Investigative students

Investigative Journalism students – class of 2014

The investigative journalism class of 2014 was made up mostly of international students, from countries as diverse as China, NIgeria, Argentina, Norway, Hungary, Venezuela and Australia. Many students were new to journalism and most spoke English as a second or third language.  Topics investigated included; Australia’s preparedness for Ebola, teenage boy prostitutes on the internet, payday loans, the meth scene on the Gold Coast, and the creeping impact of poverty on ordinary Gold Coasters plus much more.

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Payday Loans

Are payday loans becoming the biggest social problem on the Coast? Pratsiri Setthapong investigates:

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Donna Langley moved from Adelaide to Gold Coast three years ago hoping to work her way towards a wealthy and successful life.  She was not aware that she was now living in one of most expensive cities of the country, where the majority of her hard earned money would go to rent; car insurance and registration; gas, electricity, water, phone, internet bills and day-to-day essentials. Her casual job in a local club helps her get by but it does not allow her much of a lifestyle.

It only needed a simple unexpected incident to trigger financial hardship so when her partner lost his job two years ago Donna was worried. He found a job a month later but four weeks lost income had a massive impact on their lives. Before she knew it she was getting far behind all the bills. A couple hundred dollars short turned into a thousand. The only option she had as a person without a full-time job or the credit for a bank loan, was a quick cash shop in the neighborhood. It was quick and easy. She thought she had found a save haven.

Many average to low income earners who live in our fast paced society, where money easily comes and goes, are now either struggling to survive, let alone aspire to a better lifestyle.

The Payday business seized this opportunity to encourage people with the financial problem to see Payday loans as the way out. The industry took off despite, or because of, the economic downturn.

Payday loan is a personal loan service offering  small loans from $300 to $2,000 to low income earners. The catch is the significant interest rate. Loan repayments are direct debited from customers’ bank accounts weekly, fortnightly or monthly. The business has been around for more than a decade but the glorious era started in 2008. The global economic crisis wobbled Australia’s financial well being causing  job losses and major banks tightened their loan policies. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, along with the country’s economic downtrend, the unemployment rate in Gold Coast rose up to 4.02% in 2008 from 3.38% in the last quarter of 2007. The recession continued and saw the unemployment rate rise to 5.69% in 2013. People in default, bankruptcy or with bad credit desperately looked for a financial solution in short term.

Cash Converter, the global pawn broking company, originally focused its business on retail secondhand goods.  By 2007 it had shifted its focus to payday lending and became the biggest payday lender chain in Australia. The company’s worldwide revenue growth rocketed 16.4% to $272.7 million in 2013. The growth of its online personal loan service in Australia increased 89% to $26.9 million from $14.2 million in 2012. Out of 148 stores in Australia including franchise-operated premises, 44 branches are located in Queensland – more than any other state. Four of them are located in the Gold Coast area.

The booming market encouraged many other players to enter the market. Money3 offers personal loan up to $20,000 for 30 days to 36 months repayment period. Thorn Group, the company behind Radio Rental has now expanded their service to join the quick cash frenzy under the name of CashFirst. Additionally, there are approximately 30 quick cash stores under the smaller names in the Gold Coast area; the number outstripped the short-term loan shops in many major cities in Australia. 12 stores are located in Southport.

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Created with Datawrapper Source: Yellow Pages the Local Business Directory 2014

Young people aged of 18 to their late 20s are the main market of the payday loan business. Research conducted in 2011 by Gold Coast City Council reported that 58.3% of young people earn less than $400 a week. Tourism and hospitality industry is the key driver of Gold Coast economy and generates the high rate of part-time and casual job. The unstable employment status exposes young people to the payday loan business.

Donna took out her first loan for $250 after her partner lost his job.

“My family and friends told me to stay away from it, but at that moment I was the only one who working and everything was expensive. You didn’t really have any choice. I tried my luck at the bank but without a full time job, they wouldn’t give me a loan.”

The immediacy is the key feature of this product. Lenders can grant the fund instantly within half an hour. The recent emerged online service makes it’s confidential and easy to access and this attracts more people to use the payday loan. “Last month I moved and needed the money for the truck and to fix up some bills. I just went there and got back out with the $250 cash in my hands”

Donna and many customers are not aware of the actual figures of the loan cost. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) most payday lenders offer is 300% annually. In the longer repayment period agreement, the cost goes up to 1000% per annum. While the standard credit card APR offered by majors banks in Australia range from 13.49% to 10.99% per annum.

“I didn’t really pay attention to those numbers, I just worried about $53 that I have to pay every week, for about six weeks”.

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Payday loan borrowers are not only low income earners either in full-time or part-time employment, businesses also focus on unemployed people who receive benefits from Centrelink. According to Consumer Action survey in 2008, “Although difficult to confirm, between 20% and 30% of borrowers are likely to receive some form of Centrelink benefits. It is possible the figure is much higher.”

Based on Cash Converter figures, the survey also stated that there are approximately 379,000 customers nationwide who take out around 674,000 loans in 2010. This figures suggested that most customers are repeat customers. This back-to back loan leads to ‘debt cycle’

Donna said that in two years, she has taken out loans more than ten times.

Customers continue borrowing new loans and problems occur when they could not stick to the repayment plan.

Veena, a 25 year old mother of two from Coomera, started using  payday loans two years ago when she became pregnant with her second child.

“I was on the benefits as well as my husband but it was not enough to get by. I found this ad in the papers and decided to check them out. I  sighed up with them and took out the first $300. The last time I took out $500, which meant I had to pay back $120 every fortnight. After two payment I realized that I couldn’t afford it anymore. With all the bills and foods and other things for my kids, I fell behind.”

“I was in default and the debt collector company contacted me. Told me that the money would fold up if I couldn’t pay them back in full. I didn’t know what to do and there was no way that I could pay them back, then they took me to court. By that time I owed them $1,500.”

Veena ended up with the settlement of $30 every fortnight. She paid it off after nine months. She never took any loan again.

Payday loan has been the Government’s concern and in the media attention for many years. Social service organizations across the country have launched legal aid and financial counselling services including the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) which offers loan up to $1200 to low income earners and people in financial crisis and aims to protect them from being exploited by the short term and payday loan business. In 2013, The Age National reported the statement of Salvation Army regarding the poverty problem. “There is a link between homelessness and the debt spiral caused by payday loans.”

When Donna was asked about the No Interest Loan Scheme, she understood that the campaign would provide her more option but she also concerned about its processing timeframe.

“I’m pretty sure that there are many people have been struggling like me and also need help. The service I’ve been using give me cash within ten minutes. Most of the time we just can’t wait because.”

Unlike Veena, many low income earners including Donna will continue to use the payday loan service; even it has been known that its system can push many people into the worse financial situation.

“As long as I can manage to pay back my loan, I think I will keep using it. Nobody wants to be in debt but things always happen. It is not easy knowing that I could lose my job any day and those bills will never stop coming.”

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Ebola: Is Australia prepared?

