The almost lost art of conversation, finding common ground and communicating with kindness

I had lost track of time paddling around in my sanctuary this particular late Spring evening.  The tide and increasing wind vied for my attention as the Sun tumbled effortlessly towards the horizon.  The oars dug into the cool, emerald green water as I changed course and headed towards shore.

Nearing the first intertidal sandbar and the shallows beyond, I altered course again to where I had wet my feet wet an hour, or maybe more, earlier.  I retrieved my kayak, its belly salty and dripping, and deftly bundled it onto its cradle. 

As I laboured to drag my kayak along the beach, the damp trolly wheels encrusted with sand and seaweed grabbing at beach beneath, I noticed my near neighbours walking towards me. 

This couple, husband and wife of more than half a century, are delightfully unassuming and ever-so skilful in the art of conversation.  We greet each other with a warm hello and remark about the weather.  They help me lift the trolly and its burden off the sand and onto the boardwalk – a task best shared. I am grateful for their assistance, admitting to my ‘paddling fatigue’.

We stopped at the top of the short boardwalk and chatted about the past week’s events.  We agreed how blessed we are to be living in this place and pondered the state of the nation.   The conversation flowed, family, life, work, COVID.  Each of us listening, leaning in, nodding and sometimes lightly prodding for more detail when clarification was sought. 

During the conversation there was a moment in which a most powerful sentence was spoken.  My dignified and distinguished neighbour, quietly spoken and ever so respectful, uttered these words, “You know, when my father had a problem he wanted to talk about, he simply picked up the phone to Tom” – Tom? I enquired, “Tom Playford” he said evenly. To be clear, not every problem, just the ones that he felt had the potential to impact more than just a few, his community.

He continued; I wish our current leaders would ‘simply talk about things’…. ‘none of this letter writing stuff’…and ‘why do they have the need to publish the letters?  His, was a rhetorical question.

This fascinating conversation ducked and weaved from years gone by to present day.  To people and politics, communities and caring and what the future might hold for our children, their grandchildren and maybe one day mine. 

Time, as it does in these moments, moved too quickly and as dusk fell around us, we cordially agreed to catch-up again soon and headed to the comfort and sanctuary of our respective homes nearby. 

Usually, the salty air and physical exertion of kayaking calms and soothes me, mind, body and soul.  Tonight though, I could not calm my mind and I wondered how things might be if the art of conversation, respectful conversation, was to be applied more lavishly these days, especially in the process of decision making. 

I thought about the elements of a conversation.  How one seeks information and how one gives. How one muses, asserts, proposes, supports, and summarises.  How one is inclusive, how one listens, truly listens; and how one tests understanding and nuance.  Importantly, how one adds to ideas and works collaboratively to broker solutions.

My thoughts then turned to the adversarial nature of our legislators and leaders.  The self-promotion, self-interest, exclusion of others, avoidance, refusal to listen or consider an opposing view.  The attack, personal or otherwise the defending of actions, often when there is no defence and the barries and blocks deliberately or unconsciously put in the way of finding common ground.

I thought about the last time I had had a conversation without the other party, admittedly sometimes me, did not break eye contact or lose track of the conversation to check their mobile device, respond to a call or message.  Sadly, those instances are few and far between. 

What has happened to the days of looking someone in the eye, making a human connection?  It is bad enough that COVID has all but robbed us of the connection of a handshake, a hug, a kiss but what of the conversations which would usually ensue?

Do our legislators, of differing colours, still sit across from one another, aside from when in their their House or Council, and attempt to nut out bi-partisan or multi partisan solutions to problems that effect their collective constituency?  

Do they rise from their seats, electorate or otherwise, and knock on the door of a fellow MP as seek counsel?   Do they admit they do not have all the answers and look to share the burden of issues that will likely live beyond their terms?

If they do, tells us about it.

Do not tell us about the letter you have written, published via mainstream media, and your strong opposition to or resistance to a plan, project of blueprint. Offer up your middle ground, common ground, your solutions.

It is a sign of strength, not weakness, to collaborate and cooperate on issues so much bigger than them, their party, or their personal view. 

A problem shared, it is said, is a problem halved.  A solution brokered, with the collaboration and support of others, is also far more likely to succeed.

A stillness on the ether

A new year, a new decade and a stillness on the ether.

A decade of tumultuous change and personal growth is about to draw to a close.  I am feeling a sense of calm wash over me.  It is surreal and profound.   My soul is finding a new peace and it makes me smile.  Truly smile.

Now is not a time to rush nor pre-empt what the future holds but rather it is a time to let nature takes its course, to stand still and be patient.  It is a beautifully natural course.  Naturally beautiful.

I love retreating to my sanctuary, to immerse myself in the elements.  I love exploring the environment, natural and built.  Just days ago, drifting in my kayak under the Moonta Bay jetty, I simply observed. 

I watched swallows at home in the timbers above me, their quiet voices echoing, their nests precarious.  I was entranced by the movement of the tide as it swirled around the pylons leaving imperfect yet perfect patterns on the surface.

Just below the surface, clinging on for dear life a colony of limpets, their shells glistening, caught my attention.  I can so relate to these tiny marine molluscs at home in these temperate waters.  I looked at the hard shells and thought about my own weathered exterior and the virtual armour I have created over the years to protect the softness beneath.  It is so much more than a veneer; it serves as a shield when my vulnerabilities bubble to the surface.  It has served me well. It will continue to serve me well.

I think about the connection that this tiny creature has with its host, in this case an aged and weathered pylon, a once living tree and I think about my connections.  I think about relationships that ebb and flow and I consider the pace of life and I wish for it to slow – to find that stillness, to be present.   I think about how the softness of the creature rests upon the smoothness of the timber, akin to skin on skin.  The thought brings comfort and peace.  It’s equally maternal and romantic.

I think about the elements that surround me, embody me and support me, support life.

