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Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty Birskys was born in 1925 in Toowoomba Qld. She put her age up during WWII to serve in the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS). After the war, Betty worked as a radio copy-writer, librarian, went to Queensland University, and later worked for the QLD Public Service. In 1951, she met and married Antanas (Anton) Birskys, a Lithuanian Displaced Person immigrant. They had two children and together ran small businesses: a general store, a milk run, a newsagency. Later Anton sold real estate and Betty trained and worked as a high school teacher and teacher-librarian.

Betty Birskys

Much of Betty's writing concerns the post-war immigrant experience which produced multicultural Australia. Her stories have been published in literary magazines such as Meanjin, Southerly and Overland. She and Anton collaborated on the Lithuanian section of The Baltic Peoples in Australia, part of the AE Press Ethnic Heritage Series, a vitally needed series which unfortunately was never completed.

After Anton died in 2002, Betty brought much of her writing together into the book Homeland: A Fictional Memoir, short listed in the 2004 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards (and available for purchase from the author here). It is a multicultural story seldom told of the intermarriages which make our nation, and has struck a deep chord with readers.

Betty was on a panel at the recent Brisbane Writers Festival with Arnold Zable, Celestine Vaite, and Iraqi refugee poet Sabah Al-Ansari. The topic of the panel was "Making tracks: Cultural travelling" - and Betty feels that herein is the true history of our country, rather than in wars and Orwellian terror with politicians wrapping themselves in 'the flag'.

How did we get here?

by Betty Birksys

As an eighty-year-old 'war veteran' (VAD and AAMWS) and supposedly one of John Howard's demographic supporters, I am dismayed by the way Australia has been going under this Prime Minister, and very, very depressed by where we have finished up. What has become of the dreams that many in my generation had, as we rejoiced in the defeat of Hitler and the Japanese Empire?

Like many then, I believed in the promise of a Brave New World, without wars and poverty, and in Australia good public education and health care and social security - a fair go - for all. I never dreamt of anything but honesty and decency in public life...

Now I, like many of my generation, mourn what has become of our country, under the thrall of economic rationalism, globalisation, consumerism rampant, and an ugly war of aggression fought at the behest of the cowboy in the White House and his cronies.

We have awakened, like Rip Van Winkles, from our preoccupation with lives of working, rearing families, meanwhile trusting our governments to ensure good lives for all Australians, to find ourselves in the nightmare world of George Orwell's 1984, a world of fear and lies and division, of Doublethink and Newspeak.

The Howard government has carried Australia right into that world, and I fear what worse horrors will come for our children and grandchildren in the future. Such damage has been done to the very fabric of our society.

'The economy' has become the main descriptive/incentive in our lives, replacing community, culture and society... Rampant consumerism, and entrapping debt, is fostered as national policy.

'Citizens' have become 'customers' or 'clients', not only of  private enterprises, but of  government agencies such as Centrelink.

Education, health care, aged care, child care - community needs that were once guaranteed for all citizens - have been increasingly privatised, with immense taxpayer-funded subsidies siphoned off from the public purse, with an increase in inequality of opportunity, and a further fragmenting of society by wealth, by religion, by ethnic origins.

Vital human needs have become 'industries', so we have an aged care industry, a health industry, a child care industry (I do not think they quite dare yet to so classify education). Two standards of care are provided in all these industries, according to the means of the 'clients'.

Despite low interest rates, housing affordability is at its lowest level since 1990, with a growing number of homeless. Many first home buyers cannot enter the housing market; rent or mortgage absorbs over 50% of many incomes; there are stringent cutbacks in low-income government housing... (The so-called 'housing boom' is a myth anyway; of real benefit only to investors; the rest of us must buy back into the same market in which we sell).

Two million Australians live in poverty, including many working poor. The real unemployment rate is probably double the official figure, but is obscured by the amount of under-employment, (i.e. part-time and/or casual work) and the fact that one hour's work a week removes a person from the unemployment count.

Casual work comprises 28% of jobs, one of the highest rates in the developed world. And all this harm for ordinary people is to be exacerbated under Howard's 'WorkChoices - A simpler fairer national Workplace Relations System'.

How does this man have the gall to say this, to present his version of choice, with his record of lies and subterfuge, as the gap grows between the well-to-do and the poor, and our once diverse but cohesive community splits into ever narrower ghettos of the privileged and the under-privileged; of families finding their relationships in ever-narrowing circles decided by the (private/religious/ethnic) schools their children attend, the MacMansion suburbs or gated communities in which more and more of these deluded 'aspirationals' cluster...

I could go on and on: about poverty traps between welfare and work being worsened rather than remedied, about attacks on the most vulnerable among us (single parents, mostly mothers, the disabled), and how self-centred we have become as a society that this can happen with barely a protest from the rest of us...

But enough: my head aches, my heart breaks...

All I can do is ask: Is this, this "Howard's Australia", really the Australia we want? This nasty, dog-eats-dog country, this (as David Williamson put it) 'Cruise ship Australia, sailing the south seas to God knows where'.

I hope that we do not arrive at the destination so many peoples have reached through history: a Hobbesian one, one of  'no society...continual fear and danger... and life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish...' with division and hatred ruling...

Yes, I have depressed myself. And at my age that is not good for me. I am going outside to water my little garden.

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re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

So, what's your point? We should have a pot-plant led recovery?

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty, once upon a time we believed that Aborigines shouldn't vote. Once upon a time we believed in a job for life. Once upon a time we believed in killing people for the crimes they committed. Once upon a time we believed in a white Australia.

We don't believe in any of this now. Times have changed and we move on, as we always have. Casual work is allowing many mothers to combine child minding and a job. OECD statistics tell us that when corrected to account for our peculiar local definition of "employed" our unemployment rate jumps from 5% to 5.1%.

Change happens, and most of it is global. The fortress Australia my mum grew up in (she's 80 too) simply isn't there any more. What's really wrong in my view is that our governments have embraced globlisation and the change it brings without being prepared to deal with the short term consequences - which are, as you say, nasty.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Seriously, though, I agree with almost everything you say (apart from the education industry in which both at school and University level students are now known as clients). The Australia we have is not the one for which my grandfather fought, or the one for which my father and I served.

My serious criticism of your piece, however, is its title: we know how we got here; the question is "How do we get out?"

I'd be interested to hear your solution ma'am and look forward to serving with you on the barricades.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

We have awakened, like Rip Van Winkles, from our preoccupation with lives of working, rearing families, meanwhile trusting our governments to ensure good lives for all Australians, to find ourselves in the nightmare world of George Orwell's 1984, a world of fear and lies and division, of Doublethink and Newspeak.

