Sunday, April 23, 2023

An anguished foster child’s cry from the heart: ‘I just want my family back’

Another example of the evils of racism

The tears stream down her face as she looks at the camera. There is something this little girl wants to say and she will try to quieten a rising surge of emotion long enough to say it. “I feel like I’m never going to be a normal kid with a normal childhood. I just want my family, I just want my (foster parents) and my brother back together like things were,’’ she pleads.

“Can you please make this possible, please?”

This video was shot a year ago. She is begging to be returned to her foster parents, Tom and Marie, the white couple who have raised her since she was a toddler along with her brothers and sisters.

She came to them covered in boils and sores, with pus coming from both ears and a history of serious malnourishment requiring hospitalisation. With love and support they grew her strong and they were shocked when she was taken from them and bounced through multiple alternative care arrangements that she keep running away from.

As we talk in Tom and Marie’s Top End home, a welcoming place filled with photos and pets surrounded by neat tropical gardens, Milly comes back from school. She is shy when she sees me; strange women sitting at the kitchen table don’t bode well. This child, who suffered serious attachment issues from her earliest days, is still worried that someone will take her away again.

“She’d run away from wherever they put her and come back to us and then we’d have to force her to leave. It was horrendous,’’ Tom says. “But after about the 11th time we said we can’t do this anymore. I had to say, ‘I am not going to make you get in the car. I’m not going to send you away anymore.’’

Case workers and police attended the house but nobody else was going to force her, screaming and swearing, into the car either. They gave up. And so here is Milly, making herself popcorn, a flurry of pets at her feet.

Her birth mum can pop in anytime, as long as she’s sober, but she’s currently in prison. Milly’s grandparents and aunt visited this week because they want to give me the biological family’s perspective. It’s good that Milly is with Marie and Tom, they tell me, because they know where she is and they can visit her.

But the grandfather is worried about Milly’s younger brother Benny. “We don’t see him,’’ he says. “No one tells us where he is. I want to see his face, to talk face-to-face. He needs to know where we are.”

These grandparents have stories and cultural practices they want to pass on and if they can’t care for the children themselves it doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer. Cultural connection is meant to be one of the key tenets for Aboriginal children in care.

Tom and Marie have formed a close bond with the children’s birth family.

“We knew we couldn’t raise these kids without them,’’ Marie says. “We always said to them we would look after these kids as long as they needed us to.’’

They maintain these relationships in a non-judgmental way – there is no glossing over the difficult facts of the birth family’s lives, the alcohol, violence and trauma that led to the neglect of the children.

I look at this foster couple, a health worker and teacher who have lived and worked in remote Indigenous communities for years. People who know them, professionally and personally, speak of them in glowing terms. They went into fostering simply because they wanted to help children in need.

All these years later, they are a little bit broken by what they’ve witnessed and how they have been treated. I wonder why they haven’t walked away. “We said we would be there for these kids as long as they needed us,’’ Marie says simply. “We made a lifetime commitment.”


The one big problem with Anthony Albanese's push to change how Australians drive forever - with tradies' favourite vehicles in the firing line

Labor's new masterplan to turn Australia's roads green is set to fill showrooms with cars that no-one really wants - while ignoring our biggest-selling vehicles, the humble tradie's ute.

The National Electric Vehicle Strategy, announced last week, will set fuel emission limits on all new vehicles. Car makers will be allowed to average those out across their entire range, with low-emission EVs compensating for gas-guzzling SUVs.

Energy minister Chris Bowen believes the strategy will give manufacturers an incentive to flood the market with cheaper electric cars to spark a revolution on Australia's roads.

But the nation's most popular vehicles are fuel-smoking utes - with the Toyota HiLux consistently topping Australia's vehicle sales charts since 2016 and the Ford Ranger ute close behind.

Even motor dealers warn Australia's unique market will struggle to convince car manufacturers to bring electric utes - and many other EV models - Down Under.

Just one electric ute is currently on the market in Australia, and despite the potential popularity, they are still set to be niche sales in a niche market for car manufacturers.

'We're not top of their list,' said Geoff Gwilym, CEO of the Motor Trades Association of Australia. 'We're not even one per cent of vehicle sales in the global market.

'If you're making left-hand drive utes in the US, there are lots of markets you can put them in before you even think about a small right-hand-drive market like ours.'