Earth – I adore the connection I make with the earth when I walk upon the sand.  I don’t try to mask my aches and pains; they remind me I am very much alive.

Water – The coolness, the colours of sapphire blue and emerald green.  The shapes that dance in the depths, the creatures that inhabit that mercurial place. Mesmerising.

Fire – Our life-giving Sun at it rises and when it falls beyond the horizon.  Fire in the sky.  Fire in my belly. Fire in my heart.  Each burn brightly.

Air – I breathe deeply, consciously, I fill my lungs with pungent salty air and then I exhale.  Slowly. Deliberately.  I breathe in.  I breathe out.  I feel connection.

Space – I truly get a sense of the vastness of our world when I look beyond the terrestrial.  The night sky is my place of solace.  Either in the darkness of a moonless southern sky, where the planets, stars and constellations are beacons to travellers or when a gibbous moon enchants those who gaze upon it is this place, this space that captivates me.

I am ready to dance into a new decade and my dance will commence with a stillness.  I recognise to achieve this stillness I am required to surrender the past.  I have done it before, and I will do it again.  To surrender is to be wise and courageous. 

A stillness on the ether.

Let it be.

Justice for Jenny

On Thursday November 7th, 2019 in the Adelaide District Court (Criminal Jurisdiction), the sentencing of Jennifer Lee Hallam took place at 9.43am before his Honour Judge Soulio.

Jennifer, Jenny to her friends, arrived at Court Room 8 impeccably presented but visibly shaking, with tears welling in her eyes. 

She was greeted, with a warm embrace by an integral member of her legal team, her Solicitor (& Barrister) Jessica Kurtzer.  Barrister Greg Barns, unable to be in court for the culmination of this process, had worked alongside Jessica to ensure the best possible outcome for their client.  The many hours of diligent work and counsel by this exceptional legal team was about to be tested for what, they’d hoped, would be the final time.

This process, the process of justice, had taken its toll. Today Jenny, along with a small gathering of her closest friends and supporters, were about to walk through the heavy wooden doors into a light-filled, almost clinical room, adorned with paintings of former Judges who had presided in that place.

There was quiet chatter amongst the media contingent and gentle touches and caring smiles of assurance in Jenny’s direction. 

Jenny had pleaded guilty (albeit late in the piece) to manufacturing a controlled drug, Cannabis oil, between 1 November 2016 and 5 January 2017, and possessing Cannabis oil for supply to another person on 4 January 2017.

The maximum penalties are a fine of $30,000 or seven-years imprisonment, or both, and $15,000 fine or three years imprisonment, or both, respectively.  Judge Soulio noted that such offending covers a wide range of circumstances.

The full sentencing remarks can be found here:

That said, I encourage and urge respect and caution in sharing the full extract given the very personal information disclosed as part of this process. Jenny’s life is now, for all intents and purposes, an open book. 

There are some chapters that had to be aired to ensure that every mitigating circumstance was disclosed.  That disclosure was traumatic and harrowing for Jenny and I would suggest equally so for her friends and supporters.  This is personal.  Deeply personal.

Judge Soulio said upfront that the genesis of Jenny’s offending was to be found in her experience of chronic pain and subsequent psychological issues, and her reliance on and subsequent addiction to, opioid medication and psychotropic medication.  Jenny is not alone in that regard.

To summarise succinctly Jenny’s lengthy medical history as recited by Judge Soulio, licit opiates and antidepressant medication had been ineffective to treat her chronic pain and had produced wide-ranging side effects. 

Other therapies and prescription medications were described by a treating doctor as “sub-optimally effective, and not without side effects.”

The list reads like a copy the Monthly Index of Medical Specialities (MIMS).  MIMS is a pharmaceutical prescribing reference guide.  For the record, I’m certain you will not find whole plant Cannabis or Cannabis oil amongst its pages – I’ll happily stand corrected.

Jenny was quite rightly described by a treating doctor as “resilient, resourceful and an independent person.”  The doctor, in a letter tabled as part of many submissions, had also set out a history noting that Jenny had not been satisfied with the limitations of conventional therapy for her afflictions and had sought alternative approaches.

It was during that epic journey that Jenny discovered the benefits of Cannabis and Cannabis oil, which proved to be effective in managing her symptoms.  Jenny had become adept in ‘fine-tuning’ the product she made which gave her the best relief.  In doing so Jenny, Judge Soulio, reflecting the doctor’s viewpoint said, “true to your altruistic personality you saw the potential benefit for others suffering from cancer pain, epilepsy and other medical ailments for which conventional medicine proved wanting.”

Compellingly, since early in 2016, because of Jenny’s own initiative in identifying Cannabis oil as providing therapeutic benefit, Jenny no longer required the use of prescribed opioid analgesics, or antidepressant or anxiolytic medication

Ironically, it was in 2016 when the law shifted in Australia.  Patients in South Australia could legally access Medicinal Cannabis medicines as a result of federal legislative changes which came into effect in November 2016 and the development of a patient access pathway. 

I will say again, as I have many times, the patient access pathways are cumbersome and largely unaffordable.

The same doctor expressed the opinion that “conventional medicine had been less than effective in the management of chronic pain and many other conditions and could no longer claim a monopoly in pain management.” He said, “opioid analgesics use had reached an epidemic and crisis point overseas.”

They have also reached crisis point in Australia.  There are now huge billboards dotted around the nation that point this out.

This is an extract from a piece published in September this year via Medical Xpress.  Medical Xpress is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics.

“It’s depressing at times to see how we, as practitioners, literally messed up our communities,” said Dr. Bastian Seidel, who warned that Australia’s opioid problem was a “national emergency” two years ago when he was president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. “It’s our signature on the scripts.”

He sees Australia moving with wilful ignorance toward a disaster.

“Unfortunately, in Australia, we’ve followed the bad example of the U.S.,” he says. “And now we have the same problem.”