The Howard government has carried Australia right into that world, and I fear what worse horrors will come for our children and grandchildren in the future.

Well said!

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Well Betty, I have been asking similar questions as Im sure have many others.

I would recommend that you get the recently published book, The Collapse of Globalism and the reinvention of the world by John Ralston Saul. This is the clearest and most thorough exposition of the great travesty that was and is being perpetrated, not only on Australia but the world at large.

I would suggest that it is possibly the most important book to be written in the last 30 years as it gives us both an understanding of what has happened, but more importantly, an opportunity to start undoing the damage and rebuilding a decent world.

Of course, it is just possible that the "war on terror" and the new security laws that are being built around it are if fact desigend to ensure that we the citizens (do citizens still exist or are we mere consumers?), do not have the opportunity to "roll back" any changes that have been made. It is the final nail securing the whole Orwellian - Brave New World enterprise.

Yes Betty, the great achievements that your generation achieved are being dismantled and trashed in the name of "progress". These "leaders" need instability to mask their real intent and as a means of transfering the common wealth into the greedy hands of the few - just like in the good old days.

Little John had been the real Barbarian sacking the whole edifice of what has been achieved in Australia, using asset inflation to hide the damage and keep those "Bave & Independent" Australians, basking around their barbies in sublime ignorance.

Collapse of the system seems the only real possibility for reconstruction as the Opposition is equally incapable of bringing the manegerial class to heal and they are running around in their own economic fantasy land.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty, thank you for saying so well and so succinctly what only someone from your generation can say. We were at a 60th wedding anniversary for my wife's parents this weekend. He fought in WWII as well and they were war time bride and groom. Many of those there were from your same generation and more and more of them were expressing disquiet and concern.

I hope that after watering the garden you sent a copy of this to every last politician at state and federal level! Depression has to be fought, and its causes (including Howard and Ruddock) fought as well!

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

As a baby boomer and part of the Vietnam era I have not had the same experience of the author. But I hold very similar opinions on the direction our country has lurched.

I, like all my generation had it good, but I depair for my children and grandchildren.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Howard and the death of history

Betty Birskys like many older Australians can see how Howard, like some latter-day Pol Pot, has destroyed history by attempting to remake it to match his own dreary narrow grey limited conception of what Australia should stand for.

Howard sat for History in the Leaving Certificate and gained a credible A pass but the syllabus in those days would have appealed to him, being as it was Empire-, European- and monarch-centred, with an emphasis where Australia appeared on the glorious deeds of the pioneers and ANZACs, no mention of non-British immigration and only a patronising passing reference to indigenous Australia. What better background for this man who displays his true ignorance of the impact of the past every day. What better background for someone whose idea of public policy is wield the dog-whistle.

The old Leaving Certificate History course was also such that it could be rote learned and regurgitated back, so a good pass often meant just a good memory.

There is no evidence that Howard has attempted, unlike other Prime Ministers, to broaden his knowledge and lift his vision since his entry into politics, but in that he has as his companion and soul-mate one George W Bush whose politics, like Howard's, are self-obsessed, firmly mired in what they both imagine are "sound values" and disturbingly based on the notion of the 90lb weakling throwing sand in the bully's face.

But Howard's followers share his ignorance too, not only in their lack of a critical knowledge of their own country but in their lack of understanding of the rest of the world, which is a disturbing trait only found previously in the English-speaking world amongst unsophisticated Americans. The opportunities for overseas travel and exposure to the instantaneous nature of the media that Howard's generation would not have had has not necessarily made younger generations wiser or more knowledgable.

Perhaps this era will be the era of the triumph of mediocrity in public life in this country. It is so obvious that Howard wants to cast himself as a latter day Menzies, when Billy McMahon would be a far better role model, though McMahon at least was not in office long enough to do the lasting damage to the fabric of this country that this miserably mediocre little tyrant has done.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Thanks for sharing your concerns and voicing what so many have been quietly worrying about. The priests of economic rationalism will only destroy everything of real value and the manipulators of power will divide and wedge our society, just as you say.

It is only after travelling overseas that one appreciates what we have here. After living in Oxbridge and Edinb, I felt the stomach punch pain of being snobbed against for the first time ever - this, because I was Australian. The one experience that I have in common with Mr Murdoch. Having strong egalitarian views, although not a Leninist like Rupert, I seethed with the injustice and stupidity of this and saw the advantage a society such as ours had, a society that allowed advancement and placement on merit. Sure, I got to go to the balls and meet the hoi poloi a little later, but I never forget the nothing one is before being introduced by the someone relative. That is not the case here thank goodness. Yet.

Now, I wonder if this is the direction our society is going. How could our parties suffer such moronic ministers and incompetence of such staggering level, how could such even rise to be members? Certainly it is surprising under the circumstances in which one's member can rise I have been told, but usually ability and thrust is the main tool of advancement, especially the blokey MPs. Now looking at the beddraggled floppy mess in government I see not a hard spine among them. Amanda is the only one with balls and brains, just no heart.

I think, as with our corporate boards, nepotism and school/church tie is diluting the ability/talent too weightily. Until community value is more important than the dollar this dangerous slide, as described above, will continue.


re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty is expressing the alarm that so many of us feel. My initial belief is that those driving these retrograde changes have never really experienced hardship. They're of an age where they have never had to fight war or experienced the hardships of a rapacious corporate sector that held all the cards. John Howard is a classic example. He benefited from the tough battles of unions and workers who forged this country to make it almost a paradise for the working man. He benefited from the Aussies who went to WW2 and sacrificed all.

There is however something worse at work here than the rigid ideology that gives a man like that the fixed mind that believes that his way of thinking is the only way. There's an unholy alliance of converging and similar thinking men - Tony Blair, George Bush and John Howard, all with similar backgrounds and backed by powerful interests who offer this mantra of "globalisation" - with little intention of ever benefiting the poorest on the planet - and who are simply wiping out the great steps forward that have been made. It can only end in terrible confrontations as the worst effects begin to kick in. Our grandchildren are going to have a hell of time and it won't matter which economic class they come from. If we continue along Howard's Way they will be fighting the battles all over again that our grandparents fought.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Dear Betty, do not despair, there are those of us who will not be bowed by Howard's vision of what Australia should be. He doesn't have a lock on it and the sort of tactics he uses cannot be successful forever.

