Category Archives: politics

Fearmongering about painkillers – codeine

TW Discussion of suicide

So  I’ll preface this post with the following – I am not someone who uses codeine frequently.  I don’t suffer from any form of chronic pain, and apart from when recovering from surgery, will probably have medication containing codeine about once every 4 – 6 months.

I am passionate about people being able to access the medication they need, when they need it, without unnecessary hurdles being put in their way, and today’s news about codeine moving to only be available in Australia by prescription, is a hurdle in everyone’s way.  From me and my very occasional use, to those who have chronic pain who use it much more frequently.

Also, all the reporting on the topic is frequently terrible, conflating all opioid related deaths with those caused by codeine, and attributing carrier drug deaths and injuries (usually paracetamol or ibuprofin) with codeine.

Let’s start with some important numbers:

  • Population of Australia (end June 2016) a bit over 24,000,000 (source)
  • Victorian Road Toll (2015): 257 (source)
  • Number of women killed by intimate partner violence: Approximately 1 per week (around 52 per year on average) (source)
  • Number of deaths in Australia in 2015: 159,052 (source)

The importance of all these numbers will make sense further down this post.

I’ll start with the ABC article (the second that I read on this today) which claims in part:

“Medication that are available over the counter or through pharmacies should be substantially safe and not subject to abuse.”

Now paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe, generally in the quantities that the box tells you to take them.  Excessive paracetamol (overdosing) causes:

Signs of paracetamol overdose include drowsiness, coma, seizures, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Another name for paracetamol is acetaminophen (often known by its brand name, Panadol®).

There is only a small difference between the maximum daily dose of paracetamol and an overdose, which can cause liver damage. Large amounts of paracetamol are very dangerous, but the effects often don’t show until about two to three days after taking the tablets. (source)

Excessive ibuprofen (overdosing) causes:

An ibuprofen overdose can damage your stomach or intestines (source)

Both of these drugs, which are commonly available in Australia, you can buy them almost everywhere (convenience stores, supermarkets, chemists, petrol stations, etc) are only just safe in the recommended doses.  If you have a compromised liver, or mix up your dosage, you can cause serious damage to yourself, if not die from the medication.

Neither paracetamol or ibuprofen are addictive however, so apparently it doesn’t matter how dangerous they are.

Back to the ABC article.

The TGA said misuse of over-the-counter codeine products contributes to severe health outcomes, including “including liver damage, stomach ulceration, respiratory depression and death”.

Overdosing on codeine causes:

Overdose symptoms may include slow breathing and heart rate, severe drowsiness, muscle weakness, cold and clammy skin, pinpoint pupils, and fainting. (source)

So the TGA is partly lying.  The liver damage and stomach ulceration are the result of the carrier drug, either paracetamol or ibuprofen.  I’m not sure how many tablets you’d have to take to get the overdosing effective of codeine from the blended paracetamol/ibuprofen and codeine tablets, but I’m pretty sure that the internal bleeding and liver failure will probably kill you before the “respiratory depression” does.

From the ABC:

Dr Greenaway said an Australian study using coronial data showed there had been over 1,400 deaths in a little over a decade.

A little over a decade.  Let’s say that’s 13 years since no one has bothered giving us the actual numbers.  That’s around 108 deaths per year attributed, apparently, to codeine.  Because the ABC (and all the other media outlets) didn’t bother to find the actual source of these figures, I’ve just spent 2 minutes finding them for you.

From a press release from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre:

The rate of codeine-related deaths in Australia more than doubled between 2000 and 2009, driven primarily by an increase in accidental overdoses, according to new research by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW.

“While we can’t look at trends over time beyond 2009, our sample of 1,437 codeine-related deaths between 2000 and 2013 allows valuable insights into the circumstances surrounding these deaths,” said Ms Roxburgh.

Of the 1437 deaths included in the study, just under half (48.8%) were attributed to accidental overdose, and a third (34.7%) to intentional self-harm.

Most codeine-related deaths (1201 = 83.7%) during 2000–2013 were attributed to multiple drug toxicity. A small proportion (113 = 7.8%) were specifically attributed to codeine toxicity. The remaining 123 deaths (8.5%) were attributed to other underlying causes, such as coronary heart disease, cardiovascular conditions, or other drug toxicity.

More than half (53.6%) of the cases of codeine-related death included a history of mental health problems, 36.1% a history of substance use problems (including misuse and dependence), 35.8% a history of chronic pain, 16.3% a history of injecting drug use, and 2.7% a history of cancer.

Those who had intentionally overdosed were more likely to be older, female and have a history of mental health problems; those who had accidentally overdosed were more likely to have a history of substance use problems, chronic pain and injecting drug use.