The full piece can be read here:

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) in a statement released on September 9, 2019 spoke to The Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) announcement changes to reduce harm in relation to prescription opioids.

In a statement, the TGA says pharmaceutical opioids are now responsible for far more deaths and poisoning hospitalisations in Australia than illegal opioids such as heroin.

“Every day in Australia, nearly 150 hospitalisations and 14 emergency department admissions involve opioid harm, and three people die from drug-induced deaths involving opioid use,” the statement says.

The changes will be phased in from January 2020. All the changes and the full TGA statement can be found at:

It perplexes me that the TGA can tie Medicinal Cannabis up in so much red tape that it is out of reach for most and that the AMA aren’t more supportive of GP education around Medicinal Cannabis and the streamlining of the process of prescribing.  Not to mention updating the curriculum for those currently training to become doctors and allied health professionals.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that “Opioids accounted for just over 3 deaths per day in 2018. The majority of these opioid-induced fatalities were unintentional overdoses in middle aged males involving the use of pharmaceutical opioids, often in the presence of other substances. Opioid related harm, including mortality, is a serious public health issue both in Australia and internationally.”

Age distribution of opioid-induced deaths

“The age distribution of opioid-induced deaths differs considerably from that for all causes. The highest proportion of deaths (30.4%) occurs in those aged between 35-44, while 87.5% of deaths occur between the ages of 25-64. In total 39,221 years of potential life were lost, and on average a person dying from an overdose with opioid involvement died 34.9 years prematurely.”

To bring this point home – not one person has died from Cannabis.  I would suggest it is fair to say that lives have been saved and lives have been and will continue to be prolonged.

Back to Jenny’s story – “new modalities in pain management were urgently required” – treating doctor. 

The judge said time and time again that he regarded such expressions of opinion as ‘personal opinion’ and not necessarily medical guidance.  I however, consider it to be a powerful combination of both.

There is a shift in public opinion regarding Medicinal Cannabis. 

Legislators take heed.

As a result of Jenny’s pursuit of an ‘alternative therapy’ she no longer requires “prescribed medication for pain and negative mood, and that the use of cannabis oil had resulted in the restoration of (her) physical function and had aided in your psychological wellbeing.”

Following delivering his summation of the submissions tabled, Judge Soulio returned to Jenny’s offending.

“There is no suggestion that any recipient of the cannabis material you were producing and supplying suffered any harm. Indeed, as I have said, the only evidence I have is strongly to the contrary.”

“There is no suggestion that any recreational user of cannabis obtained product from you, and no evidence that any product was on-sold by the recipients of your products.”

Jenny produced two products, a coconut-oil-based product and a full extract cannabis-oil product, which she supplied in syringes and capsules. During the raid of her home the police took Jenny’s client lists, which in Judge Soulio’s view, made it clear by the information recorded that the supply was solely for medical purposes.

Judge Soulio then recounted Jenny’s personal circumstances. He regarded Jenny to be a first offender and against the background he turned to the question of sentence.

He noted that “the paramount purpose of the sentencing legislation is the protection of the community” and he took that into account along with legislative provisions in relation to the general principles of sentencing and the individual sentencing factors to be taken into account.

Jenny’s counsel submitted, and the judge accepted, that Jenny recognised the wrongfulness of her conduct by way of her plea of guilty, “which although entered at a late stage, was in circumstances complicated by the scientific evidence relating to the production of cannabis oil, and the issue of whether the cannabis oil you were producing fell within the purview of the Controlled Substances Act.”

Jenny has been offered employment – an adverse outcome, in terms of sentencing, would unequivocally mean that she would not be able to consider that offer further.

Judge Soulio had regard to other cases when considering the sentence he would impose upon Jenny.   The details are included in the transcript.  I believe now that Jenny’s case will now be precedent

“Ms Hallam, in your matter I have come to the view that the appropriate basis upon which to proceed is to require you to enter into a bond, without recording a conviction or passing sentence.

The bond will be in the sum of $1,000 and will be for a duration of two years. The only conditions of the bond are that you are be of good behaviour, and that you are to come up for conviction and sentence if the bond is breached.”

“I want to make it clear that that is not a licence to produce unregulated medical cannabis. I regard yours as an exceptional case, strongly supported by persuasive evidence, as to your personal circumstances, the circumstances in which you came to use cannabis oil for your own purposes, noting as to the fact that by the use of that cannabis oil you have been able to free yourself from an addiction to opioid medication and anti-anxiolytic medication, and as to the fact that your provision of that material to others who suffered a range of conditions was motivated by a genuine compassion to help others, and was not motivated in any way by commercial gain and indeed, as I have observed, at considerable expense to you.”

“I also take into account that in addition to those exceptional circumstances, you have been involved in what was for you a traumatic legal process, which of itself has been obviously a salutary experience for you and indicates to you the seriousness with which such matters are regarded.”

Adjourned 10.45am

My conclusion

Throughout Judge Soulio’s summation (close to an hour of commentary), personal and professional testimony was recounted.  

I sat in the court room transfixed and hung on every word.

Judge Soulio’s ruling today demonstrated deep wisdom, understanding and shrewd perception of the matter before him.  Above all, it revealed compassion and significant promise for the future of drug law reform in South Australia and in other jurisdictions. 

If we are to take seriously the narrative and that has just been aired in the Adelaide District Court, then each politician (and those who aspire to be) and their staffers must read the sentencing remarks. 

Once read, they need to be fully briefed by those in the know. 

To make it simple here is a very short list (noting these people wear many hats):

  • Carol Ireland – CEO and Managing Director of Epilepsy Action Australia.
  • Professor Iain McGregor, Professor of Psychopharmacology & Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative at the University of Sydney.
  • Greg Barns, Barrister & strong advocate for Drug Law Reform
  • Dr Alex Wodak – President of Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation
  • Associate Professor David Caldicott – Emergency Consultant at the Emergency Department of the Calvary Hospital in Canberra and a Clinical Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the Australian National University
  • Lucy Haslam – Founder of United in Compassion
  • Prof Simon Eckermann – Health Economist – University of Wollongong
  • Mick Palmer – Retired Australian Federal Police Commissioner
  • The wider constituency.

