Sample letters – and some replies

I’m taking a break from being a walking, talking, one-woman letter-writing campaign to post a few sample letters for people who are completely stuck.  A big part of this exercise is once again to show you that you don’t have to write something brilliant, so long as you write something and send it.  Because I really don’t know how good these letters are (it’s hard to produce a quality product in bulk!).

Good or bad, they are getting replies.

Canned replies from Labor, mostly, which is a bit disappointing, but not surprising.  I suspect that the ALP is hearing from quite a lot of people right now, and the precise content is probably less important than being able to scan the letter and putting it in the ‘for’ or ‘against’ pile.  (Please bear in mind, I have absolutely no knowledge of the inner workings of political parties – I’m just basing this on the fact that I am getting very standardised ‘your call is important to us and will be answered by the next available operator’  sorts of letters.)  Though it wouldn’t surprise me to that they have some sort of spreadsheet where they tick off what particular issues were raised in the letter so that they can get some idea of which particular bits of the budget are causing the most conniptions.  It’s what I’d do if I were them, frankly.

(Actually, if I were them and I were very clever, I might even keep a file of people who were interested in particular issues and contact them when I was campaigning or doing something about a particular issue and wanted either donations or a show of public support.  Tailored marketing, in fact.  On second thoughts, I think I’m glad they don’t seem to be that clever yet.)

The Greens are sending me very sweet emails thanking me for my support, and earnestly assuring me that they will keep fighting the good fight.  I liked the one who suggested that I could follow the Greens on Facebook, and in the same breath added ‘but you are probably doing that already’.  No flies on her…  In general, though, I’m getting the impression that these particular emails are being read by actual people and replied to briefly but personally.  Incidentally, I also get the sense that very few people ever contact politicians thanking them for what they are currently doing or saying and encouraging them to keep doing it.  There is a tone of astonished delight in these responses that is quite unmistakeable.  It’s quite fun. (And then you get added to their mailing lists FOREVER.)

Palmer United seemed incredibly excited to hear from me.  Something tells me that they don’t get many letters.  They also clearly decided that I am a good letter-writing sort of soul, and thus encouraged me to share my views with my local MP and my newspaper.  And to join the Palmer United Party.  I reckon the letter was about half form letter and half not.

Oh, and I’ve got a reply from Joe Hockey’s office from my last round of letters about Medicare.  He is aware of the concerns of the community and appreciates that I have taken the time to write to him.  It’s so nice to know that he cares…

On to the letters!

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But who is going to pay for all this?

I, personally, feel that it is a moral imperative to fund affordable medical care, education, and pensions that support those who are unable to work by reason of age, disability, illness, caring responsibilities, or sheer misfortune (and seriously, the government’s own budget forecast says that unemployment is going to rise next year – tell me again how this is the fault of job seekers?).  These, to my mind, should be the absolute first things that a country’s budget funds, because they are the basics that allow people to participate in society.  We don’t have any declarations about ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ in our constitution, but I think that, as a rule, these are things Australians feel people should be entitled to, and they are pretty much dependent on being able to remain fed, clothed, in good health, and educated enough to pursue a career.

I’ve read a bit of commentary around the place that says, essentially, that while these things are all very well, someone has to pay for them, and we simply can’t afford them.  And it’s irresponsible to spend these huge sums of money that we can’t afford during a budget emergency.

Look, I’m no economist.  (And thank heavens for that – both I and the world are improved by that little piece of luck, frankly)  I can’t tell whether there is a budget emergency or not.  Charts like this one incline me to think not.  But I’m a rabid loony lefty, so what would I know?

Anyway, I have no intention of discussing whether we are in a budget emergency or not, because as far as I can see, the conversation breaks down entirely along political lines anyway.  What I want to address is whether it is fiscally responsible to cut the pension and add a co-pay to Medicare, because I don’t think it is.  I think that leaving these two pillars of the social safety net alone is in fact a financial imperative as well as a moral one.

Ah yes, but who is going to pay for all this?

I think the point is – who will pay for it if we don’t.  And the answer, in very real terms, is – the future.

(Hello, Budget Twilight Zone!)