Australia has responded with a number of measures to prevent and deal with cases of Ebola arriving on our shores, but are these measures enought? Ruth Goodwin investigates.Ruth Goodwin

According to recent reports, when you walk through the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone the fear is palpable. In the midst of the worst outbreak of Ebola in recorded history, the people are anything but free. A once vibrant, lively, colourful community is now balancing on a knife-edge. As another car pulls up to an overwhelmed treatment centre and is turned away, it is certain death for the infected passenger, barely conscious and hiccupping. There is despair and a feeling of abandonment as the Ebola crisis continues to unfold.

The number of confirmed Ebola cases have accelerated at an ever-increasing pace in recent months and the world is taking notice. Australia has responded with a number of measures to prevent and deal with cases arriving on our shores. But are these measures enough? It’s a simple question but the answer is the difference between the protection of a population, or potentially devastating consequences.

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The current Ebola outbreak does not discriminate by age, as a 4 month year old baby is laid to rest in Gueckadou, Guinea Photo Credit: Tulip Mazumdar, BBC

Ebola Virus Disease (Ebola) is a severe viral illness with a fatality rate of up to 90%. The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that the virus begins with the sudden onset of a fever, muscle pain, sore throat and headache. These symptoms progress to include vomiting, diarrhoea, and in some cases internal and external bleeding.

The current devastating outbreak in West Africa is the most deadly since Ebola was first discovered in 1976 and has been traced back to a case in Guinea during December 2013. It has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia who continue to suffer excruciatingly at the heart of the outbreak. Isolated cases have recently affected the US and Spain as the result of repatriated medical staff that contracted the virus working at the front line in West Africa, reminding the developed world that no one is immune from this destructive virus.

The Director-General of WHO declared the outbreak “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern” on 8 August 2014. There is no doubt that this is the case. As at 27 October, almost three months later, official figures released by WHO indicate there have been 13,703 confirmed, probable or suspected Ebola infections with 4,920 deaths. Each figure is a life that has traumatically ended early, leaving grief-stricken family members behind.

In reality these figures only reveal part of the story. WHO has reported that many families have kept their loved ones at home due to stigma, the belief that hospitals incubate the disease, that infected loved ones will be more comfortable dying at home or simply due to treatment centres being overwhelmed. The US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that for every case reported an additional 1.5 cases are not recorded

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U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staff member, Dr. Jordan Tappero, is assisted by a member of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the applying of his personal protective equipment (PPE) in preparation of entering the Ebola treatment unit in Monrovia, Liberia. Photo Credit: Athalia Christie, CDC/ Sally Ezra

An even more sobering thought is the potential number of future infections if the outbreak is not brought under control. CDC estimates released in September indicate that by 20 January 2015 without “additional interventions or changes in community behaviour” there will be a total of approximately 550,000 Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone. This figure increases to 1.4 million if corrections for underreporting are made.

Around the globe World Leaders have scrambled to ensure that they are taking appropriate action to protect their citizens. Here in Australia the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has the role of responding to public health emergencies. Their most recent statement, issued on 15 August 2014 is that “Australia is well prepared to deal with Ebola“ with the Department of Health website currently informing the public that “There are no cases of EVD in Australia and the risk of an outbreak in Australia is very low.”

In efforts to protect the Australian border, the Government has advised against travel to West Africa. At this present time screening for travellers entering Australia is limited to those who have originated their travel from affected parts of West Africa. Qantas declined to comment on their procedures should a passenger develop Ebola-like symptoms on-board one of their flights.

Exit screening is in place for passengers leaving Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea; however, its effectiveness in preventing the spread of the virus in the age of air travel is questionable. Passengers with no symptoms are able to board international flights, but with an incubation period of up to 21 days, may develop the virus once they have reached their destination. Indeed this has been the case in the US, most recently a medical aid worker returning from Guinea to the US tested positive for Ebola in New York.

In Australia all returning medical health workers are required to undertake voluntary quarantine for up to 21 days from their last actual or potential exposure. The balance between ensuring willing medical workers are not deterred from contributing overseas and protecting the country is a difficult one to achieve.

Dr Allen Ross, a Professor of Public Health and Tropical Infectious Diseases at Griffith University has extensive experience working with poor populations in developing countries. He has recently written an article for the International Journal of Infectious Diseases that concludes that we are not ready for a global pandemic of the Ebola virus. Dr Ross highlights the inability of screening travellers at airports to contain SARS and H1N1 in the past and questions why we believe it will work in the case of Ebola.

With around 300 international flights arriving into Brisbane Airport each week, and many more across Australia, the question of airport screening is not one to be taken lightly. In September Dr Kamran Khan of St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto completed a study into the potential for international dissemination of Ebola virus via commercial air travel. His team has analysed worldwide flight schedules combined with Ebola virus surveillance data. They predict that 2.8 travellers infected with Ebola virus will depart Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea by commercial flights every month on average, even with exit screening in place. This translates to one passenger every 11 days.

An alternative and much stronger approach – banning travel from Ebola ravaged countries in West Africa – has been deemed unnecessary by WHO. They have repeatedly recommended that there be no general ban on international travel stating that a ban could “consequently increase the uncontrolled migration of people from affected countries, raising the risk of international spread of Ebola.“ US President Barak Obama has also warned of its potential consequences as well as reminding the world of their responsibility “we can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa.”

This week Australia has announced they have stopped processing visa applications from Ebola-affected West African countries and will cancel all temporary visas granted, causing a storm of domestic and international criticism. William Davies, a refugee from Liberia living in Australia has told the SBS that the decision is a death sentence. “It’s like someone is in the house that is burning with fire and this person is trying to get out of this house and someone is shutting the door on them, it means there is no more hope.”

Permanent visa holders still in Africa will be able to enter the country and will have to complete a mandatory 21-day quarantine period. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison described these measures as an effort to ensure the virus does not spread to Australia. The move highlights the delicate balance between human rights, politics and the view that “drastic times call for drastic measures.”

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The Gold Coast University Hospital is not a designated treatment hospital for Ebola in Queensland, however, could still see suspected cases.

So far all suspected cases of Ebola in Australia have tested negative. But what are the protocols in place if the seemingly inevitable happens and a case is confirmed on our shores? A QLD Health spokesperson advised that Queensland has established a Communicable Disease Incident Management Team for Ebola, comprised of around 18 health experts.

All suspected cases attended by ambulance are to be taken to a designated hospital. QLD Health confirmed that the designated treatment facilities for suspected or confirmed Ebola cases in Queensland are the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the Princess Alexandra Hospital and the Mater Children’s Hospital. Queensland-based health workers returning from West Africa will be required to go into quarantine within two hours’ drive of Brisbane so they are within reach of a designated hospital.

However, there is the potential for an infected person to present at any hospital as a walk-in patient. A Senior Nurse working in the Emergency Department at a large Brisbane Metropolitan hospital has provided an insight into the procedures in place.

Initial triage questions help the team to establish the risk of an Ebola infection, should a patient present with Ebola-like symptoms. The ensuing course of action hinges on the response to these questions; reminding us of the personal responsibility we each have in the protection of our country. Suspected Ebola patients will be placed in isolation immediately and from this moment onwards, just two senior members of staff will be permitted to enter their negative pressure room in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Blood tests will establish within 6 hours whether Ebola is present.

One of the heartbreaking characteristics of this Ebola crisis is that the very people who are doing the most to combat the outbreak are also being infected with the virus, even in developed countries. When questioned about whether this fact concerns her, the source stated that she “would have no problem treating a suspected Ebola patient. I am 100% happy with procedures we have.” These procedures include a member of the Infection Control Team acting as a spotter – watching to ensure that PPE is put on correctly in right order and, equally as importantly, ensuring it is taken off safely.

In the time of a potential crisis, communication between the public and government is key to maintain trust. The Nurse confirmed that if a case of Ebola is detected in Australia it is likely to be become public knowledge very quickly “everyone knows you can’t keep anything quiet in a hospital.”

Another key aspect of communication is informing the public about the ways in which Ebola can be transmitted. The potential saving grace of the virus is that, unlike viruses such as the Influenza and Measles that are airborne, Ebola is only infectious once symptoms appear and through contact with bodily fluids. It therefore spreads much more slowly, taking 66 days to infect 100 people, compared to Influenza that takes just 14 days as illustrated in a simulation by The Washington Post. However, the critical difference is the fatality rate, estimated to be up to 70% in the current Ebola outbreak.

Dr Allen Ross believes that the effectiveness of Australia’s response to the threat of Ebola will be determined in how it deals with the first few isolated cases, and its ability to contain these will establish whether an outbreak can occur here. If cases are not contained, the number of available isolation units is likely to serve as a limitation, as is the ability to contact trace an increasing number of people.

The jury is out on whether the measures taken by Australia to avoid an outbreak will be effective. The true capacity of our health system to deal with this threat is unlikely to be known unless it is put to the test.

However, the global community seems to be in agreement that in order to overcome Ebola we need to deal with the source of the outbreak in West Africa. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has declared, “This is more than an African crisis. It has become a global crisis which requires a global response, a massive global response.” Efforts up to now have been inadequate to contain the virus with the president of the World Bank, Jim Kim, highlighting that the international community had “failed miserably.”

A person in the position of authority does not make such statements lightly. They should be given notice warns Brian Owler, the President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), as public health officials are “trained to be conservative and moderate in language” when talking about such epidemics. Owler likens the Ebola outbreak to previous African crises such as the Rwandan genocide in the inability of Western nations to act as “a humanitarian disaster of similar proportions is unfolding” and questions whether we have “learnt from history, or whether we continue to accept massive loss of life in Africa as a regular phenomenon.”

Tulip Mazumdah has visited West Africa on three occasions, reporting for the BBC as their Global Health Correspondent. She has witnessed the situation on the ground first hand. She describes the sense of helplessness experienced by the people. “In these countries the health systems are weak and they can’t cope with it alone. A strong health system would be overwhelmed.”

The United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) was established on 19 September, in an effort to develop a much-needed coordinated international response. They have established a 70-70-60 target, with the goal of isolating and treating 70 per cent of suspected Ebola cases and safely burying 70 per cent of the dead within the 60 days to 1 December 2014. As this date draws closer the next few weeks are critical

There has been sustained criticism of the support provided by Australia to West Africa. Despite petitioning by the AMA, Australia is yet to send medical personnel to assist, choosing instead to provide funds to support others existing efforts. However, the upcoming G20 Summit in Brisbane gives Australia the opportunity to take a leading role and facilitate a unified response.

Giving Ebola a low priority has clear risks. “When a deadly and dreaded virus hits the destitute and spirals out of control, the whole world is put at risk” WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan reflects on the Ebola crisis 6 months in.

Dr Allen Ross stresses the importance of treating the Ebola virus with respect “we need to have a healthy fear. This is something very dangerous,” he warns, “the capacity of developed nations to contain a possible outbreak of the Ebola virus on their own soils should not be taken for granted.”

Many thousands of kilometers away in Sierra Leone, locals are trying to deal with the outbreak, but are painfully aware that they are not equipped to do it on their own and desperately need help. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for them at the moment. Will the world’s actions be adequate and provide this light? Despite the efforts of many, the effectiveness of the response up to now proves that there are no guarantees.

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Is a wave of poverty sinking Gold Coasters?

Scott Kovacevic investigates a wave of poverty threatening to sink Gold Coasters

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Alan Eastwood

The view from Alan Eastwood’s apartment, overlooking a disused bowling club, isn’t a dream vista. Overgrown grass lies sterile in the sun, bleached of colour, forgotten. But, to Alan, his apartment and its view are his most prized and wonderful possession. On a disability pension after a vicious assault left him unable to work, he pours every cent he receives into maintaining his home. But with no other source of income and faced with rising costs, Alan is struggling to keep a roof over his head. And he’s not alone, because on the Gold Coast an increasing number of residents are on the verge of homelessness.

Recent reports show one in seven people are living below the poverty line across Australia. It’s a sobering statistic, one that’s hitting the Gold Coast even harder with an increasing number of people seeking help from crisis services. Over the April-June financial quarter requests for assistance from Blair Athol’s HATS, (providing help to people at risk of homelessness), have nearly doubled. A perfect storm of Government service funding cuts, coupled with a sky-rocketing service costs and a stagnant local economy, is sending more residents spiralling into poverty. For many Gold Coast residents, the reality is that you don’t need to be homeless to need help.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Alan’s disability pension ensures he has a roof over his head. But once the rates, utilities and mortgage have been paid, there’s not much left for things like food. “Water here in this little tiny unit is now $100 a month,” he says. “It really is quite ridiculous… money is one of the things we just don’t have much of.” It’s left him relying on charity organisations for meals and he’s not alone. Rosies outreach services say that 50% of patrons at some of their Gold Coast venues have some form of safe accommodation. Blair Athol Accommodation and Support agrees, saying there is clearly a growing trend. Liz Fritz, Blair Athol’s Co-ordinator, is seeing it first hand that for people on Gold Coast, having a home or job is no longer enough to survive.

“What we’re finding is that more of our people that do come for our services have some form of work,” she says. “For example, we have a family – Mom, Dad, two kids – where his take home pay after tax for the week was $622. Now, these people are paying $480 a week in rent and you can see that even with another $150 a week from the Family Tax Benefit there’s not much money left. The mom used to work full-time, but now she’s got two young children to take care of.” She says that overall, the Gold Coast’s homeless network is running at capacity. More and more people are struggling to stay afloat.

Statistically, house rental cost on the Gold Coast sits beneath only Darwin and Sydney. Renting a unit is cheaper than other major cities, but will still set you back $370 per week, numbers compounded by the Gold Coast having a higher rental ratio than both Queensland and Australia. But it’s not just the rent that’s causing stress. Costs for services like electricity and childcare have risen, and the Gold Coast’s stalled job market only adds to the pressure. According to Government estimates the number of local jobs has barely changed over the last five years, despite a steady increase in the population. In fact, Gaven MP Dr. Alex Douglas believes that the official rates of unemployment are worse than reported. “I’d follow the Roy Morgan numbers,” he says “and they show that true unemployment is closer to 10%, and the underemployment level- which we thought was 14%- could be as high as 20-25% in regional places.” He believes underemployment is the biggest concern, with more people forced to cobble multiple jobs together- and it still may not be enough.

Gaven Electorate

Gaven Electorate

Sitting in the heart of Nerang, the electoral office lives cheek to cheek with the economic downturn. The shop next door is vacant, a ‘For Lease’ sign hanging in the window with no indication when it will be shelved. There are several others lingering in windows less than two blocks away. It’s a sign of the times, and Dr. Douglas believes that both Council and Government have contributed to it. “They have done absolutely nothing… in fact, they’ve cut bus services. [In Nerang], you can’t get a bus after 4:30 in the afternoon or on a Saturday or Sunday.”

Alan Eastwood sees it every day. He relies on the Gold Coast’s public transport service to get around, and he says the system isn’t as convenient as it used to be. “We do see a lot of dead bus stops around, where they’ve cut back the bus services tremendously.” As well as it being harder to get to charity and meal support, he says, concession services aren’t always helpful either. “We do get a little sticker on our Go-Card which gives us free travel between 8:30am and 3:30pm from Monday to Friday- but on buses only. If you go on the new tram you must pay.”

Bus fares are just a small part of the problem, though. Gold Coast residents are struggling with larger financial commitments, too. Through June 2014, the northern end of the Gold Coast had the second highest number of debtors in Queensland, and there are claims that Gaven has one of the highest bankruptcy rates in the state. But Dr. Douglas says people’s financial troubles aren’t stopping Governments from trying to collect on their debts at all costs.

“A fellow come to me saying that SPER (State Penalties Enforcement Registry) told him he needs to eat less food. They said he’s got to cut back on his food consumption by $3-$5 a week to meet his commitments. This is a guy who had to retire early, he lives on a pension and he’s a volunteer. They said at one stage they’ll let him work it off, but then said that he can’t because he’s not fit enough… I mean, why do people think SPER isn’t being paid back? Because people don’t have any money. And people might say these are just the one’s and two’s, but it’s not. There are a lot of people affected in the same way.” The intense push by Government to ‘balance the budget’, he says, is stretching people’s incomes beyond breaking point.

Liz Fritz says this belt tightening is causing nervousness within the homeless assistance network, too. “We do know that National Government policy is really wanting to save money, and crisis services are very expensive to run… We’re not certain of the future of emergency relief funding. The Federal Government hasn’t announced the grants for the future yet. We’re still waiting.” Until then all funding is only confirmed until September 30, 2015, while the Government reviews policy with a look at realigning available funding and services. What the final outcome could be is anyone’s guess, leaving charity organisations to secure funding from other sources. Rosies media liaison Cat Milton is quick to point out a problem there, though: there’s only so far money can spread if everyone’s asking for it. And she says private funding can be affected by an increase in poverty, too. “Organisations like Rosies are very much reliant on public generosity, and obviously the harder people are doing it the less they give to us.” And at what point do the existing charity services overload?

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Lee Walsh and Alan Eastwood

For Lee Walsh, retirement hasn’t been as financially secure as he’d hoped. He and his wife own two apartments between them, the fruit of their working years, but what should be a good deal is becoming a monetary nightmare. A recipient of the pension, Lee collects $500 a fortnight. His wife is still ineligible but collects rent from one of their apartments. “It produces $320 a week,” he says. “The Government says that $320 is income, but in reality there’s at least $120 going out in body corporate, and there’s also rates and electricity and water, so it’s really more like $150; but social security says we’re getting $320. So out of that we’re really getting $800 a fortnight that has to cover the two bedroom unit’s rates, body corporate, electricity, water and a car registration. And to sell the property now would entail a $55,000 dollar loss.” Managing their finances is big challenge for a lot of people, and finding help is getting harder.

Over the last 12 months the Queensland Tenancy Advice and Assistance Service has closed its doors, and the Federal Government has discontinued the National Rent Affordability Scheme. Local options have been cut, too: Queensland is the only state in Australia with no dedicated financial counselling program, and several financial counsellor positions on the Gold Coast have reportedly been axed. As a result, charities are finding accessing them is taking longer than ever. Smaller staffs are forced to deal with larger workloads, forcing people to wait longer. But, often, waiting is a luxury they cannot afford. Liz Fritz says that it’s the difference between having a home and living on the street.

“It’s easy for people to try to pay their electricity bills, and then they fall behind on their rent and then they become at risk of homelessness.” Even the old argument of simply working harder backfires in unexpected ways. “You only have to 50 cents over the margin of eligibility to lose a Government concession card, which gets them access to cheaper bus fares and prescriptions. We see people that have gone out and gotten themselves a few extra hours work and it’s pushed them over the threshold.” Having an extra job or extra hours brings added costs, and one step ahead quickly becomes three steps behind.

Once people do become homeless, Cat Milton says, they quickly find themselves caught in a snowball effect. “To get a Centrelink payment you need an address, so that’s a pretty big stumbling point right there. They process payments online now, which helps, but that requires access to an internet connection. Quite a number of our patrons have mobile phones- which allows them on the internet- but then they’ve got to charge it. If you have a phone that is charged then you are contactable, which means you can access your payments and be available for job interviews, but then being presentable for a job interview is quite tricky.

In a black and white world identifying and helping people before they become homeless is the ideal solution. It’s one the State Government has identified, recently providing new funding for Blair Athol’s HATS program. But reality is grey, and homeless assistance is plagued by a problem familiar to other social assistance groups. “People are embarrassed,” Liz says. “They never expected to be in these sorts of situations and find it very difficult to look for handouts.” Away from charities, people can be left asking their families for help; but even if they do, there’s no guarantee that their families aren’t struggling too, or even that their family lives on the coast. Some people then find only options left are to cheat the system or find work ‘under the table’.

Dr. Douglas believes we’re at risk of creating an underclass on the Gold Coast; that people that can’t afford help will be turned away by an overburdened system, which will result in more problems for generations to come with no ability to help them. Liz Fritz echoes this fear. “We can only do what we can do. So people will either be required to wait for services, or they just won’t be able to get them.” And if charities can no longer help, where will Gold Coast residents like Alan and Lee turn then?

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Behind the Gold Coast’s Crystal Meth Scene

Amanda Wust investigates crystal meth on the Gold Coast.

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A half dressed man is dragged into the bright Hospital ward by two uniformed police officers. In a flash the man snaps out of his previously calm state. Rage boils as he struggles to free himself from the police. He throws one elbow into the police officer on his right, knocking him to the ground and within seconds he throws a punch at the male nurse who has come to restrain him. Over the next few minutes the man frees himself from the grasp of the police and hospital workers. He picks up a metal bin and throws it through the nearest glass window. Seconds later the man is screaming, as police and security officers pin him to the ground.

This is a scene from the Australian Government’s 2007 drug awareness ad on Ice illustrating one of the many side effects of Crystal Meth use.

In 2013, the National Drug Strategy Household Survey report revealed that around 8 million (42%) of the Australian population over 14 years of age admit to having used drugs illicitly at some point in their lives.

Although the report showed no significant increase in the use of Methamphetamines, there was a dramatic increase in “Ice” as the preferred form of Methamphetamines and the frequency of its use since 2010.

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Figure 2: Shows data collected from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey Report

Methamphetamine hydrochloride also known as “Crystal Meth” or “ICE” is one of Australia’s biggest drug problems due to the availability, purity level, health and social issues, and links with criminal activity.

Crystal Meth (Ice) is the most dangerous form of Methamphetamine as it has a higher purity level and its methods of use are considered faster acting and more ‘intense’.

Crystal Meth has been making headlines around Australia in recent years, in fear of an “Ice epidemic”.

Local police and drug organisations say that Crystal Meth has always been prominent here in Queensland and that although there has been a rise in use and arrests, it is not in ‘epidemic’ proportions here on the Gold Coast.

These fears of an “ice age” arise from the government-run Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/2013, which reveals a surge in the production, distribution and use of Crystal Meth, throughout Australia.

The report suggests that while Cannabis remains the number one drug in the illicit drug market in Australia, Amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) (including Crystal Meth) are increasing in prominence, with ATS accounting for 24.2% of all illicit drug seizures.

According to the report, both the number and weight of ATS detections (excluding MDMA) at the Australian border increased to the highest on record in 2013, with the detections being predominately Crystal Meth and methylamphetamine liquid.

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Figure 3: Data collected from the ACC Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/13

The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) reports that within the drug user population surveyed in the yearly Illicit Drug Data Report, the number of users that have recently used Crystal Meth, has steadily increased from 45% in 2011 to 55% in early 2013 findings.

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Figure 4: Data Collected from the ACC Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/13

Australian Crime Commission’s Illicit Drug Data Report 2012/2013 reveals Queensland as Australia’s number one location for clandestine lab recoveries.

Since July 1st 2013, the State Drug Squad have seized $36.9million worth of drugs and 340 drug laboratories, with approximately $2million of drugs and equipment seized here on the Gold Coast since October 2011 by the Major and Organised Crime Squad

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Figure 4: Detective Inspector Scott Knowles

Detective Inspector Scott Knowles of the Major and Organised Crime Squad on the Gold Coast says that approximately 25 illicit drug laboratories have be dismantled by police on the Gold Coast in 2014 to date.

Detective Inspector Knowles has spent the past 3 years working as part of the Major and Organised Crime Squad which investigates serious criminal syndicates on the Gold Coast that present a significant risk to the local community.

He says that the majority of his investigative work into criminal syndicates leads back to the local and national drug scene.

“We focus on extortion syndicates, but ultimately it always leads back to drugs. I’d say about 95% of the investigations we do have a drug connection,” he says.

Although Detective Inspector Knowles says that Cannabis is the “top” drug on the Gold Coast (due to it’s label as a ‘soft drug’), it’s closely followed by one of the most dangerous drugs – Crystal Meth, also known as ‘Ice’.

He suggests that Queensland has a particular appetite for amphetamines due to its party and tourism atmospheres.

“Amphetamines doesn’t just cover crack, it covers ecstasy, MDMA, all those party drugs. As a result, of the environment  here on the Gold Coast and in Queensland, there is a particular appetite for that type of drug,” he says.

Detective Inspector Knowles says that there is no Ice epidemic; instead he suggests that it’s only being portrayed that way because the media reports are focused on what police are recovering.

He says that due to the increased funding, there are now approximately one thousand extra police tackling the drug issue in South East Queensland, leading to more arrests.

Despite this point of view from local police, a report aired on ABC AM radio station revealed that new data released by the Pennington Institute in Melbourne, shows that hospitalisations from Ice have doubled around Australia.

Dr Rebecca McKetin from the Australian National University, interviewed in the report, says that the number of people seeking treatment for methamphetamine use is rising, driven by the increase in people using Crystal Meth now looking for help.

“And we have seen that across most of the jurisdictions. We’ve seen it predominantly in Victoria, but we’re starting to see the same trends emerging in New South Wales, in Western Australia, in South Australia and also to some extent in Queensland,” she says.

While an influx of Crystal Meth use may be present in Victoria, Dr Fairlie McIlwraith a Queensland Coordinator for drug research from the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre (QADREC), says that from her research of 300 regular Metropolitan South East Queensland drug users, there has been no significant peak in Crystal Meth use in Queensland.

“The use of Crystal Meth has increased… but this is not an upward trend this year,” she says.

According to Dr McIlwraith’s research from the Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System 2013 report, in 2012-2013 approximately 282 out of the 9,616 people recorded by Queensland Ambulance Service as being treated for an over dose, were related to Amphetamine use.

Dr McIlwraith and her colleague Dr Andrew Smirnov both state that their research does not give a significant indication for what may or may not be happening in rural areas.

Recent news reports from rural Queensland have increased fears of Crystal Meth taking its hold in small Queensland communities, such as the Darling Downs where a local rehabilitation center said they’ve seen a large spike in the use of ‘Ice’ amongst patients.

But local rehabilitation centers here on the coast say that they haven’t seen a dramatic increase.

Suzi Morris, the Community Services Manager at Lives Lived Well, has a similar view to Detective Inspector Knowles, saying that she wouldn’t say that there’s an ‘Ice epidemic’, but instead just a steady increase here on the coast.

“There’s a lot of media around meth labs, but we haven’t seen a spike in use. What we’ve seen is that it is consistently the drug of choice and concern. I wouldn’t call it an epidemic; it is on the increase but not in that sort of proportions,” she says.

Lives Lived Well is the new brand that combines three of Queensland’s top drug and alcohol foundations: the Gold Coast Drug Council, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation in Queensland and the Queensland Drug and Alcohol Foundation in Far North Queensland.

The organisation provides a variety of drug and alcohol services to the Gold Coast ranging from the Mirikai residential program to around 9 or 10 outreach programs dealing with family therapy, family support groups, youth groups, health promotion and more.

Suzi Morris believes that Meth is dominate on the Gold Coast particularly with the younger age group of 17 to 25 year olds due to its price, accessibility and ‘party label’, which goes hand in hand with their impulse/risk taking behaviour.

“It’s a drug that gives young people a really fully sense of themselves, they see themselves as invincible, like nothing’s going to harm them,” she says.

She suggests that this is the reason that it is such a danger to the local community.

“You have very distorted view of yourself when you are using. You do things that you would not normally do … A young person who would never even think about running into a service station and holding up that servo, will do it if they are on meth cause they don’t have any control over their impulse,” she says.

When asked to comment on this issue a Queensland Health media spokesperson responded by saying that Queensland Health recorded 64,832 occasions of service in 2013 relating to ‘all’ amphetamine use.

Of these 64,832 occasions, 46% (approximately 29,823) occasions of service were recorded as specific amphetamine types, and 50% of recorded amphetamines types were recorded as Crystal Meth, much higher than any other amphetamine recorded.

Queensland Health revealed that an increase in the reported use of Crystal Methamphetamine has been recorded in 2013

Queensland Health also stated that while there was no significant increase in the recorded use of amphetamines in 2013 nationally, there was a dramatic increase in the number of uses now using Crystal Meth.

The Australian Crime Commission’s, acting Chief Executive Officer Paul Jevtovic, expressed his concern of Methylamphetamine appearance in Australia, suggesting that it is the highest risk illicit drug in the Australian market.

“Crystal Methylamphetamine is emerging as a pandemic akin to the issue of ‘Crack’ cocaine in the United States, ” he says.

In another press release by the Australian Crime Commission on Mexican Cartels, Chief Executive Officer Chris Dawson suggested a link between the Australian illicit drug market and Mexican cartels.

“Transnational crime groups, including those based in Mexico, consider Australia an option for importation and distribution of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals, because the price they can obtain is significantly higher than that on Mexican and US streets,” he says.

A few months ago in an interview with The Courier-Mail, Taskforce Maxima Commander Detective Superintendent Mick Niland revealed that links between gangs and drugs are common.

“The links between gangs and illegal drug distribution is clearly evident. This is why we are targeting them as their criminal activities are far reaching and impact on everyday Queenslanders,” he says.

For years here in Australia, there have been links between bikie gangs and the distribution of drugs in Australia, with multiple bikie arrests leading to drug charges in Queensland and other states.

A recent feature by the ABC’s Four Corners revealed that drug cartels are moving their business out into small country towns where there’s a lack of treatment facilities and police are severely under resourced.

Detective Inspector Knowles says that enhanced investigative methodologies and increased resources are the reason for the increasing numbers of arrests being made by Gold Coast Police. good

“The dominant increase in the amphetamine recovery is because of the increase in police officers. What you are seeing, if you actually look at the figures is not the high end dealers and produces, but a lot of the users are being arrested because we’ve got extra police in uniform out on the streets intercepting these people,” he says. good

While Detective Inspector Knowles suggests that the Queensland Government and Queensland Police are doing their best to tackle drugs in Queensland, he says the community plays a significant role in the arrests of drug users and dealers.

“If the community is going to be blinded to this sort of thing than the effectiveness of the police is degraded. It’s only through their observations that our effectiveness increases. Without a doubt the majority of investigations we’ve conducted here at the Major Organized Crime Squad are founded on information from the public,” he says.

Detective Inspector Knowles describes how community members don’t always report suspicious behaviour, even after something major has occurred.

“About a month ago we had the explosion down here in the garage, without a doubt that was amphetamine production. Again neighbours report detecting smells and unusual activities occurring, but didn’t report it. They didn’t even report it to police once the explosion happened,” he says.

eye design clothes

Labour pains: The dilemmas faced by Asian mothers on the Gold Coast

Emma investigates the dilemmas faced by Asian mothers living on the Gold Coast

Asian mothers living on the Gold Coast want to be part of the Australian community and healthcare, but when they are unable to follow cultural practices during labour and after birth they can be left feeling sad, anxious and helpless.

eye design clothes

eye design clothes

Faye is a young Chinese mother, whose baby was born at the GCUH.  Faye says she was not happy and she suffered anxiety, although she admits she was provided with a very professional medical service.

Faye said it was a painful process of waiting for the baby to be born made worse because staff were not aware of the different cultural health practices. “During that time, the nurse constantly brings ice water to me and urges me again and again to drink the water.” However, Faye said she could not drink the water, because she thought that drinking the water with ice will increase the pain. In addition, she said, the nurse also gave her cold water after giving birth and emphasized that drinking water would assist in milk production, which made her feel very anxious.

In fact, Faye cannot accept the cold water due to her own culture. “Since my childhood I was told that if I am in poor health condition I cannot drink cold water at all, especially after a woman just giving birth.” Although Faye was very upset at that time, she drank the ice water because she did not know how to say no.

In addition, there is another thing that made her feel disappointed. She said, “My son has to wear a special clothes with eyes design at the first time after he birth, which was prepared by her grandma, but I failed to fulfil this custom in Australia.” Faye did not dare to mention this with her family.

To wear clothes with the eye pattern is a very important practice for newborns, which represents the auspicious life and newborn babies will have a bright future. However, because there is no timely communication with the nurse this led to her baby failing to fulfil this important custom, which made her very upset.

Annie, another Chinese mother living on the Gold Coast, whose baby was born late last year, had decided to make the trip back to her hometown to give birth, because she felt that it would be better than giving birth in Australia. She took a more than ten hours’ flight back to China, when she was almost eight months pregnant. Annie said that she and her husband felt overwhelmed with facing the new baby’s birth, and they also was concerned about how to provide a good postnatal care for the new mother in Australia.

In non-western cultures, there are many health practices, especially in terms of postnatal care, and some rules need to be strictly abided by. That is why Faye cared about the temperature of the water and why Annie was so worried about the complex rules for the postnatal care and went back to China to give birth.

In Western cultures, once the baby is born, the all focus is on the baby rather than the mother. The common practice is to celebrate the baby with baby showers and visits from friends and family who come bring gifts all for the baby. However, Non-Western cultures place great attention on the health and recovery of the new mother. There are many different beliefs and practices in non-cultures and two common belief of which play significant roles.

One common belief is to maintain balance between hot and cold within body and environment, especially in the period of postpartum care. According to Karen’s blog, the concepts of hot-cold balance in healthcare area have a long history in the traditional cultures of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, which also called humoral theories. Karen writes that because the blood is considered hot and after women give birth the body condition is considered cold, to keep warm and avoid touch cold stuff is very important in order to recover humoral balance. Therefore, it is easy to understand why Faye was so concerned about the cold water that the nurse gave her.

Dana, a Korean new mother, whose baby was born in the GCUH, says in Korean culture new mothers are not allowed to eat cold or hard foods, nor can they be exposed to cold weather and cannot take showers. However, in Australian hospital the air-conditioner is open all the time and nurse always urged her to take shower that made she felt so cold and anxious after she give birth.

The second common practice is to encourage rest and confinement up to 40 days after birth to regain energy and strength, and during postpartum period women’s internal organs and tissues will be recovered. In Karen’s blog, there are many different postpartum care experience related to many countries, such as Korea, China, Indonesia and Vietnam. She said some rituals, behavioral restrictions and proscription of the postnatal care aim to make sure that the new mother can restore energy to focus on caring for her baby and herself.

Dana said, in Korean, they call the postpartum care samchilil, in which period there are so many behavioral restrictions and special diet for milk production. Miyuk-kuk is the traditional soup and is prepared for new mothers to eat at least 2-3 times a day during samchilil. “The meal in the hospital don’t suitable for me and to prepare miyuk-kuk and deliver it to hospital is too much trouble, so I went back home from the hospital as soon as possible.”

Zubida

Zubida and Emma

In addition, Zubida is an Iraqi mother, had her the second baby in Australia. She said, she stayed in door for 40 days after giving birth. In her culture, people believe that because of lochia, the normal discharge from the uterus after childbirth, women after birth are believed to be susceptible to evil spirits, so they do not leave their homes, and are not allowed to cook or clean for the first 40 days. Zubida said, after she gave birth, her parents came to Australia and dedicated to take care of her for the postnatal care. She said, “If there was no relatives come for help, I would really feel very helpless, also cannot cope with such a long time to take care of myself.”

Australia is a multicultural country, Queensland government pays attention to the cultural dimensions of pregnancy, birth and post-natal care. On Queensland Government’s website, there are many multicultural clinical support resource.The profiles present health and socio-cultural information which focuses on the pregnancy, birth and post-natal care practices of 11 multicultural communities in Queensland, as well as general information about each community. It encourages healthcare providers to actively explore cultural issues with patients and cautions against stereotyping.

GCUH 1

Gold Coast University Hospital

In addition, the GCUH also actively deals with the cultural differences that exist in the hospital, and constantly develop and perfect their medical services. Julie works in the GCUH as an obstetric nurse. She told me in email that as a nurse, it requires cultural knowledge and ability to provide multicultural services. Moreover, the GCUH is providing interpreters, group supports and other resources according to clients’ requirement. “Health workers are given continuous education through lectures online and face-to-face encounters about multicultural problems and their corresponding solutions.”  The GCUH are also distributing pamphlets, T-shirts and video materials advocating the solutions about cultural difference in health care system.

In the interview with Julie, I asked why these dilemmas  still exist. Julie said that Faye’s experience was a  vivid example of failure in rendering a holistic nursing care and management.  “As a nurse, it is a part of our professional ethics to consider and respect the rights of our patients and their families. Nurses should know their patients beyond their presenting problems but also their religion, beliefs, race, traditions and customs in order to give a better nursing care base on the nursing standards. However, not all Asian women are bound to follow their native cultures and traditions. Some of them are already exposed to more westernized way of living. So it always safe and advisable to treat each client individually.” Therefore, in these bad experiences, such as the cold water, the eye design clothes, and the shower and air-conditioner matters, she thinks the main problem is lack of an effective communication.

In terms of how to improve the effectiveness of communication, she said “I have a Chinese patient that can only speak Mandarin and few English words. She cannot understand our instructions and queries. This is an example of language barrier that can affect in the rendition of our care to her. ” In this situation, an interpreter should be arranged in order to have a better communication and to uplift a better nursing care and management. Furthermore, she said “nurses should not give up on one of the many barriers that we encounter on a daily basis. Instead, we should be encouraged to find ways to remove any hindrances that can affect the standard of our care.”

The problem that some Asian women feel helpless when they face to their own postnatal care and the confinement, Julie mentioned that currently the GCUH has upgraded the postpartum tracking service. A family doctor will visit to new mothers’ home after they leave the hospital and doctors will assist in their health and give some effective rehabilitation guidance. The family doctor will visit the new mothers every day during the first week, and the number and frequency of visit will gradually decrease with the degree of rehabilitation and needs. The GCUH wants to provide good healthcare for each new mother when they back home from the hospital. Although it cannot help them with household chores, family doctor will try to give them support and help.

At the end of the interview between Faye and I, Faye said, in Chinese cultural saying ”no” to the person who gives you help is very impolite, which means she cannot to refuse others offers to help. She also believes that the reasons causing her bad experiences are lack of initiative to communicate with the nurse. In the future, she said, if she wants to integrate into Australian community and becomes apart of them, it is important to conduct effective communication.

Culture plays a significant role in the way a woman perceives and prepares for her birthing experience. As Julie said, everyone knows that each culture has their own values, beliefs and practices related to pregnancy and birth. Not all Asian women are bound to follow their native cultures and traditions, and some of them are already exposed to more westernized way of living. However, there are other women who still consider that to follow their own traditional pregnancy and birth practices is very important. Queensland government believe that “if health care providers are familiar with different ideas, rituals and behavioural restrictions and proscriptions, and communicate with the women for whom they care, then women from different backgrounds will have more choices.”

At the end, Julie said, some Asian women still have the problems of multicultural service and face to some dilemmas, which is an inspiration for them to be more assertive and to ask preferences depending on their culture. For instance, “if a mother will ask for a glass of water, it is always advisable to ask her what she preferred: hot, warm, lukewarm, or cold water.”

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Same Sex Marriage: China and Australia

Same Sex Marriage in China and Australia by Jian Yuan Guo

Same Sex Marriage or No Same Sex Marriage? Who is to determine what is right for society or not right for society? The acceptance of Same Sex Marriage within Australia has under gone significant speculation? What about the Chinese population? From a recent survey conducted by the Chinese Government, Chinese homosexuals are numbered to be 30 million. Whilst in Australia, homosexuals are accounted for approximately 23,000. JianYuan Guo investigates the differences of Chinese and Australian homosexuals living under different circumstances and pressures of society.

Homosexuality, in fact is a social phenomenon, that has existed for thousands of year. Historically, many talented artists, philosophers have been regarded as being gay, such as Socrates, Plato, Michelangelo, Whitman, and many other excellent gay celebrities. However, the notion of homosexuality has been noted as being against the traditional society and moral standards. Up until today, the homosexual community is still an extremely marginalized sub-group, and often regarded as alien, which is not accepted by mainstream society.

Due to the differences in of the Chinese population the perception of values, communication and information channels are substantially different to the modern day Australian population. In China, it has been reported by homosexuals that, significant amounts of speculation, jealousy and social pressure arises. Due to the lack of respect and acceptance from the general Chinese Community, seriously affecting the livelihood and mental health on the individual. Many same sex partners believe, if same sex marriage is approved, it will be the best way to be respected from the heterosexual community, whilst also eliminating discrimination and injustice.

In 1997, the Chinese Government abolished the Hooligan law, an act considered by most to decriminalize homosexuality and in 2001, the Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of disorders. From such changes, the social status of homosexuals has changed, however, this special group in China is still discriminated and living under large social pressures. Most homosexuals in China are forced to marry heterosexuals by their family. From ancient traditions, a Chinese saying that ‘those who lack filial piety, are the worst especially those who have no children’. From such traditions, young women as young as 25 are forced to marry and bear children from a young age to fulfill their responsibility and carry no shame to their family name.

In China, at least 80% of the 30 million homosexuals have been or about to enter into marriage with heterosexuals by covering their homosexual identity, where they face pressure from society and tradition. In other words, at least 24 million homosexuals will build a family with heterosexuals. Undoubtedly, the specially arranged marriage makes it difficult to achieve a couple’s obligations such as sex, which will cause detrimental psychological pain, even tragedy in these marriages.

Jie Tan (alias) is a 26 year old Chinese lesbian whose girlfriend has been forced to marry to a man by her parents. “She did not want to break her parents’ heart, so she chose to marry a man, which she had only met for 2 months. She called me before her wedding and asked me whether or not I would hate her because she chose to follow her parents’ wishes. I was heart broken, but realized that I cannot do anything to change this situation,” says Jie

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Jie Tan

  

Jie says her girlfriends marriage is going badly. “She always feels that she must fulfill an obligation  when her husband asked for sex, but she instinctively curls her body up, and feels very frightened and scared. She also told me that she is very obnoxious when her husband tries to have sex with her. She assumes that her husband also feels disappointed and suspicions,” says Jie.

In China, few homosexuals would be brave enough to admit their sexual orientation. Many of them have heterosexual spouses. Occasionally some homosexuals have a marriage where they are able to reach an “agreement” with their spouses in order to reduce social pressures on themselves and camouflage a homosexual orientation.

According to Jie, “Some Chinese lesbians would have a ‘boyfriend’ to cover their sexual orientation. They would make an agreement after marriage to not interfere with each other’s personal life. In order to get along in the future. In fact, this is a last resort option, but compared with the marriage with heterosexual, at least they did not cheat on each other and will not be condemned by themselves and have a little bit of comfort.”

Many homosexuals in China believe the fundamental way to solve this problem is for the Government to approve to same sex marriage. They believe that legal marriage would objectively correct the understanding of homosexuality, eliminate prejudice, and build social respect. These homosexuals believed that the family recognition is one of the important ways to change the plight of 30 million homosexuals in order solve these special issues.

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Lydia Chan

Interview with Lidia Chan 

Lidia Chan (alias) is an Australian lesbian. She said “ most of my family members have not disagreed with my relationship with a girl. However, they would prefer if I choose a boy, but if I insist on choosing a girl, they would accept that. However, I have been discriminated by several family members. They believe that a homosexual relationship will not have a happy ending.”

In Australia, society and media have given homosexuals more attention than China. In Sydney, there is an annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras Parade which is held in Sydney CBD, and Australia also has a lot of non-profit organizations and communities which support homosexuals to get their rights.

However, although Australia seems to be an open country, Same Sex Marriage has not yet been approved. On October 22, 2013, Australian Capital has approved Marriage Equality Act, however, on December 12, 2013, the High Court of Australia ruled that same-sex marriage is invalid.

“We would not expect and influence people to become homosexuals. We just only want equal opportunity and support. We believe marriage is only way to achieve it. Most homosexuals have found out that they are homosexuals from a young age, and we have never be in love with the opposite sex, we psychologically are limited to our choice,” says Chen

Though investigation, I found out that most homosexuals in both countries have suffered long term discrimination and unrecognized relationships which can lead to detrimental  behaviors. In China, it was founded that 30% to 35% had ‘Strong Suicidal Thoughts’; 9% to 13% had ‘Suicidal Behavior’; 67% felt ‘Very Lonely’; and 63% felt ‘Quite Depressed’. Comparatively in Australia, suicide is also amongst the high levels of risk amongst lesbians and gays. Of the 4,824 people from the electoral roll in Canberra, it showed that gay men were at a higher risk to suicide than heterosexual men.

Chen says, “so much mutual victimization behavior only would appear when this group generally suffers severe rejection. It is not a personality problem. It is a reason why we really want to be respected from heterosexuals, and we think if the government approves gay marriage, it can influence the thought from the next generation and radically change the situation to be a more acceptable society.”

Although Australia is an multi-cultured country, Australia has been structured with a strong Christian belief. On October 22, 2013, when the Australian Capital approved the Marriage Equality Act, Sydney’s main Christian churches made a coordinated appeal against same-sex marriage straight from the pulpit in a bid to rally in opposition and arranged anti-gay marriage marches before the federal parliamentary vote. To clarify issues, I asked Lilian Chen (alias) a Christian, to understand why so many people disagree with same sex marriage. I met her at of a quiet restaurant close to her home.

“In Bible, God has taught us that homosexuality is crime. In Leviticus 20:13, it clearly states, that if a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” Lilian Chen said, “ In fact, the same sex marriage is not only destroys traditional marriage, the ultimate conspiracy is to combat and destroy the church which was built by God.”

Bible’s photo

I asked her if the government approving the same sex relationship was part of  protecting human rights?”

Lilian: “Protecting equal marriage rights is for those who meet the criteria of equal marriage. If the government approves legislation of same sex marriage, then, multilateral marriage (open sexual relationships), and even the human-animal marriages are likely to be approved in the future. If we do not approve it, people would say the activity is against the human right.”

Lilian also added “Moreover, If government approves legislation of same sex marriage, it might increase the rate of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).”

In 1981, the first cases of AIDS found in the world were a male homosexual. According to the Chinese Health Ministry’s figures released last year, the Chinese male homosexual HIV infection rate was reported to be 1.35%. This figure is nearly twenty times higher than the rate of infection general population.

Many people correspond the thought of AIDS with homosexuality. Due to a large population of homosexuals, and often accompanied by high-risk sexual behavior, homosexuals have a higher risk of AIDS.

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Lillian Chen

Interview with Lilian Chen 

In China, many homosexuals establish a family and have children with heterosexuals. But many of them conceal their homosexual identity to their wives in what is called “double life.” This is quite common situation in the homosexual community.

A potential danger is that if her husband is having sex with men who are infected with AIDS virus, his wife has very high probability to be infected. Once the virus spreads to many families, it would not be only that family which has be spread due to the “double life”. It is no longer a simple issue of homosexuality, but will evolve into a social problem. That is a reason why so many people would not support homosexuals, even the legislation of homosexuals’ marriage.

 I asked Chen what option were available for homosexuals. Can it be “cured”?

Lilian: “ Yes, actually, I have seen many cases of homosexuals have been cured in our church after they follow the teaching from God and try their best to become a cleansed person.”

This view is not a common one, and one that is rejected by most experts and people in the community.

Like many homosexuals in China Jie admits she was taken to a psychiatrist when she was a teenager.

 “ I used to force myself. I did not in speak or contact with any girls. I tried to look for boys but it made me unhappy, really unhappy. As long as I am such a person, I’d rather have nothing, I really think so.”

For Jie the treatment “failed”.  “Once I started to find who I am, I found true peace in my mind. Correction or a treatment is based on an idea, the idea is that homosexuality is wrong thing. In fact, in nature, a tree does not have totally the same leaves. In the world, people are different as well. So, I want to get married with my lover, because I can not change who I am and I want to have the a same rights as heterosexuals.”

On the day, the Australia High Court overturned same-sex marriage laws, many Australians have posted their views on Twitter. Sarah Hanson-Yong is a Greens Senator, she said:Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.53.34 am

Actually, if everyone can treat the same sex marriage like what she thinks the future of same sex marriage would not be far away.