In fact, his latest stunt perpetrated on the people last week when he annouced a change in the anti-terrorism law from 'a' to 'the' did not leave the general populace deluded for long. They smelt a rat, or is that 'the' rat? Especially as the media, for once, were quick to ask questions of the unseemly duo of Ruddock and Howard and flushed out the truth that no one was going to be immediately arrested because of the changes to the law they had promulgated with typical fear-inducing fanfare.

Also, mention was constantly made of all the other lies and calumnies that are associated with their 10 year tenure and that are starting to stick to their previously teflon-coated exteriors.

So, please don't give up hope now, just when things seem to me to be starting to turn around. Of course, it could all change tomorrow, as it has in the past, especially when Mr Beazley makes one of his embarassment-inducing political missteps.

God knows I am not one of his greatest fans either but he seems to be making less mistakes since the catastrophic response to the Budget and people seem to be saying, via the polls, that they are prepared to hold their noses and vote for the Labor Party anyway because the full picture of Howard's designs is starting to dawn on them more clearly.

For make no mistake, even though Mr Howard is trying to say that the new IR changes are just another GST, people are awake to the fact that they are anything but, and that the ramifications are going to spread far and wide and long into the future.

The fair go is a true blue trait and one which will not be so easily cast into the dustbin of Australian history,even in our increasingly insular society. Also, if you want evidence that even the most tightly organised political ship can sink then you only have to cast your eyes America's way at the moment.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty Birksys, congratulations on a great piece of writing. You have presented what a large percentage of Australians believe and desire for.

Many people will say that you cannot live in the past, I ask "Why Not", was the past so bad?

I well remember when I left school in 1970 at the age of 14, I was not treated as some are today, where when the income subsidy runs out, so does the job, nor did employers impress in their advertisements for a school leaver to have "experience", then the employer was willing to train new employees.

In those days, the vast majority of jobs were full time. They paid a wage which a family could live on, a wage that allowed one parent to stay home and look after their kids, most if not all families could afford to take their kids on carravaning or camping trips once a year, sure there was homelessness, but nowhere per head of population near todays rate.

Sure, in those days as a 14 year old employee, I only earned about $17 per week, however, I could pay board to my parents, go out with my mates, mainly we went to the speedway at Claremont Showgrounds or Surfing at Leighton Beach, yet I could still save for my first car when I turned 17, but in the same instance, my father as a government employee only earnt about $50 per week, yet still lived comfortably.

When I was 17, I joined the Army and trained as a driver and served for six years, until 1979, when under the Fraser/Howard government, I along with many other soldiers quit as it was becoming harder to get postings and advancement in rank due to Howard's cut backs of the Military.

Sure we had it hard under Whitlam, mainly due to Fraser denying supply. At that time in the week prior to November 11, my unit 18 transport Company, was excercising outside Scone NSW with our sister companies, 88 Tpt and 126 Tpt from Puckapunyal, when we were paraded and told that their was a constitutional crisis in Canberra and supply could not be assured, therefore, we were packing up the excercise and returning to Randwick and our other units barracks where if matters worsened, we had approval to find alternate employment until the crisis had passed.

Now we have Economic Rationalism running rampant, the bigger the profit the greater the company, workers are mostly part time or casual, home prices have far outstripped inflation, people are in debt to pay for electricity, Credit Card Debt is the highest ever, Balance of Trade is the highest on record, savings have dropped substantially, banks charge exorbitant fees and charges with those with the least savings paying the highest fees, the problems go on.

John Howard - no longer treasurer but Prime Minister - lies without rebuke, treats the general public as his servants to use as he wishes, takes us to war when no war should exist by using lies and deceit, marries up with big business knowing full well that they will bankroll the Liberal Parties coffers and has sided us up with the most dangerous terrorist of all, George W Bush.

I am sure no reasonable person wants us to leave a legacy such as this with our Children and Grandchildren, therefore it is imperative that we take to the streets to disrupt this archaic legislative agenda Howard has pushed on us, and ensure that our local members of parliament know how we feel and the damage they will do to their cosy parliamentary positions if this is not stopped.

Sure I am an old lefty, a proud old lefty, the only problem is we now have no party to which we could place our support if we wanted to, as the Labor Party no longer exists, they are just another branch of the Liberal Party, with their own snouts firmly entrenched in the trough.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

F. Kendall, I suspect JWH may do a Bob Carr regarding his retirement,ie:jump before the shit well and truly hits the fan into a comfy well paid spot on the corporate ladder, in Howard's case probably as a Halliburton consultant.

Whar happened to my first post ED? Calling a spade a spade or in my case a "flame" a "flame" is not allowed?

Margo: Hi Stephen. Your earlier post was held for me to have a look at. I'd just published it - minus the flame - when I got to this one. Webdiary's readership is growing strongly at the moment, and I'd really like to keep discussion civil to encourage more people to have a go.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay White, I have lived in places which make Australia look like a fool's paradise, have you? I'm curious to know if you have ever really experienced any sort of racism or intolerance in your own life, because I still can't work out where you are coming from.

People of Betty's generation lived through the Great Depression, WWII and have seen huge changes in their life times. Those of us in our 20s, 30s and 40s are still living off wealth from surplus created after WWII. How can you judge her experiences as false when you haven't gone through the same thing?

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay, the difference between corporate dictatorship, communist dictatorship, fascist dictatorship and this government's dictatorship is the captain of the "ship". The result is the same - the people are repressed.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Victoria Collins, walk outside look at your house, street and car. Think of children/child in a selective school and be thankful for your good fortune. If you were in France working or not working more than likely this may now all be on fire.

Don't kid yourself. Australians don't even know what a bad time is. Whinging and whining does not make something true. Half the things Betty writes of are myths and memories that may be hers but are not shared by others.

Would you like to name me the time of this better Australia? How about it? Give me a year?

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Victoria, well said. I was trying to work up a response to Jay but I could not work out what he was actually responding to. I was concerned though by his comment:

"There is no point in Australia returning to a past place that never existed outside of fairytales."

Betty expressed her concerns about what is happening to Australia based upon a long life of varied service. I appreciate her contribution.

Jay, are you saying Betty imagined it or made it up?

The references to France, the UN et al seem merely diversions.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay White, if you want to talk of the problems France is currently facing may I suggest you submit an item to Webdiary for other 'Diarists perusal and relevant comments.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Unfortunately, many people still have a 'she'll be right' attitude to IR and terrorism legislation, although the muttering is louder. They trust JWH, therefore they prefer to trust his legislation. They turn their analytic skills to disecting the latest football game instead of politics.

