Monday, March 21, 2022

The political response to Covid was much more harmful than the disease itself

Four out of five young Australians surveyed say they experienced mental health issues in the last two years.

One in four young Australians thought about suicide over the past two years and 15 per cent attempted self-harm, according to a poll of 16- to 24-year-olds.

Experts called for urgent action to tackle the nation’s deepening youth mental health crisis as the exclusive survey for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed the magnitude of the pandemic’s toll on young people.

Eighty-two per cent of those surveyed said they had experienced mental health issues during COVID-19.

Young Australians have taken the biggest psychological hit – a separate poll found significantly fewer adults aged 25 and over (49 per cent) reported mental health issues.

Those aged 16 to 24 were most likely to report symptoms of anxiety (75 per cent) and depression (62 per cent), while 36 per cent identified eating disorder symptoms, binge-eating being the most common.

While youth mental health was a growing problem before COVID-19, the survey shows issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Forty-two per cent said their mental health issues had become worse and 11 per cent said they were caused by the impact of the pandemic.

The survey, conducted by research company Resolve Strategic, was based on questions to 1002 people aged between 16 and 24 from February 16 to 27. The findings have a margin of error of 3 per cent.

Molli Johns, a 19-year-old from the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, said she relapsed into her eating disorder during the pandemic and became depressed.

Ms Johns is one of several young people who shared their experience of mental illness for a new podcast about youth mental health, called Enough, being launched on Monday by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

“I lost all motivation,” said Ms Johns, who studied year 12 remotely in 2020. “I was getting up just to sit in front of my computer screen and what was the point?”

Professor Patrick McGorry, executive director of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, said mental ill-health in young people was at crisis point.

“We’ve been trying to wake people up for 20 years about youth mental health because it’s been deteriorating, worldwide, and especially in Australia all that time,” Professor McGorry said.

“The pandemic has definitely put the skids under young people.”

The Australian mental health system had been overwhelmed during the pandemic, Professor McGorry said, with GPs, headspace centres (which provide mental health services to 12 to 25-year-olds) and emergency departments inundated and the workforce dwindling and exhausted.

He called on the federal government to urgently invest in specialised early intervention back-up systems of care for the “missing middle” – those young people with severe mental health problems such as anorexia, early psychosis and personality disorders – that the 20 Medicare-subsidised psychology sessions could not fix.

“This is an urgent national priority,” he said.

While the Resolve poll found one in four respondents had suicidal thoughts, the latest Australian government figures show the number of people under 25 who died by suicide remained steady in the first year of the pandemic.

In 2020, 480 Australians under the age of 25 took their own lives, the same number as in 2019.

Resolve director Jim Reed said behind each statistic in the poll was a human story and the sheer scale of the issue was staggering.

“While we can only really be certain that a young person is experiencing a specific or serious problem with an expert diagnosis, surveys like this can capture a lot of people who have not attempted to get a formal diagnosis or for whom the symptoms are less severe,” he said.

A separate Resolve poll of 1414 people aged over 25, conducted a week earlier, found significantly less psychological distress among adults.

Forty-nine per cent of this cohort reported mental health issues during the pandemic compared with 82 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds, 13 per cent had thought about suicide (compared with 25 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds) and 3 per cent had attempted self-harm (compared with 15 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds).

“Ironically, few young people tell us they’re worried about vaccines or COVID itself, and for them social restrictions have been the major force,” Mr Reed said. “The cure has been worse than the disease for this age group.”

Isaac Percy, 23, from Camden in outer Sydney, said his anxiety was exacerbated by COVID-19 uncertainty and fear.

“It was really hard to be pulled away from my support network of friends … and not being able to go do things I enjoy like seeing live music.”

Australian Psychological Society CEO Dr Zena Burgess said the survey findings were sobering and tallied with the experiences of the society’s members.

“Eating disorders got worse, anxiety got worse, depression got worse and generally, all the self-esteem issues of adolescence and young adulthood got worse,” she said.

One in three psychologists have been so busy they have had to close their books, according to an Australian Psychological Society survey of its members last month, compared with one in 100 before the pandemic.


Who owns Australia?