The government proposal - which has been put out to the industry for discussion - comes as vehicles belch out 10 per cent of the Australia's CO2 pollution every year.

Australia lags far behind the UK, Europe and even the USA for EV take-up, although local EV sales boomed in the first quarter of 2023, up 90 percent from Q4 2022.

Medium-sized EVs outsold their petrol or diesel-powered rivals for the first time, sales data from the Australian Automobile Association reveals.

But utes remain the first choice for Australian vehicle buyers, with more than one in five of every new vehicle sold in the country last year being a tradie's workhorse.

'It's all very well giving buyers more choice - but if buyers want a ute, it doesn't matter many electric sedans and SUVs there are to choose from,' said one industry insider.

Three utes topped the list of best-selling vehicles in Australia last month, with a fourth sneaking in to round out the top ten, as they continued to dominate the market.

The total sales of the top three utes - the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max - were more than the next six vehicles combined, with sales up massively year on year.

But for the second month in a row, the next best-selling vehicle after utes or SUVs was a Tesla, with the Model Y coming fifth in March, after the Model 3 took third spot in February behind the Ranger and HiLux.

Not a single traditional sedan made it into the top 10 for March, ending Australia's love affair with saloon cars for long-haul drives across the country.

There is currently just one electric ute on the market in Australia, the LDV eT60, and little prospect of others launching soon.

Even Tesla's much-hyped Cybertruck still hasn't launched in the USA, years after it was first revealed in 2019, and it may not meet Australian safety standards when it does.

Toyota has teased the possibility of launching low-emission hybrid SUVs and utes within the next two years but so far they have largely avoided the battery EV market.

Battery technology currently limits the load and range capabilities of utes which is restricting any potential take-up. While EVs have power to spare, their range can drop dramatically when heavily loaded.

Costs are also still high in the early-adopter phase of the EV revolution, with vehicles often costing up to double their conventionally-powered equivalent.

Australian company ACE has been developing its Yewt ute for several years and is now taking orders, but admits it has limited capabilities and is more suited to light deliveries than heavy-duty tradie work.

Its range is said to be under 200km with just a partial load. It takes seven seconds to reach 50km/h, with a maximum speed of 100km/h, and a max load of 500kg.

Chinese firm Rivian also has a right-hand drive ute in the works - but the left-hand version on sale in the USA has a hefty $104,000 price tag. An Australian model will probably be even more expensive.

MTAA's CEO told Daily Mail Australia he had stressed to Mr Bowen that Australia's motor industry was unique and needed a uniquely Australian solution.

'Australia isn't Europe. We're not America. We're not even similar to much of Canada,' Mr Gwilym said after meeting the minister in Canberra for the strategy's launch.

'What we can't afford to do is to pick up a fuel emission standard from another country and assume it'll just fit neatly in Australia.

'The single biggest sector of vehicles that we buy are four wheel drives and SUVs We're relatively unique, we're certainly nothing like Europe.


Operation Jardena: How ABF is stopping fentanyl coming to Australia

Authorities are on high alert to prevent a repeat of America’s fentanyl crisis unfolding on our shores, with the Australian Border Force’s US officer admitting it keeps her awake at night.

The opioid – which is 50 times stronger than heroin – is the leading killer of Americans aged 18 to 45 and has fuelled an alarming rise in homelessness and street crime across the US.

The latest Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission wastewater drug monitoring program report, released last month, showed fentanyl use had remained “relatively stable over the past two years” and was at “historically low levels nationally”.

But law enforcement agencies were shocked in August to discover a bid to ship 11kg of the synthetic drug – the equivalent of more than five million potentially lethal doses – from Canada to Melbourne.

Border Force inspector Vanessa Ruff, who is based in Los Angeles, said the Australian Federal Police and the ACIC were “doing an exceptional job trying to stay on top of it”.

“The social effect keeps me awake at night if it was to get into Australia, because I’ve seen how it’s affected this nation,” she said.

“We are very aware of it … and we really don’t want it.”

About 70,000 Americans died from a fentanyl overdose in 2021 – a higher toll than gun crime, Covid and suicide – and the figures for last year are tipped to be even worse.

“Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered,” US Drug Enforcement Agency boss Anne Milgram said.

