Social functioning spend

Or “the budget” as most of us may be familiar with.  I touched on this in an earlier post as I have now entered the world of taking an interest in “the budget”. It really isn’t branded appropriately because what the budget aims to do is increase social cohesion, or functioning.  That is, the reduction in anti social behaviour (largely crime related) and increased welfare of citizens.

I was privileged to attend the NSW budget briefing delivered by the NSW treasury secretary and what an inspiring man.  Treasury have a pretty tough job – keeping millions of people happy through maintaining our living standards through effective fiscal planning!  He said if he could summarise the FY15 budget in a sentence, it would be through Ross Gittins’ (SMH economics editor) remark the new Premier ‘Mike Baird is nothing if not game. His first budget as Premier is a model of fiscal rectitude.’.  The >$60b tax payer funded fiscal plan takes us through to a surplus, which is ideal to maintain our strong economy.

Protecting and supporting fellow Australians

The NSW Government has said it will invest heavily in:

  • Child protection “Keeping them safe reform” – which is a sound strategy as a supportive childhood often leads to increased wellbeing as an adult.  Which in turn produces labour that is productive and enhances economic stability therefore leading to increased wellbeing due to sufficient living standards.
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) – ensuring that those who are less able have greater choice as part of their care plans. This scheme also seeks to support carers in their quest to support themselves and others.
  • Home owners grant extension – likely due to promote property ownership which in turn leads to greater labour productivity through motivating citizens to work to pay off their mortgage.  In turn, also creating a more stable lifestyle ensuring adequate housing and a potential profit making asset when sold to downsize upon retirement, or later enter an aged care facility.  The ageing population, as a result of the Baby Boomers post WWII, will put pressure on resource allocation through increased demand for aged care facilities, more health services and increases in welfare / pension distribution and reduced labour productivity.

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Revenue sources

  • Payroll tax reductions – ensuring revenue can be raised from a variety of sources and that low income earners see increased take home pay as the cost of living continues to rise.  In ACT for example, Land Tax is one of the greatest revenue raisers.
  • Asset recycling – will play a large role in heading to surplus by, for example, outsourcing infrastructure projects to international investors.  For example, the $400m Pacific Highway upgrade.
  • Private investment opportunities and partnerships – It’s no secret Australia’s federal treasurer has slashed health funding from 26% of the total budget to just 13%.  However it should be noted that there are greater incentives in place to keep people out of hospital and the health care system.  Another example of state’s increasing revenue bases from outside sources include private investment into the new Northern Beaches hospital to be built.
  • Potential for revisiting older models e.g. use of funds / source of funds.  Fuel excise at 3% goes straight back into maintaining and developing road infrastructure.

The end of the mining boom

One of the stand out components of the NSW budget delivery is the huge impact reduction in demand for Australia’s natural resources that are being mined which has affected Gross National Investment (GNI). This relates to income and subsequently affects expenditure, thus reducing Gross Domestic Product (GDP) i.e. production.

In good hands

In order to maintain a strong economy based on equal parts production (supply) and consumption (demand) we need strong labour productivity.  This in turn will continue to drive Australia’s largely globally envied living standards, ‘the lucky country’ and ‘the Australian way’.

Innovation in the public service is key with bureaucracy and old ways of doing things no longer feasible.  In order to serve the citizens of NSW effectively public servants must embrace change and new, more efficient and innovative ways of creating best practice service delivery and “unleashing talent”.  An example more recently of this has been the roll out of Service NSW branches, a one stop shop for many of your administrative needs e.g. licence, etoll, seniors card.

The NSW treasury secretary ended by saying he sees tax as needing to be fair and efficient and that effective roll out of the forecast budgeted projects requires collaboration, trust and clarity.

My take is that as long as we stay passionate about being educated, work hard, buy a property and stay healthy we will be all good! And for those of us who may be disadvantaged and unable to, those who can will support you.  Any criminals who impede achievement of these ideals will be punished….

I think we are in good hands…

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The voice of the media

Media. Mass communication.  A powerful vehicle to deliver messages to the masses quickly. Arguably one of the most powerful influences on society, vital in developing societal norms. Second only to the Government, which has the power to dictate media activity, or at least we are led to believe it does.

In the Australian media recently we have seen a few examples of the power of our media outlets. At what point does their quest for quality coverage cross the line? Below are a few productive and not so productive outputs of the media from a social perspective.

Solving crime

Distributing information and images / footage that may lead to a rapid arrest of a criminal or person of interest, enhanced recently through the use of social media by the police.  This is in our favour as we want to ensure a functional society, eradicating anti social behaviour as quickly as possible.

