Australia’s Road Toll & What Politicians Could do to Save Lives!

As Australia’s summer holiday season draws to a close, we again conduct our synopsis into the horror ‘road toll’ that occurred over the break. Unfortunately, high road fatalities have become an expected and accepted part of our Christmas and New Year’s holidays. There is no doubt that witnessing the carnage is sickening, deeply distressing and plainly sad, as ill-equipped and unbeknownst drivers, many (70% of the population) from our capital cities, hit the highways for their holidays, largely unaware or incapable of adapting to the many perils associated with driving on country roads.

The annual response from the politicians is (as usual) re-active, as they postulate and howl nebulous ideas in typical knee-jerk fashion. Void of sincerity they predictably demand better roads, better vehicle technology and better education.  Lost on the tabloid media reporting this political rhetoric is that it’s actually only the politicians who have the power to enact meaningful change in these areas. Continuous education, improved roads and vehicle technology may have actually worked well over past decades, but it’s now time to reassess the current ‘cause and effect’ and implement new changes, rather than chant the same old mantras.

The historical statistics support how effective past initiatives have been in reducing the road toll and sometimes we need to look at where we have been in order to see where we are going. We tend to forget how much ‘things’ have improved, how far we have come and what has been achieved over many decades. In the years since I first got behind the wheel in 1970, Australia’s population was a mere 12.51 million. By 2015 it increased significantly by over 90% to 23.79 million, however, the numbers of road deaths over the same 45 year period declined by 68%.

In 1970 there were 3,798 road fatalities in Australia with the annual count trending progressively down to 1,209 by 2015. The statisticians explain ‘Road Fatalities’ as a measure of ‘losses per 100,000 per year’ which was 30.36 individuals in 1970 reducing to 5.08 in 2015, a decline of 83%. If you overlay 1970s statistics with the present day, the annual road toll would be in excess of 7,300 fatalities, an indication of how effective the safety initiatives have been. This is an extraordinary result.

As positive (and grim) as these statistics can be, we can no longer just rely on doing what we did yesterday. Our society and behaviours are continually changing at a rapid pace and if we are to address the new causes of road fatalities, then politicians need to respond and shift the policy direction accordingly. There is so much that can be done to further contain the deaths on our roads, if only politicians got fair-dinkum and tried a more innovative approach, rather than ‘babbling on’ about the same old initiatives that have been in place for years.

The latest and trending cause of fatalities relates to the increased number of individuals now driving unlicensed and or under the influence of drugs, with police detecting nearly as many ice, ecstasy and cannabis drivers (but not cocaine) as those caught drink driving. Drivers on Australian roads are able to get behind the wheel ‘off their heads’ on certain drugs because of a legal loophole that excludes testing for a number of drugs including cocaine.

With Sydney officially the nation’s cocaine capital why are politicians dragging their feet? Why not change the law as necessary and start testing drivers for cocaine, the drug of choice that fuels the benders for glitzy celebrities, the high-class and the top-end of town, the drug with no safe level of use?

It’s time for politicians to act. For example, why are we so busy advocating for driverless cars but choose not to explore technologies that would prevent unlicensed drivers from getting behind the wheel? The technology already exists to immobilize a vehicle without a valid ‘chipped’ drivers licence integrated into the vehicles connectivity systems. A recent government report revealed that 11% of all fatal crashes involved unlicensed drivers, who were considered responsible for the crash in 85% of cases.

The bottom line is that there are preventative measures that can be implemented to further reduce the road toll, but it requires politicians to be bold, to embrace change and not be politically paralysed by simply suggesting further reductions in speed limits!

The large majority of drunk and drugged drivers are unlicensed. We need to implement stricter random testing for all illicit drugs and promote the use of technology that takes control of a motor vehicle away from unlicensed drivers.

Perhaps then we can continue to reduce the unnecessary loss of life on our roads.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

22 January 2018.


Who Starved While You Were at Lunch & How China Can Help!

Every once in a while I have a catch-up lunch with a couple of mates I’ve known for about 30 years or so.  They are good blokes: accomplished in their chosen careers, love their families, content and comfortable with their place in the world and also deeply proud of their indigenous heritage.  I wouldn’t say they are in their twilight years, perhaps more likely tracking somewhere in the ‘mid- to late afternoon’ range, but they are what I would call salt of the earth people.

These fellas came from meagre means, working class as ‘working class’ can be. Their parents didn’t have much but they made damned sure that their kids had better opportunities in life than perhaps they did. Probably what I’d call ‘obscure old fashion love’ where actions speak louder than words and success is measured by what their parents went without.

Our conversations are predictable, interesting and sometimes insightful. They’re mostly book-ended with humour, more often than not at the expense of our own individual misfortunes. To an outsider we may appear heartless or unsympathetic, for example, we rolled around laughing after fully work-shopping the news that one of us has an impending operation for an enlarged prostate. Who knew that such a subject could create such imaginative and amusing possibilities? In reality (but not obviously), there exists a genuine empathy and a quiet concern, but here the ‘unspoken’ screams louder than the words we frequently scramble to find.

