16 January 2015 

Medicare is appropriate

I’ve left filling in my 2014 tax return late. I don’t have much to report.

Here in Australia our income tax includes a 1.5% levy to fund Medicare. If you do not carry private health insurance, you are “liable” (according to the Australian Taxation Office) for a levy “surcharge” of up to 2%.

The conservative Howard Government established the fine surcharge in the late 1990s unashamedly to boost the prospects of the private health industry which offers facilities and services in parallel to the public system, and apparently in competition to it. It has been my bugbear ever since.

I neither want nor need private health insurance because the public health facilities serve me perfectly well. Living with cancer puts me in a good position to test my conviction, which continues to stand.

In my tax return I have to tell the government what it already knows: that I don’t carry private health insurance. But look at the question:

“Were you and all your dependants covered by an appropriate level of private patient hospital cover for the full year?” Yes/No

Yes. NONE!!

But the ATO is not asking me about what I happen to think is appropriate. I am simply being queried whether or not I pay premiums to an insurance corporation that plays by the government’s rules, with ‘excess’ or ‘gap’ service fees that are within regulatory limits, and whether my policy covers my whole family and level of risk. Am I still beating my wife?

I have to answer “No”. But I haven’t done anything wrong, you bastards.

Health costs are rising at an alarming rate. An increasing proportion of elderly people who need more frequent medical care are out of the tax-paying workforce. The government must raise more money for the public health system.

The levy surcharge is a tax on the rich in disguise, which makes leftist political parties silently happy. This is the wedge that Howard’s Government so ruthlessly applied.

Now the ATO, perhaps with political encouragement, audaciously coerces more wealthy people into the private health system. If you have enough income to pay into private insurance, but choose not to, then you will get stung because you’re not holding up your end of the Government’s deal to support the finance industry.

I should not have to feel guilty answering the question. Get rid of the “appropriate” nonsense.

I should not be asked the question at all. Kill the levy surcharge. The next Government should have the political courage to raise and tier the Medicare Levy according to income.

Don’t reward people for switching to the private health system. That should provide its own rewards, without subsidy.

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03 December 2014 

Tablets in schools

My 12-year old daughter is about to start secondary school (in Australia). I am obliged by the school to buy a tablet computer for her. I don’t mind, they aren’t too expensive any more.

A recent report by ‘BBC News education correspondent’ Sean Coughlan made me angry. He tried to make a point that tablets in schools don’t improve results.

The article completely misrepresents the place of tablet computers in school. The author could not possibly have teenage children, and he surely has little or no experience with teaching in school.

Tablets don’t “improve results.” That’s not what they are for. To foist this absurdity demonstrates only that he set out from the start to denigrate the very idea of tablets in schools.

It did not escape my attention that in the third paragraph he claims that students take their tablets to bed to do social networking—as if that is the norm. Social networking is strictly forbidden via the tablet that my daughter uses for school, and teachers check it.

The best argument he gives in support of tablets in schools is an out-of-context throw-away line from a headmaster that tablets “create a ‘sense of empowerment’ for young people and create an ethos in which pupils can feel ‘trusted and valued’.” This is true, but hardly the main point.

The author just wants us to accept his premise that using tablets in schools is just a worthless, artsy-fartsy endeavour.

That’s just crap. It is disappointing to find this article in the BBC press. People who are cynical about tablets in school are stuck at the 1960s model of education: line students up in rows, shove a curriculum down their throats, and make sure they know that the teacher is in control. For most older authors, that’s what they grew up with. Well, times have changed for the better.

The reason that our children use tablets in school is because tablets afford different and better ways to learn and connect to the world beyond the classroom, to seek out multiple authorities. Tablets open new learning pathways to autonomous and collaborative exploration and problem solving. Tablets free teachers to be mentors and facilitators, rather than just voices of authority. The methods also offer teachers more time to address the needs of individuals.

Learning is more than inculcating facts and procedures and achieving high test scores. It is about equipping kids with the skills for lifelong learning and performance. And becoming a global citizen.

Do we have to counsel our children not to treat their tablets like toys? Yes, of course. I accept that parenting challenge because it is worth it.

I hope my daughter takes every advantage of the developmental opportunities that tablets open.

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25 August 2014 

Downes: Beyond Institutions: Personal Learning in a Networked World

Stephen summarises his influential work in a speech at the London School of Economics.

We can have a way of looking at learning where learning is not structured, designed, and set up to create outputs, but rather run, operated, and controlled as an unorganized, unmanaged system by individuals. I say we’re moving beyond institutions in learning, toward a cooperative model, toward a knowing society, based on network knowledge. That’s the [anti-]model of the future.

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21 August 2014 

Paypal will rule

I’m not promoting Paypal, just hazarding a prediction. Many retail shops in Melbourne have signed up to accept payment from walk-in customers with Paypal accounts via its smartphone ‘wallet’ app. The ease of implementation and use, relatively low merchant fees and the high public take-up of Paypal are compelling retailers to sign up. I reckon it will catch on so well that I will soon be able to leave my credit card at home, and just take my mobile to pay for stuff.

But there is a catch: the merchant knows who you are. They can charm you by addressing you by name at the checkout. If they are motivated, they can instigate loyalty based advertising based on your patterns of activity with the shop. This is the secret weapon for Paypal, who will charge merchants for that information.

On the other hand, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin offer the same anonymity in the transaction as cash. So the café you visited last week won’t be profiling you and sending you a follow-up email with a discount offer to entice you back. I’m getting sick of all that from the supermarkets and online retailers.

Unfortunately, only a handful of shops in Melbourne have taken up Bitcoin. This is despite the absence of fees on retail transactions—fees are only charged by exchanges for conversion to and from national currencies. There is no central Bitcoin organisation, which sounds great in theory to those of us who deplore the unaccountable power of financial institutions. But nobody is coordinating the promotion of Bitcoin, and the movement is stalled.

