Stigma and mental illness

At first I didn’t have words for the story about the Italian woman whose baby was taken by UK social services. Yesterday I was planning things out but back pain took priority. As it turns out I’m glad I waited because there are more pieces out now that fill in some information, including a transcript of the placement hearing. This isn’t because the new information changes my initial reaction, but it does add to it, as do some of the opinions other people have expressed.

The basic facts of the case are: an Italian woman, whose name has been given in Italian media but not English, has a history of bipolar disorder. She has two previous children who are in the custody of her parents due to her illness. She has had medication but taken it sporadically, as people with mental illness often do – once the medication begins to work, you feel better, so you think you don’t need it anymore and stop taking it. Rinse and repeat. This is incidentally another symptom of stigma, as people don’t want to accept that they have to rely on medication long term. Accepting that you’ll be taking mood stabilising drugs for possibly the rest of your life is utterly terrifying. Everywhere you hear people talking about “Oh, I don’t want to take drugs for it” and opinion pieces about over-medicalisation and Big Pharma. It’s a point of shame. At any rate, this woman came to the UK in the first part of 2012, while pregnant to a Senegalese national, and while there suffered a bad episode; part of the new information that’s come out indicates that it was much worse than initially reported, though I’d already gotten the impression that it was fairly bad due to familiarity with mental illness. I’m not someone who hears “panic attack” in correlation with “five weeks in hospital” and imagines she just had a couple of hours of being upset. So, on June 13 of 2012 she was committed to care. On August 23, the Court of Protection issued an order giving permission for a caesarian section to be performed. Later that same day, the Local Authority took the baby daughter into care. This is another of the important points of clarification – it was not social workers who ordered the C-section. It was doctors. However, this may actually be worse, because there is also a long history in the medical profession of racism and sexism and often I think people are willing to criticise social workers when they won’t criticise doctors, because doctors can talk about medical necessity that’s beyond what laymen understand. Doctors are also much more able to act on their patriarchal notions. In the first half of the twentieth century, it wasn’t social workers sterilising the mentally ill who were deemed unsuitable to breed, it was doctors. So far I have not seen any discussion for the reasons given for the C-section, and I hope someone finds the transcript of the session in the Court of Protection, because I’d be interested to know. Quite possibly it was for strictly medical reasons, but right now we have nothing that says one way or the other.

So, at some point after the birth the mother returned to Italy. She was still very unwell at that point but kept telling staff at the hospital she wanted to go home. (She also said she wanted her baby, but apparently she was ok to make one decision and not the other.) The judge in the placement transcript is pretty critical of the doctors letting this happen and also because it seems the doctors’ reports indicated at that point that she was in better health than she was, whereas her doctors in Italy gave a quite different picture. During this period of treatment she realised the seriousness of her condition, that she needed to stay on her medication, and that she could not take care of any of her children if she didn’t. By the time of the placement hearing, which was on February 1 in 2013, she was still on her medication and apparently very stable. The transcript repeatedly emphasises how coherent and clear and even forceful she is at conveying her wishes. At this point the daughter in question was nearly six months old, which is apparently the critical consideration for the judge in the placement hearing.

You see, the expert advice is that a child should be in a stable situation by the time they are nine months old. The mother’s suggestion was that if the courts did not agree that she could take her baby home straight away, which she seemed to accept was likely, she could be placed essentially in the foster system for up to perhaps a year so that the mother could prove she was able to stay on her medication. At this point she was also securely employed and housed, had a medical support system, and was on much better terms with her family. Other possibilities were that the baby’s father could take her (this was deemed a “non-starter” as he was an overstayer in Italy) or in one piece it mentions that a family friend in the USA, who elsewhere is named as a relative, was willing to take her. On the other hand, if she was placed into the UK adoption system, finding a suitable family would be complicated by her unusual racial mix, her parents’ different religious backgrounds, and the fact that there may be a genetic tendency towards mental instability. (Possible, future disability.)

So at this point we’re in a court where a child’s birth mother is in complete control of her faculties, she has a stable situation, a secure income, family support, medical support, oh and also she’s not a citizen of this country and doesn’t plan to live there, and the only connection the child has with this country is that she was born there while her mother was visiting. But because it’s ideal that a baby should have a stable situation by nine months of age, and the mother might, sometime in the future, have a relapse, the judge decides the best course of action is to waive the requirement for parental consent to adoption and place the child, permanently, with a British family who do not share her racial or national background. So this woman, despite being basically in the best place she’s been in quite a number of years, has now had to go through a surgery that she did not consent to (which may have been necessary but was apparently not properly explained to her first by her account, as she says she did not know it was going to happen), and had her child placed for an adoption that she did not consent to (because it wasn’t ideal for the child to be placed in temporary foster care while her mother proved she wasn’t at risk of relapsing again).

