Today I’d like to explore that idea a little further using examples ‘ripped from today’s headlines’.

With no formal citizens Rights and three levels of government, each with coercive powers to take the citizens’ money and enforce their will upon them, Australia is easily caught up in inter-governmental battles that waste money and resources, and that can severely disadvantage the citizens. It is also too easy for governments to avoid any responsibility by pointing at other levels of government.

Because our system fails to define the services that government should offer in exchange for our high levels of taxation, governments are able to redefine their roles to suit themselves. When problems occur, our governments are all too keen to deny any responsibility for them, usually pointing to others as the culprits.

Recently I pointed out how the federal government had left themselves out of the list of those responsible for excess carbon emissions (1). I found this surprising given that our politicians and senior bureaucrats pay themselves huge salaries and benefits for the responsibility of running things so I imagined that they’d accept responsibility for outcomes and take action themselves on government policies that created emissions.

In Australia we are constantly faced with the puzzle of what government is responsible for. Of course many issues are too complex for responsibility to be easily identified so I was interested to note in the Aug 1 Examiner, that that the AMA supports…‘a push by parents to get soap back into State school toilets in Tasmania.’

I read that the Environmental State Health Manager (EHSM), said that ‘soap was important for a public health perspective’, and that ‘soap makes hand washing more effective.’

For this we need an ESHM?

The article went on to say ‘Prof. Walters (AMA) said soap broke the surface tension of grease on hands and in the cleft of fingers, taking with it sticky germs.’

I was brought up in the UK and the key underpinnings for public health included always washing one’s hands after using the toilet (to clean off your own, and others peoples, potentially deadly germs). This was especially important for children to help them to learn enduring social habits that helped avoid catching or spreading serious infections around the community.

Like other social gathering places, schools provide a perfect vector for diseases. Mulitiple children from multiple families spread across a wide area, all going home, or to work at fast food outlets, with whatever they catch at schools.

Infection control through hygeine is an essential line of defense against the spread of dangerous diseases.

Not having an EHSM at hand, I did a two second Google search and found quotes such as…‘Germs are spread when people touch food or surfaces that have been handled by dirty (unwashed) hands.

Diarrhoea, the common cold, pneumonia and acute respiratory and skin infections are some of the illnesses that can ensue as a result.

Inadequate hand washing and cross-contamination is responsible for as much as 40 per cent of food-borne diseases, including salmonella, hepatitis A, shigellosis, staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. Coli and many yet unidentified and dangerous viral infections.’

So to me, the purpose of providing soap in the toilets is pretty clear.

Of course, there were the usual desperate excuses for not providing soap in school toilets ranging from budget (they’ve got to be kidding!) to kids using soap for clogging pipes and soap fights.

It seems that no-one had heard of soap flakes – or are they unobtainable in Tasmania?

Yet one parent, Mrs F, said that the Education department had put soap in the ‘too hard basket.’

The too hard basket! Soap? What could possibly be going on?

Is there any government policy or priority to provide the social underpinnings for public health?

Does the Education Department value public health in our schools?

Is the idea of washing ones hands with soap so difficult?

How can providing soap be ‘too hard?’

‘Mrs F said the decision about soap was left to each school. It will largely depend on their ancillary staff and their budget.’

This implies that our schools, under the auspices of our Education Department, take no responsibility for training our young in basic public health, despite having hundreds of our children packed together into our schools.

If the article is to be believed, it seems the Education department takes no responsibility for reinforcing important public health messages and activities, like washing hands after using the toilet.

What are these departments doing if they’re not providing the basic protections for our society?

What are parents doing sending their children into unhygienic locations where they are being trained not to take care of their own health?

Our schools are training the chefs, restauranteurs, doctors and nurses of the future. What basic social and hygiene habits do we want those people to have? What place should our schools and our government play in engendering those habits?

Surely even our politicians must realise that infection can even spread to them, infect them, infect their families. Their position in parliament is no defence, only sensible public health policies provide a defence.

Parents have to take responsibility as well and insist that schools provide training in basic hygiene instead of taking no responsibility.

Training delivers results

The proposition that training delivers results forms one of the underpinnings of our education system. If we train people in something, then some of that training ‘sticks’ (i.e. is learned) and forms a part of peoples’ behaviours.

So when we provide no soap in toilets, we’re training our young that soap, and effective hand washing, is not necessary after using the toilet.

It’s probably not too much of a stretch to suggest that many of our problems could be tracked back to bad training.

In Queensland gangs of youths armed with knives, poles and meat cleavers, are attacking people in swarms, apparently at random. These kids are young, from 11 up, so it’s a fair bet that they’ve learned these ideas from somewhere else rather than come up with them on their own.

Check this from the Courier Mail Aug 2…‘In the horror movie hit, Audition, Japanese actress Eihi Shiina hacked off her lover’s limbs in a graphic scene that caused some patrons to run from the cinema.’

Then read in the same edition that ‘Police charged a suspect today with unpremeditated murder in the horrific stabbing, beheading and gutting of a fellow bus passenger returning home from a carnival in Western Canada’.

While Tasmania may not yet have dropped into the gang related nightmares of many US cities, I’d suggest that we really need to get a grip on what social training we expect our government to be providing to our young. In Queensland the youth gang phenomenon appears to have been handed over to police, yet it’s a social problem that requires a social solution and a better understanding of its root causes.

It’s a fair bet to say that dysfunctional training is at the bottom of a lot of our social difficulties.

In the case of soap in public schools toilets, we seem to be training our kids that washing hands doesn’t really matter and that if it does matter, then one conclusion is that public school kids don’t matter.

We really need to be asking ourselves, is the constant diet of murder and violence that we expose ourselves and our children to on TV and games, helping them to ‘learn’ that violence is both accepted and a ‘normal’ way to deal with problems. Some TV commentators themselves appear to have no standards (2) to the extent of publicly claiming that one of our Ministers was some kind of ejaculatrix.

Social standards are our responsibility and we need to insist upon sensible standards to help create the world of the future. Sitting by while our world degrades is no answer to anything.

No standards - no bottom

One purpose of standards is to provide a minimum acceptable level of product or service. Without standards, there is no lower level of service.  When there are no standards for our governments we suffer declining and arbitrary levels of service coupled with massive waste – a lesson we were forced to relearn during the oafish and blundering Lennon period.

When our governments provide no standards for our young, we risk increasing the numbers of social and other problems that we experience as our young enter our society.

When those problems include ignoring basic public health protections, any of us could find ourselves sick or dying as a result. Even the Premier could find himself served by a child who learned his hygiene habits in our public schools.

We seem to have a government that has given up on even the little things that are needed to create and maintain a healthy and functioning society. Perhaps Mark Mason will have something to say on all of this.

We all need to make doubly sure that our politicians understand that we put them there to do a job and that a significant part of that job is to protect the people of Tasmania from harm.

They also need to be reminded that treating our children as if their health doesn’t matter trains them that we think that they don’t matter.

If that is what our children learn, then we must expect social dislocation and dysfunction to result.

We might not like what we get.

Watch this space.

Mike Bolan
Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive and management coach.



Mike Bolan

SOME time ago, in the dark Lennon period, I wrote a piece about taking personal responsibility. ( Here ). The gist of it was that in order to change our situation, we need to take personal responsibility for it, otherwise we render ourselves powerless.