Ms Roxburgh said these characteristics highlight a complex patient population in need of specialist services.

Ok, so the TGA is being even more dishonest.  123 deaths over a 13 year period were related specifically to codeine toxicity.  That’s 9.4 deaths per year.  The 1201 deaths were multiple drug toxicity, which would most likely mean, since it isn’t spelt out, that the individuals died from consuming multiple substances, such as paracetamol and/or ibuprofen containing codeine, and potentially other medication.  As I’ve already noted, overdosing on paracetamol and ibuprofen is very bad for you.

34.7% of those deaths were suicide.  That’s not people getting addicted to codeine and then dying, that’s people using a commonly available drug and committing suicide.  I’m sure that those who were intentionally self harming with drugs containing codeine would find any other drug that would have the same outcome, and yet I don’t hear the TGA calling for prescriptions only for ibuprofen and paracetamol.

I included the last bit of the press release because it’s a point I want to come back to.  Mostly that addiction is treated like a moral failing and not a social failing.

And moving onto the Guardian:

The use of common, opioid-based painkillers such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone has increased by four times over the past decade and Australian is among a handful of countries consuming the bulk of the world’s opioid medication supply, according to figures from the independent body responsible for implementing the United Nations international drug control conventions, the International Narcotics Control Board, published in the Lancet.

This is deliberately misleading.  You cannot get morphine or oxycodone over the counter at a pharmacy.  Including these two opioids in a discussion about codeine is muddying the waters.  Also, Australia “is among a handful of countries”.  What does that even mean?  What is a handful of countries, who are the other countries, and given we produce a lot of our own opioids, what relevance does this have?

The Guardian continues:

The Australian Medical Association has said it accepts the plan will result in additional health system costs and higher workloads for GPs, but AMA vice-president Stephen Parnis said that should be weighed up against the cost of harm inflicted by the misuse of codeine, intentional or otherwise.

The TGA is making a currently available, over the counter, widely used and not widely abused drug, into a prescription only drug in an environment where the current Australian government is attempting to reduce the number of subsidised doctor’s visits to everyone (source), which will make life even more difficult for those with chronic pain conditions.

The Guardian continues:

“We also know that the number of people suffering avoidable harm in this area has been increasing over time, to the point where, at least in Victoria, the number of deaths from overdose of prescription narcotics is higher than the road toll.”

And my numbers come into play.  The road toll for Victoria in 2015 was 257.  The number of people who die (on average according to the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre) is about 110 per year.

Ah… but see what AMA actually said, “the number of deaths from overdose of prescription narcotics”.  This decision is about over the counter codeine.  It is not about prescription opioids of any other kind, and yet in attempting to justify a decision which is really just going to annoy and make life harder for people, we get all these other reasons.

The AMA dude has one more thing to say in the Guardian article:

Parnis said codeine also posed a hidden danger.

“The body converts it to morphine and in fact a proportion of the population can convert it so quickly that they can suffer serious harm as a result.”

This is true, but moving to a prescription based service is not necessarily going to root this out.  Are doctors going to get more training and time to treat addiction?  Are doctors going to know which person amongst the hundreds of their patients has a metabolism that can quickly convert codeine to morphine and potentially harm themselves as a result?  It’s very unlikely.

Moving onto the article in The Age:

A TGA statement released on Tuesday morning said there was evidence that misuse of codeine contributes to liver damage; stomach ulceration and perforations; low blood potassium levels; respiratory depression and death.

The TGA’s statement, again, is incorrect.  Misuse of paracetamol and ibuprofen contributes to liver damage, stomach ulceration and perforations, and low blood potassium levels.  The TGA is conflating two different sets of harm caused by different drugs, into one in order to bolster their position.

The Age continues:

The decision comes after reports of codeine addicts swallowing up to 100 tablets a day, and people “pharmacist shopping” to get around rules introduced in 2010 that restrict purchases of more than five days’ supply of the drug at one time.

“reports of codeine addicts”, citation needed.  Also, any more than 6 (ibuprofen) or 8 (paracetamol) tablets, yet alone 100 tablets a day is an overdose amount of paracetamol or ibuprofen.  I call bullshit on this claim.

Also, it’s not hard to “pharmacy shop”, almost everyone has to do it at one point.  Some pharmacists treat anyone who asks for certain types of medication as drug-seeking,, whether it be something containing codeine or pseudoephedrine (the one that works versus phenylephrine which doesn’t), or something else.  If a pharmacist treats you badly, you go to another pharmacy (if you can).

