There is no ‘I’ in Team

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Sunday, 7 September 2014 18:30 by 2353

Welcome to ‘Team Australia’.

The usual connotation of the word ‘team’ is a group of people that pull together for the common good. Business these days seems to encourage people to form teams, whether the purpose is the development or implementation of a new product, or to attempt to build comradeship between employees.

The concept of ‘team’ is so ingrained into Australian culture that the different bus depots in the Brisbane Transport bus network compete for the best decorated bus at Christmas, the competition being judged by Brisbane’s Lord Mayor. It apparently builds teamwork and co-operation between the drivers at the different depots.

The theory seems to be that the process of building the ‘team’ will encourage the participants to complete their jobs at a higher level than they would otherwise because they have a sense of belonging to a like-minded group.

Socially most people have been involved with a sporting teams — from the local Under 7’s, who usually have only a vague idea that the ball has to be hit, kicked or thrown in a general direction (and no one should really care if it isn’t), to the high achieving athletes who are paid millions per year to demonstrate exceptional skills and ability in a particular area of sport. At the higher levels of sport, large quantities of electrons and printers ink are either used or wasted (depending on your opinion of the sport in question) in analysis of the events of the past week and how those events translated into a win or a loss last weekend.

Over the time the team is together, good coaches will attempt to engender a sense of equality across all the members of the team — and demonstrate that all members have skills to contribute, regardless of their time with the group. The ‘old hands’ will have the ‘culture’ of the organisation (regardless of the team’s purpose) while the newcomers will inject some different experiences to the group. The longer serving members will, if they have any intelligence, listen to the different ways of doing things and, if found sound, may incorporate them into existing programs which will improve the entire group’s performance in the future. The newer members will assimilate the ‘culture’ of the team from the longer serving members.

In an environment that promotes equality, it stands to reason that if one or two of your team mates are having an ‘off’ day, you will step in to give them a hand. If someone is ‘having a blinder’ (to flog the sporting metaphor to death), other members of the team are usually inspired sufficiently to improve their own performance. Regardless of the performance on the field, there is usually a form of celebration after the event to either congratulate or commiserate with each other.

So, if the Abbott Government comprises the coach and support staff for ‘Team Australia’, it stands to reason that they will be demonstrating to us, the team members, that we are all equal, all capable of greatness and, regardless of how long ago or how we got into the team, we are all welcome and valuable players. Let’s look at the evidence.

1. A team is a group of equals.

In the budget, the Abbott government introduced a $7 co-payment when accessing primary health services — effective from July 2015. (The measure is yet to be passed by the Senate.) The University of Sydney suggests that the elderly and chronically ill will be disadvantaged as a result of this measure:

"The introduction of co-payments won't be shared equally," report co-author Dr Clare Bayram said.

"It will particularly affect people who need to use more medical and related services, such as older people and those with chronic health conditions.

"The proposed co-payments regime is likely to deter the most vulnerable in the community from seeking care due to higher costs that they would face."

Also in the budget, unemployed Australians will have to meet obligations to apply for 40 jobs per month, as well as performing a number of hours of community service (dependent on age) in order to be eligible for the ‘Newstart’ (unemployment) benefit:

Australians under 30 will be required to do the heaviest lifting in order to keep their dole payments.

Those in the youngest working age bracket will be asked to work a minimum of 25 hours community service a week and apply for at least 40 jobs a month.

If you are over 60, you do not have to work — but volunteering to do so would be appreciated! Probably the best evidence of the process is this:

Work for the dole is already an optional program for all job seekers. As part of the recent budget, the government introduced mandatory work for the dole in 18 high unemployment trial locations. That program applies to long-term unemployed people who are 30 or younger.

The government will not wait for the outcome of those trials to extend the program to job seekers across the country.

Job seekers aged under 30 will be ineligible for payments for six months after applying for benefits despite taking part in work for the dole and being required to apply for jobs.

Thousands of Australians who are under 30 are in relationships, have mortgages and/or children. Is it equitable that this group of people could literally lose everything if their employer ‘restructures’? We see regularly in the media that hundreds, if not tens of thousands, of workers are ‘no longer required’ by a number of companies (as well as the current federal government when elected), and we are also seeing an increasing rate of unemployment. One could also ask how they are going to afford the expense of making the 40 job applications a month or get to the places where they will ‘work’ if, because of their age, they are not eligible for any government support for six months. It looks like some are more equal than others.

2. Members of a team are capable of greatness.

Australians are used to hearing about how great it is to live here. In comparison to a number of countries around the world, we aren’t doing too badly. However in a global environment where the emission of carbon is a concern due to the effects on the atmosphere, Australia is removing an effective carbon price.