Last week, US officials revealed a sweeping fentanyl bust that charged the four sons of notorious Mexican drug lord El Chapo, as well as suppliers in China who sold the precursor chemicals used to manufacture the opioid.

In a series of extraordinary indictments, the Sinaloa cartel was accused of using everything from private planes to submarines to import fentanyl into the US from Mexico, and of torturing their enemies including by feeding them to tigers.

But some Republicans including former president Donald Trump have demanded the Biden administration go further by designating the cartel as a terrorist organisation and even launching military strikes against them in Mexico.

Ms Ruff said US authorities were also identifying the emergence of other synthetic opioids.

“Touch wood, we haven’t seen a lot of the synthetic fentanyl, but there’s other stuff I’ve learnt while I’m here that’s worse than fentanyl that’s being mixed with drugs here, and we don’t want that,” she said.

“Every time you go to a meeting, they’re like, this is ten times worse than fentanyl.”


BOM under fire over ‘Armageddon’ forecasts that don’t eventuate

I have never taken their forecasts seriously

“Armageddon” weather warnings are costing tourism operators millions of dollars as travellers cancel holidays in the face of grim forecasts which often don’t eventuate.

The practice of mass cancellations following gloomy forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology has skyrocketed since the coronavirus pandemic, with many operators forced to change their business models to cater for jittery travellers.

One Brisbane holiday park owner said he has been left with hundreds of cancellations on the back of wet weather predictions that don’t come to pass while a Darling Downs operator lamented being left with an empty park under cloudless skies.

Operators and industry leaders say it is time to change the messaging of the much-maligned weather bureau where cautious forecasts predicting cyclones, dangerous storms or “a month’s worth of rain” are often more dire than the reality.

The BOM was heavily criticised over the February 2022 floods surrounding Gympie and the Sunshine Coast which took many by surprise, while the Queensland government also copped flak last year for closing schools in the face of predicted severe storms which never eventuated.

Few industries are as vulnerable to the weather as the camping and caravan sector and Goomburra Valley Campground operator Teresa Badgery said forecasts needed greater accuracy.

“It’s frustrating because the forecasts might be so vague or so general or just wrong so many times,” she said. “A few weeks ago we had forecasts of Armageddon, with large hail, wild storms and 40mm of rain – we ended up getting about 15mm over 24 hours and the rest of the week was blue skies.

“There was a forecast last year for lots of rain that saw us experience 98 per cent cancellations when all we had was 2mm.

“Our business is affected all the time and this is our livelihood.”

She said she had changed her policy regarding refunds and last-minute cancellations to provide credits to offer greater flexibility to holiday-makers, but that doesn’t help the business when the property sits empty under blue skies.

Geoff Illich from Brisbane Holiday Village said they were often left to count the cost of incorrect forecasts. “These weather predictions don’t always eventuate, but we’re still left with lost business,” he said.

“We have added lots of undercover and indoor areas, because if the guests take the weather forecast as gospel it stops 30-40 people from coming.”

Caravan Parks Association of Queensland CEO Michelle Weston said improvements could be made to the way warnings and forecasts are issued. “We often hear reports from our parks that bookings look amazing and then after a wet weather forecast a huge number of those bookings cancel,” she said.

“You hear you’re going to get “a month’s worth of rain in three days” but if it’s the dry season that might mean one shower of 10mm.

“We need very clear information about what those predictions actually mean and then people can plan their trips accordingly rather than cancel altogether.”

North Queensland’s tourism sector is also feeling the brunt of grim weather forecasts which turn travellers away en masse and Tourism Port Douglas Daintree CEO Tara Bennett said it was “scary” how much weather forecasts impacted operators.

“They might predict a cyclone for north Queensland but it might not get within 600km of us, yet it affects the bookings for three months,” she said.

“It is scary because it is costing people their businesses and the ability to stay afloat during quiet periods.

“Even if you look at those little icons next to the forecast you would think it has rained in Port Douglas every day for the past two months but in reality it has only been about 20 per cent of the time.

“They should be using a graphic to represent the dominant weather pattern so if the forecast is for a chance of showers, use a sun because it’s still going to be sunny most of the day.

“We all understand the need to mitigate risk and offer people warnings, but we need greater detail and less chance for misunderstanding about how the weather will transpire.”




No comments: