Careless Spending

September 9, 2008

There’s no denying that Melbourne has become a truly impressive city. The buildings along Flinders St, Southbank and Yarra River have never looked as modern, and at night, brilliant lighting effects provide a dazzling spectacle.

In line with giving our city yet another facelift, the Brumby government has announced it will spend $128.5 million overhauling the Victorian Arts Centre. The renovations include a new geometric glass wing on the western side of the Hamer Hall building, new foyer spaces and stage technology. The result will surely be an amazing looking building, but even the most astounding architecture can’t hide the fact that Melbourne has more urgent agendas that require revamping.

The Victorian Arts Centre

The Victorian Arts Centre-http://z.about.com/d/goaustralia/1/0/6/_/artscentre.jpg

For example, the state has a dangerously undermanned police force. The police union told The Herald Sun the money could be used to fund 645 more officers. According to a Herald Sun survey of 3459 Victoria police officers in April, two in three admitted they had considered quitting due to a shortage of resources and high stress. The money could be better used to relieve some of the pressure on the force, struggling to tackle the increase in drunken violence occurring in the city. Police Association secretary Greg Davies told The Herald Sun that the funding “would go a very long way to providing extra police and modernised equipment so those police could do their job that the taxpayers of Victoria pay them to do”.

The money could also be more appropriately spent on funding over a thousand nurses, significantly increasing bed numbers, freeing up the public transport system or building new schools. The renovations are merely an attempt to keep up “at a time when arts centres of a certain age around the world are being upgraded, ” Opera House chief executive told The Australian. Although ‘the arts’ make up an important part of Victoria’s culture, the building does not require immediate attention and should be put on hold until more imperative issues are resolved.

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An Unhealthy Choice.

September 5, 2008

The “Quad” in the new Hungry Jack’s “Quad Burger” might as well stand for quadruple bypass. From a rebellious point of view, you do have to hand it to them. The four beef patties, four slices of cheese, two rashers of bacon, barbecue sauce and two sugared buns that comprise the concoction, makes absolutely no attempt to conform to a healthy regime, slowly trying to emerge in our kilojoule-drenched society.

But from a more rational perspective, the burger is yet another dangerously unhealthy addition to our takeaway menu, threatening to further intensify Australia’s obesity epidemic. Although they aren’t helping the situation, we can’t simply point the finger at the fast-food chains that release these sodium-encrusted delicacies. They spend millions of dollars each year on market-research to find out exactly what people want. And as Australia took pole position as the word’s fattest nation this year, they are simply responding to a market that says: “bring on the quad burger”.

Hungry Jacks Quad Burger

Hungry Jack's Quad Burger-Photo-http://www.taste.com.au/images/articles/aab09030817.jpg

Head of preventative cardiology at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Prof Simon Stewart, told The Agethat if there was a fat Olympics, Australia would be the gold medal nation. “If we don’t do something about this, we will have an MCG-sized crowd full of deaths over the next 20 years, directly as a result of our expanded waistlines, ” he said.

The ABChave reported that one in four Australian children are “either overweight or obese and the numbers have been growing steadily for the past two decades, “. The situation has become so bad, that Sydney’s Westmead Children’s hospital have appointed a specialist for childhood obesity.

So who can we blame for all this? Ultimately, only ourselves. Can we really hold advertising and brilliant marketing responsible for our unhealthy habits? If we can, and Australians are so easily influenced, the government needs to step-up its campaign to fight this issue causing extreme numbers of deaths each year. We have all seen graphic images of people flying through car windshields and tar being removed from a smoker’s aorta, but maybe it’s time we saw some individuals going in to cardiac arrest. Although the government does promote healthy lifestyles through advertising, Australians don’t seem to be getting the message, or better yet care.

Dr Shirley Alexander, the newly appointed childhood obesity specialist at Westmead Children’s hospital, told the ABC, “If you have problems with overweight and obesity as an adolescent, you are much more likely to continue having problems with overweight and obesity as an adult”. The government needs to be more active in promoting a healthy lifestyle in our schools, through limiting unhealthy menu choices and exposing children to the potential result of consistently choosing certain foods. The government needs to act now, because as in a heart-attack situation, every second counts.

Cutting Back On Plastic.

August 27, 2008

Victoria’s 10-cent levy on plastic shopping bags could be the most effective method, since Captain Planet graced our TV screens in the 90’s, of getting us to think about the environment.