Then, quite simply, they need to act.

If you don’t have time to review the whole transcript, here are some extracts from the sentencing remarks attributed to Carol Ireland and Professor Iain McGregor.

“Ms Ireland said she had never encouraged anyone to break the law but had not judged those who had done so in desperation for the sake of their loved ones.”

Professor McGregor referred to an authoritative review of the literature by the United States National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine, published in 2017, which concluded that there was substantial evidence to support the use of medicinal cannabis products in treating chronic pain, as an anti-emetic in people undergoing chemotherapy,

Professor McGregor noted that as part of the work of the Lambert Initiative surveys indicated that over 85 per cent of the community in Australia supported the availability of medicinal cannabis products to patients in need.

Another Lambert Initiative study, published in 2018, showed that many families with severely epileptic children treated their children with illicit cannabis products. Parents felt compelled to try illicit products because the prescription medications prescribed by neurologists either did not work or caused intolerable side effects, and because official government schemes to allow access to cannabis products were too restrictive or offered products that were simply unaffordable.

Professor McGregor said that the inability of the official Therapeutic Goods Administration Scheme to service the majority of patients in Australia, could be attributed to at least four factors, the third of which was that the expensive nature of the products meant that a chronic pain patient would need to spend $20,000 per year for official products, and the family of an epileptic child more than $50,000 per year. He said that patients can expend a great deal of effort going through the process of obtaining official access to medicinal cannabis products, only to find the products are unaffordable.

Professor McGregor concluded that whilst it is clear that you were breaking the law, it is also clear, in his opinion, that there was sufficient evidence, having regard to the effectiveness of cannabis oil on the various conditions that were you helping treat, that your (Jenny’s) conduct was understandable. He said while it is never preferable for homemade artisanal oils lacking proper quality control to be used as medicines, his research had shown time and time again that desperate patients have little choice. Moreover, many of those patients achieved significant and sometimes miraculous relief from their afflictions.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for Jenny and for her legal counsel.

The outcome of this protracted case is not just vindication for Jenny but significantly, it is a win for the case for compassionate access to cannabis.

I will continue to advocate for a legal framework that not only allows for affordable access to whole plant medicine but also to fast-track the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Port Germein Gorge – Its blood flows again

I first posted this on August 31, 2014 when the Gorge Road reopened. Yesterday marked the start of devastating Bangor Fire back in 2014. Six years on and fire continues to ravage our beautiful country.

Bangor Fire

The Bangor fire, like other significant bushfires in South Australia including Wangary, Ash Wednesday and Kangaroo Island (those of 2007 and of 2019 and are ongoing), will become etched in people’s minds with stories shared about community spirit and the tireless efforts of CFS firefighters.

This from the CFS Website: What started as a small fire about 25 kilometres north-east of Port Pirie had the next morning expanded to what was described by firefighters as an area “the size of two football ovals” in an area of inaccessible and difficult terrain. Firefighters worked in shifts around the clock for 14 days before the Bangor fire was declared ‘Contained’ on 30 January and ‘Controlled’ on 6 February. Two days later with the onset of winds and hot temperatures the fire broke control lines in the south western corner and threatened the townships of Laura, Wirrabara and Stone Hut, and the small community of Beetaloo Valley.

31 days after it started, after burning more than 35,000 hectares, the Bangor fire was again declared as ‘Controlled’ on 14 February.  While 5 houses were destroyed, dozens were saved. A number of sheds were lost, with extensive damage sustained to fencing, and at least 700 sheep perished in the fire. 24 injuries were recorded but none serious, most involving smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion due to the extreme weather conditions that crews were working in.  Many CFS veterans are hard-pressed to recall a similar incident requiring such a sustained commitment of firefighting resources.

These are my words…..

Nature is a splendid thing. The regeneration and rejuvenation of the Port Germein Gorge and the Southern Flinders, following the devastating January fires, is remarkable.  

Just yesterday, as I drove north towards the Southern Flinders Ranges and as the Bluff came into view, the scars of the January fires were more apparent.  The starkness of the Range took on the appearance of leather in need of nourishment.  The type of leather of old boots, old boots which had walked too many miles and endured too much sun. 

With the final days of the winter sun high in the sky the scenery is distinguished.  I am confident the vista will respond to nourishment, by way of moisture and care, just as old boots would. The country needs rain. 

As I turned due east, off the Augusta highway and climbed the gentle rise of the foothills, I wasn’t quite prepared for the brightness of the sun as it shone through, not filtered by the leaves that prior to January were once on the majestic gums. 

As I meandered through the gorge I stopped along the way to capture images of the landscapes around each bend.  As I stepped out of the car and onto the newly paved road my shoes stuck to tar, not quite set.  The distinctive smell of bitumen and gravel filled my nostrils.  As I walked down an embankment the scent was soon overpowered with the perfume of damp earth, eucalyptus and Flinders Range wattle blossom on the ether. 

A pair of Galahs foraged in freshly spread straw and earth, a manmade mattress to support new growth and hold the topsoil in place. I listened to their chatter.  All at once a chorus of bird songs rang out like a symphony and a blue crane flapped its wings in time as it took off, startled by my presence.  

I am told that for those who entered the gorge and its environs only days after the fires that the silence was deafening.  No bird songs because there were no birds.  No mammals, lizards or other life to speak of.  However, if one looked in a discerning fashion, small buds and shoots were already appearing on scorched florae. Whilst the threat of Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ threatens the world in general, here for the moment, nature was in fine song.  

