Friday, July 11, 2014

The end of a long Anglicare chapter

The decision by Anglicare to abandon residential aged care has caused anguish and sadness, even if it was inevitable.

It has sold its five nursing homes in Canberra and across the south coast to the Returned Services League as "on-going concerns". The Anglican Church (in this Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn) continues to provide chaplaincy and pastoral care to residents in the homes. And it continues to own cheaper to run 'retirement living premises' in Red Hill, Downer and Goulburn.

The Anglicare Board urged a sale more than four years ago. When they did sell early this year the church got less for them.

Anglicare said the transfer to another provider was done in a way that ensured residents were being put "at the centre". "But it is with a heavy heart that we do this," spokesman Bishop Stephen Pickard said at the time the decision was made.

His heaviness of heart is based on a belief that institutions like the Anglican Church, from parishes to the welfare agencies developed to represent them, have a social contract to care and provide for the vulnerable, from the cradle to the grave.

"No one can ever say Anglicare did not try it's heart out to make this work but the reality is that when residents come into facilities they will be older and more frail which will require the kind of facility that is well capitalised and able to deliver," said Pickard.

The Anglican Church is exceedingly complex and managing aged care hideously so. Perhaps if pioneers of aged care in this region knew that they would not have been so tenacious in developing the facilities that Anglicare had to sell.

Back in the middle of the last century, people who hadn’t made provision for their old age were forced to find refuge in state run homes that were often crowded and poorly serviced. The Anglican Church faced calls to do something and responded. What it did do owed a lot to chance, if not faith, and some colourful benefactors. That heritage, one that I have researched, is worth remembering whoever owns the aged care facilities today.

Bimbimbie Retirement Village at the edge of Lake Merimbula is a case in point. It was one of the first aged care enterprises the Diocese developed on 18 acres of hilltop land donated to the Anglican Diocese in 1968 by Irish-born businessman and engineer, John McIlwraith-Smith.

Insisting that it be used for aged care, McIlwraith-Smith tried the Methodists then the Catholics. Astonished at the difficulty of donating land with sea views, McIlwraith-Smith persevered and approached the Anglicans. He had come to know the rector at Pambula, Dick Clark, and through him the then Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Kenneth Clements.

Reverend Frank Woodwell, then rector of Bega (and founder of the Bega Valley Aboriginal Advancement Association) who told me it was all done “in faith”. “We let contracts with no money.” When Bishop-in-Council members wavered, Woodwell told them the Church should be involved “because we are in the people business”.

Elizabeth Moore was a foundation committee member, a good networker and an active member of St Clement’s in Merimbula. Bishop Clements had known Moore in Canberra where she was the rector’s warden at All Saints in Ainslie, taking an energetic role in welcoming new residents living in the sheep paddocks that had become Canberra's newest northern suburbs. Clements sent Moore to tour the few established retirement villages in NSW in order to find out what would work.

Unperturbed by some in the Diocese who, Moore said, “thought we were a bit mad,” the committee engaged local businesses, clubs, parishes and other groups of people to make an appeal and secure the necessary finance. The Commonwealth Government chipped in with a two-for-one subsidy.

Self contained units, a hostel and village hub were built. Lodgings in the hostel required no bond and there was no assets test. Charges were a percentage of the single age pension.

“We could see the great need for it for people who were older and more frail,” Moore said in 2008. Good aged care's about “enormous patience and love”.

During Canberra's first sixty years the needs of the aged were not pressing. By the mid-1970s there were only two nursing homes in the ACT, both no-frills government-run facilities in Jamieson and Narrabundah. But by the mid-80s the population aged over 65 was increasing at the rate of nine percent a year. Not only were many people remaining in Canberra after retirement but the elderly relatives were moving to the Capital.

With a lot of volunteer effort, perseverance and fund-raising, Brindabella Gardens was the first of two Anglican aged care facilities that opened in Canberra. But they only ever cut even or bled money as residents' needs and community standards intensified.

While there are exceptions, church agencies are not well equipped to manage aged care. Their pockets are not deep enough. The Anglican Church didn't have the capital to refurbish and update its facilities and get the minimum number of places needed to spread the dollars and make it work over the long haul.

It's the end of long chapter for the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. While controversial at times, it provides a legacy that has served many people.

First published by Fairfax Media.

Toni Hassan is a freelance writer. She is the author of a forthcoming book on the history Anglicare in the capital region.@ToniHassan

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Nelson Mandela's Legacy

Mandela's death has reminded me of the collective madness of apartheid. My children need to be told about it again and again, as children need to everywhere, so that history does not repeat itself. I tell them that marrying Peter would have landed us in jail.

The system's obsession with race imprisoned people in their minds as well as in their movement. It stuck people in a holding pattern and dampened the human spirit. But even when caged birds are released they have to be reminded of how to fly.

Mandela famously said 'People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love'. With his passing I wrote this piece for Fairfax Media to remember an extraordinary man and to reflect on the challenges for South Africa's current leaders.

The real Mandela challenge - living up to his ideals

December 10, 2013

Millions of words have been written about Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. But it's worth reflecting on his extraordinary inclusive style that offers a model for contemporary politics often beset by bitter partisanship.

Madiba's death also presents an opportunity to take stock of what has changed in South Africa post-apartheid and the challenges ahead.

Mandela was a negotiator like no other. He mastered the art of occasion and symbolism. He was an orator who found connections across the political divide.

Mandela's capacity to connect his vulnerability with others and weave a grand narrative of liberation made him one of democracy's greatest champions. Many declare him a saint. Saints make sacrifices as he surely did. But saints sit above us.
They don't get down in the trenches, ground themselves in the lived reality of others and search for inclusion and compromise.
Mandela did not just talk about reconciliation, he embodied it, not just to win over his political foes to reach a settlement, but to pull in sections of his African National Congress when party members pressed for a full-blown civil war.

Arriving to address a meeting east of Johannesburg, an epicentre of ''black on black'' violence, Mandela found a message awaiting him on the speakers' table: ''No peace, do not talk to us about peace. We've had enough. Please, Mr Mandela, no peace. Give us weapons.''

Departing from his prepared text, he drew on his most regal manner to exercise moral authority we can only wish every so-called terrorist heeds:

''There are times when our people participate in the killing of innocent people. It is difficult for us to say when people are angry that they must be non-violent. But the solution is peace, it is reconciliation, it is political tolerance. We must accept that blacks are fighting each other in the townships … we must accept that responsibility for ending the violence is not just the government's, the police's, the army's. It is also our responsibility. We must put our house in order. If you have no discipline you are not a freedom fighter. If you are going to kill innocent people, you don't belong to the ANC. Your task is reconciliation. Listen to me. Listen to me. I am your leader. I am going to give leadership. Do you want me to remain your leader? Yes? Well, as long as I am your leader, I will tell you, always, when you are wrong."

He humanised his political enemies, offering glimpses into the souls of his opponents in ways that broke down barriers, brick by brick. After another mass shooting of ANC protesters by police, President and National Party leader F. W. de Klerk and Mandela spoke by telephone. Mandela told reporters that de Klerk ''was a very brave chap, you know, and very bright and it was worrying to hear him sounding so down''.

Mandela's rapport with the leader of separatist organisation, the Afrikaner Volksfront, proved decisive in the hardline group's 11th hour adoption of the political peace deal and South Africa's transitional constitutional arrangement (critics will say Mandela went too far to acknowledge and reassure white South Africans).

Even when, in the thick of multi-party negotiations, the immensely popular Chris Hani was killed by an assassin commissioned by the right-wing Conservative Party, Mandela, rather than de Klerk, appealed for calm with his trademark tone aimed at restoring hope and bringing people together. It was a white man who killed Hani, he noted, ''But a white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know and bring justice to the assassin.''

While many more black children are getting at least some kind of formal instruction, it is actually more expensive today to get an education in South Africa than it was during apartheid. Those who do complete their schooling struggle to find work, joining 70 per cent of young people who will not have any secure form of employment. Stubborn high rates of poverty and mass unemployment are deeply troubling.

But Mandela would have been profoundly disappointed by the self-serving leaders all the way to the top of his ruling party; individuals too tolerant of corrosive corruption. The ANC he knew has morphed into a kind of mafia where members look after one another. Only a small black elite has benefited from black empowerment measures. Power has not shifted.

South Africa, like Australia, has experienced an extraordinary mining boom, but remuneration for its workers - unlike here - is as low as ever, triggering deadly strikes like that at Marikana. Whites still own the mines and keep the profits.

Current President Jacob Zuma, a polygamist and professed socialist, expected South Africans to cough up the bulk of the $27 million bill to renovate his private residence and a nearby town dubbed ''Zumaville''. He's facing an official investigation. Compare that with renovations to the Australian Prime Minister's official residence in Canberra that were repeatedly delayed. We've known for years that The Lodge has a leaking roof and dodgy wiring. But successive governments have been sensitive about the cost to taxpayers.

Zuma may be corrupt and incompetent but he has strong backing from Zulu nationalists, many of them anti-intellectual. Provincialism, which in South Africa corresponds with ethnicity, is central. Zuma was elevated to the president's position because his followers argued that they are the majority ethnic group and for hundreds of years Zulus were subjugated by minorities in charge.

It was his turn, an entitlement. It is a far cry from the ANC Mandela joined, historically a party that has followed a moderate route - embracing tradition while denouncing tribalism.

At his presidential inauguration, which I was fortunate to attend 20 years ago, Mandela spoke of entering into a covenant, where all colours walk tall ''without fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity, a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world''. He and that other beloved elder statesman Desmond Tutu symbolised a rainbow nation.

They promoted liberal, inclusive and ecclesiastical discourses of forgiveness. Their philosophy made possible the negotiations to end apartheid. A key expression was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While the ideas were imposed from above, the rainbow nation has had deep and popular appeal. It was a tool for nation-building, to unite a historically divided people. Contemporary leaders do not espouse, from the inside out, the rainbow nation ideal. South Africa needs new anti-poverty champions of inclusion and equality.

South African elections are due before next July. There is no viable political opposition (although the Democratic Alliance holds a narrow majority in the Western Cape).
We hold our breath and cross our fingers and toes for reform, not just to redeem the ANC from a party of patronage into a democratic and accountable movement but a government that Mandela would commend for transforming power to raise the living standards and human rights of all.

Perhaps the best way South Africans can honour Mandela's memory is to vote for a different party.