Driving community sanctioned rules which in turn shape Government laws

The media heavily influences public perception of the effectiveness of Government. The new 1:30am lock out and 3am last drinks laws were primarily fuelled by community outcry over the continued hospitalisation and in some cases death of young children, the victims of callous drunken attacks.  Government acted swiftly to pacify the community that ‘something would be done’ – a campaign which the community would never have known about without extensive media coverage.

Education

Media coverage enables us to understand and read about challenges and achievements experienced by members of society beyond our own location.  Its great to hear what may be happening in the world of our domestic and International counterparts and where we can obtain learnings.

At the end of various articles I find it quite useful to see relevant contact points e.g. an article on Cancer call Cancer Council Helpline.  An article relating to mental illness try Lifeline etc.

Driving forward a progressive society focused on marriage equality is another role of the media.

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Wasted resources

There has been that much media coverage on the Corby case the past decade I think we could have educated every Australian on human rights atrocities the world over by now.  Is this of value to us as society? Perhaps as a deterrent, which wouldn’t require a decade of media coverage.  The implications of ‘excessive Corby coverage’ has been far reaching with the Indonesian Government threatening to revoke Corby’s parole and The Australian Federal Police raiding the offices for information on a potential interview deal.

Publicity

Marketers are familiar with the value unpaid media exposure gives their product due to its vast reach and timeliness of message distribution. This in turn has the counter effect of negative publicity which can be damaging to a brand and business.  For example, the recent Qantas redundancy coverage.  Yes Alan Joyce could have made different business decisions earlier and Qantas may be in good shape today but life is full of could have, should have, would have but didn’t.  While some industries experience challenges based on the evolution of society e.g. car manufacturers others experience dramatic growth e.g. technology firms.

Negativity

The vast majority of media articles are negative e.g. about crime, misfortune etc.  How does this impact society? What are the implications of all this negativity? Is it possible to become tunnel visioned? thinking we are living in a crime filled society when in fact the stories we read represent only a small percentage of the activities of Australians.

We recently saw the exposure of the suicide of Charlotte Dawson.  A media personality renowned for a very public battle with depression.  Up until very recently media outlets did not publicise suicides for fear of suicide contagion. I assume this change the past year or so is in aid of mental illness to drive greater awareness and to publish the support services available.

Bias / Credibility

Can journalists disclose ‘the truth’ about anyone who is a major shareholder / owner / sponsor / regulatory authority (e.g. Government) or do they adopt a second set of principles to remain loyal and to keep financial incentives in tact? Are all messages from qualified sources?

Communist societies control messages so as not to distort desired public opinion for example, North Korea.  Is this beneficial to society? Should we be grateful for the freedom of speech we see from our writers today?

What next?

Mass media has a powerful voice – the key is how you use that voice and who determines what messages are most productive for society. Perhaps the answer is better ethics training for all journalists as it appears they are the key determinants for the mass communication received by society which in turn shapes our decisions.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-24/mcdonell-media-frenzy-descends-on-mh370-mystery/5340242

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/new-laws-may-allow-filming-in-nsw-courts/story-fn3dxiwe-1226864315601

A chemically altered consciousness

Drugs.   Chemical cocktails for the mind and body.  Defined by Google as ‘a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body.’

I recently attended Peter Hitchens ‘There is no war on drugs’ debate at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.  A campaign Peter appears committed to after experiencing the fall out of cannabis use by a friend’s son.  It could be argued, that illicit drugs are taken to temporarily (or permanently in the case of addiction) detach oneself from reality and one’s current state of consciousness.

I think his debate was largely unqualified and walked out when he started questioning the validity of prescription drugs…Thousands of life saving drugs have been developed over the past few centuries to improve the quality of life of those who are ill (mentally or physically). However, no academically awarded medical practitioner has scientifically concluded that the benefits of taking illicit drugs outweigh the costs to either yourself or others.

You can tell the difference when an academic presents compared to a journalist.  I’m still unsure if Mr Hitchens has tried illicit drugs? His address still sparked a debate internally about the social fallout of illicit drug consumption, which cannot be denied. Social in the context of ‘partying’ perhaps but not so social in the context of violence, crime, addiction, deteriorating health and poverty.

http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/national-drug-strategic-framework-lp

2010 Household Drug Survey

*Australian Institute of Health & Welfare

  • Recent illicit drug use (use in the previous 12 months) rose from 13.4% of the population aged 14 and over in 2007 to 14.7% in 2010. This was still below the 1995 peak of 16.7%.
  • The rise was mainly due to an increase in the proportion of people who had used cannabis (from 9.1% to 10.3%), pharmaceuticals for non-medical purposes (3.7% to 4.2%), cocaine (1.6% to 2.1%) and hallucinogens (0.6% to 1.4%).
  • Recent illicit drug use was highest in the 20–29 year age group for both males and females (30.5% and 24.3%, respectively).
    However, recent ecstasy use decreased, and there was no change in the use of meth/amphetamines, heroin, ketamine, GHB, inhalants and injecting drug use.
  • Between 2007 and 2010, ecstasy and meth/amphetamines were perceived to be less readily available, with less opportunity to use, but cocaine, hallucinogens, pain-killers/analgesics (both prescription and over-the-counter) and tranquilisers/sleeping pills for non-medical purposes were perceived to be more readily available.
  • Of all illicit drugs, community tolerance has increased for cannabis use, while people in Australia still consider heroin to be the drug most associated with a drug problem.