The beauty of the interaction is the level of undisciplined etiquette, where we always start more yarns than we finish, as a simple impromptu subject can unleash a continuous dialogue and a hundred embellished stories. It’s where annoying interruptions around the ‘table of knowledge’ are not only appreciated, it’s openly encouraged (in fact, expected) as the most serious conversations degenerate into nonsensical avant-garde poetry or philosophy. This is what happens when you fuse a couple of beers with bullshit!

This week’s linguistic tour brought us to a discussion on the ‘Rise of China’ and their global influence in our world today.  What we found interesting is the irony of the journey China has taken in the short span of our lifetimes. We remember the 1966 Cultural Revolution, the failed 10-year movement to purge all remnants of capitalism, where the death toll was reportedly between 5 and 10 million. The numbers are staggering, incomprehensible; there was a shocked silence of disbelief around the table. Is that right, 10 million?

The only one of us who has travelled to China proceeded to school us on 1960’s Chinese history, as we learn that one of the consequences of the Great Leap Forward was the 1959 to 1961 ‘Great Chinese Famine’ where it’s reported that deaths due to starvation are estimated as ‘at least’ 43 million people. What? The numbers are unbelievable, what sort of pain and anguish does that translate into? Why didn’t I know about it and why is everything about China described as ‘Great’?

Adding to the conversation, I admitted with a degree of ignominy that I had only just learnt that 285,000 people had starved to death in Somalia during the 2011 East African drought. How did I not know about this? What was I doing in 2011 that was so self-consuming that I was not aware of this catastrophe, yet I was all over the 2011 Japanese earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima disaster where approx. 16,000 lost their lives? I later learned that 300,000 Somalians also lost their lives in a similar famine in 1991-92.

These numbers are mind-boggling, yet everyone seems preoccupied, ‘being Kardashianed’ or staying busier than ever posting selfies on social media, then stressing as they wait for the ‘likes’ to feed their narcissistic place in a fake world. Between 1998 and 2004 3.8 million died from disease and starvation in the Congo and in 1996 an estimated 3.5 million people starved to death in North Korea. Would it be racist to suggest that white societies would react differently if these deaths had occurred in white societies?

What can I say, I’m feeling embarrassed that this has been allowed to happen in my lifetime while I was busying myself surviving in a safe middle-class world, subsisting in a closet with blinkers on. So now is the time to be proactive. Let’s not wait for the next round of historical statistics; why can’t we act now before it’s too late?

We have been warned. There are currently more than 20 million people that are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance i.e. the Yemen Crisis.  That is virtually the population of Australia yet it is not even making the evening news because the tabloid media are too preoccupied talking about Trump’s latest faux pas.

How can I possibly come up with an appropriate closing paragraph here? I cannot. It is beyond my capacity to transcribe my feelings, as my mind is incapable of comprehending the magnitude of anticipated fatalities. Perhaps we just keep raising awareness until we can embarrass a wealthy and persuasive nation like China to use their leverage to influence change. Only China has the ability to comprehend the potential consequences like no other; the devastation of millions of people losing their lives by slowly starving to death.  China has the advantage of ‘living history’ and understands first-hand the consequences of inaction when dealing with a potential catastrophe of this size.

伟大的中国 . 参与世界

“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it is committing another mistake”  – Confucius.

25 November 2017

Knowing When It’s Time for the Subterranean Dream

Well, I remember when I was young, how the world was in the midst of the Cold War, as well as the Southeast Asia conflict. But of course, there is always a war somewhere, it’s a given in any lifetime. That said, the Cold War period was different, that constant uncertainty growing up, going to school, doing time, knowing that we were potential fodder for a foreign war, didn’t leave you overly motivated or ambitious. It’s hard to explain now, but we were well aware that we lived constantly with a threat of nuclear annihilation; fortunately we were told ‘obliteration’ was an instant death.

It’s not all bad. Today I keep hearing how ‘peachy’ those days were, when the certainties in life were Coca-Cola, blue jeans and Elvis. Well maybe for some. My growing recognition of reality was quite different: isolated, remote, and tedious. You were never really taught anything that was relative to ‘living in the day’. You just eventually worked things out for yourself or figured it out through observation. With little apparent optimism for the future, the foundations of our lives felt unstable, like we were always treading water. There was no real certainty, direction or ‘givens’ in life.

For the most part, looking back tends to get overshadowed by the good things subsequently learnt, the things you weren’t materially aware of at the time. I think my experience was planted deeper in authenticity; we dared to be bold and take risks, we had fewer choices, our survival skills were sharper and we were not sheltered from the unsavoury realities of life i.e. pain, poverty, disappointment, failure, hardship and a non-interventionist death.

