Why Whingers are Needed

whingeI was nominated for the ER Noble award. The award was to be announced at a slap bang affair hosted by the Australian Sign language Association (Vic) and DeafVictoria. I was very honoured to be recognised for my work and extremely humbled. I also felt a little hypocritical because I had always said that I would never accept such awards. I have always felt that everyone from top to bottom are all deserving. I have never felt quite right about these types of awards because I make a living out of what I do and that is enough for me. I am far more in awe of those that just give their time and effort for the pure love of it.

Before going on I should thank the person who nominated me. I know who it was and I am quite chuffed that this person nominated me. Why? Because this person gives all of themselves unselfishly to the Deaf community for many causes. This made it all the more worthwhile. Winning didn’t matter. In the end I didn’t win but the recognition was enough in itself.

Anyway at the awards I was sitting near the front. The ER Noble Award was the last of the night. The award is given to an organisation or individual that works hard, advocates for and inspires people within the Deaf community. I was thinking to myself. “God I hope I don’t win, I don’t have a speech prepared.” I glanced up at the stage and saw the steps and then I began to worry that if my name was called, and being the clumsy oaf that I am, that I would trip up the steps and go flying. I had a vivid vision of tumbling into the two MCs as my foot caught the last step and sending all and sundry over the edge of the stage. It is such a Gary thing to do you know. In the end I didn’t win and I was spared any embarrassment, real or imagined. Congratulations to Medina Sumovic who was a very worthy winner indeed.

But if I had won I had a speech kind of thought out. I had decided that it was time to recognise the people that generally do not have their names up in lights. These are the people that are known as the whingers. These are people that always have something to say whether it be about education, employment or simply access to the cinema and entertainment. They are on Facebook, they attend forums or they are forever voicing their concerns and opinions at Deaf community gatherings. Paid advocates are often cynical of these people. They reckon that these people should stop whinging and do something constructive.

Indeed whinging is often frowned upon. Our esteemed Prime Minister went public recently stating that Australia needed people with vision not complainers. Said the Prime Minister, Whether it’s (opposition leader) Bill Shorten, whether it’s the Greens, whether it’s others – it’s one long chorus of complaint, The man with the plan has an extraordinary advantage over the person who has just got the complaint.”[1]Of course the Prime Minister would say that. He has a budget and an ideology that he wants to implement and the “complainers” are holding him to account.

And it is here where the complainers and whingers are of vital importance. They ask the questions. They tell us what riles them. They tell us what they want. They tell us what they see. They tell us what they are missing out on. More importantly they tell us where the system is letting them down.

It doesn’t matter if they simply say, “I want more captioning on television” It doesn’t matter if they simply say, “ My daughters schools provides crap support and I want more.” It doesn’t matter if they criticise our advocacy peaks as being ineffective and ask to be listened to more. When they whinge the smart advocate listens.

Why? Because it is these people who are taking the time to whinge that we are representing. The smart advocate takes the time to hear them or read what they have to say. The attentive advocate picks up common themes in the complaints and discussions that are happening and uses them in their advocacy work.

The effective advocate NEEDS people to whinge about the things they want improved or see as unfair. Because it is these complaints that an advocate needs to be able to convince the powers that be that change is needed. For example, university students are currently complaining all over the country about the de-regulation of university fees. The de-regulation of fees is likely to see course fees rise dramatically making university education unaffordable to all but the richest people in the country. If they did not complain what evidence would Labor and the Greens have to fight the cause?

They would have none. The Liberals would simply say that no one supports them. Then Liberals would claim Labor and the Greens have no mandate. But because people around the country are complaining and whinging about what they see as the Liberal’s unfair budget Labor and the Greens have a powerful argument to hold the Liberal Government to account. And because of this the Liberals are already hinting that they are willing to compromise on some of the more harsh aspects of the budget.

As advocates we cannot operate without the whingers. Most people felt that CaptiView captioning in the cinemas was crap. If no one complained about it where would we be? If there were no comments on the Action on Cinema Access Facebook page, or no one had taken the time to tell the cinemas of their negative experience, or no one had told the Government, or Phillip Debs had never made a video showing his negative experience of CaptiView – where would we be?

Would cinemas have listened to the Deaf Cinema Club representatives when they argued for open captioned sessions? Would the cinemas have bothered to investigate whether open captioning was possible on digital technology if the demand for it could not be demonstrated? Would the people that set up the Deaf Cinema Club have been motivated to volunteer their time to make it happen?

The answer is absolutely not! Whether its access to education, entertainment, technology or employment without the voice of the whingers we would have no cause. So to the whingers I salute you. Because without your voice we are nothing.

And I was supposed to have said all of that in one minute! Just as well I didn’t win! 😀

When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.

Malala Yousafzai


[1] http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/2014/06/01/13/52/people-want-vision-not-complainers-pm#8CvpEaHyjiQUpQKM.99

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