Now a day before spring, the first anniversary of the devastating fires is nearer than the original event of January this year.  It wasn’t just the evidence of the destruction of the fires which was striking but the signs of erosion caused by the torrents of water which descended upon the parched and charcoaled landscape.   In a peculiar twist of fate it was the equally devastating rain which did eventually quell the immortal monster of a blaze, enabling control to be taken by mortal men and women.

Wild oats now grow high, sentries to resilience, dangerous fuel for a hungry fire yet to be born. The air is warm, too warm really.  Are we ready for the next fire danger season?  

For those of you living in our beautiful regions, have you prepared your property?  Do you have a plan in place? I know many who do.  For those who do not….three words should motivate you to be at the ready.  Prepare. Act. Survive.   

Blessings be bestowed upon those who have not stopped rebuilding nor grieving.

Never rest, never take for granted our beautiful surroundings or the unforgiving climate in which we live.

Footnote: Special mention to the contractors and volunteers who have all contributed to the rebuilding of this important artery in the Southern Flinders Ranges. 

Some incredible footage of the painstaking and environmentally-sensitive repairs can be found at this link:

Give them a break – Tax breaks for Emergency Services Volunteers

Labor calls to compensate volunteer firefighters.

In 2013 I contested a Senate seat in South Australia as an Independent Candidate. Whilst I was not successful, I do however measure my success in other ways and I am stronger and wiser for the experience.

My key election platform was to work to bring about tax reform and the provision of tax breaks for Emergency Services Volunteers.

An integral aspect to my campaign was to travel extensively throughout the state and to listen to and speak with people about what motivated them and concerned them. I was invited into homes, businesses, walked paddocks and wharves and I listened to the concerns of those willing to share their thoughts and opinions.

It was such a privilege to work in this way. One of my main regrets however, in not securing a Senate seat, is that I didn’t have a means by which to progress my key election platform nor the concerns and issues brought to my attention.  In recognising that, I went about writing an open letter to all of the SA Senators at the time.

They were Senators Bernardi, Birmingham, Day, Edwards, Farrell, Fawcett, Gallacher, Hanson-Young, McEwen, Ruston, Wong, Wright and Xenophon.  Some names have changed, some remain the same.

I asked that that each consider progressing the issues I felt were important, are still important.

I called for the issue of dwindling numbers of volunteers for our essential emergency services such as CFS, SES and SAAS ( and their State & Territory counterparts) to be addressed urgently. I did this because it was widely recognised that the economic loss they were suffering simply to volunteer was unsustainable.

Now it is so much more than economic loss.  It is fatigue, despair and for some, it has meant paying the ultimate sacrifice. 

One of the most devastating impacts of natural disasters is the mental health impact, which lasts longer and is less visible, according to research. Australia spends on average $18.2 billion each year on disaster recovery, and half that cost is from the impact on mental health and well-being, according to a report by Deloitte Economics.

The total costs of disasters will rise to an average of $33 billion per year by 2050 unless steps are taken to increase resilience.

The matter of volunteer recruitment and retention and importantly their health and well-being should be of great concern to our government and our citizens. This includes financial health.

Considering the worsening situation due to climate change, we need to do something at a national level to assist people in their volunteer roles and to encourage more people to volunteer for emergency service organisations and compensate them for doing so.

Throughout my campaign I received much positive feedback for this hugely smart initiative and very little opposition. I spoke to peak body representatives and grass roots SES/CFS and SAAS volunteers.

Whilst I appreciate that volunteering implies that there should be no remuneration, nor should there be any out of pocket expenses incurred.

I still strongly believe that this initiative is worthy of whole of government support. 

In order for our communities to remain vibrant, resilient and robust we must maintain and grow our emergency services volunteer base. We must place a higher value on our volunteers and reward their contribution.

These proposed tax concessions would provide a legitimate means of compensating volunteers (and employers) who are increasingly ‘out of pocket’ for their incredible contribution to our communities.

At the time I suggested that climate change will continue to exacerbate this issue globally – fast forward, at a rate of knots to 2019 – does anyone care to disagree?

It is near on impossible to articulate the emotion contained in the conversations I was privy to during that campaign.

Throughout my campaign my mantra was “Without our environment there is no economy.” It still is.

This viewpoint was one which started and stimulated many conversations; conversations that have continued, regrettably though, there has been little more than rhetoric from those who can make a difference – our legislators.

Politicians should be governing for people, all people.  Multi-partisan approaches to complex issues must be brokered. 

Let’s start with an admission that anthropogenic climate change is real.

Let’s see a return to collaboration, common-sense and importantly compassion in politics.  Let’s extinguish the fires, not the flame of democracy.  

There is life, and while there is life there is hope.

I am, you are, we are Australians

I first posted this piece in November 2015, now some 4 years on, the momentum continues to build .

Next week I’ll be back in Adelaide for yet another gathering of ARM supporters so I felt it timely to re-post this….it’s still relevant… just add 4 years & plenty of press which supports Australia having a Head of State to truly call our own.

From 2015…..

“I am, you are, we are Australians” are the words Peter FitzSimons, National Chair of the National Committee of the Australian Republican Movement (ARM) opened his address to the National Press Club with in August.   

I attended a gathering of Republicans and likely some who were just curious to learn more, in Adelaide last week.  FitzSimons, the guest speaker, recited those same words and captivated the audience with his grass-roots approach to the important matter of Australia becoming a Republic. 

The ARM is non-party political.  It is a non-profit organisation that advocates an Australian Republic within the Commonwealth and advocates a fully and recognisably independent Australia in which all power belongs to the Australian people and in which nobody inherits power. Importantly the ARM advocates a Head of State who is Australian, who lives here and who can represent our identity, our values and our place in the world. 

It is 16 years since The Australian Republic Referendum was held on 6 November 1999.  Almost a generation later the approach is somewhat different to the approach used in the lead up to the vote in 1999.  Perhaps one could describe it as less academic in some regards but equally as feisty and as significant as ever.  