Historically, ownership of a place has been by right of conquest. If you control it, you own it

Is it after they have moved onto the land and not been ejected for a period of time, perhaps a generation? Is it when some changes are made by the newcomers to the environment which will make it more suitable for the newcomer: by settled agriculture or nomadic pastoral management, or by some other device imposed upon the environment? Or is it by displacement of the previous owners or settlers, by either warfare or by mass migration? Or is it when the land is purchased from the local group, whether by money or some other acceptable valuable?

Maybe the question should be extended a little further to include species, genus family, order, class phylum, kingdom, and domain. When and how does any part of the world belong to any group?

The question, of course, is not academic. It is a process that has been going on since life started on earth. Newcomers arise and displace the older group, environments change, due to either natural, or unnatural, processes, whether slow or sudden, and those best equipped to survive in the environment become dominant and may own parts of the earth.

We are well aware of the age of dinosaurs, the age of megafauna, the multitude of human species that arose and died out. Changing environments, changing species. We know of the rise and fall of civilisations: Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec, Comanche, Apache, Vikings, Romans, Assyrian, Babylonian, Celts, Mongols. What ethical or moral constraints were there during, or following, the change? As far as I can see there were none. The old were supplanted and life went on with people making the best of it as they could, as they had always done.

Consider Australia. When the first people moved into the land which we now call Australia, there were no other humans. Or maybe there were but they were displaced or killed off. Nobody knows because they are not part of Aboriginal story telling and no records have been unearthed.

But we do know that when the first people arrived, whether that was seventy thousand, or any other time in pre-recorded history, the land was not as it was a couple of hundred years ago. The country was full of megafauna and the climate and vegetation were different to today. The new landowners, who moved into an empty land, or who displaced the previous group who were here, lived through the death of megafauna, probably assisting in their demise.

Some ten thousand years ago another migration into Australia took place after the worldwide ice age had lowered all sea levels. This group brought the dingo into Australia, but whether the new group displaced or intermingled with the earlier groups is not known although it is most likely that they chased at least some of the earlier groups south until they were only left in Tasmania, an island which reappeared as the ice age receded and seas level rose. They altered the environment to suit their requirements, by fire management and developed some minor agricultural practices.

Then, five hundred years ago, or so, we had the worldwide expansion of Europeans, for both trade and conquest. There were empires being built all over the world, Americas, Asia, Africa, and the oceans, by European Nations, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, British, French, as well as fighting amongst themselves for control of Europe. The Dutch certainly reached Western Australia but they found nothing of value, just deserts and very hostile natives, not the spice islands to the north which they wished to visit. So they left. They did find Tasmania, Van Deimen’s Land but never colonised it. The big two European colonisers in the Pacific region were Britain and France and it is only by chance that Captain Cook claimed Australia before any French explorer. Cook never knew what Australia was really like, he saw so little of it and only stayed for a short time. He had other scientific work to attend in the Pacific.

The settlement of Australia by the First Fleet just beat the French by a few days. Again, the new arrivals never had any idea what they had found, they didn’t even know that Western Australia was part of the land which extended to New South Wales, as they proclaimed their settlement land on the east coast. It took many years before Mathew Flinders circumnavigated Australia and truly found what Britain had colonised, even if their colonies were scattered and very few. Most settlement was by free settlers, very few were convicts and the military were basically for the safety of the colonisers and control of convicts, not the subjugation of the local natives.

The new settlers were determined to create a new, better, life and develop the country in the way that they understood. They were farmers and graziers and builders and miners. They were connected with the rest of the world and had a world view on economics and the politics of power. These concepts appeared to be totally alien to the local inhabitants, who were overrun in many areas which were suitable for the new settlers, assisted by diseases that may have affected the new settlers but which were absolutely deadly to the indigenous population.

The new settlers prospered and grew in numbers. The local natives suffered and retreated or stayed in remote areas, or moved into the fringes of towns and cities, where they were given social security handouts. Many Aborigines assimilated into the new societies and are now part of the community. But many have been left on the outside, with their traditional lifestyle destroyed.

Australia is now a developed country with a modern economy. Land ownership has changed and is now regulated to maintain the new societies requirements. The old Aboriginal way of life is gone. There are too few who actually remember and who could live in the old ways, even if the land was available to them. Some Aborigines are actually purchasing some of their traditional lands and working them for grazing or other industrial activities. But they do not try and revert to the old indigenous native lifestyles. The social fabrics have been torn apart.