Despite the fact that pseudoephedrine can be used to make cheap, bathtub, biker speed (Tripod quote), you don’t have to get a prescription to get it.  Sales of products containing pseudoephedrine plummeted when manufacturers substituted in an ineffective ingredient (claiming it was helpful even though studies said it wasn’t), and pharmacists started treating customers who – legally – sought to buy the stuff that does work as though they were drug-seeking addicts. The same could be done to codeine really.

Back to The Age:

In 2013, Monash University researchers reported nine deaths over a decade linked to toxicity from codeine-ibuprofen medicines such as Nurofen Plus.

Less than one death a year from codeine and ibuprofen.  More women are killed in intimate partner violence per year and sadly the Government is doing sweet fuck all about that.  More people die on our roads each year, and the Government does quite a bit about that.  Also I don’t know whose figures to believe.  I’m not sure if this 9 deaths are just in Victoria, or are from a different type of study as undertaken by National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

The Age:

Government agency data also shows the number of Australians being treated for codeine addiction more than tripled over the decade to 2012-13, from 318 to more than 1000 a year.

More than 1000 a year.  That’s 0.0004% of Australia’s population.  Apparently that number (the 1000) is probably under reported as some people treat themselves for codeine addiction.  There isn’t any discussion as to how much codeine addiction costs the health system, so it’s hard to know if more than 1000 people being addicted to codeine, who want to not be addicted any longer, is a huge cost to the medical system or just an inconvenience.

This is in error.  Loads of resources and articles say that emergency hospitalisation of someone overdosing on codeine compounds cost about $10,000 each.  The AMA says “A review of 99 hospitalisations caused by the misuse of OTC analgesics containing codeine found they cost, on average, $10,000 per admission.”  That’s broken down a bit more over here where we find out that most of it is once again ibuprofen’s fault.

28 tablets per day?  That’s a lot.

When you treat addiction as a moral failing, despite the fact that most of the people who use codeine regularly are people who have chronic pain conditions, then you let everyone down.  The next person who becomes addicted to codeine after surgery or a bad fall is listed as the failure, instead of just something that sometimes happens when you’ve sustained certain injuries, have certain medical conditions, or have gone through major surgery.

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW commented that:

Those who had intentionally overdosed were more likely to be older, female and have a history of mental health problems; those who had accidentally overdosed were more likely to have a history of substance use problems, chronic pain and injecting drug use.

Ms Roxburgh said these characteristics highlight a complex patient population in need of specialist services.

Instead of treating the underlying conditions that people, who use codeine regularly, have, we treat them like they are the problem.  Instead of treating addiction as an illness, we treat it as a moral failing.  We fail everyone when we act this way, and the TGA needs to actually consider the messages they’re giving those who use codeine regularly, and to stop misleading the public about the actual harm of codeine.

Related Posts:

Tony Abbott – Arsehat of 2015

It’s a big call I know, we’re 43 days into 2015 and there is so much left to go – but in the past few days, today in particular, Tony Abbott, Australia’s current inept, arsehole, Prime Minister, has raced ahead of all other contenders and seized the crown for Arsehat of the Year.  No one else, possibly no one else this decade, will demonstrate how much of an arsehat they are, as Tony has so far this year.

Today, for example, Tones decided that fair trials were things that people who were accused of terrorism did not need:

Despite prominent lawyers calling for restraint in public commentary on the case because of the potential for court proceedings to be prejudiced, Abbott disclosed key details of a briefing from police and security agency chiefs.

On Thursday the president of the New South Wales bar association, Jane Needham SC, urged restraint in publicly commenting on the case, warning that the men may not receive a fair trial.

“The association has concerns about the degree of public comment in the media concerning the two terrorism suspects appearing today in bail proceedings. Such comments have the potential to undermine the proper administration of justice,” Needham said.

“Our courts should be allowed to deal with matters before them without public statements being made that could prejudice subsequent proceedings and we would urge caution in this regard.” (Guardian)

He also, apparently under pressure, but really just because he’s an epic arsehat who engages his brain only rarely, suggested that the previous Labor government, oversaw a “a holocaust of jobs in defence industries”.  Yes he went there, he also subsequently apologised.

Mr Abbott was being pressed in question time about the surge in unemployment and the government’s plans to potentially buy submarines from overseas, instead of commission Australian-built vessels in Adelaide.

The opposition’s workplace spokesman Brendan O’Connor asked Mr Abbott: “South Australia’s unemployment rate has now reached 7.3 per cent.  Prime Minister, when will good government actually start and the Prime Minister deliver on his promise to build submarines in South Australia?”