Indeed the Republican movement owes great debt to now Prime Minister of Australia the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, who was the driving force of the Republican movement at the time. Turnbull’s approach was, and in my opinion needed to be, sophisticated and refined.  

This piece from 2008 by Greg Barns who was the National Campaign Director for the 1999 Republic Referendum (and who was Turnbull’s successor as Chair) puts that into perspective.

Why a Republic? Principally it is about having an Australian as our Nation’s Head of State and about consciously uncoupling (as Gwyneth Paltrow famously used the term to announce the end of her relationship with Chris Martin) from our Constitutional ties with England and the Monarchy and to stand firmly on Terra Australis on our own two feet as a truly Independent Nation.  

To add more weight to this argument as recently as yesterday it was reported that the British Government is about to make it even harder for Aussies wanting to work in the United Kingdom.   

In the news item it states that in an unusually strongly worded diplomatic memo sent to Whitehall, Australia has warned the British Government its planned policy shift on visas was potentially inflicting “structural damage” to the “uniquely close relationship” politically, economically, culturally and security wise.   

It further states that “despite intense lobbying by the Australian Government to lift the cap and a debate in Westminster in January this year — that specifically asked how a nation with the Queen as its Head of State should count for so little — the British Government is now set to make it even harder to employ non-EU workers.” 

Alexander Downer, Australian High Commission to the UK said that “restricting Australians ability to live and work here (in the UK) has wider consequences beyond economics.”  

I concur and one has to question the level of importance placed on Australia’s significant bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom by the British Government if this is the position it takes.

Closer to home, those at the intimate gathering in Adelaide were offered a chance for questions and comments and it was heartening to hear the wide-ranging level of matters raised.  Clearly some of those present knew and understood the complexities of The Australian Constitution well.   

A relevant question was raised and it was around the opportunity for Australia to become a secular independent Republic.  Secular from a social perspective in that Secularism being the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. I look forward to a more open discussion on this – time did not permit for a robust interaction. 

The ARM advocates a national conversation and democratic process for Australians to decide how our next Head of State will be chosen.  FitzSimons personally proposes a single change – the minimalist model with ‘no bells, no whistles and no postage stamp’.  This is his position and it is open for debate. 

I believe it was largely ignorance which played a part in the result of the 1999 Referendum and indeed the way the question itself was worded, some would even suggest a deliberate and strategic ploy by John Howard for the bid to not succeed.  This level of ignorance continues to permeate our overall political system. 

That said it was pleasing to hear FitzSimons clarify a common myth which leads people to believe that if Australia were to become a Republic we would leave the membership of the Commonwealth of Nations.   

So let me state that despite public opinion which suggests otherwise, Australia will continue to be a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and will be able to compete in the Commonwealth Games after becoming a Republic.  This matter appears to be hugely important to the Australian (sporting) public. 

Republics have been allowed as members of the Commonwealth since 1949, following the London Declaration made on 28 April of that year.  Think the Republic of South Africa, Singapore, Pakistan etc.  

This piece from 2011 by David Donavan will add clarity,3505

Change is challenging for most and I thought it was canny of Fitzsimons to reflect on Gough Whitlam’s legacy.

In particular Whitlam’s announcement in his 1972 Election speech that he would arrange with the British Government for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to be constituted by its Australian members sitting in Australia to hear appeals to the Privy Council from State courts.  As FitzSimons referenced, it took a decade to ratify but since then ‘we’ve run our own show, and we’ve done it very well.’  

A subject of personal interest was not raised and that is the concept of a deliberative democracy.  The South Australian Government is attempting to engage in better decision making through YourSay SA, the goal being to involve everyday South Australians in the decisions that affect their lives. More here:  I’d like to explore this further in a future blog.

In closing the evening’s formalities FitzSimons lead the ‘band’ in our National Anthem…it’s interesting to note that Gough Whitlam did not like God Save the Queen and was the First PM to attend a Socceroos match – but only on the proviso that Advance Australia Fair was played!  It became the official National Anthem on April 8, 1974.   

Now is a striking time for a fresh make-over of our identity and for Australia to be truly inclusive of our First People’s and of those who have come here from all the lands on earth.

Giving thanks, being hopeful, loving…. and not letting the Sun set on regret

I wrote this piece in March 2015. At the time I was inspired to put my metaphorical pen to paper following a simple conversation.

During that conversation I was asked a profound question about the matriarch of a family I know,  a woman I had grown to love, respect and adore as a strong, nurturing and resilient woman.

I was asked what it was that allowed me to form such a special bond with her.  To this day I really don’t know and really it doesn’t matter.

Almost in her 97th year, that woman’s heart has now stopped beating but memories of her, her love and influence will live on. Vale Vida.

These are my original words.

Do you ever doubt your choices or feel regret about a decision?  I am not afraid to admit that I do and I’d challenge anyone who claimed that they always, unreservedly, made the right choice.

For some reason my sense of vulnerability is heightened at the moment. It’s partly about my environment, both physical and emotional; and partly about my choices. From an environmental perspective I can’t ignore the course mankind is taking.  Our leaders, in my opinion, are not making the right decisions about the key elements which sustain life as we know it; air, water and food.  I do live in hope though.

Emotionally, it’s more about my evolution as a woman and challenging myself in ways I have never considered in the past.

My choices are more measured than ever before.  Whilst family is pivotal in many of my decisions, I am giving myself permission to make choices which, whilst not selfish in the true sense of the word, are about me and importantly my wellbeing.  In terms of my vulnerability, I can’t pinpoint why I sometimes feel vulnerable but I do know it’s a feeling which will pass and I take some comfort in that.

Positively, my intuition is the strongest it’s ever been.  Like a muscle, with use it is becoming more robust, sculpted and healthy.   My honed intuition has enabled me to be more in-sync, in-tune if you like, with others around me.