My speculation is that JHW will retire before the next election, and that these innovations will prevent his successor gaining much success or popularity - thus Howard will have deliberately augmented his grand role in history.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay White, as ever you gloss over the mote in your eye called John Howard. As we now have a Prime Minister who has been waiting all his life to turn the clock back to when life was a Methodist paradise full of the Protestant Work Ethic, nuclear families with subservient, stay-at-home wives, kept barefoot and pregnant because abortion is frowned upon, if not one day illegal again, and who has just introduced the most feudal Industrial Relations laws in over a century, I despair of people like you who, stormtroopers for the New Right till the bitter end, find a way to excuse any and everything John Howard does. I'd be interested to know if there could ever be a bridge too far for you as far as the actions of John Howard and his government is concerned.

You deride people like Betty as wanting to turn the clock back to a kinder and gentler Australian past but you support a man who also wants to turn the clock back, only to a past which was filled with us and them, wealth and privilege. The Man of Steel sure is the right name for this guy, or as the Russians would name him, Stalin.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Australia is advanced in globalisation when compared to most of the world. This is having big benefits now and will continue into the future.

Most of Europe for example is suffering under double digit unemployment and this will not be changing any time soon. The youth of Australia have a lot to be thankful for. That more than likely with low interest rates is why 18-25 year olds favour the Liberal party so strongly.

If for example France could see the benefits of globalisation I could think of at least one company that could setup shop there tomorrow. With the youth showing such flair with technology and bomb making skills what better place for Lockheed Martin?

I also think Australia should tender to build the possible separation wall across Paris.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

They don’t measure success and failure the way you and I do, by analysing public benefit or desire, or even legality, or ethics.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Malcolm, uncalled for.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

David Eastwood, well said. There is no point in Australia returning to a past place that never existed outside of fairytales.

I just thank my lucky stars I don't live in France. They are also the 35 hour working week you know? It must be to allow ample time for rioting and general destruction of ones nation.

The UN peacekeepers are never around when they are needed.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

S Marker: "I have lived in places which make Australia look like a fool's paradise, have you?"

Yes. I also agree with that statement. This is why I wrote this: "Don't kid yourself. Australians don't even know what a bad time is".

SM: "People of Betty's generation lived through the Great Depression, WWII and have seen huge changes in their life times".

I know. That is why I asked about the good times that Australia has apparently left behind. Does the depression and WWII rate as the good times? As yet nobody has been able to give a time in the past and a reason why it is so much better than today.

When a person writes about the present Government in a disparaging way and reflects on the past they are obviously saying the previous Governments ran Australia better. What previous Governments?

SM: "Those of us in our 20s, 30s and 40s are still living off wealth from surplus created after WWII".

No not true. They are living of the freedom created in WWII but not the wealth. That all but vanished in the three disaster years under the Whitlam Government. The Howard Government came into power owing $96 billion of accumulated Labor debt.

That debt will be zero next year along with low interest rates and low unemployment and a economy still growing. A major acheivement in ten years that very few thought possible I am sure you would agree.

So I am sorry to say the wealth belief is another myth. If the Liberals remain in power for at least another five years that will give a future Labour Government a sizeable bank to destroy. Based on the previous Whitlam rate of destruction that could take anything up to four years to achieve.

Not a bad head start for voters, and still gives them the chance to correct the wrongs before they sink further into mess at the next election.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay White, GET A LIFE. Since Howard has been in power, the wealthy are wealthier than ever and those at the bottom of the heap are only just able to make ends meet.

You seem to think that the more profitable the company the more beneficial for the employee. Well that is crap. The most profitable businesses are cutting staff and or services to make this profit, yet what happens to the profits when the workers or the few left are unable to purchase their goods/services and their profit falls - they cut more jobs, less people working, less people with the income needed to live, debt grows, bankruptcy grows, the profits go down again, a never ending cycle.

What about the 460 employees being made redundant from the Automotive industry in Victoria today. What are you going to say, it is in the national interest and all will be well?

Take the blinkers off and join the real world. The politicians of the past three decades have done nothing in the interests of this nation, it has all been to gain favour with the rich for reasons of their own.

If you stopped hugging your martyr Howard so hard you would see the damage he has and is doing to this country.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

G'day. Great piece by Paul Sheehan today on the disgraceful Premiership of Bob Carr. It doesn't answer Betty's question about why, but it does show that both majors have been, and are, not governing for the people but for themselves and their corporate backers. I highly recommend It's high time Nobody was given the boot. But, like federal Labor, are the State Libs a real alternative? We seem stuck in the 'devil you know sydrome' at state and federal level. Something's got to give, yes?

And see Labor hopeful Evan Thornley's piece on an obvious way ahead for Labor, if it's capable of it - which it isn't under Beazley - With ideas, Labor can think about winning.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Stephen Biddle, France is relevant to this topic of discussion. This discussion touches on Australian lifestyle changes and one of those changes will be IR reform.

France has IR laws that are at times used here and in other places as show pieces. Such things as the 35 hour working week for example. Also France has shown itself to be very anti-globalisation.

However it would appear that all is not peachy in paradise would it not? Australia is on the right path with its youth and employment policies. The evidence is there for all to see.

I could never see the present Government allowing this nation so totally out of control for the world to see for ten straight days the way France is. France has every reason to feel shame in the current situation. Idle time allows for idle minds.

Not even a hurricane in sight mind you. Lucky they have tough gun laws.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

"Most of Europe for example is suffering under double digit unemployment." And so are we, Jay White. Most European countries like Germany, the country most politicians cite for some reason as an example we should take note of, classifies anyone working less than 15 hours a week as 'unemployed', unlike here where we count one hour's work a week as 'employed'.

Similarly the US & UK both use our method of counting and achieve the same remarkable result - less unemployment. Easy when you can just change the method to get the desired result. Employment wise we are no different than most of Europe. Anyone who thinks we can avoid higher unemployment, particularly with the form of globalisation on offer, is not with the program.

I think the recent riots in Redfern and MacQuarie Fields amply demonstrated we have our own problems with racism and disaffected youth. The 35 hour week in France has actually been a remarkable success despite the howls there of the corporate sector at the beginning, who now agree.