The Prime Minister went on the offensive, telling Parliament: “Under members opposite defence jobs in this country declined by 10 per cent. There was a holocaust of jobs in defence industries under members opposite.”

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke got to his feet but before he raise a point of order, the Prime Minister withdrew his remark.

“That’s what there was Madame Speaker, jobs, jobs, jobs, I’m sorry if I, I’m sorry and I withdraw Madame Speaker. There was a decimation of jobs,” he said. (SMH)

He also, today, accused Australia’s Human Rights Commission of writing a partisan report, and that it was clearly a stitch-up, something the Human Rights Commission should be ashamed of publishing.  Clearly he also hasn’t read the report, because it covers “nine months of the Gillard and Rudd governments and the first 12 months of the Abbott government. And it references policies in place for a decade.” (Guardian).  While unfairly criticising the Human Rights Commission, he also said the following distasteful bile:

Asked on Fairfax radio on Thursday morning if he felt any guilt over the findings, the prime minister said “none whatsoever”.

“The most compassionate thing you can do is stop the boats,” Abbott said.

“Where was the Human Rights Commission when hundreds of people were drowning at sea [under Labor]?

“This is a blatantly partisan politicised exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself.

“I reckon that the Human Rights Commission ought to send a note of congratulations to Scott Morrison to say ‘well done, mate’,” Abbott said. (Guardian)

That’s right, Tony thinks that the HRC should congratulate one of the most inhumane Immigration Ministers that Australia has ever seen (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

This week also saw Tony being found “shockingly incompetent” by a US think tank.  I’m surprised that a US think tank was even looking at Australia’s political goings on, but clearly Tony and his team are making such monumental arsehats of themselves, that the rest of the world is beginning to pay attention.

A leading United States think tank has published a piece posing the question, “Is Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott the most incompetent leader of any industrialised democracy?” and answering, quite comprehensively, in the affirmative.

Published on the Council on Foreign Relations website before Mr Abbott survived a spill motion on Monday, the piece argues that he has proven so “shockingly incompetent” that he deserved to lose his job.

“Abbott has proven so incapable of clear policy thinking, so unwilling to consult with even his own ministers and advisers, and so poor at communicating that he has to go,” wrote the CFR senior fellow Joshua Kurlantzick, a US specialist in south-east Asian politics. (SMH)

Also this week, because it is an epic week of Tony being an epic arsehat, in response to the Closing the Gap report, he said that, “indigenous Australians must “grasp” the opportunity to close the gap of disadvantage and not expect it to be granted by government” (The Australian).  This is despite the ongoing racist policies and legislation enacted by the Government such as The Intervention, continued child removal, and the cutting of Government funds towards services aimed at improving Indigenous Australian lives.  Amy McGuire at New Matilda has more:

“Closing the gap is not something to be granted by this Parliament to Indigenous Australians; closing the gap is to be grasped by them.”

This is smoke and mirrors of the highest order, because it assumes blackfellas have some sort of choice. It assumes they have an ability to “grasp” this lifeline extended from HMAS Abbott, when in reality they are being left in the sea to drown.

If you dig into report, and it really isn’t hard given it is only 20-pages long, you’ll find a much more insidious agenda at play.

According to the report, the removal of CDEP resulted in a 60 percent decline in Indigenous employment rates. But governments have continually failed to view CDEP jobs as real employment, even though they kept Aboriginal people active and engaged, and paid real wages through ‘top up’.

The Remote Jobs and Community Program (RJCP) replaced CDEP in remote areas, and effectively takes Aboriginal people back to the days before award wages.

And finally, for this blog post at least, Tony is going to be investigated by the audit office for a federal budget proposal:

Tony Abbott’s decision to hand over $3 billion of public money for the East West Link without a rigorous benefit-cost analysis will be formally investigated by the national audit office.

Auditor-General Ian McPhee is apparently so keen to pursue the issue after making preliminary inquiries with Infrastructure Australia and the Department of Infrastructure that he adjusted the audit work program to accelerate his investigation.

The promise of $3 billion appeared to breach a Federal Coalition promise made before the 2013 election that there would be no Commonwealth infrastructure projects of more than $100 million without a rigorous benefit-cost analysis.

Mr Albanese said taxpayers deserved to know what due diligence process Mr Abbott undertook before deciding to fund the project.

“Based on documents released by the Andrews government, the Napthine government sought to conceal its business case from the Commonwealth and then attempted to cook the books to make the East West project look worthwhile,” Mr Albanese said.

“It also appears Mr Abbott did nothing to satisfy himself that the project represented value for public money.” (The Age)

This has just been one week in the Prime Ministership of Tony Abbott.  Given he survived a leadership spill with no clear alternative on Monday (it’s only Thursday now), I don’t imagine with more weeks like this under his belt that he’ll be around for much longer.  My eyebrows would appreciate him not being around much longer given they’re tired of being raised so frequently, I’m worried that soon they will start living on the back of my head.  Ideally he and his party would also vanish up their own arses when Tony is removed from leadership, but we’ll have to put up with their continued wreckage for a bit longer.

For everyone else who got this far, here is the tracker of all the promises that Tony has broken since his election, and the details of the mess he’s made.

Related Posts:

Meet my friend Kath

I met Kath on Twitter when she was hosting the @homelessinMelbourne account as a guest curator.  I responded to a few of the things she tweeted and we started a conversation.  It was around this time she started her own twitter account @kathhomeless, so I started to follow that too.

Kath is a 52 year old, homeless woman who lives out of her car in Queensland.  She tweets about the problems of being homeless, how one lives in a car, tweets the stories of her life and how she ended up homeless (and it’s not a simple story), shares photos of her home cooking (and it looks pretty tasty), and beautiful sunsets and sunrises.

Sunrise photo by Kath

Kath also has a blog, which initially was put together by one of Kath’s other followers, giving Kath an opportunity to collate her stories, share information with others, and host her great photos (so you don’t have to be up at sunrise to see the great shots).

Because this is the internet, and people are cynical, doubting arsehats, Kath cops a fair amount of abuse on Twitter, with some people claiming she’s only on Twitter to beg for money (which she’s never done in my interactions with her), that she’s lying about being homeless, that she’s homeless by choice, or that she’s lying about all the things she’s done or had happen to her in the past which has resulted in her current situation.

If you really feel it’s your place to do due diligence while reading a person’s story, perhaps you should be asking what your motivations are and who made you ruler of other people’s lives.

Kath’s most recent blog post calls for an understanding of homelessness:

The last few days have been quite draining for me trying to explain my situation to people that just don’t understand or think they do but don’t! I have been attacked by people that don’t care and think homelessness is a joke and is not real. They think it is my choice to be homeless or I choose to live this way. They have no idea of the reality of homelessness. They have never experienced it and probably never will. They have led a sheltered life away from the real harsh world. They do not understand how it can happen to people and blame me for being that way. They do not know any facts and really don’t care to find out the truth as they really don’t want to be involved with it. They question my answers to their questions and ridicule me on my comments. I try my best to be polite and help them understand what homelessness involves but they don’t care to listen. About the closest they will ever get to homelessness if the cross the street if they see a homeless person or do a sleep out which I call a camping adventure to act as if they care of to promote themselves that they are involved in a cause. It is a shame that they do not even want to understand such a major problem in Australia but why should they after all we choose to live this way. How can anyone end up homeless? It must have been my fault. I try to explain to them to read my blog and comments on twitter and maybe help them to understand my situation but they do not even do that. They are to ready to ridicule and simply don’t care enough to find out the fact. If they did it would problem raise emotions they have never and probably never will and make a fool of them for being so abrupt and uncaring. So I say to all of them good luck.

Many of my followers think that is easy and they can help me with my homelessness. Many have tried to help me by contacting charity organisations or government organisations including local MP members without my knowledge. After they do they contact me and their reaction is shock horror now they understand why I am homeless. I say to all don’t bother. No one can help as their is no housing. A shortage of housing is the problem simple. A MP or a charity just cant pull out a room or unit or house out of the air. I wish all would understand this. I have so many that try to tell me what to do with good intentions but they just don’t understand that I already have. I spent the first 6 months in Brisbane searching for answers. I learnt a lot about how the government deal with homelessness and how the charities and organisations spend there funding. It became a bit of a game for me. Gave me something to do researching all of this. No going on the housing list will not work. Yes I am injured but not disabled. No I am not a priority and will not get prioritised because I am sleeping in my car. In fact most don’t recognise me as homeless because I have a car and I am not sleeping under a bridge or a park.

Poverty is rising in Australia, which means that those who are homeless are going to remain that way, and that more people will be at risk of homelessness.

The OECD finds that poverty is rising in Australia with the number of those living in poverty accounting for 14.4 per cent of the population, compared to the OECD average of 11.3 per cent.

But Professor Whiteford, from the Australian National University in Canberra, says it does reveal some concerns within Australia.”We’ve got a lot of issues we need to address in Australia, and I think there are some obvious ones, like unemployment’s deteriorated over the past year or so. And there seems to be, particularly, problems of increasing proportions of young people who are neither in employment, education or training.”

