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Zero Dark Thirty: Some Thoughts

I went to see Zero Dark Thirty on the weekend. For those unacquainted, and there’s probably few in that category who read this blog – Zero Dark Thirty is a movie that tells the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, including the daring and surgical strike perpetrated by Navy SEALs  which ultimately killed the world’s most wanted terrorist. As always you have expectations of a movie based on both how interested you are to see the film and the opinions’ of other people who have seen the movie before you.

I have an amateur interest in all things military, including hardware and historical operations – a little strange for someone who likes peace a lot. I have described myself before, in conflict studies parlance as a dove with hawkish tendencies. I do however believe that a damn good reason needs to exist in order to justify acting in a hawkish manner.

So of course, given my interest in military missions , Zero Dark Thirty was a movie that I was really keen to see. Of course, I leave out value judgements here about the rights and wrongs of the mission and its aims which were and are contentious. The release of the movie has indeed sparked a little debate about the raid in Pakistan too.

Of course I was also interested to see if what I had heard people saying about the film was true from my viewing of it. I had heard, overall that it was a good film and you would expect that anyway from someone of the directing calibre of Kathryn Bigelow. Kathryn Bigelow is the woman who brought us The Hurt Locker, a gritty no-nonsense portrayal of the lives’ of bomb technicians in Iraq.

The movie was filmed in a very raw manner like The Hurt Locker. There was no colour and nor should there be in a film of the nature of Zero Dark Thirty. It was also very matter-of-fact, again something you would attribute to a well-made film about a subject that needs to be dealt with seriously and with no undue emotions.

Around the time of the release of this movie, debate started to spring up on the internet about the use of torture in the film. I was curious to see whether the movie, through its portrayal of torture techniques, had glorified torture as some writers have claimed in the time since the movie premiered. The glorification of violence is something often attributed to films so you initially consider the possibility that it might actually be so. And then you think how sanitised the world has become. We could not possibly cope with material like violence in a serious and adult manner, like some would have you believe.

Frankly, the claims about the glorification of torture in the movie are absolute nonsense. There is no gratuitous use of violence. The torture scenes are present in the film, but they are dealt with in a manner befitting the reality of interrogation techniques used by the US Government at the time. Nobody in my group of friends who saw the film was anything other than taken aback, even disturbed by the brutal honesty.

For what it’s worth, I thought the film was executed quite well as a whole project. It was a bit disjointed, lunging from episode to episode in the saga that was the hunt for Bin Laden, but overall it told the story with very little BS. There was, of course some artistic license used in the creation of the film, but I felt this was unnecessary and eroded a little too much of the authenticity of the film and its subject.

Oh, and the cinema could have turned the volume down quite significantly.

A Response to an NDIS Opinion Piece

Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard introduced the legislation for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This Medicare-like scheme is a very important reform, a long time coming for people with a disability, who have suffered under inadequate and differing support regimes from state-to-state. The NDIS will create a national framework under which the needs of those with a severe and permanent disability will be met.

The introduction of the legislation in the House of Representatives is just the first step. NDIS trial sites will be launched next year, but there is still a need to keep the pressure on, to ensure that the fully-fledged system will be realised.

Up until recently, most of the negative debate around the policy has been about the cost. It is significant, requiring approximately $15 billion a year from the first full year of implementation in financial year. That time comes at the end of this decade. But the scheme can and must be funded. There are numerous ways to ensure that it is fully funded.

This week, in an opinion piece in The Australian written by Doron Samuell from SR2 Healthy, relatively new arguments came to light.

In the first instance, Mr Samuell argued that, “lured by the promise of taxpayer dollars, it is inevitable that disability services will come to be dominated by large, corporate players in the post-NDIS world.”

Later in his op-ed, Doron Samuell provides an argument which says that this is already occurring. So really, what we will have is the status quo. It is hard to envisage that smaller providers could be crowded out even more than they already are.

For equipment, like wheelchairs and other mobility aids, disabled people will most likely choose to use bigger organisations that might have the capacity to carry a broader range of stock and therefore, more cost-competitive products.

For services, users will probably choose to use a mixture of smaller, community-based organisations and larger “corporatised” ones. This will, again, at least maintain the status quo. There is also a strong chance that smaller organisations able to adapt to client needs under the NDIS will be able to grow if they can prove they provide good services.

The idea of the insurance scheme, as it will apply to many applicants, is to give users, capable of decision-making, the choice to pursue services from providers that they perhaps already identify with.

Also on the question of choice, Samuell made what amount to some pretty offensive, not to mention inaccurate comments about the capacity of people to choose wisely under the disability scheme. He actually claimed that the disabled were “often unsophisticated” purchasers and asked “these consumers going to make the right decisions?”.

Well, of course those who have a capacity to make decisions for themselves are overwhelmingly going to make the right decisions according to their needs. People with a disability are no less rational than ‘able-bods’ and nobody else knows their personal requirements better than people with a disability themselves. No doctor, no healthcare professional, no bureaucrat understands disability better.

Mr Samuell also appears to have forgotten a provision in the bill, which allows for funds to be provided to a carer or directly to a service provider in the event that someone eligible for NDIS funds is unable to make or communicate decisions for themselves on their own care needs. The latter is a worry because, again, bureaucrats should not be making these kinds of decisions.

Samuell also states that “the NDIS will need to ensure that buying decisions are scrutinised, audited and reviewed”. The legislation actually provides for this.

Doron Samuell does go to the question of funding. He does this from the position that Medicare, the system that the National Disability Insurance Scheme is based on, is under-funded and has a bloated bureaucracy.

There is a danger that the NDIS will be under-funded. There is always that danger when government embark upon significant reforms, that costs might be under-estimated. But what is clear is that the claim about Medicare only coping “by progressively lowering the standard of care to maintain its universality”, will almost certainly not apply to the NDIS.

A bloated bureaucracy is of some concern. There will need to be a significant number of  jobs created or filled across the states  and territories to oversee the agency. However, the bigger concern should be too much centralisation of the increased bureaucracy.

Finally, Samuell’s contention about the NDIS not being based on insurance principles is neither here nor there. What is important is that this landmark reform provides adequate support for those it is targetted at.Getting bogged down in definitions is pointless.

The biggest concern should be making sure the introduction of the full scheme occurs in 2018-19.

A Quick and Free Review of the Australian Swimming Team

There is no doubt that the Australian swimming team performed poorly as compared with a number of previous Olympic campaigns. Those events we were expected to win, we either got painstakingly close, or our swimmers fell in a heap. Similarly, some of those swimmers that did not face a burden of expectation broke through to medal, at times in events you would’ve been excused to think we never had any hope in.

Our performances in the pool, which usually get us off to a strong start in the medal tally and up there with the best countries just didn’t happen. This has sparked a much publicised review by former Olympic champion swimmer Susie O’Neill and experienced swimming coach Bill Sweetenham.

The idea of a review of the sporting performance of our swimmers is not new. As Head Coach Leigh Nugent has pointed out, the swim team is always subject to a performance review after every major meet and well, the Olympics is up there with the major aquatic events that exist.

There should be absolutely no doubt that each individual swimmer and their respective coaches trained to exactly the same level they ordinarily would. This means intense and event targeted training for the whole time each swimmer remained with their local club’s before heading overseas for the pre-Olympics swimming camp and then London.

Tapering too would not have proved an issue and would have been closely supervised by the elite coaches travelling with the Australian swimming team in the weeks before London 2012. It is just too ridiculous a proposition to think that such high-level experts would have got the tapering of any of the athletes wrong.

Last night the ABC’s program 7.30 weighed into the debate with a report on the discord between the swimmers, their families and Swimming Australia. The story reviewed a shocking level of disdain for the athletes in one of our most successful sports at the Olympic level.

Daniel Kowalski, a former swimmer who now represents the Australian Swimmers’ Association said that just before the London Olympics commenced, while some Australian swimmers were in training together overseas, pay arrangements were changed. The pay scale was changed to a “high-performance model”.

In this model all of our swimmers were to be paid a small base rate with a significant performance bonus, if, and only if they received gold, silver or bronze from their respective events. The performance pay would net gold medal winners $35,000 and those who made the final but came in last $4000 for each event. But if you swam in a race and didn’t progress into the final, no dough.