Important actors

While I don’t envisage solving the ‘war on drugs’ (illicit) in the next few paragraphs, I will share some brief views:

Justice system – Why is it that many of us turn a blind eye to cocaine abuse by a wealthy office worker and yet we shun those who live in poverty and smoke marijuana?  Equal opportunities for incarceration and condemnation for use and possession must be enforced.  I struggle to understand how hubs like Kings Cross exist when everyone knows what goes on behind many of the closed doors… A power struggle between the justice system and king pins? Perhaps.  Which may reduce through harsher deterrents for criminals but also greater support for law enforcement officers.

Education – many attendees of this address thought earlier education and more of it would reduce illicit drug consumption.  However, if my experiences and the experiences of those I have met in my time are anything to go by its not so much a deterrent.  As Peter discusses, peer pressure and that desire to play with fire and experience the unknown play a key role.  It can’t hurt of course, and certainly the recent ‘Ice Age Campaign‘ has provided some great shock tactics.

I wonder whether a different tack could be for education providers to simply:

  1. Emphasise how many great things in the world ignite the senses like travel http://www.escapenormal.com/2012/06/23/the-100-most-beautiful-places-in-the-world-in-pictures/
  2. Remind us all of how ‘free and easy’ we have it these days (as my 94 year old grandfather says) and that we should be thankful for our good health and opportunity. http://www.boredpanda.com/must-see-powerful-photos/

Policy makers – ensure that appropriate consultation occurs with anti social citizens to understand the core drivers for illicit drug consumption so that appropriate systems are in place to combat it.  Perhaps:

  • More community engagement events and campaigns that foster important values – we all know how much sport unites us as Australians and Australia Day, Christmas etc.
  • Online service delivery for anxiety and depression to target those who may be at risk for starting on an illicit drug journey at the expense of seeking professional help – www.mindspot.org.au is a fantastic example.
  • And the list goes on…

All of us –  focus on constructing a more favoured reality which includes laughter, confidence, creativity and relaxation to fuel a less anti social society.

Notwithstanding there may be a genuine need to escape the current place one finds themselves (e.g. returning from war, divorce, dealing with grief/loss etc).  In this instance perhaps we can make mental health services more accessible and less stigmatised so people don’t feel compelled to commence their ‘illicit drug journey’.

Philosophically speaking…

One attendee at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas even raised the fact that you are more likely to be hit by a car than negatively impacted by drugs…A reference would have been handy.  Assuming he was correct, perhaps the social fallout from illicit drug use is what it is and is another facet of the world around us?  Survival of the fittest?

http://www.news.com.au/national/more-australian-teenagers-are-choosing-not-to-drink-and-smoke-according-to-a-major-new-report/story-fncynjr2-1226991404242

http://dealproject.org.au

http://www.au.timeout.com/sydney/aroundtown/events/38675/block-party-at-the-barracks

http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/philip-seymour-hoffman-bought-heroin-and-cocaine-from-two-dealers-in-final-drugs-score/story-fn907478-1226818084612

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/policeman-who-shot-ryan-pringle-thought-colleague-hit-by-crossbow/story-e6frg6nf-1226769686407

http://news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/nigella-lawson-testifies-in-court-at-fraud-trial-of-former-personal-assistants/story-fn907478-1226775464512

http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=60129544486&tab=2

http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/12/28/canada-approves-use-of-ecstasy-in-study-into-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blow_(film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limitless

A prisoner for life?

I had the privilege of attending one of the most explosive debates on recidivism and the reintegration of convicted criminals back into society at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas last weekend. When I first read that a double convicted murderer, Erwin James, was coming to Australia to speak I wondered what it would be like to hear his experience of 20 years behind bars for taking the lives of two men.

When he walked on stage and began speaking, I could see remorse ingrained in his face which was permanently furrowed, he never smiled and spoke softly and slowly. I didn’t know how I was going to feel about his views and whether I would agree…whether he deserved the treatment he got in prison and again on release…by the end of the discussion I had some respect (for a murderer?) for his struggle and for his views on recidivism.