What can we do about homelessness?  We can help those we know are homeless by giving them a couple of dollars when we see them.  Short-term accommodation is very expensive, not to mention quite risky as you end up living without a safety net or somewhere to store your belongings.  It is not our job to judge how people spend money once we give it to them, and it is not our job to pre-judge people’s spending intents and avoid giving them money because you believe they may not spend it in a way you agree with.

How can you help Kath?  Well another one of her followers set up a Pozible campaign in order to be able to buy her a new car fridge so she can keep her required medication close to hand.  Excess money will go towards much needed surgery and/or a camper van if possible.  If you have a couple of spare dollars handy, then I fully recommend this Pozible campaign.

Homelessness is a complex issue with no simple answers.  People who are homeless have often ended up that way through a collection of misfortune and, despite what our great Prime Minister Tones says, no one chooses to be homeless.  Helping those who are less fortunate than ourselves is not only what good people do, it’s necessary when the Governments of the day are likely to reduce the current level of Newstart allowance because they want to abolish the Mining Tax.

The chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, Cassandra Goldie, sought to broaden the debate over the consequences of the mining tax repeal legislation.

“In addition to assistance for the children of veterans, the government is proposing to abolish a range of measures which provide much needed assistance to low-income households, on the pretext that they are linked to the minerals resource rent tax,” Goldie said.

“This includes a $4 a week supplement for people struggling to cope on the $36 a day Newstart allowance, now widely recognised as grossly inadequate. The supplement is the only real increase in the Newstart allowance in 20 years. In this context, taking away this meagre increase from those already in hardship is unconscionable.”

Kath, and everyone else on Newstart is doing it hard, and when we can help them out, we should as good fellow citizens and as good people.  Some of this will be lobbying MPs, some will be working with charities to provide services, goods or food to people in need, some of this will be direct cash hand outs, and some of this will be educating others about the fact that homelessness is not simple, and is worth more than a sound-bite or some CEOs sleeping in nice sleeping bags one night a year.

We can do better as a nation and as people by looking after the vulnerable members of our society.

Related Posts:

The proof is actually in the Tony Abbott pudding

So today Abbott has come out saying that he’s a changed man, that he’s grown and changed (recently) and that we shouldn’t judge him by comments he made 35 years ago.  Ok, sure, I won’t judge Tony Abbott for comments he made 35 years ago, back when he was a dick, I’ll judge him for comments he’s said far more recently than that, which still show he’s still a dick.

Harsh you might say, but I note he hasn’t actually come out distancing himself from those far more recent comments.  Let’s look at today’s news across the spectrum of news agencies.

First the ABC:

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he can guarantee that his religious views will not impact on policies about women.

The Liberal leader has also backtracked from his previous views on homosexuals and saying the numbers of abortions each year is a “legacy of unutterable shame”.

“I didn’t express it as well as I could have or should have,” Mr Abbott said.

“And I absolutely accept that for any woman facing an unexpected pregnancy, the choices are tough.”

“Faith is important to me. It’s important to millions of Australians. It helps to shape who I am. It helps to shape my values,” he said.

“But it must never, never dictate my politics. Judge me by what the considered view today is, not by throwaway lines and off-hand comments 35 years ago.”

Mr Abbott, who as student politician at Sydney University opposed gay rights, also said he no longer has the strong views on homosexuality he used to.

In the interview Mr Abbott reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage.

Ok, so from the ABC report, we know that the choices women have when dealing with unexpected pregnancies are tough, but there is no mention of any new Coalition policies towards the decriminalisation of abortion.  Abbott has also said that although his faith is important, it won’t dictate his politics, asking that we don’t judge him by his dickish comments 35 years ago.  He hasn’t, as I said earlier, repudiated his comments over the past 11 years, many of which suggest that his politics are deeply influenced by this faith.  He also said that his “strong views on homosexuality” have changed, but he still opposes marriage equality.  Which suggests that although he might now think that the queer community are ok, he isn’t all for equal rights.

Additional information from news.com includes:

Mr Abbott reflected on the now-famous speech by Prime Minister Julia Gillard attacking him as a misogynist.

“It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t true,” he said.

He said he had said things in the past which he wouldn’t say today, and believed in things that he did not believe now.

“I have changed and I like to think I have grown,” he said.

His views on homosexuality have also changed and he now warmly accepts his sister Christine Forster as a lesbian, after she left her marriage of 19 years to be with her new partner Virginia.

