give credit where it is due: Pauline Hanson has found the ear of disgruntled voters, much as Donald Trump wooed that endangered species US filmmaker Michael Moore called ‘angry white men’.

In Queensland, the angry, the poor and those who feel forgotten are listening and Hanson tells them what they want to hear.

There is only one certainty about the Queensland election, whoever cobbles together a coalition from this mess will have a mandated four years in which to rule – that’s 208 ‘Fridays on our minds’…#aarrgghh

Dawe, Morrow and Gessen – Satire and The Rise Of Populism

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Satirist Bryan Dawe (left) and comedian Julian Morrow at Integrity 20. Photo by Frances Harper

Actor/satirist Bryan Dawe has such a low-key, laconic approach to ‘giving a talk’ that the journalistic instinct to take notes deserted me. Dawe is the surviving half of the satirical act Clarke & Dawe, but he is much more than that. He told the audience at Griffith University’s Integrity 20 Summit that when it came to political satire, he and John Clarke had never been short of material over 25 years of producing their weekly TV show.

Dawe introduced one of his best-known satirical characters, boozy retired judge Sir Murray Rivers QC; Dawe as interviewer/straight man to Sir Murray’s confused bigot. His presentation was funny; funny and sad, as he often referenced his late partner in satire John Clarke, who died in April this year. Dawe’s ‘talk’ would have been illuminating for the year 11 and 12 students attending Integrity 20, as Dawe summarised his unhappy days at school where he left early after being told by a careers adviser he would not amount to anything because he came from the ‘wrong postcode’.

Dawe joined Julian Morrow of The Chaser and The Checkout for a discussion on satire, comedy and how to know when you’ve gone too far. When asked that question by panel chair Rebecca Levingston, both agreed that nothing was off limits.

While agreeing that one could satirise and make jokes about anything, Morrow conceded that The Chaser’s skits post-9/11 were “too soon”. Levingston prompted Morrow to revisit the time The Chaser (a TV satire show), penetrated security at the 2007 APEC conference in Sydney with a fake motorcade transporting a ‘Mr bin laden of Canada’. As Morrow recalled “We never expected to succeed.”

Both satirists agreed that there are powerful people who always try to have good satire shut down, probably because nothing is funnier than the truth, greatly exaggerated. The trick, said Dawe, was not to engage with critics, trolls and others whose power base was being diminished by The Chaser’s sharp sketches or by John Clarke’s familiar introduction: “Thanks for having me, Bryan.”

Bryan Dawe’s presentation was the ideal tone for Integrity 20’s afternoon session, which followed serious and at times contrary debate about hate speech, free speech, censorship, the global rise of populism and how to destroy democracy.

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Masha Gessen, photo by Bengt Oberger, Wikipedia CC

You may have heard Richard Fidler on Conversations interviewing Masha Gessen, an exiled Russian American journalist and author. Her speech ‘How to Destroy Democracy’ and later contribution to a panel discussion on populism was a highlight of Integrity 20.

New York-based Gessen outlined the seven lessons in ‘imagining the worse’, in which the rise of populism destroys democracy. These include destroying the sense of participation, conspiracy myth-making, and engaging in the ‘forever war’, (which in the US means a 16-year war against ‘terrorism’, an unidentifiable foe, with no end point in sight).

Gessen, an outspoken critic of Donald Trump, also referred to the way democracy could be destroyed simply by degrading language.

“Trump is a master at that. He lies and lies to convince you that something that’s not true is true. There’s no way for a journalist not to quote his lies.

“Trump says he’s the subject of a witch hunt when that’s the opposite of what he means. He creates word salad and makes it difficult to work out what it all means. It’s a direct assault on how we all live because language is the main tool we use to co-exist.”

Even while Gessen was articulating this I was thinking about former PM Tony Abbott’s ludicrous comments about goats, volcanoes and climate change. However daft the comments seemed, journalists had no option but to quote what he actually said at a climate conference in London.

As Ricky Gervais said this week in a thought-provoking tweet:

Some opinions are so stupid they hurt my feelings. But that’s my problem. It’s a person’s right to hold as stupid an opinion as they like. (@rickygervais):

A panel discussion followed on the global rise of populism. Panel chair Luke Stegemann summarised the rise of populism in countries including Italy, Poland, the UK, France and Germany. “Australia is not immune by any means,” he added, citing the resurgence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and how it taps into the frustrations, racism and bigotry of people who are angry about immigration and furious about globalisation and the perceived impact these issues have on their jobs.

One ought to keep in mind that populism − a movement for the people and against a privileged elite − can occur across a broad political spectrum. It is possible, as panellist Geoffrey Robertson QC observed, to have left-wing populism.

The origins of populism date back to the 1800s when rural peasants revolted against their robber baron landlords. Today it is more about polarising the electorate and pitting angry poor people against (poor and possibly angry) immigrants and asylum seekers.

The privileged elite seem to survive with wealth intact, whichever way the populist wind is blowing.

Rachel Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the common perception was that supporters of populism are racists and bigots.

“There is a racist fringe but the core of populism is about high inequality and why people don’t understand why politicians don’t listen.”

Geoffrey Robertson said young people were disenchanted about the rampant capitalism that democracy encourages. This was in response to Kleinfeld’s comment that only 52% of people aged 18 to 29 think it is preferable to live in a democracy. Robertson said the key threat imposed by populist leaders was the attempt to replace an independent judiciary with their own people.

Kleinfeld made comparisons between Donald Trump and outsider president Andrew Jackson (1828-1834), who enjoyed two terms and put his successor, Martin Van Buren, in place to ensure 12 years of a populist government.

The Atlantic made much of the Trump/Jackson similarities.

“Jackson, like Trump, won over many white working-class voters, who brushed aside critics who warned that he was unstable and a would-be dictator. He maintained their loyalty even though, like Trump, he was of the elite.”

I can’t recall who started it, but it seemed all panellists agreed that Trump, despite being widely reviled, would easily take another term in office. They didn’t say so, but it seems obvious that Trump has a like-minded and seemingly un-impeachable successor in Mike Pence sitting on the bench (wearing a Martin Van Buren t-shirt).

If you were not yet confused about populism and its multiple meanings, Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia, coined the phrase “thin ideology”. This means to merely set up a framework: pure people versus a corrupt elite. Thin ideology can be attached to all sorts of “thick” ideologies such as socialism, nationalism, anti-imperialism or racism.

I will leave it to the reader to decide what type of populism exists in Australia.

Monday I’ve got Friday on my mind

I leave you with a tribute to the late George Young, who co-wrote the song from which this essay takes its name. Young and co-writer Harry Vanda and their band The Easybeats had an international hit with Friday on My Mind in 1967. Here’s a terrific cover from Richard Thompson and band from the album 1000 Years of Popular Music. (Please don’t listen to the Bruce Springsteen version that comes up after that…Ed)