There is no real difference between a carbon pricing scheme and parking regulation. In the case of carbon pricing, the emitters of a product that has been demonstrated to cause detriment to the quality of the climate globally are charged for emitting the product. The emitters have two choices — either pay the price or change their production process to reduce or eliminate the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. Councils across Australia regulate parking for a number of safety and accessibility reasons — if you are prepared to reduce other road users’ safety or accessibility due to your own perceived needs, you will be fined for the ‘privilege’ of doing so. The current government’s ‘Direct Action’ policy is similar to paying a reward to everyone who does not park properly.

Regardless of the semantics of the repeal of the carbon pricing scheme, a number of internationally renowned commentators were appalled:

It has been led by EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and environmental activist Al Gore, who said Australia was "falling behind other major industrialised nations in the growing global effort to reduce carbon emissions".

Conservation groups have also been scathing, and many experts have been left scratching their heads.

Roger Jones, a Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies, called the repeal "the perfect storm of stupidity".

"It's hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policy making," he said.

"A complete disregard of the science of climate change and its impacts. Bad economics and mistrust of market forces."

The Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, a group of close to 600 scientists, released a statement that said:

Securing Australia's environmental heritage for its future citizens and the global community will be undermined without strong environmental legislation and leadership that empowers government agencies, communities and local environmental organisations to protect rainforests.

Hardly evidence of engendering the potential for greatness in the team, is it?

3. All members are welcome and valuable members.

There is still a long way to go before all members of the ‘team’ can feel welcome and valued. There is considerable discussion on the inequity shown to refugees that arrive here in leaky boats versus 747’s — and the treatment each group receives.

Reported widely in the past few months has been a number of racially-based attacks on public transport in Sydney. Two of them are here (where the woman responsible was found guilty) and here (where four teenagers were arrested early in August).

The first racist incident ‘went viral’ on the Internet prior to any action being taken to identify and deal with the offender. The authorities seemed much more willing to act quickly in the second incident. While The Conversation’s article reporting the first incident suggests that the reaction to the offensive behaviour may be a turning point in treatment of racial abuse in this country, there is still a long way to go.

In 1995, the Federal Government passed the Racial Discrimination Act which, in part, made an act discrimination if it was intended to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ on the basis of ethnic origins or race. In 2011, radio and television presenter Andrew Bolt fell foul of this law when he claimed that nine ‘pale-skinned’ indigenous people ‘had chosen to identify as indigenous for professional or financial gain’. Then Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis, writing in The Australian on September 30, 2011 claimed:

By making the reasonable likelihood of causing offence or insult the test of unacceptable behaviour, in any political context, section 18C is a grotesque limitation on ordinary political discourse. While some have pointed out the analogy with the limitations on free speech in the defamation laws, the threshold at which speech may be unlawful because it is defamatory is much higher: the traditional formula is that it must be likely to bring the victim into "hatred, ridicule or contempt"

and,

Section 18C, as presently worded, has no place in a society that values freedom of expression and democratic governance. If the Bolt decision is not overturned on appeal, the provision in its present form should be repealed.

Apparently Bolt and his wife dined with Abbott soon after the judgment and Brandis made it a high priority to remove the ‘offending’ Section 18C from the legislation upon being appointed Attorney-General in the Abbott Government. As the ABC reported in April:

In a heated exchange in parliament, Senator Nova Peris — the first Indigenous female senator — asked Senator Brandis: "Won't removing 18C facilitate vilification by bigots?"

He responded: "People do have a right to be bigots, you know. In a free country, people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted."

The repeal of Section 18C did not pass parliament. Abbott rang Bolt early in August and advised that the proposed repeal was not going to happen. Bolt then told the world on his blog and claimed:

To associate it with me meant so many people of the left thought that any law that could be used against me must be pretty good, and I think that’s poisoned the debate.

The ironic thing to note (apart from Bolt’s ‘its all about me’ comment) is that the IPA (a conservative ‘think tank’) is so offended that they still can’t offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the basis of ethnic origins or race, that they are planning an anti-Abbott advertising campaign!

Abbott’s ‘Team Australia’ can be compared to Queensland Premier Newman’s ‘Strong Choices’ campaign, where every comment by the LNP Government has somehow linked back to the chosen phrase for some time. See this article in the Brisbane Times for some pithy examples. At the end of the day, is it all hollow rhetoric and marketing to ensure survival beyond the next election?

While there is no “I” in team, there are three in ‘vindictive’ as well as one each in ‘horrible’ and ‘racist’. Is it possible to have a team where the Government is vindictive to those who can’t find work, horrible to our senior citizens who potentially can’t afford primary health care, or racist to those who are perceived to be different?

What do you think?