 

 

So which things has Abbott changed his mind on?  The news articles, and I’m guessing also from the content the 60 Minutes interview, he has just said he’s changed his mind and hasn’t actually enunciated what he’s changed his minds on.  No, I’m not going to watch 60 Minutes and listen to Abbott’s voice to determine whether he’s been clear on what he’s changed his mind on precisely, if there was anything substantial it would be reported on in the media such as:

TONY ABBOTT SUPPORTS MARRIAGE EQUALITY

or

ABBOTT SUPPORTS ABORTION DECRIMINALISATION

As none of these things were reported, I think it’s yet another sound bite in the vain attempt to make Abbott seem like a decent individual.

And truly, it is so heart warming that he STILL LOVES HIS OWN SISTER even though she has come out as a lesbian.  When I read that, my heart swelled fit to bursting and the stars shone brighter than ever before.  What type of monster would Abbott be if he actually disowned his sister or stated he couldn’t stand his sister’s decision to live her life true to herself?  That wouldn’t be politically wise, so despite leaving her high and dry in that she cannot marry her new partner or anyone else of the same sex, saying that he “warmly accepts” his sister really is the barest minimum he can do.

And from The Age:

He also stated that earlier comments condemning abortion were poorly stated and admitted that his opposition to homosexuals had changed once he had got to know gays.

Supported by his lesbian sister, her lover, his wife Margie and his daughters, Mr Abbott said that when he claimed three years ago during a television interview that he felt “a bit threatened” by homosexuals, he had been trying to guard a family secret.

He had only just been told by his sister that she was a lesbian.

“Now I couldn’t talk about that then because it was deeply personal and deeply private,” he said.

“But certainly, they were very tough times for our family, hence my comment, because the cohesion of our family was threatened at that time. But I’m pleased to say that we’re all in a better space now than we were then.”

Interviewed at a family barbecue at his Sydney home, Mr Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, said he had been “completely unfazed” when she told him that she was in a lesbian relationship after 19 years married to a man.

Mr Abbott, who has always insisted marriage was between a man and a woman, even appeared to hold open the vague possibility of a future policy change by his party on same-sex marriage.

So Abbott is attempting to have it both ways, being “completely unfazed” when his sister outed herself to him, and also that “the cohesion of [his] family was threatened at that time” – though granted without context that could be in relation to another issue that had nothing to do with his sister.  The way it is reported however, makes it look like he didn’t react well to his sister coming out as a lesbian, but then he got over himself – well done Abbott – you’re a mostly decent human.

And it shouldn’t take you getting to know some “gays” before your attitude to them changes to acknowledging their equal citizenship and humanity.  Accepting that the broader queer community is make up of regular every day people is a no-brainer, except if you are a fundamentalist Christian who is happier to deny the humanity of your fellow citizens than to question what you have been taught.

Until I see some policy changes from Abbott which genuinely indicates that he’s shifted from his known ultraconservative views to what he is now claiming to be, I don’t accept his claims that he’s grown and changed into a decent individual, and that the Liberal Party is even remotely something I could vote for in the future.

Related Posts:

Religion – coming soon to Docklands

I don’t have a problem with religious groups fund-raising amongst their parishioners to purchase land and build places to worship.  I even think it’s really nice when several different religious groups get together and share facilities that they’ve jointly organised/leased, or even if one group owns it but is sharing because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

I do have a bit of a problem however when my Government decides to set aside some land for the use of religion, particularly when the residents of the area were far more interested in having a school provided than a place of worship.  In today’s Age:

Planning Minister Matthew Guy has announced a prime government-owned site in Docklands will be provided for a place of worship. This is despite a community plan released by the government and Melbourne City Council in July listing a ”public primary school in or very near Docklands” in the top six priorities. A place of worship did not make the top six.

Now I don’t care that much for Docklands, I find it currently a soulless void (nothing to do with religion, a lot to do with there not being much I’m interested in there currently), but that’s now… In 5 years it could be the place to be, and this “prime government-owned” land could be put to far better use than to “save souls”.  A community centre (secular) and a school are two purposes I could see being incredibly useful.  I think the area is also lacking a doctor and a chemist, so looking after the physical health of the residents, and their education of any children living there would be far more useful.

So why is the Docklands getting government provided religious facilities?

Mr Guy said Docklands deserved a place of worship. ”Places of worship play an important role in the spiritual and emotional life of a community. They can be a critical focal point, particularly for a new suburb such as Docklands, in bringing people together,” Mr Guy said.

You know what else brings people together?  Schools and community centres.  They tend to bring more people together because they exist outside religion – which tends to be a group of semi-exclusionary clubs.  People bond over taking their children to schools, and community centres tend to host communal events and provide spaces for various groups to get together on common interests.  Community centres and schools also tend have some green space, something which is really lacking at Docklands, which is a great thing for a community.  Imagine a school or community centre with a communal garden?  In the land of apartments, I am sure that there would be many who would love that.