Apparently some people, including identified feminists, think this is A-OK now. It wasn’t social workers who ordered the C-section, so everything’s dandy. The bipolar was worse than they assumed from the original phrasing, so the mother shouldn’t get a say in her child’s future. The father’s an undocumented immigrant of colour into Italy, so he’s not capable of taking custody. These things apparently make it all good for British doctors and British courts to perform non-consensual surgery on a foreign woman and place her brown child into permanent care in a country she has no connection with, with a family who don’t share her background. Oh, her mother can visit her, but even in Europe where travel is cheaper that’s still a huge cost, and still crosses national borders,  meaning any number of things could prevent free movement. And if this decision caused or causes her mother to relapse I’m sure that will be held up as proof that it was the right decision, not an unfair decision that had a hugely negative impact on someone who was turning her life around.

I have read a lot of the new information on this case today. I’ve read pieces opposed to what happened, I’ve read pieces in favour, I’ve read the original transcripts. Nothing I’ve read has changed my mind. The fact that mentally ill women can have a foreign country perform surgery on them, take their children into custody and place them into adoption without consent is terrifying and shameful, even if there’s a medical rationalisation, even if she had a breakdown, even if the father is a West African overstayer. No where in the transcript does the possibility of the child being placed into care in Italy come up, either. Why is it better for her to be legally adopted by a British family in the UK than by Italians in Italy? Granted, I don’t know what the foster and adoptive system in Italy is like, but this wasn’t even discussed as a possibility. Why did she need a C-section? Did she have complications, was the best medication too risky to take during pregnancy, did the doctors just think a mentally ill foreign woman shouldn’t have control over a baby? No idea. Even if these questions are answered, they don’t materially change how fucked up this case is from the perspective of people who actually know what it’s like to live with a severe mental illness. I imagine it’s worse for POC, because the racial element shouldn’t be overlooked.

A bad day for New Zealand

Today, the worst of the welfare reforms so far kick in. New groups will be required to start seeking full-time work – sickness beneficiaries, widows and mothers who don’t have children under 14. Anyone failing a drugtest will be booted from the benefit, and anyone with an outstanding warrant will have theirs cut to 50% if they have children and removed entirely if they don’t. This is not just people who’ve committed violent crimes, it is people who’ve been caught with pot or who have outstanding fines. In the logic of the government, if you can’t afford to pay back your fine, the appropriate punishment is to remove your main, and possibly only, source of income. It’s not a debtors prison, but perhaps it’s worse – at least prison feeds you and gives you somewhere to sleep.

At the same time, Auckland is passing a bill to ban begging, and Wellington has started a campaign called “Alternative Giving” to encourage people to instead donate to a group of six charities who are supposed to manage the money beggars would otherwise receive directly. There are a lot of issues with this idea, but I’m only going to write about one of them, which is the practicality on the part of the charities themselves. The thing is, getting money where it needs to go is incredibly complicated, especially if where it needs to go is to help vulnerable people. I can absolutely guarantee you from experience in the sector that the charities do not have contact with everyone in need. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, people fall through the cracks all the time, whether because they don’t know what they qualify for, don’t know where to go, or keep getting passed on to more “appropriate” places. Then there are people who are comfortable begging or performing for money, but not comfortable approaching a charity, which can feel more demeaning and less like actually working for it. Or there are people not comfortable with specific charities, such as the Salvation Army, or people who the charities aren’t comfortable with – some groups which make up a disproportionate number of homeless people risk being turned away completely from Christian organisations, or in more subtle cases the individual person they’re dealing with may deliberately or subconsciously not pass on relevant information. Or they might not know what resources are available for groups they don’t typically deal well with, like transgender people. Or there are no resources available because of the specific confluence of multiple factors (as one example, many women’s shelters don’t allow pets, but leaving pets behind in an abusive household is incredibly dangerous for them and in a lot of cases women are hugely unwilling to leave behind an animal that has likely been a source of emotional support). Not to mention the difficulties in forming or maintaining a relationship with someone who may not have any fixed point of contact. While prepaid phones can be fairly cheap now, not everyone has them, whether it’s due to it still being too expensive, not being comfortable with them, not being able to keep it charged, not physically being able to use them (Deaf, HoH, mute, certain physical conditions that affect the ability to press the buttons, etc), or the risk or possibility of having them stolen. And all of that is before considering the neurological, mental or emotional conditions that contribute to a person’s vulnerability and also make them more difficult to deal with for whatever reason.