Aborigines constitute no more than 3 per cent of the Australian population, which includes a few thousand Thursday Islanders and many of these live in towns and cities and are part of the normal social fabric of the community. Many Aborigines live in Aboriginal communities but they do not live their old life styles. They are now sedentary; most have forgotten their bush skills and they are subject to first world advertising and lifestyles. These communities often consist of more than one original family group or tribe. They are losing their language and knowledge. Many are suffering from substance abuse and food choices which are unhealthy and few have any chance of improving their lot in life. Although the Constitution originally excluded aborigines from the political process, that situation was rectified in the referendum of 1964. They have full citizen rights, they can vote, they can be a political representative at all levels of government, a situation to which some have availed themselves. As an old culture they have been superseded.

And Aborigines proclaim that they did not own the land, they belong to the land, they are part of it. So, why are we so hung up about this situation now? Always was and always will be? History shows that expression to be a fallacy.

So, whose land is it?


Labor doesn't ‘walk the talk’ on women

Despite what the Labor Party – and the wacky Woke may think – Conservative and Liberal women have always been leaders in politics, the original breakers of the glass ceiling.

However, International Women’s Day last week brought on the usual bout of self-glorification by the Australian Labor Party about its female activism. Fanciful stuff, even on a good day.

When quotas provide the co-ordinates to the Cabinet room, it’s a telling tale about the truth.

Yet on that day to celebrate women, Federal Member for Lilley, Labor’s Anika Wells, was on radio waxing lyrical about former Labor MP, Ros Kelly. Ms Wells said Ms Kelly was Australia’s first female Minister.

She wasn’t.

That was Dame Enid Lyons in the Menzies Government – well before Ms Kelly, and before quotas, and certainly before International Women’s Day.

Ms Kelly was indeed Labor’s first female minister. And to be fair – such significant use of a whiteboard was probably a Labor first – so credit where it’s due.

The Labor Party continually stratifies the superlatives on Whitlam: the progressive, the Goliath of the mighty left. But for all the eternal worshipping, there was not one woman in Whitlam’s Cabinet. Zip all. I’d say that’s more boo-hoo than woo-hoo.

It’s Time the Labor Party delivered accuracy and honesty in reporting the true history of women in politics in Australia.

It’s also time they stopped pointing fingers, especially those complete with painted nails.

These are not glory days for Labor.

Just 24 hours after their International Women’s Day histrionics, Labor’s former Victorian Legislative Council MP, Kaushaliya Vaghela, was raising serious complaints in the Parliament about bullying of her by men and women from within the Labor Party. The Premier, Daniel Andrews, is on her list that has now gone to WorkSafe for investigation.

Bullying by the ‘Mean Girls’ and others within Labor has also been discussed in the death of Victorian Labor Senator, Kimberley Kitching. Those involved continue to deny the allegations.

In her passing, close friends and colleagues have further exposed Labor’s seeping factional sores – those who – when tested – cared little for a female MP who didn’t kowtow to lesser ideals. Aren’t these the women that Labor claims to champion? The strong? The fearless? The intelligent?

Kitching deserved better than political bastardry dressed up in heels. Our nation deserves better too. It is already the poorer for her absence.

So, while Labor talks about celebrating women, the Liberal Party walks it.

As the Member for Lilley sang Labor’s female song last week, I reached for my list on non-Labor firsts. It includes:

First female federal Cabinet Minister (without portfolio) – Hon Dame Enid Lyons in 1951 – Liberal

First female federal Minister with portfolio – Hon Dame Annabelle Rankin between 1966-68 – Liberal

First female in any Parliament – Edith Cowan OBE (WA State) 1921-24 – National

First female in Qld Parliament – Irene Longman 1929 – Country Party

First female in Vic Parliament – Lady (Millicent) Peacock 1933-35 – UAP

First female federal MP – Hon Dame Enid Lyons AD, 1943-51 – UAP/Liberal

First female Senator from Queensland – Hon Dame Annabelle Rankin 1947-71 – Liberal

First female Cabinet Minister in Australia (WA State) – Hon Dame Florence Cardell-Oliver 1949-53 – Liberal