Erwin James’ life became troubled at age 10 when his mother was killed in a car accident. His father, unable to cope, became an alcoholic and was abusive toward Erwin, at one stage pushing his head into the fire for smiling.  Erwin was convicted of burglary at age 10 after stealing from a sweet shop…he then left home to sleep on the streets, unable to handle his father’s rage.  He was moved into a boys home where he fast learned the tricks of the trade leading him on a downward spiral and a life on the streets filled with crime.  He by no means was justifying his crimes but painted the picture of a troubled childhood which played a role in his perception of right and wrong.

He didn’t talk much about his crimes, understandably, but wanted to focus on ‘life on the inside’ and whether society wanted criminals to be able to effectively reintegrate into society upon release.

Erwin suggested that if prisoners are in there forever we don’t need to pay as much attention to recidivism but the fact is many prisoners are released and the chances of reoffending are high, at least 60% in the UK,  50% in Australia.

He described prison as a place where you ‘live inside your head’, initially he was in a cell for 23hrs a day.  It was here he would try and work out why he did what he did. The prison psychologist helped him understand that all people are born loveable and aren’t inherently bad people…and so he began to untangle his dysfunctions.  He recalls seeing a photo of himself as a young boy with a cowboy hat on and wondered where it all went wrong.

It was a long and difficult 20 years with many prisoners taking their own life (1247 he recalls in great detail) ‘a place of fear where people were struggling’.  He was moved to a longer term maximum security prison and was able to then use workshops, the chapel, a gym and saw more possibilities.  He joined an English class which was important to be able to exercise his mind again.

Prison was a land of hierarchy and unwritten rules with someone being stabbed every other week.  He experienced a major riot and a siege but he hung on to hope and books.  The prison psychologist told him that he owes it to his victims to ‘do the best you can in here’.

He became known as ‘the guy who could write a good letter’ and started writing letters for other inmates to lawyers, family, complaints for people.  He started to feel good that he was able to contribute to a community and knew that if he ever got out he would want to make a positive contribution to society.  He saw writing as an enabler, allowing him to find a way to live again and walk the middle line between his past and future. He was chronically inhibited in prison and needed to feel secure again.

He was asked to write for the Guardian Newspaper a column on ‘life inside’.  This was an opportunity for Erwin to apply himself and have a second chance at life and is where he has been employed since.

Prison as a deterrent

Naturally, the question was raised that conditions in prison should be tough so its a deterrent to those choosing to commit crimes.  Erwin explained that he absolutely agrees that prison shouldn’t be a playground but that ultimately these people are going to be released and if we don’t want them continuing to harm members of society upon release they need to live in a way that is not going to impact their actions upon release.  ‘Prison crushes you, undermines, erodes and corrodes you and dismantles your humanity’.  You may get released but the debt you owe the victims and their families even after 20 years inside will never be repaid, and having that on your conscience is a true life sentence.

Early intervention

The question was raised around Erwin’s troubled childhood and it was agreed that early intervention from social services and the right education and support is key to ensuring criminality doesn’t result.

Victims and their families

Erwin at no point felt that his crimes should be excused, he raised some interesting views on what next after serving your time… A criminal record will always stay with him and even minimised his chances of getting a visa to come to Australia to speak.  However he just tries to ‘do the best he can’ with what time he has left on the outside.  Inside he hoped that he would live to see just one more sunny day…

Can people change? Can we forgive?

In Norway there is a prison called Bastoy that sees only 16% of its inmates reoffending upon release.  However, it is argued that Norway with its relatively small population, egalitarian nature and high quality of life within the community play a role.  Its here prisoners are given responsibility, for example through farming on site.
http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/sep/04/bastoy-norwegian-prison-works

Hearing first hand from a convicted criminal was enlightening.  It changed my perspective on our prison system.  Ultimately there are some criminals that will continue to reoffend and cause major harm in the community and shouldn’t be released and Erwin acknowledges this.  Conversely, there are many people imprisoned that commit fraud and other smaller crimes that probably don’t deserve to live in such circumstances and can be rehabilitated and deterred in different ways. However, there are others that will be released and upon spending sometimes decades in a hardened prison won’t be able to function in society as we know it.

People are people ultimately and its up to society as to whether they want to keep prisoners in there for life, or even capital punishment like in the US, but the fact remains many prisoners are currently released so its up to us to decide how they are treated in prison to reduce recidivism.

http://books.google.com.au/books/about/A_life_inside.html?id=SZIbAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y

http://news.com.au/national/thomas-kelly-killer-kieran-loveridge-gets-four-years-jail/story-fncynjr2-1226755733724n

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/my-conversations-with-a-coldblooded-killer/story-fnixwvgh-1226758834186

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/derrick-deacon-explains-what-freedom-feels-like-after-25-years/story-fnixwvgh-1226766427689

http://news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/simon-gittanys-new-life-in-jail-and-what-his-girlfriend-will-see-of-him/story-fnet09p2-1226770560480