This week, the Australian Tax Office echoed the American IRS in its decree that cryptocurrencies are tangible assets but NOT currencies. This may kill the cryptocurrency golden egg goose, as accounting for them becomes a nightmare. Bitcoin may remain in limbo, continuing only as the underground currency for purchasing psychotropic substances online.

And with Paypal here, there and everywhere, we will descend into perpetual ad bombardment hell.

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19 June 2014 

Play Helps Us Grow at Any Age

I have been a fan of Dr Lois Holzman and her “research and activist” work for several years. In this TEDx talk she presents her concept of “revolutionary play” which I find very compelling as a type of life-wide activity. Many public deliberation facilitators also see their work as playfully guiding processes of co-creation and becoming. Against all expectations, participants often find it as fun and effortless as play.

In play we:

  • go beyond ourselves
  • do things without knowing how
  • relate as who we are and who we are becoming—at the very same time
  • create something new out of what exists (that’s the revolutionary part).

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23 April 2014 

Citizens' Jury recommends policies for nightlife in Sydney

Congratulations to Sydney City Council for convening a beautifully-run Citizens’ Jury, who deliberated on the question “How can we ensure we have a vibrant and safe Sydney nightlife?” and made 25 recommendations. Supported by NewDemocracy and Bang the Table.

This is a terrific example of the kind of public participation we should see more of. But this will only happen if more people know about it, understand the benefits of these new facilitated and co-productive processes, and demand it.

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01 April 2014 

Melbourne Ride to Conquer Cancer 2014 needs riders

Last year I successfully completed the 200 km Ride to Conquer Cancer in Melbourne. Thanks mainly to friends, I was able to raise $6,400 for Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Living with metastatic prostate cancer, I rely on this public hospital.

Although I remain fit enough to ride again this year, I don’t want to press the generosity of my friends further. Instead, I have decided to participate as a crew member.

However, the Ride succeeds by the number of Riders it attracts. Last year we were down a bit on numbers, and I hope this year will see an increase. The Ride is in October. If you were planning to do the Around the Bay in a Day ride, consider doing this Ride instead. It certainly would mean more to me.

Watch the video above to learn more about the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Contact me if you want more information. Then follow this link to sign up!

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29 March 2014 

Igniting a deliberative social movement

This is a discussion that public participation professionals and academics need to have.

…attempts to label the responses – as “civic engagement,” “collaborative governance,” “deliberative democracy,” or “public work” – or to articulate them as one movement or policy agenda under a heading like “civic renewal” or “stronger democracy” – immediately spark debates about substance, strategy, and language…. Though it is clear we have many principles and practices in common, we differ on what we should call this work and where it is headed. In order for “overlapping civic coalitions” to form, the potential partners would have to work through goals, assumptions, and differences.

Frontiers of Democracy 2014 Conference at Tufts University, July 16-18, 2014, Boston, MA

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13 March 2014 

Research as Social Construction: Transformative Inquiry

During my journey towards PhD I attempted to adopt a social constructionist stance. However, since I was not in charge of the overall research agenda, the extent of my engagement as a constructionist communicator and inquirer was limited.

Social construction is not a well-known or accepted research stance. Instead, empiricists tend to adhere to the ‘objective’ prescriptions of the scientific method, discounting alternative methods that explore subjective and emergent aspects of a situation. The interpretive subjectivity and contextual framing that are inevitably invoked in any observation are denied in the quest for ‘evidence-based’ conclusions. Most believe that you have messed up your research if you actually get involved with your subjects. Some who facilitate appreciative inquiry, a well-practised constructionist method, still cling to the need for ‘independent’ research methods about it. But committed social constructionists like me reject this demand.

Furthermore, public deliberation can be seen, following the constructionist stance, as a research method for citizens to determine public policy settings. Yet the academy that invented deliberative democracy as a new form of governance generally continues to privilege the position of researchers over the citizens who are ostensibly handed the decision-making power. This is a contradiction. Our job should be to facilitate the deliberation and trustworthiness of participating citizens as the trustees of public research. Public acceptance of their process and findings is the ultimate evaluation.

Prof Sheila McNamee has written extensively about constructionist approaches, especially in health care practices which address questions about pragmatic and relational concerns.

Her article “Research as Social Construction: Transformative Inquiry” (2010), published in the Brazilian academic journal Saúde & Transformação Social (Health and Social Transformation) provides one of the most accessible and succinct outlines of social constructionist research that I have encountered. Highly recommended reading.

View a copy of her article: http://goo.gl/NtyMqk

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19 December 2013 

'Like' isn't good enough

Facebook only has a ‘Like’ button (it wasn’t introduced to Facebook until 2009). This supports the old adage that “if you have nothing good to say about something, then say nothing at all.” People who like to call others names because they think differently would reduce Facebook to a social hell. And advertisers on Facebook will face more scorn than they’d be willing to put up with. So aside of creating a virtual world that is as angry and unsustainable as the real world we are escaping from, I don’t understand the benefit to Facebook or its users of the introduction of the new ‘unlike’ stickers in their chat facility. This probably won’t get much take-up amongst think-alike friends, but will further fuel the popular demand for post and comment ‘Unlike’ buttons in Facebook.

Several friends agree when I suggest that Facebook needs an “Empathise”, “Acknowledge” or “Respect” button. To ‘Like’ somebody’s sadness or distress is just wrong. And if somebody says something that I don’t happen to agree with, I would want to indicate my tolerance of their right to say it. It would be a progressive thing to do. Maybe the shaka or hang-loose would work \…/

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