No-one wants to point to the Scandanavian countries, which despite years of having to live with other western country's dubious claims the people are so unhappy because of their systems, generous social security and higher taxes there still give the people the best standard of living on the planet. They have also avoided joining in dubious conflicts like the Iraq War and the danger of terrorist attacks because of it.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

John Herring: "You seem to think that the more profitable the company the more beneficial for the employee. Well that is crap. The most profitable businesses are cutting staff and or services to make this profit, yet what happens to the profits when the workers or the few left are unable to purchase their goods/services and their profit falls - they cut more jobs, less people working, less people with the income needed to live, debt grows, bankruptcy grows, the profits go down again, a never ending cycle".

MYTH. If this were the case Australia at present would not be experiencing economic growth both in profits and real wages. It would not have interest rates at 5.5 percent low inflation and almost zero Government debt along with a unemployment rate at 5.1 (OECD standard).

JH: "What about the 460 employees being made redundant from the Automotive industry in Victoria today. What are you going to say, it is in the national interest and all will be well?"

I feel sorry for them. Companies however go broke everyday of the week. New ones also start everyday of the week. It is lucky they are being made redundent at a time of employment opportunties.

Would do you think should be done? Should the Government waste taxpayers money propping up a business that will not survive perhaps?

Australian companies should be involved with money making ventures, not money losing ones.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Michael de Angelos: "Most of Europe for example is suffering under double digit unemployment." And so are we",

MYTH. I suggest any person interested read the OCED stats. People will find Australia has a unemployment rate of 5.1 (OECD standardised) against our measurement 5.0.

Nations such as France and Germany are still in double digit figures. This also comes through in many other economic indicators. The very large majority of working Australians work more than 15 hours a week as the figures attest.

Sorry to spoil the party people.

Margo: Hi Jay. Could you and others do the bold tags thing when referring to other Webdiarists? It makes life easier for comments editors, and comments volumes have gone up and up since last week. For the info of all, when you refer to a newspaper or book, please do the italics tags thing. Kerri, where is the Dee Bayliss quick guide for html tags? The permanent site is nearly ready - cross fingers - and it will be very easy for commentators to do this stuff without the html codes. Praise be to God!

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Fair enough Margo. What gets me is that as you can see this thread is now virtually totally off subject and completely irrelevant by virtue of the subject I referred to in my original post.

While congratulations are due for the increased readership, how many will stay around if the comments are continually allowed to be dominated by such derivative postings and deliberate attempts to hijack a thread to a completely different agenda?

I am sure the people who take the time to write and research these items must look on in despair as they see their work totally ignored and belittled by such trivial arguments as seen on here.Civility too, is the showing of respect to the original idea of the thread and the keeping of the pertaining arguments, at least in the first few posts, to the the original theme is it not?

Margo: Stephen, our open door policy for commentators, subject to civility guidelines, make things messy when it comes to staying on topic, that's true. A new rule banning off topic comments would be too hard to enforce fairly and hide the fact that democratic discussion on politics invariably go every which way. It's open to commentators to urge other commentators to stay on topic, and I've found over time that this is a good way to keep discussion on track. The self-regulation theory. And maybe Jay or someone else will take up your idea to write a piece on the French riots. Any Webdiarists in France at the moment who'd like to have a go? I do take your point though, and have sometimes DNP'd comments which are way off topic and seem to be aimed at derailing the discussion. As I wrote recently, I'm hoping to appoint a Webdiary Ombudsman to deal with Webdiarists' complaints about bannings, editing and the like, and I'll be more comfortable being tough re comments guidelines when there's a transparent accountability process in place.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay White, I forgot to answer your question about which years I can point to that were better than now. Well, 1994 and 1995 will do me. My sons were born then, Bill Clinton (for all his lasciviousness) was a shining star in the White House, Labor was in power in Australia and the people were about to reap the rewards of all the economic pain that they had been put through to get the country into shape after the disastrous Treasurer Howard years, and the world was at relative peace, unlike today when we have cowboys in power.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay, when I look outside my house I see a National Park proclaimed by a Labor government, that would have been an over-developed coastal conurbation if the party of Capital had had its way with it. It is filled with animals, that an environmental conscience brought on by the parties of a progressive bent over the last 50 years instilled in people (sorry I refuse to use Left or Right because those terms have been cheapened and are now used as covenient epithets to beat critics of a different persuasion about the head with); and has caused Australians to cherish and protect and seek to preserve them. On the other hand, I see today a dog in a creek in South Western Sydney which had its head stove in from a beating so brutal it had to be put down. I ascribe such behaviour on the part of its abusers to the callous disregard for human life that John Howard's policies have engendered over the last 10 years and the social mores that have sprung up to circumscribe them.

I see increasing amounts of pornography all around me and consequently increasing amounts of denigration and subjugation of women, with no consequent outcry from our government but instead an intense focus on suppression of adverse comment and 'ill will' towards it - afraid of frightening 'the mob' who vote for them unquestioningly with concise criticism perchance?

I hear people rushing headlong to work every day from 4am on, in ever more expensive cars and 4WD, that take them away from their families for ever increasing amounts of time. As a study released recently has said-the workplace and organised groups of people, for sporting or other pursuits, are replacing the family, interaction with the local neighbourhood, and the extended family, in our lives.

I see mothers rushing about like manic mosquitoes pre-dawn to get their children off to long day care by 6am so they can get to their pre-work Pilates class and then on to work to earn enough money to stop them falling off the economic/life treadmill that just keeps getting faster and faster, as they, and the absent at work, or OS father, strive to provide for their family in an effort to keep up with the MacJones' level of gewgaws and ostentatious baubles, and after 'Private' school classes, lessons and sports pursuits.

So, I guess Jay it all depends on how you define what a bad time is. Personally, I think such rampant consumerism and consumption, with a 'dig it up as quickly as possible and turn it into something we can put in our houses for 5 minutes, before we turf it out into landfill to make space for the next load of stuff, garnered on our journey to the ever receding horizon' mentality, is pretty bad as things go in my book. However, I will admit, it all depends on your personal perspective, and if they are the goals you want to pursue then good luck to you, just don't look down your nose at those of us who don't subscribe to your view of the world and who seek to criticise those who promulgate it as an ethos in public life.

However, what I must say is that when I compare what I have got and what we generally as a society have, it makes me feel more than a little guilty, especially when I have to listen to people such as you lauding this way of life whilst ignoring the plight of most people who are alive on this earth because they don't live in the box marked 'Australia'; as well as the very state of the earth itself at this point in time. Have you seen the Amazon recently?

Or, is it that you profess yourself to be a Christian and believe that God will provide a solution for what ails us, as we maintain our consumptive ways?

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay White: "Half the things Betty writes of are myths and memories that may be hers but are not shared by others."

