Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dear Mr Abbott...

Dear Mr Abbott,

I’d like to tell you a story.

The football commentator Warren Ryan tells the story of a player who marched up to a referee he believed to be biased. ‘What would you do if I called you a cheat?’ he asked.

‘I’d send you off,’ the referee replied.

‘What would you do if I thought you were a cheat?’ the player asked.

‘I can’t do anything about what you think.’

‘Then I think you’re a cheat,’ said the player.

Mr Abbott, we’ve all seen what happens when someone in the press says something nasty about one of your team. Your friend Joe Hockey has just this week filed papers against Fairfax for suggesting that maybe he was selling his influence. Maybe. You know, because of the evidence. It’s a little like the words Joe himself tweeted in July last year to suggest that Kevin Rudd was for sale. What were those words again? Oh yes – Access to Rudd, at a price...FACT.

But I digress. As I say, we all know what happens when someone criticises you or one of your team. That’s right – you file papers against them. Because, like, it hurts real bad, you know?

Right now I’m actually not in the best place financially to defend myself against saying bad stuff about you, Mr Abbott, and with Joe needing the lawyers to get heavy with one of the three independent mainstream media outlets in Australia, I doubt that you want the trouble either. That’s why I’m going to save us both some trouble by not actually calling you anything.

That’s right. I’m not going to call you a liar, even though I think you are. I think you told everyone one thing before the election but had no intention of following through. I think you and Joe confected this entire ‘budget emergency’ so that you could pursue your long game, which is to help the big end of town get bigger without interference from those pesky peasants. I think you deliberately denigrated the economists here and overseas who tried to tell us that the budget emergency wasn’t. And I think you lied when you told us that John Howard’s poll numbers also fell after his first budget when, in fact, they did the precise opposite. Likewise, I wouldn’t dream of saying that you’re an ideologue, but I do think that. Nor would I say that sometimes invoking Godwin’s Law is exactly the right thing to do.

Something else I’m not going to say is that you definitely found it funny when that retired lady called you at the radio station and told you that she has to work on a sex line to pay the bills. But I think you found that distressing and degrading story quite funny, mostly because of the smiling, and the guilty look at the camera when you remembered what a camera does, and I think it made you look creepy because I think you’re creepy. I also think you found really odd parts of Joe’s budget funny, because I saw you laughing and grinning during the sad bits, which was most of it. And I think you looked like a petulant jock when Bill Shorten was giving his budget reply speech.

And Mr Abbott, I wouldn’t dream of saying that you’re definitely a coward for not turning up at Deakin University because you were frightened of the students. But I definitely think you are, just as I also think you don’t give a shit about students or Australia’s higher education system as a whole, or in fact education in general. Again, just to be clear, I’m not saying that you were happy to take your free university education thanks to the reforms brought in by that awful socialist Gough Whitlam (even though you weren't actually an Australian citizen at the time), only to be equally happy to make this generation of students pay more. But I do think you were happy to take your free education, and I think you’re a complete bastard for making it so much harder for young Australians to get educated enough to land a good job and eventually join you in your leafy, beachside electorate. 

Some of the other things I’m not saying about you, (because lawyers), are these: that you’re scared of gay people; that you are either oblivious to or willfully ignorant of the overwhelming evidence in support of the idea that climate change is being caused by people; that you want to undermine state health and education so you can blame the state governments for the inevitable GST hike; that you don’t care all that much for women, indigenous people, asylum seekers or the disabled; and that you keep knocking back invitations to be on Q&A and 7.30 because you’re between skins, and it takes so much time to rub against the corner of the desk before peeling off that last layer. But I do think that all of the above might be true.

That’s right, Mr Abbott. I wouldn’t dream of saying that you are quite possibly the worst Prime Minister we’ve ever had, a man who is a terrible leader and a gormless, cowardly, hypocritical bully. But be in no doubt that I do think each of those things.

I also think you should read something other than the Murdoch press, accept that your personal numbers are now unsalvageable, and resign. But you won’t. You definitely won’t. And that much I do know.

Thank you. I shall waste no time reading your reply.

James Roy

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mean, mean bastards.

This won't be a surprise to anyone who knows me, but today, the day after Joe Hockey's first budget, I'm thoroughly pissed off.

Why am I so angry? I could provide a long and exhaustive list which includes but is not limited to cuts to the ABC/SBS, the increase in the retirement age, the 6 month freeze-out of Newstart applicants, the smack-down of the arts, and the half a billion dollars cut from important Indigenous programs.

But in the interests of my own mental health I'm going to limit myself to two of the new tax/levy/surcharge increases.

So, a thought experiment. Imagine you're a single parent. You have three young kids. You're already finding things to be a bit of a struggle, but you're getting by on your minimum wage. Just. But then one of your kids gets sick. It's nothing life-threatening - just an ear infection - but a visit to the doctor is required.

Now, I bet you think you know what I'm about to say. An extra $7 to see a doctor, even a bulk-billing one, right?

I know, it's only seven dollars. It's not really such a big deal, and besides, now you can get in to see a doctor more easily, since the time wasters have been scared away. Sometimes Andrew Bolt does make sense!

