Saturday, February 27, 2010

The World Is What You Think It Is, the ongoing ballad of Peter Garrett

My apologies to readers outside of the sphere of media that covers Australian politics; for the background on the story you could start here or there's a reasonable news story you could try here


In short, Peter Garret has now been demoted but remains a Minister, just not one with the responsibility for the allegedly 'failed' and 'disatrous' insulation rebate scheme.  What has really happened, I wonder?

Apparently (and I say this from scanning multiple sources, not being a talkback listener myself) the talkback airwaves have been thick with terrified people wondering if their houses will suddenly catch fire from dodgy insulation installations done under the scheme.  The Opposition has been calling for a sacking "if the Minister will not resign."  The PM has "taken full responsibility" as head of the Government, refusing such a sacking as Mr Garret is "a first-class Minister." Or at least that was until Friday.

Everyone here is seeing a different thing.  And the various streams and arms of the media (an interesting mixed image there) as usual vary with their use of facts and opinion.

In fact, today is the first day I've actually seen any facts on this situation presented.  And that was in a smallish article in the Australian Financial Review.  

The facts, briefly, are these:

4 insulation installers have died on the job since the introduction of this scheme, 1 of heat exhaustion and the others from electrocution.

93 house fires have been linked to insulation installation in the same period.

Well over a million extra houses have been insulated under this scheme.

It is also thought. but not yet a fact, that a significant number of installations of foil insulation may have resulted in roof spaces being 'electrified'.

Some other relevant facts, which have been reported now, after the demotion of Minister Garrett.

There are no accurate records kept by workers compensation bodies for types of death and accident specifically for insulation installers.  However, it is noted that a category used which includes insulation installers and other similar workers is rated as twice as dangerous for injury and death as other construction trades on the whole.  It has always been a dangerous business.  Roofs are dangerous to humans, which is one reason we don't live there.  There is no evidence to suggest that injuries or deaths have increased as a proportion of installations since the scheme started.

According to collated data from fire services across Australia, the incidence of house fires per installation has in fact decreased dramatically. 

So, it's not about these facts then.

Of course, none of this actually matters once it's all been a political football for a few days.  Kevin Rudd (Australian Prime Minister) has made a tactical decision not to offer a scapegoat to the opposition, but to bow to increasing public concern about My Garrett's ability to handle things.  The main agenda for Kevin is soothing the public's panic, especially as the upcoming election will be played out in the media with much emphasis on the environment and such things.  And not losing a guy who he thinks captures (still, fingers crossed, thinks Kevin) a certain segment of the voting populace for his party.

So there's a Joelene Public talkback person seeing the world as a place where a rock-star incompetent has personally gambled with the safety of pensioners everywhere, and should be sacked.  For her in this moment the world is a place of fear and anger, where issues must be shouted at for a sense of personal empowerment.  I wonder if she's happy?

There's an opposition leader who is callously deciding to ignore any hard data (didn't his predecessor have a little trouble with factual inaccuracies too?) and just driving hard for some public-sentiment-stirring to gain a personal victory and claim a scalp for his team.  In this moment he is seeing the world as a battleground for his personal fortunes.  I wonder if he has contentment?

Over here is a bewildered installation installer now without a job, since the scheme's been suddenly axed.  She may be seeing the world as a cruel boom-or-bust place in which he has little influence.  I wonder if she feels secure?

Just to the right there is a news service editor, keenly observing all the other reportage and the mood of the likes of Joelene Public.  Perhaps since a public hanging has been averted he sees the world as a place where he'll now have to hunt out a fresh story to sell copy.  I wonder if he is at ease?

We could go on.  Of course, there is the man at the centre of it all - until yesterday that is - Peter Garrett.  I cannot begin to guess how he might be feeling right now. Perhaps I hope just a little relieved now.

And all the while, the world has been turning, new lives have begun, others ended, there have been tears and laughter, and everything has carried on as usual.  Many have stopped for a moment here and there and just quietly questioned how it is they are seeing the world, and wondered if it might not feel a bit better seeing it slightly differently.

So some might choose to just have compassion for instance, for all concerned.  I am fairly certain that no-one in this whole saga really wants to find themselves there, deep down.  So, some might take a moment and choose to feel compassion for those whose lives have been ended and their loved ones of course, the politicos, the commentators, the afeared, the outraged, the judgemental, the confused, the sad, and the lonely.  And thus, they might see the world as a compassionate place.

I wonder if they might have peace, at lesst in that moment?

And thus, shine a little of that light for us all.

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