On what basis do you make this accusation? Are you saying that Betty is deluded or even lying? To make this sort of accusation you must surely have strong evidence to support it, that you are better informed about Australia from 1925 than someone who lived through it. Perhaps you have done a great deal of research on the matter.

So please provide such evidence.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Margo, when I tested the html bits and bobs page I mirrored it here so it can sit there temporarily until your new site is up and running.

Margo: Thanks Dee! Webdiarists, please check out Dee's link - it explains how to prepare your comment before posting to make processing much quicker for comments editors.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

I tend to think that Betty's comments come from the perspective of someone who has lived through hardship, seen things get better and now worse again. A lot of people of her generation are shaking their heads wondering why anyone would even want to turn the clock back to working conditions they put up with in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

I'm sure I'm not the only woman wondering if my future ability to seek employment is going to be hampered by my sex when the unfair dismissal laws are trashed. Employers will be able to go back to the old, "but you'll only go off and get pregnant so I won't bother hiring you in the first place" routine.

I recently visited some coal mines, including an underground mine, and started thinking about what happens if those men who spend 8 1/2 hours down a mine shaft will have to do longer shifts or lose any of the hard-won safety nets that help keep them alive. They are well paid and so they should be but for how long? Big corporations will all be happy with reducing their wage bills when the IR laws come into effect. And for what? Bigger bonuses for the CEO? A better share price? My partner's father, an Australian of Greek descent in his 70s, looks around him and sees the racism he put up with in the 30s and 40s.

No-one is saying that the Great Depression or WWII was a 'good' time. What they are saying is why are we turning the clock back to create similar conditions which led to such a tumultuous and dangerous time in the first place (political unrest on a global scale and economic uncertainty). My own point was that we shouldn't judge others (and I include myself) when we don't have first hand knowledge of their experiences.

I will agree to disagree with you about the Whitlam era and the subsequent economic conditions generated by successive liberal and labour governments. I believe that our current government has increased foreign debt levels exponentially.

I returned to Australia after 6 years and discovered that everything was more expensive and my wages buy less than they used to. I pay more in Sydney for food and utilities than I did in the US and in Japan. Rent here is creeping up to levels comparable with the more expensive US cities and Tokyo. I was in Tokyo in the early 90s as well and didn't think that was possible. Is that what you call economic prosperity?

You can dislike the Keating era all you want but the Howard governments economic and fiscal policy is, by and large, a continuation of what was implemented under Hawke and Keating. Labor has taken the heat for the implementation and Liberal has reaped the benefits 15, 20 years down the track. So where do we go from here?

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty, thank you for the excellent article. As you say many of your generation fought and sacrificed much in the sadly now mistaken belief that the Australia of the future would be one in which everyone truly did have a "fair go".

Unfortuately, that is not the Australia we now live in. If you happen to be a migrant, Aboriginal, disabled, sole parent etc, you are a second class citizen told over and over it is your own fault your stuck on welfare. That you should stop being lazy and get a real job! Trouble is there aren't any "real" jobs if you are poor with little education. You are just factory fodder that is if you even managed to get a job.

This whole thing about unemployment being only 5% is just such a crock. Another case of figures manipulated so the government can look good. I only have to look at my 21 year old son who has been trying to get some sort of work to help him through uni for the last three years. He has applied for dozens of casual jobs only to be knocked back each time. That is if he even gets a letter back acknowledging the application. Amongst his peers the story is mostly the same. Youth unemployment is so much higher that any figures show. Mostly because if they are under 25 Centrelink classes them as being dependent on their parents so again they are not unemployed, merely on "youth allowance".

I don't know what the future holds for our youth. But it is not encouraging. Only so many can get university degrees. What happens to those who don't quite make the grade? Especially now under these new IR laws. Are they destined to be either stuck in a hopeless factory job, or end up homeless and on the streets? Is this the brave new world my parents and people like Betty thought they would leave their children?

I try to be optimistic about the future, but under this government and the useless opposition under Beazley it is getting harder and harder.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Jay White, what garbage you talk when you say Australia has an unemployment rate of 5.1%, when we know the true unemployment rate is probably closer to 15%. The only reason it is kept at this lower figure is through manipulation, since when can you seasonally adjust a person's work, or how can you believe that an unemployed person who works one hour per week as being in paid work.

On the subject of propping up unprofitable companies with taxpayer funds, we already do that. Stan Howard, your beloved saviour’s brother for one, was bailed out by the taxpayer to pay employees entitlements which as a company director he was responsible for, yet the Ansett Employees, four years on, are still waiting to receive their entitlements.

One Steel in Whyalla is another example of propping up business. Here is a business who made an after tax profit of $132.5 million last year, but to get the project magnet running, the state government changed the environment laws to exempt them from dust emissions, at the expense of Whyalla’s population.

As for real wages growth, another Liberal myth. Wages have not grown as fast as you may believe, no where near as high or as quick as prices for Petrol, Food etc.

As for the 460 workers, the company has not gone broke, like others before; it is looking at moving it’s manufacturing overseas, profit motivated.

Australian Companies should be money making ventures, why not; however, if they lay off workers to achieve it, soon they have no one able to afford their goods, so their profits will drop again. Is this the money making venture you believe in.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty responds

I am amazed - and delighted - by the controversy my cry from the heart has stirred up. I don't want to get involved in the argument, too much, but must make just one response to Jay White, who asks for 'just one year' post World War 11 that was better than now.

I could name so many; the three years 1948-51 when we accepted 170,000 Displaced Person refugees, who worked under Award conditions and so were on the whole well accepted; to be followed by thousands of others, whose children and grandchildren now make up a large part of Australia; the years when information was available to the population, so that we could see what we were doing to Vietnam and what our own young conscripts were suffering; the years when everyone could buy a house, not a MacMansion but a home in a community... I could go on and on...

Just let us remember there was a day, before the mighty $ became our raison d'etre, when Australians were not converted to the Howard doctrine of spending money you do not have, on things you do not need, to impress people you do not even like...

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

John Herring, respectfully you are wrong, wrong, wrong on the unemployment figure. 5.1% is not an Australian government number, it is from the OECD. OECD takes the data fed to it by national governments then corrects it to allow comparisons across countries - removing government fudging. As it turns out the difference between the government's figure and the OECD's is trivial - 5.0 vs 5.1. If you don't believe me, here's the data.