Like many of the world’s underlying issues, excessive waste production can be managed through simple attitude changes. The month long trial, being held at Safeway, Coles and IGA stores in parts of Victoria’s north-east and south-west is a great way to get the ball rolling.

Of course for most families, charging 10 cents per shopping bag is not going to have them taking out a second mortgage. Michael Wickham, of Hallam, told the The Herald Sun  that 10 cents was not enough of a deterrent. Nonetheless, it may subconsciously cause individuals to question how their everyday actions affect the environment.

//www.sustainableisgood.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/03/29/shoppingbags.jpg

Too much plastic? Photo courtesy of-http://www.sustainableisgood.com/photos/uncategorized/2007/03/29/shoppingbags.jpg

For others though, 10 cents will definitely be enough to sway them. Mother-of-two Karen Barrie-Sewell, of Narre Warren, told The Herald Sunthat people would be more inclined to use the green recyclable bags, as she now does. “I only do it to save some money, and for the environment of course, but everything’s so tight with petrol prices,” she said.

The only dilemma with the green recyclable bags is getting people to actively use them. After a long session in the supermarket aisles, carrying a full load of shopping in from the car can feel like a bicep workout. The last thing on your mind is taking the bags back out to your boot. But unless you do, the next time you pop in to the shops unexpectedly, your green bags will be sitting at home gathering dust. The 10-cent levy will work as the perfect motivator to get people using the bags effectively.

Victorian Environment Minister Gavin Jennings told The Age that Victorians are using one billion plastic shopping bags per year. If cutting down on bag usage is the one selfless thing an individual can do to help the environment, the levy should be enough to have them developing these good habits.

Walking Off The Job.

August 19, 2008

Imagine heading to work each morning knowing that your equivalents, performing the exact same job, are earning $20,000 more per year than you. Or try to envision having your expertise, time and dedication towards your job completely undervalued based on the location of your office building. It’s no wonder Victorian TAFE teachers have decided to strike this week.

The invisible line that seperates New South Wales and Victoria is all that stands between an entry level TAFE teacher earning $63,536 or $42,326 per year. Education union TAFE vice-president Gillian Robertson told The Age that Victorian TAFE staff were “mad as hell”, and they have every reason to be. The staff are merely demanding the same rate of pay as Victorian school teachers, who also earn approximately $13,000 more per year. How can these vital educators be expected to remain motivated when they’re receiving a message that basically says: ‘your time is worth less than a school teacher’s’?

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Box Hill TAFE-Photo-http://www.abc.net.au/architecture/interact/img/box_hill_img.jpg

TAFE staff in Victoria could potentially be earning more than double working in their area of expertise than they do in the classroom. However they have chosen to become teachers, assumedly because they are passionate about teaching and enriching the lives of students. But when there are accounts of third-year apprentices earning more than their teachers, the staff are obviously not getting the credit they deserve. By allowing Victorian TAFE educators to sit at the bottom of the pay scale, we are ultimately jeopardising the standard of education being provided to students. Although there is a presumption that teachers are not in it for the money, at the very least, Victorian trade educators should be receiving equal pay to that of Victorian school teachers.

About 3000 Victorian TAFE teachers will walk off the job for 24 hours on August 20th. Like the majority of industrial actions, they are frustratingly drawn out. Let’s just hope the issue gets rectified quickly, or we might begin to see them walk off the job permanently.

With all the recent scientific advancements that have been made, we are now able to do some amazing things. We can grow bones back using stem cells, detect and treat life-threatening illnesses early on and even clone animals. Despite these triumphs, when it comes to knowing if an Olympic athlete has been using performance-enhancing drugs, we are still a little unsure.

John Fahey, head of the World Anti Doping Agency said “it is less likely than before” for athletes to get away with taking performance-enhancing drugs, theage.com.au reported. However in the year 2008, “less likely” really doesn’t cut it.

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Steroids in use-http://a.abcnews.com/images/Sports/pd_steroids_071205_mn.jpg

As expected, it wasn’t long before Beijing’s first drug cheat was discovered, who turned out to be Spanish cyclist Maria Isabel Moreno. Moreno failed her drug test, having the performance-enhancing Erythropoietin (EPO) in her system. Although her exposure could be received as showing that effective drug detection measures are in place, there are many doubters who think otherwise. These include renowned Australian athletes such as Grant Hackett and Tamsyn Lewis, both being convinced drug cheats would be competing undetected at these Olympics.