Ultimately, we’re creating a situation that simultaneously removes a major source of support from a huge number of people, demands way too much of even more, while also forbidding them from attempting to use alternative channels because they make middle class and well off people uncomfortable. It’s terrifying, even moreso because it’s being framed in terms of how much money it will save. It would save even more to refuse to treat the resulting health problems and just let all of those affected die, but un/fortunately I don’t think the staff in emergency departments would go along with that idea, nor would that compensate for the related rise in crime as people lose legal means of survival.

A relationship in the nature of marriage

So the newest beneficiary bash involves extending legal responsibility for relationship fraud to the partner. So there’s been some discussion of abusive relationships, and in Question Time today Jacinda Ardern (I think?) asked about whether women in abusive relationships would have that taken into account.

In response, we were told that “an abusive relationship is not a relationship in the nature of marriage”.

This is an interesting position to take. There’s no specification of whether this means just for the purposes of this policy or in general, and if the latter, I would be extremely worried. In New Zealand de facto relationships have the same benefits as those who are legally married, for example, and especially regarding divorce and separation, many of the legislations set up were about protecting the partner who has been financially disadvantaged, usually the woman – especially in an abusive relationship. If abusive relationships hold a special category where they’re NOT regarded as similar to a marriage, does that leave grounds for someone to claim they don’t have to pay alimony? Particularly if the victim/survivor does not wish to lay charges, or if the abuse does not involve physical violence (or very little) – though I’m not confident about the government’s willingness to recognise the existence of emotional abuse – it seems like the main thing stopping people from doing this would be the implicit admission of abuse, but in my experience abusers are willing to do all sorts of seemingly self-destructive things purely out of bitterness if their victim finds a way to get away from them.

ETA: Further questions:

Does this mean that if someone is in an abusive relationship, they are allowed to tell WINZ they’re single?
What does this mean for the legal validity of abusive marriages? Does it render a divorce unnecessary?*

*This is clearly in a hypothetical world where an answer in Question Time is an accepted method of law interpretation rather than judges’ decisions.

CHILD CUSTODY rah rah FATHERS rah rah KIDS BEING STOLEN

The #INeedMasculismBecause hashtag is a thing of wonder. Aside from masculism being a ridiculous word, it’s been taken over by sarcastic non-MRAs saying things like “I want to be the first ever male President of this country” and “the lack of a Bechdel test for men is obviously discrimination by feminists” and “feminists keep flaunting their dead and injured when I express my hurt feelings”.

I made one submission before going outside to feed my rabbits, and lo and behold, when I returned I had a reply!

#INeedMasculismBecause I’m too lazy to look up the actual statistics on child custody court cases.

The response was telling me that in the US it’s 70% women, 10% men and 20% split. While I only have the New Zealand statistics to hand, I spent several tweets questioning what those US ones actually measured and giving the NZ ones as a comparison.

See, in New Zealand, of all the custody cases that go to family court, there are three different ways of reaching an outcome. 75% are decided through mediation. 20% are decided by a judge when one parent doesn’t bother showing up. 5% are decided by a judge when both parents do show up. Remember here, first of all, that these only go to court when the two parties can’t decide by themselves, so those 20% who don’t even show up is a pretty significant number who apparently can’t come to an agreement with their ex but once the legal system is involved suddenly don’t give a fuck. That’s eighty percent of the cases that go to a judge.

Of those that go to mediation and are decided on by both parents, 65% go to the mother, 11% to the father, 12% to a third party and 12% shared.

Of those decided by a judge, 19% go to the father, much higher than the 11% when the two parties decide by themselves.

The real kicker though is when you look at the percentage of male applicants and the percentage of female applicants who are awarded custody. That is, the person who brings the case to court because they want more than their ex-partner wants to give them. Of all female applicants, 69% are awarded custody. Sound like a lot? You might be surprised, then, to find that of all male applicants, 65% are awarded custody, nearly the same amount. (I suspect from the context that this is only a measure of sole custody, not shared, but could be wrong.)

According to these statistics, the argument that judges award custody to women willy-nilly despite the father’s earnest yearning to be with his kids is bullshit. Judges are much more likely to award the father custody than fathers are themselves in agreements between partners. If they don’t, there’s probably a reason – the children don’t want to live with the father, the father is not fit to be a parent, the father is constantly at work, the father has never once had a hand in their care before.

So it seems this argument in support of institutionalised misandry has a pretty simple solution. If you want custody, ask for it.

When government fails

Some months back, a seasonal Victorian firefighter was injured on the job. He suffered serious internal injuries and burns, bad enough that he was admitted to intensive care and had to spend months in rehabilitation. Then he was told that he would not be re-hired for the next summer. He was offered a week’s pay in settlement on the proviso that he not speak publically about the whole thing.

Money ran out and the ex-firefighter, Joe Brown, his partner Ben and their two cats became homeless. While the Fire Service claimed they were providing support, Joe says that he only ever had one meeting with Parks Victoria, that they underpaid him, and that he had been cleared to work by a doctor. He hasn’t been able to find work, and after losing their home it became a struggle just to keep up with living costs.

Here’s where Joe and Ben got lucky. Twitter user @Jamus_ set up a curation account in the style of @sweden, @PeopleofNZ and @WeAreAustralia, specifically to feature the homeless population of Melbourne. First Joe and then Ben each spent a week using the account to share their story. It helps that in many ways they fit into the model of the “deserving poor”, an ideal that has an extremely long history. Their situation was not of their own doing. Joe had held a frontline job in an extremely highly regarded profession, and was injured in the pursuit of that work. Neither of them have drug or alcohol problems or mental illness (with the exception of Joe’s likely PTSD, which he’s said is an effect largely of how he was treated while in recovery rather than the accident itself). They’re literate and well-spoken. In short, their problems couldn’t be attributed to any moral failing on their count – and if this could happen to a firefighter, a noble protector of the people in a country where fire is a seriously big deal, it could happen to anyone.

While tweeting from the account, Joe and Ben found an estate agent who’d let a flat to them. All they had to do was come up with the $600 bond. They went to Victoria’s DHS and it seemed they’d be able to get the money from them. However, the next week they were told that Joe had an outstanding $450 debt dating from 2004, and until it was repayed they wouldn’t be able to get any help. Joe says he’d repaid it, and even if he hadn’t they hadn’t heard anything about it in the nine years since, but short of getting the decision reviewed there wasn’t much they could do. There was an hour left on the deadline to raise the bond.

In New Zealand the banks were already closed for the day, and none of them would process a payment in less than a day anyway. I offered to repay anyone in Melbourne who’d be able to put up the bond money, but an hour ticked by with no response. It was too short notice.

Today, though, everything fell into place. The agent was still trying to find out if Joe and Ben would be able to pay, and now more people were becoming aware of the situation – even @Asher_Wolf, a well-established Australian activist, was tweeting about it. While I was still researching the best and fastest way to get money out of New Zealand on Waitangi Day, the internet was stirring, and shortly after I decided on Western Union Joe tweeted that someone had donated the $450 needed to clear the debt with the DHS. I still don’t know everyone who donated, but I know there have also been offers of further help and the word put out to source things like furniture and manchester. One person even said that when they got a fridge they’d be receiving a lemon meringue pie. They don’t have the power on yet, or cleaning products, but they have some money for food and are discussing renting a van to pick up the furniture they’re able to get through donations (whether directing or using donated money). With a home base they’re now much more employable, as well as under much less stress, not having to spend so much on nightly accommodation or sleep in their car, able to get out of the heat during the day and generally just in a much healthier environment.

This is a fantastic outcome. There is absolutely no questioning that. It does raise questions, though, of what makes one person’s crisis go viral when another’s doesn’t. It’s a question that applies on multiple scales, right up to human rights abuses and genocides. There is simply so much suffering in the world that we will never hear about all of it, and the processes that make certain narratives make it into the wider consciousness while others fade away with barely a murmur are somewhat less than transparent.

That is why we can’t rely on charity to form a social safety net. Charity has always been plagued by “morality”, particularly in the name of religion, which can be a very toxic kind of help – or, in some cases, refused outright on the basis of who is asking for that help. LGBT people (like Joe and Ben and I) are especially vulnerable to this. That’s where government should come in. And that’s where austerity fails. Victoria is fighting that oh-so-familiar battle against “bloat” in the public service – cutting public employee numbers by 4200, something that perhaps contributed to the decision not to re-hire a contract employee who’d been injured, no matter what the doctors said. Welfare is stretched thin and no longer nearly as generous as it once was.* For every Joe Brown there are countless more who aren’t as lucky, and it’s highly probable that we’ll never know their names.

*A disclaimer here that I’m far more well-versed in the history of welfare in New Zealand than in Victoria, or Australia in general.

This is the real story on mental health

Every time a white man commits mass murder, we see the inevitable: mental illness blasted into the headlines, debates about mental health provisions, discussions about how to solve a problem that, largely, doesn’t actually exist.

This isn’t to say that better access to mental healthcare isn’t needed, because it definitely is. But not as the solution to the frequency of mass murders. Taylor and Gunn (1999) finds that: “There was little fluctuation in numbers of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide over the 38 years studied, and a 3% annual decline in their contribution to the official statistics.” I’ll just say that again to be clear: 3% annual decline in the proportion of people with a mental illness committing criminal homicide. This is over a period of time that began when the mentally ill were regularly institutionalised rather than in the community, and granted it was a study in England and Wales where there is much less access to guns, but that increased access to guns applies to everyone. So does legislation like “stand your ground” laws, which you’d have a hard time convincing me are mostly invoked by the mentally ill. There may be an argument that normalising mental illness would provide an outlet for those people who are not mentally ill but who are driven to extremes for other reasons, but that’s not the argument anyone seems to be having.

On the contrary I’m sure everyone has heard the line that people with a mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators. But do you know to what extent? Coz it’s pretty appalling. Teplin et al (2005) found that more than a quarter of people with a severe mental illness had been a victim of violent crime in the past year (discounting murder, as the participants in the study were still alive). Depending on the crime they were anywhere from 6 to 23 times more likely than the general population to have been a victim. That’s a lot. Twice as likely would be a lot. Twenty three times more likely is a HELL of a lot. And that’s not covering murder, which is a huge problem for people with disabilities, including mental illness, and which is often treated as less serious than the murder of a healthy person with otherwise similar characteristics. It’s labeled as a mercy killing, justifiable because they were a burden, a cause of stress, with a life that was probably miserable anyway.

Or they were killed by police. Police killings are generally vehemently defended as well, and (this one isn’t a proper study, sorry), in the US in 2012 through to the end of September about 1 in 8 police killings involved a victim who was mentally ill or in severe mental distress. (I’ll also note that this examination seems to include things like autism, which aren’t really mental illnesses but could be mistaken for them by some people in some circumstances.) Of the 428 police killings according to available reports (and bearing in mind that these are vastly under-reported), 30 victims had been the subject of a 911 call because they were suicidal. Why are the police being sent, armed and ill-prepared, to calls for help for someone who’s suicidal? Fuck if I know.

Really there are two problems here. One is the stigmatisation of mental illness and the funding cuts that go hand in hand with it – it’s easy to cut services for someone who’s regarded as less than everyone else. The other is the way the media operates, relying on ratings and hits and page views to generate revenue. Which is one of the reasons public service tv channels are so important, incidentally, because they’re not centered around the pursuit of profits. That, however, is a sideline. The creation and packaging of spectacle is the thing that needs to be re-examined, because to some degree the media is itself responsible for many of the problems in our society. (Just look at the Cunliffe “coup”, which largely consisted of him being a bit impolitic in response to being repeatedly asked the same question, over and over.) It also ensures that you’ll never see the real story – honestly, just read the entirety of that last link for some examples – because the real story doesn’t sell well.

The sad thing is that so many people profess to know this. And yet, still, every time a white man commits a mass murder, they bring up mental health.

If you’re not with us

Internet, I have something to confess. I hate Jews. All of them. Everywhere.* At least that’s apparently what I meant when I said that I didn’t wish to debate who was at fault in the ongoing war between Israel-Palestine because I have colleagues who worked in Gaza. (Seriously, one who just started three weeks ago used to be head of the UN’s Mine Action Team. I don’t work closely with these people, but I’m definitely aware of them and have been introduced.) That statement, which I had thought to be pretty neutral, got me labeled an anti-Semite, which is frankly a little bit ludicrous. See, where I come from, you can disapprove of a government’s actions without hating the entire population of the country. Ironically if this were not true I would never have been on pleasant terms with this person anyway, because I really disapprove of a lot of the actions of the US government.

And yeah, I do disapprove of what Israel is doing, especially when I look at things like this:

Palestine territory 1947-2006or the demographics of Gaza showing that half the population is under 18 and three quarters are under 25 and thus couldn’t have been responsible for voting in Hamas in 2006. Or when I read this Huffington Post article. Or when the IDF taunts Gazans over Twitter, telling them to flee despite knowing that they can’t because they’re hemmed in on all sides by a blockade of dubious legality. Or when bombs hit a fire truck that’s attempting to put out a building hit by previous bombs. (And the Israelis boast about their military enough, and were confident enough in being able to hit Jabari’s car, that you can’t really say with complete certainty that that couldn’t have been deliberate.) Or when I remember older interviews with Israeli bulldozer drivers or eye-witness accounts of the death of Rachel Corrie.

This also doesn’t mean I think Palestine is 100% blameless though. Wars always involve blame on both sides, somehow. When you boil it down to the original dispute, over land, both sides have valid arguments on their side. But now, right now, in the modern day, I can’t blame Gaza for firing rockets at Israel. It turns out that people aren’t perfect saints. If you treat them badly enough, for long enough, an awful lot of them will fight back. And to me, looking purely at the military capabilities of each country, the idea that the Palestinians aren’t fighting out of desperation seems about as ludicrous as the idea that I hate Jews.

 

* If the rest of the post doesn’t make it obvious, I don’t hate Jews.

Two days to submit

The deadline for submissions on the Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill is Thursday. This is the bill that contains all the nasty stuff MSD has been telling the media about – sanctions and hoop jumping and payment cards and consolidating the sickness and unemployment benefits and all of it. It’s big and it’s bad and you need to speak out against it.

Auckland Action Against Poverty has a fantastic guide to writing a submission that you should definitely check out. It tells you how to write a submission in general and also goes through the bill outlining what the proposed changes are with suggestions on what you can say about the effects of them on beneficiaries and their families.

I’ve just submitted mine – it clocked in at just a shade under two thousand words, which is a short essay (a long essay if you stopped doing Humanities in high school), and it still didn’t cover everything I wanted to say and which AAAP comments on. I didn’t even touch on the bullshit of requiring your partner to engage in “pre-benefit activities” (the hoops you have to jump through to even get onto a benefit), for example, and I only gave one piece of personal information about my own interactions with the welfare system. Unfortunately I have a Social Policy essay on Saturday and writing a thesis on the ways in which this bill sucks donkey balls does not give me course credit (though I will count it as study, sort of, though I’m supposed to be revising social policy concepts eg freedom/equality/justice/need rather than analysing specific policy itself). Yours does not have to be that long. You can just say it sucks donkey balls if you want, though you may wish to be a little more formal. Just say something. Even if you don’t intend to submit, please read the AAAP’s submission guide, because it really shows you how fucked up this thing is and we need to know this shit.

In other news

Related posts from February 22 (“The sort of thing writing teachers hate”) and March 23 (“Yesterday’s conference”).

I got a call yesterday morning from a police chap – one of the guys involved in my assault is being charged with a whole heap of stuff, but he’s pleading not guilty for that one. So I’ll be getting a summons in the mail sometime quite soon to present evidence against him and will have to write a victim impact statement and such other things. It’s scheduled for June 18, which is two days after my Te Reo exam – at first I thought they clashed but luckily I was misremembering the date, because that could have been awkward.

The value of our oceans

“One of the largest convictions the southern fisheries have seen.” That’s how Gregory James Fife’s sentence was described by the Southland Times.

Apparently we’re supposed to be impressed at the $20,000 fine he’s been told to pay along with serving 200 hours of community service. I gotta say, I’m not. He was convicted of eight charges of making false records in fishing returns and one of failing to furnish a return. Basically, he was lying about where he’d gotten his quota of blue cod from – and due to the way fish populations are measured, this was giving an inaccurate picture of how much were out there, making the numbers look healthier than they really are. That means that when it came time to review quotas, a higher one may have been placed than the fish populations could actually handle.

Several months ago I saw a set of two maps showing density of fish populations in the worlds oceans at two points in time – one in the past, and one today. The modern fishing industry has had a huge impact. There are species of fish and other marine mammals critically endangered or even extinct that once were incredibly plentiful. This is why we have quotas – they are the lowest possible level of effort we can put into preserving fish stock.

For $20,000 to be one of the largest convictions in the southern fisheries is ridiculous. 200 hours of community service to go with it is a joke. We need to be sending a clear message that messing with this system is not to be tolerated. It’s good that they caught this guy, but the penalty for this sort of crime needs to be higher – preferably high enough to put anyone off even attempting it.

But then, our coastal waters are hideously under-regulated, with ships out there that don’t meet basic safety standards, crews of slaves and a Minister of Labour who doesn’t care, and the possibility of ships carrying yellowcake through our ports that we don’t even have the ability to test the water for should something happen to one of them. Given that we’re an archipelago nation, it’s either tragedy or a joke.