The fact is that unemployment across the board is low. It's frustrating to hear sensational claims like "we know the true unemployment rate is probably closer to 15%" - because lots of people have an emotional or political vested interest in believing that claim, and they'll do that unquestioningly. If you honestly believe the real number is around 15%, then please, show me some evidence that supports your assertion, and not conspiracy theories areond "they hide the data to dupe us".

Another assertion: "As for real wages growth, another Liberal myth. Wages have not grown as fast as you may believe, no where near as high or as quick as prices for Petrol, Food etc."

I'm sorry, but that's simply not the case. Here's the relevant OECD data again. From 1991 to 2004 Australia's average CPI (inflation rate) was 2.5% per year - that's how fast prices of things across the board grew. Over the exact same period average wages grew by 3.6% per year and unemployment fell from 9.1% in 1991 to 5.6% in 2004. Tell me that's not a good story!

If you have some hard data that suggests otherwise, show me where it is! If the problem is that you just don't believe the official numbers (remember these are not Australian government numbers) because you think it is all concocted in some giant conspiracy, then I can't help, but please stop making assertions claiming to be facts when you simply can't prove any of it.

As to Australian companies not having customers for their products, Australia is less than 2% of the world market. The companies that worry you make most of their revenue offshore already.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Hello, David Eastwood, hoe gaat het? Regarding the 'true' unemployment level, I was wondering what your assessment might be of this argument from Tony Nicholson of the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Here's the pertinent bit:

It is this definition - that one hour's work a week equals employment - that produced our recent "best in 27 years" official unemployment rate of 5.2 per cent. But what would this figure be if we were a bit more realistic and counted one day a week as an indicator of "employment"? By my calculations, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the unemployment figure would rise to something close to 12 per cent.

I guess it might be said that Mr Nicholson has "an emotional or political vested interest in believing that claim", but the logic seems reasonable enough as it's given here. I'd welcome your view on this.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Not really, Kathleen McIntyre, you didn't see the bit that was edited out of my second post.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Betty, I'd like to take a shot at answering your question -how did we get here?

While I appreciate the effort of your generation during World War Two and your community service since, however I am always a little bemused when I hear variations to the old song 'what's wrong with the generation today' because the chorus is always the same: 'look in the mirror and see what you might have done differently'.

The perceived deficiencies in the Howard Government did not spring fully formed.

If we're going to examine 'how did we get here' - let's take a look at this lovely leveller called history.

For instance it was Whitlam that created social and welfare problems by promoting no-fault divorce and then encouraged global trade by abolishing tariffs. courted foreign funds from shady dealers, plus high unemployment and inflation.

Let's take a look at Fraser - high unemployment but he did encourage immigration particularly from Asia which adds to the globalisation problem because, gasp - people want to do business with one another.

Hmmm ...Hawke/Keating - Dismantled compulsory unionism and reformed IR, floated the dollar which provided export opportunities for Australian business (the horror - more global trade). Sadly it was also accompanies by a major recession and crippling interest rates.

Howard's government is far from perfect but can you now begin to appreciate why people are feeling a little more 'comfortable and relaxed'.

Unemployment is low (those who doubt that - have they ever tried hiring over the past two years? I have. Anyone who is unnecessarily unemployed needs to take a long hard look at themselves).

Inflation is low.

Interest rates are low.

Betty points out that home affordability is at the lowest level since 1990 - a rather convenient date, affordability was a hell of a lot less when the interest rates were at 18%.

And as to the comment I do not think they quite dare yet to so classify education, I'm sorry Betty yes they do. It is called the education industry where universities have been turned into little more than diploma mills and offering (particularly in the arts faculty) courses which offer nothing to the employability of the student. The drive to create a degree for everyone cheapens the 'commodity'. It also explains this nation's skill shortage.

Thank you for your contribution in this discourse Betty, but I respectfully disagree with you.

Margo: Hi Linda. I've just got a review copy of Michael Sexton's book The Great Crash: the short life and sudden death of the Whitlam government. Would a Webdiarist care to review it?

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

David Eastwood, you state, "OECD takes the data fed to it by national governments then corrects it to allow comparisons across countries - removing government fudging."

Blatantly stating that government fudging exists. What you are obviously unaware of, or refuse to acknowledge is the flaws, creative definitions and simple garbage in garbage out process that results in "official" figures.

Let's just make a few points. I worked for many years in government agencies, both Fed and State where I or my staff were required to provide regular returns to ABS and always for large organisations. These returns were based on guesswork and that is frequently the case in such government required work given to both government and private organisations.

Mostly these return files had a note on the inside cover explaining how the stats were decided, what %s to use for each area and noting the general trend of figures previously given.

In one case I decided that one ABS return, employees and earnings over a three month period, should be done properly to verify the trends. I asked the staff to do it manually to check the accuracy. It took weeks. The result was significantly different but after checking it was established that was the true set of figures. So we sent the return to ABS.

Days later an urgent phone call from ABS seeking high level meetings. They explained that our return was outside the normally accepted variation range and asked for an explanation. We told them the truth, being that the last x years had been essentially bullshit based on guesswork and simply following the trends recorded.

Guess what? ABS refused to accept the return as it was not able to explain the variation. We did the return again, as per the notes inside the file and had a thank you phone call from ABS.

Those stats are used for CPI, wage cases and much more but they wanted bullshit to satisfy government requirements. In other words the ABS stats could not be challenged even by the organisation submitting them.

One example only of ABS information being unreliable. Having spoken to many people over the years, usually in a pub where the defences were down, every other organisation laughed themselves silly at my/our attempt to be up front. It's quite common to guess or simply provide incorrect data to ABS, both government and private. You can imagine how private businesses feel about providing stats at their own cost.

Next point is that the unemployment figures used are actually only an estimate based on sampling. Do you think they actually count them? Impossible. I would expect the same internal resistance to any large variations.

Next point. How many people do you think have been made redundant over the last twenty years? A high percentage of them are not able to claim unemployment benefits for extended periods as they have money. They live on that money, spending their retirement nest eggs. They don't count as unemployed despite the glaring problem for staff over 40 finding work after a redundancy. Some do but many just fade away, today even turning to these wonderful sell your home to us and live rent free for years. Yeah, right. They end up both broke and homeless. But not unemployed until it is too late for them.

Next point. ABS definitions of unemployed have been considerably altered to take account of the large numbers of casual workers in today's economy. I'm not sure of the exact definition, perhaps you can provide it, but I believe it defines being employed as having a very small number of weekly hours. Not enough hours to actually live on of course, but satisfactory for the employed definition.

