Friday, January 30, 2009

Ian Thorpe Is Not Even Vaguely Cheerful

While the dangers of the Global Financial Crisis continue to dominate acres of newsprint, and while the New South Wales Public Hospital system lurches from one crisis to another, it is reassuring to know that the truly important stories are still getting plenty of coverage. Stories like the ongoing fascination with the private lives of public figures. In particular, it seems that the world simply cannot continue turning until someone comes up with the answer to whether or not Ian Thorpe is gay.

Usually, Ian Thorpe ignores the gossip and goes about his business without bothering anyone. However, the publication of photos of Ian with Brazilian swimmer Daniel Mendes sent members of the triviatti (yes, I have just invented a word) into a frenzy of innuendo and speculation. Two blokes photographed together at a beach, and they’re both good looking, well they must be gay. There is no other explanation. If they were ugly blokes, say a couple of truckies having a smoko together, well that would be entirely different.

Of course, you and I know that it’s a question that really doesn’t need an answer. It’s none of our business, and whether he is or he isn’t doesn’t make the slightest difference to the astounding contribution that he has made to sport and to his country. Ian Thorpe remains one of our greatest champions, and a wonderful ambassador for Australia. And if we are completely honest, I think we like it that he is just a little bit mysterious.

It’s almost not worth mentioning that Ian Thorpe has already given a straight answer to the queer question in the past, but just for the record it was “No.” Nevertheless, the escalation of speculation in the so called blogoshphere spilled over into the tabloid universe and phone calls were made to Mr. Thorpe’s agent until at the end of the day an official comment was forthcoming. It said this:

“I find this kind of inaccurate speculation tiresome and I am annoyed by the hurt it has caused to those closest to me.” That’s it.

Of course, there are some people for whom that will not be enough. There are some who will harbor their own opinions no matter what. Opinions, it is said, are like bottoms… everybody’s got one. But surely, Ian Thorpe has made himself clear. He is not gay at all. He is grumpy, or more accurately, “annoyed”. Maybe if we all stop bothering him with petty and irrelevant obsessions he might be able to cheer up a bit.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hospitals Plan Futile Without Management Reform

Now that the crew of the good ship Titanic have finished squabbling over the choice of deckchairs and two new minister have been selected for the New South Wales Cabinet, can we please get back to the more important business of running the state’s health system? While the politicians have been busy out-maneuvering each other, the people of New South Wales have been left aghast at the unending reports of health and hospital failures.

The Greater Western Area Health Service has been making the front pages repeatedly for not paying its bills. Butchers, plumbers, medical suppliers, and now their own doctors have all been left without payment for unacceptable periods of time. The government has admitted that $23 million remains outstanding, despite the uproar since the problem was revealed last year. But it’s worse than that. Around the state the total for all Area Health Services comes to $117.5 million.

How any government can get away with not paying its bills is difficult enough to explain, but right now with the world in the grip of an unprecedented financial crisis, it is more vital than ever that government payments are made on time as part of the process of propping up the economy. Clearly, lack of adequate forward planning must be part of the explanation, born out by the revelation health is expected to be $900 million over budget by the end of March. So where has all the money gone? It’s easy to suspect that too much of it pays for the overblown and inefficient bureaucratic structure of the Area Health Services. And I wonder how many of the desk jockeys have been left waiting more than six weeks for their wages to be paid, like the specialists at Dubbo have.

The Premier, having finally sorted out his ministerial lineup, has presented the Prime Minister with a request for $2.5 billion to rebuild major hospitals around the state. It is certainly a proposal which would fit the bill in so far as providing infrastructure investment to boost the economy at the same time as modernizing the stat’s hospitals. But there are two big questions which would have to be asked.

Firstly, even if the money is forthcoming, what is the guarantee that the project will be delivered as promised? The New South Wales government has broken so many promises that no one believes anything they say anymore. Secondly, if the new facilities are built, what then? Where will the doctors and nurses be found to staff these facilities? And if they are found, how will they be paid? Unless the problems besetting the health system now are resolved now, spending billions on new hospitals will be futile.

Yes, the plan to rebuild our hospitals is a good one, and if it goes ahead it will do so over a period of time stretching beyond the next election. But how many other good plans have been announced by this government only to never see the light of day? More pressing is the matter of managing the facilities we have now, and on that score current efforts have been an utter failure. That’s why reform of the bureaucracy is the most urgent priority.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Jelena Dokic Fairytale

In the endless pursuit of ratings it seems that television executives simply can’t help themselves but to lose all sense of propriety and perspective. There’s nothing better, it seems, than a good old confrontation. Conflict is drama, and drama is entertainment, and entertainment is showbiz, so to some extent we should all know better than to take television too seriously. But we have delivered ourselves a medium where trivia is news, gossip is commentary, and almost everything is fair game.

It has been reported that Channel Seven allegedly offered to pay for Damir Dokic to fly to Melbourne where his daughter has been attracting admiration with the magnificent revival of her tennis career. Every Australian knows the background to the story of Jelena and her father. Every Australian has some sort of understanding of what she has been through. Every Australian that I know of wants Jelena to do well, because she deserves to have the opportunity to fulfill her potential.

Allegedly, Channel Seven also arranged for Damir’s passport to be renewed and the trip was all set to go ahead, until he discovered that officials at Melbourne Park had no intention of allowing him to enter the venue. So he said no. Thankfully, Jelena was spared the potential embarrassment of an unwanted encounter, or even simply the distraction of knowing that such a side-show was taking place.

The question has to be asked however, just what did Channel Seven hope to achieve? Did they want to set up some sort of emotionally explosive and unwelcome reunion? Did they want to provoke a confrontation between Damir Dokic and tennis officials? Or did they just want to get some video footage of a forlorn Damir standing at the gates of Melbourne Park, denied the opportunity to see his daughter redeem her career? Whatever they wanted, they wanted on camera.

The pathetic thing is that if it had happened, people, some at least, would have fallen for it and watched breathlessly as the concocted drama unfolded, muttering to themselves about the nasty Damir, but not for a moment condemning the television puppet masters who revel in the idea that any controversy is a good controversy, no matter how contrived. Remember this is the same bunch of self important ethically bankrupt myopic miscreants who chained a pensioner to her bed to misrepresent a nursing home. That happened on Today Tonight, but it’s not just the one programme, and it’s not just the one network. It’s an epidemic of ethical entropy which has afflicted almost all media.

In the meantime, Jelena has proven to be a wonderful inspiration for all Australians. Her match against Dinara Safina was the most thrilling and suspenseful contest and right up to end it seemed that the game was within her grasp. Even at match point, the possibility of hanging on and taking the match was a very real one. To have lost that match does not diminish the overwhelming success of her comeback one jot.

And I disagree completely with the newspaper headline which read: “Jelena Dokic Fairytale Ends”. If what we saw at the Australian Open is any indication at all, the fairytale is just beginning.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Something For Everyone On Australia Day

The selection of Professor Mick Dodson as Australian of the Year has come as no real surprise. For weeks there was speculation about the result having been possibly leaked, along with suggestions of some irregularities in the betting market. Betting was suspended on suspicion that someone already knew the outcome. But whether or not they did has nothing to do with the outcome itself.

In keeping with the spirit of last years formal apology to the stolen generations, and with the broader reconciliation agenda, the selection of Professor Dodson represents more than simply recognition of his achievements. It also represents recognition of the ideas, the issues, and the values for which he stands. As an effective campaigner for indigenous rights and social justice, he has won the respect of both his supporters and his opponents. His achievements are an inspiration for both black and white Australians.

However, some might take exception to his suggestion that perhaps we could celebrate Australia Day on a different date. From his point of view, as with many Indigenous Australians, January 26 is Invasion Day. It is the anniversary of the birth of Terra Nullius, the legal notion that prior to 1788 Australia was unoccupied; the principle of British Law which saw Aborigines legally treated as nothing more than wildlife. That legal fantasy might now be long gone, but its residue is not.

Obviously, mainstream Australia, that is to say the white dominated society, is unlikely to shift Australia Day, which after all has come to represent a lot more than simply the arrival of the First Fleet. It represents our celebration of our proudly independent character, our values of a fair go for all, looking after your mates, and defending our freedom. These are values that can be shared by all Australians of all ethnic backgrounds.

If reconciliation is to be truly successful, and if Indigenous Australians are to embrace a place in the modern community, there needs to be a way of getting past the whole issue of “Invasion Day”. To be blunt, some people need to “get over it.” It is a fact of history and cannot be changed. What we can change is how we deal with the situation now, and into the future. At some point, there will have to be a recognition that the end of isolation has been on balance a positive outcome for indigenous Australians.

Now that might be a big stretch for people still caught up in the historical realities of dispossession, disadvantage and discrimination. To the extent that those things still exist today, and they most certainly do, we have failed in our efforts at real reconciliation. To repair that shortcoming, the failures of the past must finally be left in the past, and the failings of the present must be addressed head on.

And while the practical actions are essential, the symbolic ones are important too. That’s why the apology was the right thing to do. That’s why a treaty is also worth considering seriously. And if that treaty were to be signed on the anniversary of the Invasion, wouldn’t that be both fitting and a means to alter forever the significance of January 26th for those who still see it as a dark day?

It may not solve all the problems of reconciliation, but it would at least give everybody something to celebrate on Australia Day.