Has anyone ever seen the Monty Python Movie – the Life of Brian? There is one sketch that pokes fun at authority and, to a lesser degree, disability. Pontius Pilate is trying to pacify the masses. He has offered to set one of their peers free from prison to show that he is a “Fweind”of the masses. Pontius unfortunately can not pronounce the letter R. The masses find it hilarious and take every opportunity to make fun of it. “To pwove our fwiendship“…says Pontius, “We will welease one of our wong-doers! Who shall I welease?” A wag in the crown responds, “..Welease Woger”and this sends the crowd into hysterics of laughter. Pontius misses the joke and responds, “Vewy well, I shall… Welease… Woger!”As it turns out, there is no Woger so the crowd urge Pontius to, “Welease Woderwick” instead. Pontius still missing the joke agrees to, “Welease Woderwick” and thus the whole farce continues. Yesterday I reveived a letter from Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Bill Shorten. For some reason the letter reminded me strongly of this scene from the Life of Brian. It is all to do with sincerity. Something the crowd clearly thought Pontius lacked. This is the reason that they saw fit to poke fun at his speech impediment.
After a long day yesterday I came home and my wife passed on a letter to me from Bill Shorten. The letter was in response to the captioning campaign that is happening at the moment. Bill had received a postcard from me promoting the campaign. He saw fit to acknowledge me with a letter that pointed out the government was in support of media access, that the matter was before the Australian Human Rights Commission and that I could find information about it at the web link blah blah blah. The problem is that I had not sent Bill a postcard. Which got me questioning his sincerity. The letter was jointly signed by Senator Conroy who is the minister responsible for the media and digital economy.
I mentioned to my wife that I had not sent a postcard. She looked at me with a sly grin and said she had sent one on my behalf, “.. I hope you do not mind”she said. My wife had sent a postcard in her name too. And on the exact same day, at the exact same address, she had received the exact same letter from Bill. Now I guess her cunniningness to get as many postcards posted as she could to badger the politicians lacked sincerity too and so we should not be surprised that the response should be a mass mail out by Bill that was equal in its lack of sincerity. The cynic in me believes that Bill’s response was a political manoeuvre to try and fool us that he actually had read each and every postcard. Like Pontius, Bill was trying to appease the masses.
I fancy that we could have sent a postcard signed by Woger Wabbit or by Woderwick Wobbles and Bill would have sent the exact same letter, to the exact same address to the esteemed Woger and Woderwick. The whole process and lack of sincerity of the response left me feeling very, very cold. I understand what Bill was trying to do and if he had not responded it would have looked bad. But in all honesty Bill was just going through the motions, as politicians do, to try and demonstrate he had his finger on the pulse. Like Pontius he only succeeded in making himself, and Senator Conroy, a laughing stock seemingly lacking in sincerity. (In my eyes anyway)
I am aware that Bill has been in touch with the organisers of the Captioning Campaign. I believe he has stated that he does not want to influence the Australian Human Rights Commissions decision on the exemption application for the Cinemas. This is because the AHRC is supposed to be independent of the government in its decision making process. It remains to be seen whether Bill will speak out should the AHRC support the cinemas. Realistically he cannot. His argument for remaining silent now will be equally relevant once the AHRC have passed down their decision. If the AHRC do support the Cinemas you can bet Bill’s response will be something like this, ” The AHRC is an independent body that must make its decisions independent of the Government. Although I understand the frustrations of Deaf, hearing impaired and vision impaired Australians we must support the AHRC decision. ” If I am right you have to wonder whether Bill was sincere in his approach to the campaign organisers. Sure I understand he is stuck between a rock and a hard place, but it still just leaves me feeling cold.
One thing that I do know, after having worked in the disability area for over 20 years, is that it often lacks sincerity. The leaders of the sector are too often wrapped up in playing political games than they are in serving the people they are paid to serve. It is often cloak and dagger. I have sat on various Boards of different organisations. Often decisions are made that impact on the whole future and history of the stakeholders like the Deaf community. Often Boards have to make decisions about how best to cash in on an organisations assets. As a Board member I always say that if we are thinking of disposing of assets or changing structures in a big way then the first people we must consult are the Deaf community. Very rarely have I been successful in making this happen.
A host of excuses will be put forward for not consulting. “It is confidential.” they will say. “If word gets out it may effect the sale price”, they will argue. “If the government hears they will block us” they reason. Often what happens is that the Deaf community are the last to know and when they do hear, decisions are almost done and dusted. Of course it will be argued that the decision had the community’s best interest at heart, that the community will be grateful in the long term and so on. Again these arguments lack sincerity. Worse they show very little respect for the Deaf community at large.
Call me naive but I believe that if you involve the Deaf community in these important business decisions from the start., that if you provide them with the reasons for decisions, the alternatives and point out the risks involved the community will understand the process and more than likely support it. Too often the community hear when things are past stopping and when their input can only be minimal. Is it any wonder that they get angry. Do not tell me that the community only speak up when something happens that they do not like. Do not tell me that they are generally apathetic and do not want to be involved. This is rubbish! They are more than often completely left out of the whole decision making process so is it any wonder when they get angry.
The decision of our peak bodies to support the Cinemas in their application for exemption to DDA complaints is a prime example of the community not being adequately informed and where decisions have been thrust on them at the last minute. The response of the South Australian Deaf community when they found out that decisions about their spiritual home were about to be made without their input is another example of the community being left in the cold. In the nineties, (or was it the eighties?) the Victorian Deaf community erupted when they heard that the historical Victorian College for the Deaf might be closed. This anger happens because the community, by and large, are not to respected or involved in the decision making processes.
Instead self-appointed guardians with their WE KNOW WHATS BEST attitudes try to push things under the communities noses. Surely by now we should have learnt from past mistakes. A little bit of sincerity and respect can go along way! To the community I say – BE AWARE – because decisions are being made right under your noses whether you like them or not. That building or that school you have love and treasure might not be there tomorrow.