Public First Program


Shane Elson


email Shane

+61-3-5952 5780

+61-4-1349 7828

August 2008 # 3

(Right Click here to download Audio - MP3)

Back to Editorials 2008

Its all Relative I Suppose

The six thousand dollar a week man lives in a house like ours. Well, it has walls, floors and ceilings. He earns his six thousand dollars a week by occupying a chair in an office in a central city high-rise building. The six thousand dollar a week man has to make important decisions. He is paid, not by the number of decisions he makes, but by remaining committed to the ‘team’ and by ensuring that all his decisions are positive towards the ‘team’ outcomes.

We have an office. Well it’s really an enclosed veranda but it does have walls, a floor and a ceiling. Like the six thousand dollar a week man, we also make decisions. Important ones at that! Like him, we make decisions that, hopefully, have a positive impact on the ‘team’ outcome. After that, well, its all relative I suppose.

The six thousand dollar a week man is able to organise his week as he pleases. As long as all is going well, he can plan his week to suit his moods and work related expectations. The six thousand dollar a week man has all the trinkets one expects of a person who makes important decisions. He has the department subsidised superannuation – which at current rates should see him retire rather comfortably. He has a department supplied car – updated every two years. He has the department supplied laptop – updated every year. He has the department supplied mobile – with blue tooth, internet and video capability. He has the network of mates and ex ‘team’ members. He never has to worry about future employment should he choose to ‘consult’ rather than make the actual decisions any more.

Like the six thousand dollar a week man, we are able to plan our week, providing there are no unexpected interruptions. We also have the trinkets that are expected of people who make important decisions. We have the superannuation – that we paid into before Helen* was born. We have the incontinence nappies – updated every four hours and paid for by us. We have the laptop … pillow so Helen’s bony bottom doesn’t hurt our knees while we nurse her through the long, painful nights. We have the mobile … in case we need to ring the ambulance when we’re out. We have the network of mates and ex ‘team’ members … who don’t call much any more and who we consult only if we really need help. After that, its all relative I suppose.

The six thousand dollar a week man makes decisions that affect our family. He also writes letters. Most of these letters travel up the management chain to the floors above. His job is to ensure that the shit from below doesn’t pass his level and hit the fan in the office one floor up. The six thousand dollar a week man doesn’t know who Helen is. He says he does have concerns that the carer’s pension is, perhaps, not enough to support us. He wrote that he "understands our frustration" that we can’t access enough respite care and, yes, he wrote us, he is aware that its "family carers, like yourselves, who save the Australian economy upwards of $20 billion a year". He refers us, once more, to the regional office and gives us a new contact name.

We, like the six thousand dollar a week man, make decisions that affect our family. We write letters. Our job is to ensure that the shit Helen often passes doesn’t soil the furniture or carpet in the doctor’s or the specialist’s office. We know who Helen is. We see, each week, our dwindling savings and now that the part-time work is not as frequent as it was, we really wonder how we will cope. We haven’t had a weekend respite for six months and the $48 a week carer’s allowance and the once a year bonus doesn’t even cover the cost of disposable nappies, dry cleaning and tissues. We don’t know what we save the community each year but caring for Helen is costing us our lives. The name at the regional office had left before we got the letter from the six thousand dollar a week man. After that, its all relative I suppose.

The six thousand dollar a week man went to Turtle Island for his annual departmental senior management conference. His wife went as well and then they spent a week relaxing in the Whitsundays. His office staff took care of inquiries and fielded the calls. He was so tanned when he got back he won the weekly ‘best dressed manager’ award.

We had last Friday night off when Helen’s nan came over. We bought Subway for dinner and went to the movies. We stopped in at Safeway on the way home and bought Magnum Egos for us and mum. While we were out she took care of inquiries and fielded vomit and faeces. We were so tired when we went to bed we didn’t even make love. After that, its all relative I suppose.

The six thousand dollar a week man spoke at a conference in Canberra last week. He was on the news. He made an announcement that his department had been allocated extra funds for respite and out of home care programs. He said the extra millions would benefit families directly. The six thousand dollar a week man was interviewed on the radio the next day. He said he was all too aware of how much families who cared for their disabled loved ones needed support. He said the latest increase in funding would go towards building a national telecentre with a 1800 number. He said carers could call to find out information about what respite services they might be eligible for. He said that ads would be in the paper on the weekend asking for applicants for the new telecentre jobs.

We read the weekend paper and found that ad. It was for a "chief executive officer", a "human resource manager", a "unit co-ordinator" and a "senior financial officer". All were to be paid in accordance with Federal Public Service Awards and their salary packages started at $110,000pa plus, car, private health insurance and a "relocation allowance for successful applicants". When we read the fine print, it said the telecentre was to be based in Mumbai and the successful applicants would be based there for up to six months while it was established. A valid passport was essential. After that, its all relative I suppose.

We used to travel, before Helen was born. She’s almost 10 now and I guess the first two years were the easiest. Her prognosis is not good. I mean, she will probably live for a long time if she doesn’t succumb to an infection, lung collapse, bowel or heart failure or a stroke. The local Rotary club raised $7,000 it cost to fly us interstate so she could have experimental surgery. The doctors and the hospital donated their time. We only found out later that the department could have funded the trip.

The six thousand dollar a week man is thinking of buying his daughter a horse for Christmas. The property near Druin would comfortably accommodate it. Given his recent incremental salary increase, the monthly food, vet and other bills would easily be covered. The renovations on the city flat will be finished by December so at least this New Years Eve they won’t have to bunk down with paint tins, plaster dust and bare concrete floors.

We think that a day at the park will be a great Christmas break this year. At least Helen’s brothers can play on their new (second hand) bikes – thanks to my union friends. The local church will probably offer us another Christmas hamper. They’ve been good to us. We hope to not spend this New Years Eve in hospital with Helen. Her brothers need a night out at the Lion’s fireworks display and we need to laugh and cheer as a family for at least one night each year. After that, its all relative I suppose.

*All names are fictitious and any resemblance to living human beings and their family circumstances is not unexpected.

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