If top athletes openly admit they lack faith in the system, how impressed should someone sitting at home, witnessing a competitor lifting three times their bodyweight on T.V. be? The Olympics either need to be cleaned up or risk being packed up. Given how common the issue of drug cheating has become, there are only a couple of foreseeable ways to overcome this.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) needs to start imposing harsher penalties than those currently in place. Maria Isabel Moreno is facing merely a two-year suspension and the possibility of exclusion from the 2012 Olympics. If the IOC want to get serious about putting an end to drug cheating, they should enforce an instant lifetime ban from the Olympics and any affiliated international events. One strike and your’e out.

Furthermore, signficant fines should be considered to both the individual athletes and the country they are representing. The money generated should then be invested in researching methods to consistently stay one step ahead of drug cheats. There should be no doubt in either the athlete’s or the spectator’s mind that competitors are achieving new heights based on nothing but sweat and tears.

Punch-drunk

August 5, 2008

If you are planning a fun-filled evening around Melbourne’s entertainment hotspots over the weekend, be sure to come prepared. A new shirt and designer jeans are a good place to start, but don’t forget your flak jacket, helmet and first aid kit either.

It seems that somewhere along the way, party-goers in Melbourne decided that they cannot stand each other and the best way to express their feelings is to beat one another within an inch of death. A few laps around Melbourne’s prominent nightspots is all it takes to see that alcohol-fuelled crime and violence is out of control. With the Brumby government’s poorly implemented 2am lockout scheme ending in September for analysis, you might be wondering, what’s next?

//www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2008/02/23/queenst_violence_wideweb__470x293,0.jpg

Violence on Queen Street, Melbourne-Photo-http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2008/02/23/queenst_violence_wideweb__470x293,0.jpg

The latest instalment in the government’s strategy to combat alcohol-related crime is to temporarily ban drunken troublemakers from popular nightspots such as St Kilda and Fitzroy. With a state police force that is already stretched to the limit, exactly how officers are going to enforce and keep track of these bans is unclear. A fully equipped police force is needed now more than ever and according to The Age, the Brumby government spends less than any other state per head of population on policing.

Let’s face it, as long as there is a mix of alcohol and large groups of people congregating in popular areas, there is going to be problems. The success level of the 2am lockout scheme is yet to be confirmed, however health experts have already described it as a complete failure. The deeper sociological reasons for the increase in alcohol-fuelled violence and crime cannot be solved with a quick fix scheme. What is needed is simply a greater police presence in these troubled areas to make it clear to drunken revellers that violent behaviour won’t be tollerated, and that those people genuinely out for a good time can feel safe.

Australia’s controversial immigration policy, enforcing mandatory detention of asylum seekers, is set to become a thing of the past. However, the Rudd government’s plan to allow asylum seekers to avoid detention while having their visa status determined, is somewhat impulsive . The government’s proposed policy obviously endeavours to overcome any moral dilemmas and criticism surrounding the incarceration of potentially innocent refugees. This definitely sounds like a step in the right direction as far as human rights are concerned, but the changes should be approached with some level of caution.

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Australia-This photo courtesy of Cairns Unlimited http://www.cairnsunlimited.com , the ultimate travel website for Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef, and Tropical North Queensland.

The nation’s opposition party have argued the new policy sends a message that Australia is weakening its border control and encourages people-smuggling. Shadow Minister for Immigration Christopher Ellis said in his recent address, “announcement by the Rudd Labor Government of a more relaxed immigration detention system has the potential to result in hundreds of unlawful non citizens disappearing in to the community.” The number of unauthorised arrivals to Australia has been considerably reduced under the coalition’s immigration policy and changing this will undermine the measures in place to protect the nation’s borders.

More importantly, the Rudd government’s policy changes are going to do nothing to speed up the lengthy process of determining an asylum seeker’s visa status, clearly a major flaw in the current system. Former detainee Ramesh Fernando told The Age that the hardest part of being detained was “the unconditional lifestyle with no prediction, no time-frame for when you would be released.”

If efforts were significantly increased to hasten processing time and by providing realistic indications of potential release dates, this would surely reduce the frustration and confusion felt by detainees. In doing so, this would ensure Australia is not sending a global message that relaxes our border policies, but recognises that asylum seekers need to be dealt with efficiently and fairly, rather than simply beating around the bush.

Political Comment Blog.

July 29, 2008

This blog is part of my post-graduate course in Journalism. It will involve weekly entries commenting on political issues both within Australia and globally.

Kevin Rudd

Kevin Rudd-http://www.smh.com.au/ffximage/2007/11/24/kevin_rudd_wideweb__470x313,0.jpg

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July 29, 2008

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