First female Mayor in Qld – Nell Robinson OBE, Mayor of Toowoomba 1967-81 – Country/National

First federal female Cabinet Minister with portfolio – Hon Dame Margaret Guilfoyle AC, DBE 1975-82 – Liberal

First female Lord Mayor of Brisbane – Sallyanne Atkinson AO 1985-92 – Liberal

First female Lord Mayor of Sydney – Lucy Turnbull AO 2003-2004 – Liberal

First female party leader in SA – Isobel Redmond 2009-2012 – Liberal

First female Speaker of Tasmanian House of Assembly – Hon Elise Archer MLA 2014-17 – Liberal

First popularly elected female Premier of NSW – Hon Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal) 2019-2021 – Liberal

Labor doesn’t own women’s successes, it just peacocks the politics of it. Others treat women as equals and celebrate merit-based appointments.

The women I know neither need, nor want, a social or workplace artifice. False applause is not their thing.

When conservative women such as Dame Enid Lyons broke through that glass ceiling, they did so without much noise, but shouted their success through their outstanding work standards and quiet resolve.

If we are truly to be equals – assuming it is equality and not supremacy the mob are after – one wonders when International Men’s Day will land on the calendar?

Even then, it is more likely to be about quiet, smoky barbeques than cute juice breakfasts in fancy suits.


Childcare centres are feeding children for as little as 65 cents a day, with kids going hungry, a shocking report reveals

Some childcare care directors and cooks reveal they never spend more than $5 a day per child on food, with the average spend just $2.15 which also covered snacks.

A News Corp investigation has uncovered examples of the types of food children are being served including a plate of bread and butter for afternoon tea and plates of cheap “filler” foods such as pasta, with no protein or nutritional value.

One in five directors and cooks who responded to a United Workers Union survey thought the food budget at their centre was not enough, while 60 per cent of cooks said that they have bought food for children in their care out of their own pocket.

In one private Facebook group, where childcare centre cooks vent over their meagre budgets, one fumed: “I feed my dog more a day than the budget I get. If parents knew they’d be appalled”.

Dietitian Bonnie Searle, who was part of a research team from the University of Queensland observing food served at five childcare centres in Brisbane, said they witnessed children asking for seconds, but there was no food left.

She said sometimes the children did not get what was advertised on the menu, with a hot meal replaced with something completely different, or it was greatly exaggerated.

One example was a menu boasting “gourmet sandwiches” that turned out to be white bread with a jam or vegemite filling.

In some cases uneaten chopped fruit from morning break, would be brought out for afternoon tea and the banana would be “brown and slimy”.

“A big plate of fruit is not going to keep children full,” Ms Searle said.

“They need some fat and protein. The food groups we did not see enough of were vegetables and meat.”

She said children who don’t get enough food, or the right types of food were not able to regulate their emotions, which impacts their ability to learn.

University of Queensland Early Childhood Education and Care Professor Karen Thorpe said her team of researchers had been studying food quality at thousands of centres across Australia for many years and found children who needed the highest quality of care were getting the lowest.

She said some children were simply not getting enough food.

“If you are hungry you are not going to learn,” she said.

“If you get poor quality food, you become obese and you are not going to live for as long.

“The purpose of early education should be to set a child up for life.”

UWU Director of Early Education Helen Gibbons, who released the survey findings in a report called Children Going Hungry, said the amount of money allocated to food budgets revealed by workers was “a disgrace”.

“How can $0.65 possibly be enough to provide adequate nutrition for a developing child?” she said.

“Parents in Australia pay some of the highest out-of-pocket costs … yet many centres, especially among for-profit providers, are making a profit while children go hungry.”

Ms Gibbons argued childcare centres needed to be held accountable, especially those making big profits.

“Every day early childhood educators work hard to do the impossible; provide healthy nutritious food for the children in their care without enough funds,” she said.

“Now educators are speaking out about how taxpayer funding and parents’ fees are being taken away from food budgets and funnelled into profits.

“Educators who cannot stand to see children without enough to eat are buying food staples out of their own low wages, in a sector that is unsustainable for workers, children and parents.

“This cannot be allowed to continue. Parents deserve to know how much of their fees are being spent on feeding their children.”




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