Next point. Mothers who have working partners in families that require two incomes are frequently effectively unemployed. They face the choice of either spending the majority of any income they may achieve on child care or staying home and giving the children the best upbringing possible.

In addition to that John Howard's government has specifically raised the level of income whereby welfare payments are paid. He has done this repetitively and pre election each time for obvious reasons. The current highest level attracting welfare support is $80,000. Correct me if it has gone up.

This welfare pay allows those mothers to stay home instead of working as they actually get more money staying at home, not paying child care and receiving family assistance payments. But they are certainly not unemployed are they?

Next point. If you have ever been in the position of needing Centrelink benefits you would also know that the main Agency involved, Centrelink, is drastically understaffed. That results in people processing and advising on benefits to never become good or expert at that process. As soon as someone shows a good level they become valuable and are promoted upwards, usually out of the processing area.

Result, incompetence on a large scale. Absolutely no blame to the staff doing the processing as they are mostly all doing their best with insufficient resources. Having sat there for hours with them most had little idea of what they were doing, frequently disappearing for advice or tears.

They also have a computerised system that produces letters for every alteration to someone's records. Those letters are never signed and, in fact, rarely looked at as "the system knows what it is doing, I don't". Talk to Centrelink staff on the front line mate, find out for yourself.

I had cause to apply for Centrelink benefits briefly early this year and I can attest that the process is so baffling you either start laughing or jump the counter and abuse some poor worker who has tried, albeit failed, to help.

A couple of examples of those letters? Well, my partner and I actually received seven one day between us, four the next day and one to two each day over the next month. They are not sequential and those produced on the same date do not specify what stage that letter was produced at. Impossible to understand and many people give up right there in horror. Perhaps they turn to crime, I don't know what they do to survive. Maybe they don't? Either way, one less on unemployment figures right?

The next classic example was a letter I received that stated words to this effect:

"Your application has been received but cannot be processed until the following forms or information is provided." A phone number and name was provided for any queries. I had queries as the part of the letter stating what I had not provided was blank. So I rang to ask if they really wanted me to provide a blank page, attempting to lighten my temper.

The phone number worked but when I asked for the person named for any queries I was told that person does not take calls from the public. And so on, I could write much more but won't (whews all round).

The point with all that is that the government knows how inefficient Centrelink is but accepts both the overpayments and confusion as it reduces the overall cost given many people do just give up and turn to savings, superannuation or selling up. The overpayments are either followed up or written off, writing off being a frequent occurrence.

Are you getting the picture yet? If OECD already admits government fudging which you acknowledge I would like to see your explanation of the points I have raised. Facts and stats would be appreciated (except fudged government figures of course).

As to the CPI we all know those figures exclude a range of items which are actually big factors in many household or individuals budgets. GST also is excluded of course although I still pay it.

Is it a giant conspiracy? No, not at all, just a demonstration of how understaffed public service environements work. They cut corners, fudge and provide what they are obliged to, the how is the problem.

I make no distinction between Coalition and Labor in this regard as they both play these games. Simply by underfunding Departments and increasing the productivity requirements ensures corners will be cut and historical records used in the belief they are satisfactory.

Of course statistics are used mainly by liars aren't they as any set of statistics can prove whatever you want it too. You just have to be creative.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

I so appreciate your writing, Betty. When someone who has lived through the privations of the '30s and '40s is worried about the nation's future, alarm bells should be ringing down the generations. Bravo, Citoyen!

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Malcolm, my apologies, I had not read your second post. Glad to hear we have similar opinions.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Sorry David Eastwood and Jay White but quoting OECD figures do not give the accurate figure nor change the fact that we have a differing method of calculating unemployment figures and that the OECD rely on what figures are given to them by our government.

Nor does comparing any European country with us really count. Every EEC country has far greater social security benefits than we have and their governments invest far greater funds in infrastructure like community housing. We've always been in a catch up mode compared to them and now we are about to go backwards. The greatest outcry in Germany has been their government's winding down of unemployment benefits - to now equal what ours have always been.

Australia has been a worker's paradise in the making up to now. Everything is about to halt and slowly go backwards. I fail to see how you think these retrograde IR changes could possibly benefit any working person or indeed how the lower wages that will come from them will benefit Australia at all.

Throw in Howard's demonising of intellectual discussion with his bogus "black armband history" insults, his covert acceptance of the awful racial Hansonism - I have no doubt Paul Keating would have demolished Hanson in one Parlaimentary speech - his dreadful ministerial non-accountability, his use of fear and dog whistle politics and his determination to include Australia in the illegal killing of thousands of Iraqi citizens, endless lies and fibs and we have a man who has blinkers on when what we need is a visionary for our difficult future. He offers nothing that is new and everything that is old and fearful and the very things generations fought against for Australia to become what it now is.

This bogus image that is presented over and over by his supporters that somehow in the last nine years this country and it's citizens suddenly found wealth is as inaccurate as the idea that Costello has a clue about finance. Howard is a divider not a uniter who uses weasel words to exclude those in this country who are not in his mould. That is what Betty is on about and articulates well. Nothing he offers is new and everything he does is the same old lies Australians fought against for decades.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Dear Betty, a separate post to the last one as you deserve such.

I thank you for the effort you made. To me it does encapsulate with accuracy the feelings and details you give and those you have alluded to.

This is not our country, not the country we knew and loved. The $ is God to all political parties, Fed and State where they gloat when they are able to produce a surplus. They call that good financial management. I call it overtaxing. For some reason governments think they are supposed to make a profit.

What has been missing from our political scene is the reality that people count, money doesn't.

Take heart, there are many out here who know you are spot on and will continue opposing the blight(s) governments have become.

To me there is one small change that would make the difference. That being that MPs answer directly to their electorates, not the Party Rooms as JWH would have. Not the pretence Barnaby Joyce makes of taking to his preselection committee, real allegiance to the overall electorate needs and wishes.

Of course how to change that allegiance is the issue we should be focusing on. There are ways to do that but I would think recent and pending legislative changes are also aimed at reducing opposition to government policy. It is already a sin or crime to disagree when employed by a government. Next the public too will offend.

re: Betty Birskys: how did we get here?

Michael de Angelos: "Nor does comparing any European country with us really count. Every EEC country has far greater social security benefits than we have and their governments invest far greater funds in infrastructure like community housing. We've always been in a catch up mode compared to them and now we are about to go backwards. The greatest outcry in Germany has been their government's winding down of unemployment benefits - to now equal what ours have always been."

France must be the shinning example of this? For the young more work less play I always say.

Maybe John Howard could give them some tips?

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