Mr Guy goes on to add:

”A new religious centre will provide significant community benefit bringing faith as well as education and training facilities for the Dockland’s community and emerging businesses.”

I’m currently at a loss, other than clearly providing education in the religion of the person providing instruction, what other education and training facilities would benefit the community and emerging businesses that wouldn’t be provided by a school or community centre – which might I add do not require people to be of a particular faith to participate in.

[UPDATE: I have been advised by someone who knows Docklands better than I that there is already a community centre in the Docklands area called The Hub (as I understand it).  This also has creche facilities.  This said, there are plenty of places of worship in Melbourne CBD (not covering all religions but many), but no schools.

Related Posts:

Tony Abbott, Christianity and “Boat People”

Tony Abbott said the following today (in the Australian, article titled: Abbott slams boatpeople as un-Christian*)

TONY Abbott yesterday claimed boatpeople were acting in an un-Christian manner by “coming through the back door” and should not be encouraged to “jump the queue” with people-smugglers.

Asked on ABC Perth radio why his attitude to asylum-seekers was unchristian, the Opposition Leader responded: “I don’t think it’s a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door.

“And I’m all in favour of Australia having a healthy and compassionate refugee and humanitarian intake program.

“I think that’s a good thing. But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way.

“If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

Continue reading Tony Abbott, Christianity and “Boat People”

Related Posts:

Let’s talk about Immigration

Not government policy about Immigration, and all that entails, but the Department itself, the workplace I spent 15 years of my working life in, the Department in which I developed as an individual, learnt a lot of interesting and worthwhile things, and made a great number of friends.

Because when Immigration is demonised, I was demonised, my colleagues were demonised, and really it was rather shit.  So why not demonise an entire Department of people?  So glad you asked…

Immigration as an institution of people was significantly less racist than general society, and was one of the more diverse government departments (according to data I read from somewhere when I was there).  It was important in Immigration as to where our clients came from, because then we could assist with interpreters, etc, but otherwise their origin was unimportant overall.  Yes the world was divided into non-citizens, and Australian residents and citizens, but that was the nature of the job. The world was not divided into white and non-white, but along lines of visa eligibility (for example some nations could obtain Electronic Travel Authorities – which are a simple visitor visa to Australia, and others could not.  Again not based on white or non-white lines).

When it comes down to it, the people you’d want to be working with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, are the ones that actually are.  Many of my colleagues were left-leaning, socialist, caring souls who wanted the best outcome for the client.  They were satisfied that, for the most part, if they made a mistake, or if a client’s situation changed, there were review mechanisms in place to look at the case again.

Let’s use an example.  I had a group of clients from Kazakhstan apply for Protection Visas.  Based on the country information at that time, I refused their applications as they did not meet the definition of a refugee as outlined by the United Nations Convention on Refugees.  Between the time I decided their application and the time their review was finalised the situation in Kazakhstan had changed dramatically, meaning that some of them were found to be refugees.

That safety net, the ability to know that the decision I made would be (most times if rejected) reviewed made my job easier.  Things which didn’t make my job easier were being demonised for working for Immigration; dealing with stories of torture, trauma, rape, and loss; a department that was becoming increasingly risk averse; and my own lack of good judgement about how many extra-curricular roles I could take on as well as my full time job.

The people who work at Immigration are great people doing a difficult job.  Like all Government departments and agencies, their role is to implement Government policy.  Believe me, when they don’t agree with that policy, they let those who need to know, know.  My former colleagues are a rather bolshy lot and will speak up and explain exactly why X or Y is a bad idea.  Whether they are listened to is a different issue of course.  A number of times when I was still working for Immigration draft policy was sent for comment, and we were given the opportunity to shred it, which if it needed to be, we would.  Our comments were often taken into account, and I know of several occasions where policy was withdrawn on the basis of the comments that were made.

Disagreeing with Government policy is all well and good, disagreeing with individual visa decisions is also fine, slamming an entire organisation because of Government policy or a visa decision – not so good.  Really, with all Government departments, you want the best people possible to work there.  The salary is not great, though in many cases the conditions are, and the people there are attempting to provide good outcomes for people.  Suggesting that all Immigration employees are facists, racists, or any other epithet you think is a great one to hurl at Immigration hurts those that work there, and does nothing to change Government policy.

If you don’t like the policy of the Government of the day, talk to them, get a lobby group together, write to your local MP, attend meetings and forums where you can be heard, but don’t demonise those who are doing their jobs and who actually want the best outcome for their clients.

Related Posts: