Friday, May 28, 2010

Abbott rescues Pacific solution

May 28, 2010, Editorial

TONY ABBOTT sees himself as John Howard's political heir; in announcing that he will bring back Howard's ''Pacific solution'' as Australia's policy on asylum seekers, he has emphasised the connection. Yet it says a good deal about Tony Abbott's view of his own party in the post-Howard era that he chose to announce the policy without submitting it to a full party-room discussion first. It is hard not to conclude he wanted to sidestep the internal opposition he knew he would face. Far better to ambush his own MPs and then hope for the best, as he had done earlier with parental leave. Liberal MPs will be wondering why they went through the trouble and pain of ditching Malcolm Turnbull for his lack of consultation.

Abbott announced four parts to his policy - temporary protection visas, offshore processing (which he called ''rigorous'' several times), good relations with source and transit countries - and a fourth element, which can be paraphrased as: send 'em back. Turning boats around is not new: "It was done quietly in co-operation with other countries through the extraordinary professionalism of our armed forces,'' he said. ''Now, I don't see why it can't be done again.'' What is new, however, is the explicit promise to repeat it.

Abbott analyses the problem in simple terms - as a problem of markets. People smugglers under the Rudd government's more humane policy have ''a product to sell''. He is going to deprive them of their merchandise.

We believe action against people smugglers is certainly called for - but not at the expense of refugees, whom the policy ignores.

With its emphasis on rigour and toughness and its simplicity, Abbott's policy is pure populism. It may curry favour with some sections of the community; what it will not do is reduce the number of illegal immigrants and visa overstayers in the country. It is well-known that far more illegal immigrants enter Australia by air. According to the Immigration Department, there were 48,700 illegal non-citizens in Australia last June. Compare that with the 6000 seaborne arrivals Abbott cited. The four biggest source countries - China, the United States, Malaysia and Britain - contributed more than a third of the total. It is the boats, though, that must be stopped, because although they carry the most desperate individuals fleeing the worst circumstances, they evoke a visceral fear in some Australians. His policy amounts to looking tough by punishing the most vulnerable. They are to be a symbolic sacrifice on the altar of xenophobia.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Red News Readers,

This letter of mine was published in the SMH today 18.5.10:

Tanveer Ahmed has done the world a favour in cutting through the hype that now surrounds birthing, and addressing the issue of class in relation to the provision of public mental health services for women suffering post natal depression. What a disgrace that there are no public mental health beds that specialise in the care of these women!! Why is that? Is it because our society still does not understand the seriousness of post natal depression? Is it because those who suffer post natal depression are women? Is it because many think they should be happy at the birth of the child and they will "just get over it"?

The need for specialist public bedsand services for women suffering post natal depression has long been recognised as a dire need in our public health system. These women are often cared for at home by distressed husbands and families, with no appropriate health and welfare support. Some couples are ashamed and hide the mother. But you can't hide a severely depressed or psychotic woman who kills her baby. Even hospitals need to rethink how they support these women. I can well remember a mother who threw her baby over a hospital balcony, only a couple of years ago. That woman was placed in a mental health admission unit with persons suffering all sorts of mental illness and disorders. These women need specialist care. It is a great heartlessness in our health system that they don't get it.

Jenny Haines.

When mothers cry out for tender care
Author: Tanveer Ahmed - Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatry registrar at St John of God Private Hospital, Burwood.
Date: 17/05/2010
Words: 713
Source: SMH
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Page: 11

I have treated mothers who have thought of killing their babies. The illness is rare and usually improves rapidly, but it has resulted in tragedies.
There are few more confronting conditions than this one, grounded in a misguided love where mothers feel their babies are better off dead than growing up without them.

I work in a hospital that has the state's only private, post-natal unit. Patients are often transferred from public hospitals, where they are inappropriately treated alongside sufferers of intractable drug addictions or schizophrenia. They usually arrive traumatised by their experience.

Only a minority can afford private health insurance.

NSW does not have a public psychiatric unit for mothers and their babies. It did have hospital beds funded for such purposes several years ago, but they were abolished due to safety concerns.

Phillip Boyce, professor of psychiatry at the University of Sydney and a peri-natal expert, says that was not based on evidence but to save costs. Mothers suffering post-natal mental illnesses require extra, highly trained nursing care to monitor both them and their babies.

He believes any savings are merely costs being transferred to other agencies such as the Department of Community Services, or to families and charities through the necessary out-of-home care.

The developments coincide with recent reports that the number of very young babies being taken into care has risen by almost 70 per cent in two years. Each day in NSW an infant under four weeks old will be removed from the mother, according to government data provided to Parliament last month.

Professor Boyce says a proportion of these mothers suffer mental illness, and believes they could have retained custody of their children if better quality peri-natal services existed. "Once babies are taken, magistrates are very reluctant to give them back to their mothers," he says.

This all coincides with a time when the nature of motherhood, pregnancy and delivery has undergone dramatic changes.

Boyce thinks expectations of pregnancy and motherhood have never been so unrealistically high. "Their grandmothers had a very real risk of dying while giving birth but women today feel pregnancy and delivery are virtually risk free."

Tanya Evans, a social historian of motherhood undertaking a PhD at Macquarie University, says the current generation of women are used to controlling every aspect of their lives.

"Becoming a mother is often the first time when some of that must be relinquished," she says. The decline in the extended family, she believes, combined with the disappearance of affordable domestic services and a commercialisation of motherhood through an explosion in mummylit, prestige prams and other baby products places enormous pressure on new mothers.

Instead of the threat of death, the backdrop to the modern delivery is a thorough birth plan, whale music, digital photos and delivery suite discussions about who is going to cut the cord. These bourgeois aspirations are unlikely to apply to the average patient who may require a public psychiatric bed. Nor is the same demographic likely to be pushing their babies in expensive prams.

But regardless of social class, the experience of modern motherhood can be lonely and isolating. When combined with a mini baby boom - state figures indicate a 9 per cent rise in births over the past five years - the demand for peri-natal services of all kinds has never been greater.

The most common cause of maternal death, defined as a mother dying within 42 days of giving birth, is psychiatric illness, according to a British study in 2004, Why Mothers Die.

Statistics in Australia suggest suicide remains the greatest cause of death among pregnant mothers, but reliable statistics after delivery are yet to come.

A spokesman for the state minister responsible for mental health, Barbara Perry, says the government is focusing on funding community services to screen for vulnerable mums and treat them in the community.

While this is an important plank in an overall strategy, there will be a proportion for whom hospitalisation is unavoidable.

NSW has fallen behind in many areas after a decade of a shabby government. The lack of a high-quality mother-and-baby unit is depriving a needy and poorly understood group. For some, this gap means they will lose custody of their children forever.

Monday, May 03, 2010




Those who have been to war know that it is a dirty, messy, horrible business, where life is cheap. There is no glory in mud, endless mud. There is no glory in the loss of friends, limbs, lives, body parts. There is no glory in making the unethical decisions that war demands. War is the serious business of killing the enemy by whatever means you can, while doing your best to stay alive. Fate and chance play a big part in whether you survive.

Beneath Hill 60 tells the story of Australian Army Engineers on the Western Front in 1916. They specialised in blowing up German positions from underground. They were a squad of men who were miners back home in Australia, formed especially for the tasks that they were given. They were grateful to be underground. Being on the surface only meant more horror.

But this is not just another war story. Jeremy Hartley Sims and the production team make clear their distaste for the slaughter that took place on the Western Front in WW One. The thundering sound of the Western Front guns booms in your ears as it must have done for the frontline soldiers, day and night. The horrors of war are there in all their bloody detail, but not overstated. But there is also impish Aussie military humour, and ranking officer and soldier distaste for the British, and army command. Chris Haywood plays a bumbling commander with his usual mastery of his role.
Brendan Cowell plays the lead role of the Captain of the squad. We follow his journey into the army through flashbacks to his life before the war and his courting of his young lady, the daughter of Queensland farmers. The gentility of the Queensland farmland life contrasts sharply with the grim portrait of European farmlands, which by 1916 were acres and acres of pitted mud.

Hill 60 is a strategic site for the British Empire forces. Optimists hope that by blasting Hill 60 away, the end of the war will be hastened. The blast when it comes is so huge, it is heard in London and Berlin. But sadly, even though 2000 Germans were killed that day, they retook Hill 60 several months later.

But the film also tells the story of the squad of men, some hardened and embittered by the war, some too young to be there and are terrified, some driven to madness by the insanity around them, some generous and caring even with the war all around them. “A landmark achievement, harrowing, moving and brilliantly suspenseful” Evan Williams , The Australian.