I do understand and appreciate how fragile life is.  One only has to listen to a news broadcast to ponder the many pressing issues which are facing us, issues which are often a direct result of a choice or decision, informed or otherwise.

So, as I age, I comprehend more readily how the decisions and choices I make will affect me and importantly others in my circle of influence.

I was asked a profound question recently about the matriarch of a family I know, a woman who I’ve grown to love, respect and adore as a strong, nurturing and resilient woman.

I was asked what it was that allowed me to form such a special bond with her.  To this day I really don’t know and really it doesn’t matter.

The remarkable woman I’m referring to was born in the 1920’s.  She was born a twin.  She and her sister were so tiny at birth, less than 2 pounds each (about 900 grams, less than 1 kilo), and they were literally sent home by the doctor to die.

They did not die. They fought the harshest of odds and survived.  This woman survived not just her infant years through untold adversity but continues to survive to this day. This woman exudes resilience and strength beyond compare.

She worked hard from a very young age.  It was physically demanding work.  When she married, her life was not made easier by the union but rather her role expanded to that of mother, carer, farm-hand and so much more.  A compliant, faithful and nurturing woman, her family was and still is her world.

I wonder what might have been if this woman were to be born today.   

With medical advancements in our country, it would have meant that her mother would have received exceptional antenatal care.  She may not have been delivered at term but likely very close to; and would have been of a healthy birth weight.  Vaccinations would have been a blessing; her only brother was crippled by Polio.

Her early childhood through to her late teens would have been very different too.  There would have been access to an education system which would have shaped her in a very different way. 

The social norms of today would have enabled/empowered her to make choices about her lifestyle, a career (her career) and taken her on a pathway which can only be imagined.

You cannot have regrets if you don’t know what you don’t know.  Nor can you have missed opportunities if they don’t present themselves.  You can however reflect on the passage of time and wonder what might have been and then look forward in such a way to positively shape the years which follow. 

For me, I wonder what might have been if I’d studied harder and listened to advice which, at the time, seemed to be uninformed.  I also wonder what might have been if I’d had been more accepting and patient.  In essence, if I had made very different choices.

I know that the remarkable woman I speak of reflects quietly on what might have been.  I believe that she does think deeply about what path she may have trodden if different opportunities presented themselves. 

Regret is too heavy a word in this instance.  Because of her nature she would never ever perceive her life with having regrets. 

From her very being a lineage continues to grow, a piece of her character, living on in so many for perpetuity. Her morals, her beliefs, her standards and her poise are reflected in her progeny and their progeny.  It may not be evident immediately but if you scratch the surface of each who carries a piece of her DNA then a piece of her lives there.

What if she were to be born in this century? I envisage a woman who would be heavily involved in the education of others or maybe the humanities. I see a woman who would captivate and inspire on a far greater scale because of the technology which is available to us today.  I see a woman who would lead but also know when to walk beside others when called for.

In her twilight years we can learn much from her and others of her ilk.  It’s never too late to ask those pressing questions of our families’ treasured elder men and women.  It’s never too late to just sit and listen, over a cup of sweet tea poured into a fine bone china cup and learn about their life, their thoughts and what might have been. 

Voltaire said, “The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.”

We all live with hope and some of us with regrets….don’t we?

Perhaps this is an opportunity to learn? Talk, listen, learn and above all love…..those conversations may well steer you down a road less travelled and maybe even prevent you from having one less regret.  

Living in poverty & being unemployed in Australia – what does that really look like?

I first published this piece in July 2013 – Still we are stigmatising the unemployed and underemployed. Still governments use a punitive approach to ‘monitoring’ and measuring job search efforts. We must raise the rate. No question.

Many different approaches to eradicating poverty have been attempted in our country, however approaches which focus only on economic growth have proved to be unsustainable.

Our Government must create an environment whereby unemployed Australians and those living below the poverty line are able to re-claim their dignity and their basic human rights.

Human rights in Australia have largely been developed under Australian Parliamentary democracy but it would seem that our Parliament doesn’t really understand what it is like to be unemployed or in a cycle of poverty.    There is increasing international evidence that when governments adopt anti-poverty plans, they can make meaningful steps to reduce overall levels of poverty.

You may have heard the words before or even uttered them yourself, words such as ‘dole bludger’, ‘jobless’, ‘unemployed’, ‘idle’, useless and ‘redundant’.

These words evoke pain in the eyes of a parent trying feed their child or a carer who has not had a break from caring, not even for a minute, for months.  Those words are often interchanged and embellished with offensive language.  Those words cut to the core of most Centrelink Income Support recipients.  People who often don’t have the energy or self-esteem to respond.

I have a proud background in Public Service; in what some would regard as the most difficult of service delivery agencies our Government has in place to support our society, that being the Department of Human Services, Centrelink.

For many years I worked as a ‘customer service advisor’ in a regional ‘customer service centre’.  No two days were the same.  No two ‘customers’ were the same.

I unequivocally support the efforts of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS). I support an increase in the basic rate of income support for all welfare recipients.  There is an increasing demand for services but this has not been met by additional assistance from any levels of government. 

You only have to speak with any NGO involved in assisting people to overcome barriers to living meaningful lives to know that their finite resources are stretched.  These organisations also advocate for strong communities, and for justice and fairness in our society, these organisations understand that bringing a family out of poverty has so many tangible benefits.

One such organisation is ACOSS.  They are the peak body for the community services and welfare sector and the national voice for the needs of people affected by poverty and inequality.

ACOSS’ vision is for a fair, inclusive and sustainable Australia where all individuals and communities can participate in and benefit from social and economic life.

We, as a society have a moral responsibility to support the disadvantaged and impoverished and lift them out of poverty and welfare dependency.  You can’t achieve that on $32 per day.

