SUE JACKSON Therapist | Writer | Photographer | Activist

An avid blogger for the last fifteen years, I believe in the power of the word to change the world. I have participated in, and reported on, a range of protests during this period, including the successful East-West Link campaign and, more recently, our wonderful, home-grown Extinction Rebellion (XR). If you believe, like I do, that it is time for ordinary people to rise up in defence of the planet, I encourage you to explore this blog, share it with your networks, and – of course – take action.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dignity Not Debt: End Centrelink Debt Debacle rally

Today's rally, at lunch-time outside the State Library of Victoria, was hosted by the Unemployed Workers' Union which is protesting the Federal Governments' outrageous changes to Centrelink. As they put it: We work hard and pay tax our entire lives - so when we or our families hit hard times there is a safety net. But this blue tie government wants to rip away our safety net - so it can gift multinationals tax free profits and fearful workers.
The Union's demands are 4-fold: 1 Abolish Debt Recovery Scheme; 2 Dignity for social security recipients; 3 Restore adequate funding to Centrelink; 4 Lift payments above the poverty line.

A word about the Debt Recovery Scheme: Passed into law in December 2016, it ensured that last Christmas was a particularly harsh and scary one for many already-marginalized people across Australia. Centrelink staff had warned their management that the new system was fatally flawed - that people with no debt would inevitably be falsely accused. In many cases that is exactly what has happened. And challenging or attempting to reverse Centrelink decisions is proving a harrowing, humiliating and time-consuming experience for thousands of our fellow citizens.

Centrelink staff member at protest

That this experience has echoes world-wide was captured in a must-see British film, 'I Daniel Blake', which coincidentally was released in Australia also late last year. Below is a letter from my friend Francine McCabe, published in The Age, which eloquently makes the link:

I have recently seen the excellent and hard hitting Ken Loach film: I Daniel Blake. Primarily, this film concerns the struggles of a widowed middle aged carpenter and a young single mother who meet at government offices in England when seeking state welfare and income support.
We see an inordinate number of hurdles, some rigid staff and complex processes to navigate as they desperately seek a listening ear and assistance - very similar to the nightmarish experiences of many people seeking income support in Australia. 'Clients' may believe a primary function of Centrelink is to minimise the number of people receiving or seeking assistance.
I would recommend that this movie be used for mandatory orientation and on going development activities for policy makers, management and staff of the Commonwealth Department of Human Services (Centrelink) and contracted Job Services Agencies.
Considering and discussing issues raised would be beneficial for staff - most of whom are trying to do a good job in a difficult and complex environment.

The great thing about the protest was that so many of the unions have endorsed it - the Electrical Trades Union of Australia, Victoria Branch and the National Tertiary Education Union to name just two.

Unions, unions everywhere

There were some inspiring speakers, including the Federal Leader of the Greens Richard di Natale.

Richard di Natale

 But the show stealer for me was Willing Older Workers' Marilyn King, who spoke from experience and from the heart about the plight of older unsuccessful job seekers.

Marilyn King

Daniel Blake, frustrated and impotent in the face of heartless bureaucracy, eventually in defiance scrawled his name in huge letters on the wall of his local Centrelink-equivalent building. Passing strangers shouted their support as he was pulled away by the police. Today's rally is a demonstration that, here in Australia, people in Daniel Blake's situation need no longer stand alone. They have numerous supporters who will march with them until this unjust situation is rectified.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Survival Day: Belgrave-style

I spent Australia Day in beautiful Belgrave, a small town nestled in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, 45 kms from the Melbourne CBD. I went there as a volunteer photographer/ blogger to cover Survival Day, a festival which presents an entirely different perspective on what should be celebrated on this famous public holiday.

My 'media' lanyard
On 26 January every year for the last ten, locals and visitors from further afield have come together under the glorious canopy of cypresses and redwoods in Borthwick Park Belgrave to 'celebrate Indigenous culture and the survival of Australia's First Nations people through 228 years of white settlement'. I wanted to be part of it. And I had no idea in advance just how much fun that would prove to be.
There were some terrific performances:

Mullum Mullum Indigenous Hip Hop Troupe
The Deans of Soul
The standout for me was the Didge Meditation by Gnarnayarrahe Waitiarie (Uncle Joey), who is an elder from the Indjibundji nation in Roeburne, WA. Uncle Joey encouraged us to lie back on the grass and let the digeridoo bring the animals of the bush to us.

Gnarnayarrahe Waitiarie
I was delighted to accept his invitation. And as I lay on my back with my visor covering my face I had no trouble hearing the frogs and the bell-birds that the music evoked. But I kid you not - as the meditation reached its conclusion several kookuburras in the trees above our heads actually joined in the harmonies!

There were also some great speakers.

Tallara, a Gudang woman from Cape York
 Tallara is an activist from Seed, the Indigenous Youth Climate Network, which is building a movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people for climate justice.

Uncle Bill Nicholson (in possum cloak) with Tim Kanoa, the MC (in hat with feather)
Uncle Bill, a Wurundjeri elder, is a passionate speaker with a deep knowledge of Wurundjeri history. Uncle Bill suggested that Australian Indigenous culture represents 'the best balance between humans and the environment that has been seen on this planet,' and for that reason alone the rest of us have heaps to learn from our Indigenous fellow citizens.

This was the first, but it will certainly not be the last, time I attend Survival Day. The atmosphere was just so warm and caring. I felt part of a real community, where Tim Kanoa, our MC, treated us - even though we were in excess of 4,000 participants - like one big family, or perhaps I should say one big mob.
There were regular reminders to keep hydrated. At the end of their performance the Mullum Mullum Choir made a point of saying to any young people in the audience, who wanted to talk to an Elder, that they were always available. People temporarily losing possessions or a child were reminded to take care. When a dog went missing, Uncle Joey quipped that that would present no problem as there were undoubtedly plenty of trackers on site! And as I learned early on, performers and volunteers, of which I was one, were treated brilliantly. There was a space reserved for us - the Green room - to rest or rehearse, with the most gorgeous free food and drinks prepared fresh for us all day long.

Mullum Mullum Choir rehearsing in Green Room

You can see why I am determined to go again next year. The Belgrave Survival Day is a truly 'deadly' event.