Ordinarily, performance pay is a brilliant concept, providing that it doesn’t detract from a base wage. Much more importantly, bonuses for strong performances are an excellent idea providing you don’t do as Swimming Australia did and foist it upon athletes so near to a major competition, especially the highest of events.

Now, you might be wondering how this would impact on performance? The answer is quite simple. If you are worrying at the last minute before you’re expected to perform strongly in your chosen profession about how much money you might be taking home and it could affect how much money you have to pay bills, you’re not going to be thinking of your race so much.

There’s also another not so insignificant factor which may have impacted on our performances. That is the incredibly poor decision of the swimming team to not take a psychologist with them to the pre-games training camp and then into the Olympic village. There was nobody there that swimmers could trust, especially in light of Swimming Australia’s decision on pay, to air their concerns and emotions. This means there was nobody in London with the squad that would have been able to respond in a properly trained and professional manner to the worries that might distract the attention of athletes.

Another factor that cannot be discounted and which could have been more significant than any other factor in the sub-par performance of our swimming team is the performance of other countries. It’s not as if we didn’t contribute significant funds to our Olympians, we did. The strong performance of swimmers from other nations was probably unexpected. It should have been figured into the equation as a real possibility given the changing state of our swimming team, with past champions suffering from injury and others who were set to retire after London.

It’s clear that the cultural issues within the peak swimming body which undoubtedly flowed through to the swimming team were a major distraction for our swimmers. The significance of this was accelerated by the inability of members of the team to access professional psychological help while overseas.

There was certainly no problem with the workload of our athletes before the Olympics and the tapering while overseas clearly would not have been an issue either.

It is also undoubtedly a strong possibility that our swimmers were also outperformed in their events.

Clearly there are a number of things to work on before the next major international competition, the FINA World Championships in Barcelona next year, most within the control of the governing body for swimming in Australia. Some brutal honesty and soul searching is required during the upcoming review.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

It’s Sunday and that means that another hectic week in Australian politics has passed with all its highs and lows, its angry words and policy announcements and legislative discussions. The week was punctuated by two main events, the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, a legislative win at least for Labor and the ALP leadership tensions seemingly heading toward a booming crescendo. Parliament also sat for the week and also proved far from uneventful.

The Gillard Government and its Health Minister managed to negotiate enough votes for the passage of means testing for the Private Health Insurance Rebate. This issue has seemingly split sections of the community and the two major parties no less, with Tony Abbott pledging he would reinstate the rebate for all as soon as possible upon election of a Coalition Government.

Parliament sat for the second week in a row, the first sitting period of the year and has again proved to be a full on affair with some changes affecting the complexion of Question Time. Questions must now be 3o seconds and answers no more than 3 minutes, a helpful change that should be added to as parliament progresses under the new Speaker, Peter Slipper.

Regardless of the changes, the usual bad behaviour continued, with Ministers, including the Prime Minister repeatedly cautioned to be “directly relevant” to the question asked. There was also no let-up from interjections across the chamber and a number of Coalition MPs found themselves having a coffee break during Question Time. A few ALP MPs also faced the same early afternoon tea courtesy of the new lower tolerance for interjections from the new Speaker.

Questions over the Labor leadership also permeated the week and on Saturday reached fever pitch with allegations in the press that senior Ministers were actually testing the waters for a potential Rudd spill in the coming weeks. The longer the speculation goes, the more pain it will cause the ALP and the more terminal the government will become.

The week has undoubtedly been a dramatic one with both legislation and leadership tensions dominating the week in the parliament and outside of it. The leadership tensions are becoming all the more real and almost tangible and they will surely continue to play out over the coming week, even in the absence of the key player, Kevin Rudd who heads overseas again, though this could provide opportunity for supporters to do their work. The parliament has risen after two weeks, but there will be little cooling of the political discourse which has only really just begun for the year and don’t forget, the Gonski review into education funding will also be released this week, but likely overshadowed by terminal leadership tensions.

You get the feeling that the coming week will not be like an ordinary non-parliamentary sitting week and that doesn’t bode well for the Labor Government.

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