I would encourage you to learn more about the remarkable work ACOSS and locally the work of SACOSS..


The Jigsaw

Picture, if you will, a delicately engraved box; the sort that the matriarch of your family may have tucked away in a drawer containing treasures.

The box is not too big, not too small nor deep in its size.  It has a distinctive look, feel and bouquet.  It looks old and it feels velvety and its smell is that of age but it is not unpleasant but rather it’s familiar and comforting.

As these words spill across my screen, in this instance and in this moment, the box is a metaphorical one.

From time to time the box has been carefully removed from its place of safe keeping to have items added and some removed.  The items removed are never removed permanently but are taken out to be cherished, contemplated and some to be studied in a discerning way. Once reflected upon all are returned to their resting place with unconditional care.

The place of safe keeping is my heart and my soul and that box contains a jigsaw puzzle. 

The puzzle is that of my life.  The puzzle of my life is like a colourful mosaic which is yet to be completed. The artist started with a blank canvas and every day of every year, pieces are added to give life to both a picture and a narrative.   

There are pieces of my life’s jigsaw that fit together flawlessly.  Those perfect pieces include my children.  Their lives are coloured with light and shade and filled with hope and love.  Other fragments which sit naturally within me and are part of that puzzle are my memories. 

Most are pleasant to recall and some distressing but all form essential pieces of the mosaic that makes me whole.  Every day I create new memories and each finds its resting place in that box. 

The pieces of the puzzle which are missing, or rather yet to be shaped and encouraged into place, are the parts which will add to my story and one day upon my death, will complete it.  

I am not sure how the pieces will fit into my ever changing puzzle or what pieces of the existing puzzle may need to be reshaped to enable them to fit.  I do know though, that there are pieces I’d like to remove but in doing so would, like a house of cards, make the mosaic of my life crumble and become unrecognisable.

So rather than forcibly remove those pieces, I am going to let nature takes its course.  I am happy to ride what seems to be a predetermined path for now.  Slowly and methodically though, I will change course and navigate to a place I want to be rather than a place I need to be.

I accept that there are things that I cannot change but those things I can influence, I will.  If I see a piece of my puzzle within reach and can see it fitting into my mosaic perfectly and naturally, I will gently bring it to rest in its rightful place.  In doing so, that piece along with all the others will add colour and light to my life’s beautiful puzzle.

The Gift

First Published 4th January 2015

They sit comfortably as a sea breeze funnels along the verandah and touches their skin.  Chilled glasses of sparkling wine are held delicately in manicured hands.  Three like-minded women are deep in conversation.  The conversation, spontaneous in its evolution, is centred on how fortunate they are to live their mostly contented lives in Australia. 

In their circle of family and friends their children have never had to worry about from where their next meal was to come; or if their water was safe to drink; or if they had shelter from the elements.

Their children are loved and rich with possessions. Their children have access to health care; education and the ability to one day earn a living regardless of gender or ethnic background. Their children are indeed fortunate, privileged really; and it is my hope that they and the generations to follow never have to fight for survival.

I am part of this conversation. 

The children we speak of include mine. 

In a perfect world no child or person would be exposed to, or have to endure suffering or hardship but our world is far from perfect.   At any given moment in time many people on our fragile planet are being exploited, persecuted or are experiencing hardship due to the extremes of our climate.  The exceptional circumstances they find themselves in are well outside of their control and influence and they fight to survive.   I can’t begin to imagine what that would be like. 

Whilst I don’t want my children to ever have to experience adversity to the levels we see and read about in news bulletins, I do want them to be exposed to some level of hardship in a way in which they can at least begin to understand and comprehend what adversity really is and genuinely appreciate what they do have.   And if the unimaginable happens and they are placed in a dire situation, I want them to have the ability to endeavour to survive. 

I want my children to have the confidence to reach out with care to another human being in need and not be afraid of what others might think but to reach out and offer solace because it is the right thing to do.

In life, I want them to be able to act instinctively as they contribute in a meaningful way to our society. 

For our children to be the best they can be they must have empathy and compassion.  They also need to be resilient and adaptable.  These are traits which may be intrinsic but mostly they are learned.  

Education is at the heart of this message. 

You don’t have to leave our shores to encounter hardship; there are many examples of need and destitution in our own backyard. Broadly, Australian’s believe they are resilient and adaptable to change but I do question if we really have had those traits tested in recent times. 

I believe the last three generations have been fortunate in life but has our resilience and adaptability really been put through its paces, that is beyond our adoption of technological toys?  

When all is said and done are we truly able to deal with significant social and environmental change?  Could we really cope with events of the magnitude we see all too often on our TV screens? 

Australians from many cultures and diverse backgrounds, including our first peoples, have fought alongside our allies in wars on foreign and home soil.  We endured conflicts we did not choose to engage in but were rather drawn into because of our allegiances.  

We have succumbed to hardship and will continue to encounter drought, fire and flooding rain, pestilence and plague. We have risen in the face of adversity to overcome stark odds. By no means trivial, such events in our short history since colonisation have reinforced our resolve and strengthened our character as a nation and as a people. 

How do we teach, model and impart the traits of resilience and respect to our children when their level of exposure to adversity, thankfully, is non-existent?  Leading by example is one way and certainly living our life in a way which embodies empathy and compassion is fine start. 

We may have grievances from time to time but in the scheme of things, from a global view, they are largely superficial.  The next time you believe you have been dealt a cruel hand, a heavy blow or things just aren’t going your way, step back and put the situation into perspective. 

If no-one has died or is seriously ill or has lost their home, then the matter is likely one which will soon settle in the archive of your memory, a place to learn from; and to grow from.  

By all means give your children material gifts because you can, but give them a gift which money cannot buy, give them every opportunity to grow emotionally and to be able to discern the emotions of others. 

With this most valuable gift they will be able to act with dignity, grace and self-respect and in-turn earn the respect of others.