Some things just were. You didn’t think about it nor question too much. It’s like the three-quarter ‘drop post’ that was always kept in our vehicle; it was just there for no apparent reason. Then one day while droving sheep on a remote stock route, its purpose became clear. I was wide-eyed and motionless with what I witnessed. While it was quick, the sound was something a kid doesn’t easily forget, even though it was subsequently explained ‘that putting a stricken animal out of its misery was a case of being cruel to be kind’. That was that and we get on with it, as I came to terms with the thought, that the peace associated with death was clearly preferable than observing a deeply distressed animal, that could not be saved or relieved of its unbearable anguish. By not prolonging the inevitable this ‘being’ did not suffering a painful and protracted death at the hands of the elements and nature.

I later learned that my experience was nothing compared to the severity of the real cruelty endured during the 1937-1947 droughts in eastern Australia, as stories were recalled of farmers forced to walk off their land, leaving thousands of sheep to starve to death in the paddock. No one could afford to shoot them in post-depression and wartime Australia. People were basically struggling to survive at a time when the charitable works promoted by animal welfare groups, such as the RSPCA were unknown or out of reach.

At least when I was a young man, we could afford to destroy maimed stock that had survived trauma like ferocious scrub fires.  I realise now that my experience as a kid was not one of cruelty but of compassion and kindness. It takes an unpleasant type of courage, care and commitment to humanely put a suffering being out of its misery. There’s a learning here for us all.

An American Professor of animal science, Temple Grandin is a world-renowned spokesperson and consultant to the livestock industry on animal behaviour. She has been quoted as saying that “Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.” She is obviously right, but it leaves me wondering why we can’t apply the same kindness to humans at the end of life as we do with animals. How did we become participants in this slow cruel form of ‘legal euthanasia’ that we practice when it is accepted that there is no ‘quality of life’ and ‘natural’ death is imminent? We don’t have to be cruel, so why are we?

Why do we allow physicians to hide behind a 12th-century Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” through inaction when their only option is to try and keep you comfortable while they starve you to death. It is unbelievable that doctors require a legal document to prevent resuscitation, just to force the medical profession to allow nature to take its course and for doctors to behave compassionately.

What is really going on here? Why the aggressive and expensive treatments that fail to improve the lives of the terminally ill, with no chance of quality and comfort for the individual? Or are they just experimenting on us? The ‘medical machine’ sells prolonged care because time is money when they know they cannot offer remedial treatment or a cure. It’s wrong that families are being robbed of the opportunity to grieve because a protracted death has been crafted into a ‘welcome relief’. We know that the profession does not make the law, but they are a powerful lobby group, hence things don’t change!

It has been reported that 25% of medical budgets are funding the final days of life; it’s a big industry. Perhaps prolonging the inevitable is something to do with medical research or is it just a very profitable business making mega profits, from those who have no voice, no representation, the comatose and infirm?

It’s certainly not about being kind, compassionate, humane or progressive. The blame lies at the feet of the policy reprobates and their insane bureaucracies; a culpable, complicit and avaricious ‘medical profession’ and the atheists, agnostics and believers who choose to use God as an excuse to secure their wealth and power. After all these years, I’m still fearful of being someone else’s ‘fodder’!

17th November 2016.


Dead Set & Forget

Why is it that so many people are in denial about making provision for their death and providing instructions regarding their wishes when they die? Why are we so reluctant to make a Will?

It is reported that approx. 45% of Australians do not have a valid Will, with the consensus being that most just don’t want to ‘jinx’ themselves by considering the issue of death. However in the same breath, people will tell you that they have taken out ‘Life Insurance’ in case they die and have also made provision for death when they nominate their ‘Estate’ as the beneficiary of their superannuation fund, yet none of that works if you don’t leave a Will. Who will receive the proceeds of your Superannuation, Life Insurance and assets/possessions when you die?

How do we make sense of this and how do we change behaviour? Don’t assume that ‘without a Will’ everything will just automatically go to your spouse or family. It may seem logical, but it’s not necessarily the case once lawyers and ‘Trustees of Superannuation Funds’ get involved with an estate where the individual has died without a Will, otherwise known as ‘intestate’.

If you don’t make a Will, you are probably going to make a team of lawyers rich and possibly bequeath a lot of your money to the Government instead of your family. Do the unselfish thing, look after your family first and don’t leave them with the additional stress and costs of a legal minefield, on top of the grief that may accompany your demise.

So please, for the benefit of those left behind, just sort it out and finalise your estate matters; make a Will. Do it now and then forget about it so you can get on with the business of living with a little ‘peace of mind’ for you and your family?

While you’re at it, also make provision for those situations where you are alive but are incapable of making decisions for yourself due to health and sickness, either temporarily or permanently. Have the comfort of knowing that you have made provision for your family or loved ones to have control and manage your ‘health care’ and ‘personal affairs’ when you cannot.

That’s a far better outcome than doctors, lawyers and judges taking over (for large fees) and making decisions on your behalf that may never have been your wishes or those of your family. It would be nice to know that your family and those who have your best interests at heart are making important decisions for you instead of a group of people you probably don’t know or possibly have never meet.

Just do it, so everyone can rest in peace…Yes, and while you’re at it, donate your organs. I guarantee in perpetuity that you won’t need them.

12th November 2016