But there's more to this story than finding the price of two coffees in order to get your sick child to a doctor. Because hidden in the less fashionable corners of the 2014 budget is the extra five dollars per PBS script. So that single parent is now up for an additional twelve dollars on top of the cost of those antibiotics. And the ear drops, so that's actually nineteen bucks. Nineteen dollars MORE out of pocket than would have been the case. Chris Bowen is right - this is not what Medicare was set up to be. This is not universal health care. This is a clear and cynical move towards adopting the US health system. Mind you, considering how well it's worked for them... Oh, wait, my mistake - it's been an utter disaster.

But for the single parent we met earlier, a shift in public health philosophy is the least of their concerns. They're too busy trying to decide what they'll do without so they can get their kid to the doctor and pay for those meds. Unless they hit the local emergency department... Oh, wait, that's being headed off as we speak, with talk of adding the co-payment to emergency department visits.

This is a real issue, not a fanciful "extreme example". This exact situation is going to be played out many, many times over if this budget passes.

Now, based on past experiences I fully expect a number of rather strident responses to these, my bleeding heart ravings. If you think you might be tempted to do this, take a hard look at yourself before you post, and ask whether you're responding out of ideology or a place of kindness. If it's the latter, then let's talk. But if it's the former, don't bother. I'm really not in the mood.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Kylie - a tribute

This is a tribute to my friend Kylie, who passed away last Friday. She was one of the kindest, coolest, sweetest, toughest people I ever met, and she will be greatly missed.

I remember meeting Kylie for the first time within my first couple of weeks on Wade Ward, the adolescent unit of the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. Cystic fibrosis kids spent weeks on end on our ward, usually having a “tune-up”, sometimes fighting infections, and all too often spending their last days with us. Over the years, as treatments improved, less kids were passing away at the kids’ hospital, since they were transitioning over to adult care, and having transplants.

Photo of Kylie by Stephanie Kent
Kylie was cheeky. Tiny and cheeky, and we connected immediately. She had a laugh like an ewok, all giggly and manic, and a quick smile. But she also had toughness and directness like you wouldn’t believe. On more than on one occasion she had to call me into her room to read me the riot act. ‘Listen, I know you’re having a shit night out there,’ she told me one time, pulling her oxygen mask to one side, ‘but at least you can breathe. So why don't you take a breath, shut the f*** up and get on with whatever it is you gotta do, because no matter how bad your shift is, you get to go home in four hours. Now, I’d appreciate it if you’d hand me that magazine on your way out – I’ve got boys to fantasise about.’

I remember the day I accessed her portacath for the first time. It was high on her chest, next to her collarbone, and as I was doing my thing, her top slipped down. I slid it back up in the interests of modesty, but it slid back down almost straight away. This happened again and again until, sensing my embarrassment, Kylie dead-panned, ‘It’s just a boob, James.’

We were still laughing about that about a year ago, when I last saw Kylie, all grown up but just as cheeky. We had a few private jokes, Kylie and I. One was more absurd and ridiculous than the others. 'Knock knock,' she’d say.

'Who’s there?'

'Fire extinguisher.'

'Fire extinguisher who?'

'Stand real still while I hit you with this fire extinguisher.'

It wasn’t always a fire extinguisher – sometimes it was a chair, or a pot plant, or a medication trolley, or a 'cappa-cheeneo machine' in the worst Texan drawl she could summon. Some nights, in the middle of a hellish shift, she would phone the desk from her room, and when I answered it, she’d just say, ‘Fire extinguisher!’ and hang up. Then I’d hear that crazy cackle from her room down the hall, and it always lifted my mood.

And you could always bring a smile to Kylie’s face, no matter how much pain she was in, by adding the word ‘wang’ to any other word. The original idea came from a mitchell and Webb sketch, but we stretched the joke to the limits of its usefulness, and far beyond. 

But there was so much more to Kylie than toughness, directness a
nd laughs. She was so incredibly kind. Long after she would have been forgiven for curling up on the couch with a stack of movies, long after her countless post-transplant complications, she was still dragging herself out to speak at events, to support kids with chronic illness, and to improve her counselling and youth work skills. She once told me that since she was one of the last standing from her generation of CF kids, she felt the burden of responsibility to speak on their behalf. It wasn’t always a burden that sat comfortably up her little shoulders, but she accepted it nonetheless.

A year or two back Kylie asked me for my advice on writing a memoir. ‘I want to tell my story,’ she said, ‘but I don’t know what to write about.’ When I asked her what she meant by that, she said, ‘There’s so much. Should my book be about living with a chronic illness, having transplants and spending most of my life in hospital? Or should it be about my family having to accept that I won’t be around forever? Or should it be about my friends who’ve died, like Rachael and Lisa? Or maybe it should be about Ben. I guess there must be other people like Ben out there who love someone like me. Maybe there’s things that they need to know. All I know is that this book needs to help people.’

‘Can’t it just be about you?’ I asked. ‘You’ve got quite the story to tell.’

She just shrugged. ‘I’m just me,’ she said. ‘I’m not that exciting.’

I disagree, Kylie-wang. I thought you were fascinating.


Cystic Fibrosis Australia can always use more support – please go here to find out how you can help.