Quite seriously, though, the Medicare co-payment will stop some people from going to the doctor.  It will mean people will make their own judgment calls about how sick they are, and sometimes, because they are not qualified medical practitioners, they will get it wrong.  By the time people do seek medical care, they will be sicker, and the costs of treatment for them will be higher.  (Alternatively, they might not get to seek medical care at all because they will be dead, which probably is cheaper to treat, and also decreases the surplus population, but I don’t think anyone seriously wants to be cast in the role of Scrooge, here)

Other people might decide to delay or avoid vaccinations, because of the expense.  Or they might choose to take their infectious disease in to work, because they can’t afford the doctor’s visit to get a sick certificate that day.  I worked in a lab a few years ago where everyone got conjunctivitis again and again, because people kept coming back to work early and reinfecting everyone.  (This was the fault of people having absolutely no common sense about infection despite working in medical research, and not the fault of medicare, and sadly, one cannot legislate against people being idiots, but one can certainly avoid putting barriers in the way of people who want to be sensible.)  This resulted in a lot more doctor’s visits and prescriptions than would otherwise have been needed.  And conjunctivitis is a relatively mild medical issue.  There are plenty of other nasty infectious diseases that start off looking like a cold, and a lot of people are not going to see the doctor for a cold, especially if it’s the end of the pay cycle and they are low on money.

Chronic diseases will also be a growing problem.  Fewer people going for checkups means fewer diseases being identified early – and so people will be sicker before they even start treatment for things like diabetes or heart disease or cancers.  Setting aside that this is a horrible thing to do to people, this is going to burden both the health and the social security system, as breadwinners find themselves too sick to work, and reliant on the pensions that we are currently busy cutting.  The entire new pension system now seems to rely on families supporting young people potentially up to the age of 30 while their parents work until 70 – but with reduced access to medical care, fewer people are going to be able to remain in full-time work for this long.

I don’t know whether it will be five years down the track or ten, but make no mistake – we will inevitably find ourselves with greater per capita medical costs, and two options: either the common purse pays for it, or we go down the American route of treating only people who can afford to cover the costs of their medical treatment.  Given that America is currently trying to dismantle their own system because it is so destructive to individuals, families, and society generally, I don’t think we want to go down that route.

On the social security side, I’ve already mentioned the way health will impact on the pensions, but let me return again to the policy of leaving young people with absolutely no income for their first six months of joblessness.  Young people whose families cannot or will not support them (and yes, this really does happen) are going to find themselves dependent on charity – which is itself dependent on enough people having enough spare resources to donate.  We will see, inevitably, a rise in homelessness, as most landlords won’t be understanding of a six-month rent-free period, and we are also likely to see a rise in the crime rate, as people have nowhere else to turn.  (Aha!  Finally I see it – this is a job creation strategy!  Law enforcement jobs will be on the rise!)

This, too, will have enormous costs to the community, both in terms of treating and helping the victims of crime, and, frankly, of the futures stolen from those who commit them through no other choice.  A criminal record is not generally considered a good addition to one’s CV when job hunting.

Setting aside all ethics (as, indeed, this government appears to have done), this budget may possibly decrease our debt today, but it does so in the most dishonest way possible.

We are saving money today by borrowing from the future, and the interest rates are going to be high.

Letters, and who to send them to

I’m having a big letter-writing weekend this weekend, though I’ll probably also go to the protest later this afternoon.

I’ve been chatting to a few people about who to write to, and what to say when you do.  Let me start by saying that I am absolutely not an expert on this.  But having said that, here’s who I think is worth a shot (note that these links all lead either to contact forms or to email addresses):

  • your local lower house representative.  It’s his or her job to read your letters!
  • The leader and deputy leaders of the Opposition (Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek), and shadow ministry members who have portfolios that are relevant to your concerns.  So I’m writing to Chris Bowen (treasurer), Mark Butler (environment), Catherine King (health), Senator Jan McLucas (housing, homelessness, mental illness), Jenny Macklin (families, disability), Senator Penny Wong (senate leader, who wrote a pretty good article about the budget a few days ago)
  • Your state senators, of every flavour except Liberal.  I’d include the Nationals in this one, because country people are getting the short end of the stick in this budget, too.
  • The Green senators.
  • Edited to add: The Palmer United Party.  Clive Palmer has said he will oppose this budget because of the changes to Medicare and the pension, and we want him to stand firm on this!  Palmer doesn’t seem to have a standard APH email address or contact form, but you can reach Palmer United through this link.
  • For bonus points, and I’d save this one for last, minor party and independent senators from other states.

Yeah, that’s a huge amount of people.  You really don’t have to write to all of them.  Start with your local lower house rep, Bill Shorten and your local Greens Senators – I think everyone has at least one by now – or the Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne.

What should you write in these letters?  Well, honestly, that’s up to you.  Personally, I’m writing a brief letter of thanks and encouragement to the Greens – on the whole, they are covering the things I care about and can probably be relied on to oppose the budget no matter what I do, but encouragement is never a bad thing.  My local MP, Kelvin Thomson, has a blog, and he wrote a few things about the budget in it, so my letter to him picks up on the themes he wrote about.  Bill Shorten’s Budget Reply is available online, and I’ll take the same approach there.  For everyone else, I’m googling their name and ‘2014 budget’, to see what they’ve said about it.  Or looking them up on Facebook and Twitter, where they put their bite-sized responses to the budget.  (Hi, I’m Catherine and I’ll be your political stalker for today!)

The general structure I’m using is starting by thanking them for their opposition to the budget, a paragraph or two expressing my thoughts feelings about the issues on which we agree, and a final sentence urging them to keep opposing the budget.

I’ll post a few examples later, if anyone is interested.

Is this effective?  I have no idea.  But if, like me, you want the various opposition parties to block this budget to the best of their ability, I think it’s a good idea to let them know that the voters are behind them if they do.  Abbott is doing his best to scare the minor party senators, at least, into compliance.  I have no idea if a letter can change this or not, but I don’t think it can possibly be a bad thing to let people we agree with know that we are on their side.

Happy letter-writing!  And remember – your letter doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be sent.

For a full list of Members of Parliament and the Senate, visit the APH website here – you can find your local MP (start by finding your electorate), or sort senators by state or party, or find a list of incoming senators, or the shadow ministry, or more.  Contact details can be found through individual upper and lower house members’ pages, or you can find a general directory here, once you know who you are looking for.

Poverty, Unemployment and the Budget

I don’t think it will come as a surprise to anyone reading this that I am horrified by the proposed budget.

Horrified doesn’t really cover it, actually.  I feel quite literally sick to my stomach at the thought of it.  It makes me want to cry.

There is so much not to like about it that it’s hard to know where to start, but the part I want to focus on today is the changes to unemployment benefits for people under thirty. The reason I want to focus on these changes is because I don’t see any way that it won’t result in people becoming homeless and possibly starving.

Under the new rules, if you are under thirty and become unemployed, you will receive no benefits whatsoever for six months.  During this time, you will be expected, during these six months, to participate in government-funded job search and employment services activities, whatever these are.  (I wonder how they expect people to get to these?  Neither petrol nor tram tickets are free.  Are they going to provide free public transport to job seekers?) After that, you get six months on the pension – which, if you are under 24, will now be substantially lower – during which time you must also work for the dole for 25 hours a week.  And if that doesn’t work, you are back to nothing.

The government says that this is about getting young people to ‘earn or learn’.  Setting aside the fact that they have just deregulated university fees and de-funded most forms of research that aren’t medical research (and hey, I work in the industry, I’m very happy that medical research didn’t get cut, but I do think there are other areas of research that are just as important), a combination that is likely to raise university fees to unaffordable levels, there are a number of problems with this approach.

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Letter to Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton

Below is a copy of the email I’ve sent to the above three MPs.  A slightly modified version will be sent to my Liberal and National State Senators, after which I will probably draft an email for my various non-coalition senators urging them to stand firm against Medicare co-pays.  Because once you start writing letters, it’s hard to stop! 

It’s far from perfect, and that’s exactly why I’m posting it here – for the benefit of anyone who would like to write something to their MP or Hockey or their Senators about this, but doesn’t know where to start.  Feel free to borrow or steal any points that appeal to you. 

And remember – letters and emails don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be sent!

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