Podcast episode 13: Can Facebook be a vehicle for democracy and social justice? An interview with social worker, Beni McKenzie

podcts whit text psdThis episode is a conversation with Beni Mackenzie one of the founders of the Australian Social Work Changemakers Facebook page.

The page was born of conversations amongst some social workers attending the 2013 AASW National Symposium. The purpose of the page is to provide an online environment for students and qualified social workers in Australia to converse, debate, collaborate and organise.

One of the principle aims of the page is also to contribute to the positioning of social work as the peak social justice profession, and an as important and respected political voice. From small beginnings, it now has over 670 members.

Before Beni got into social work he fuelled his sense of injustice with alcohol, anger and drugs; paradoxically these experiences have held him in good stead in understanding many of the people he now works with.

During our conversation, Beni describes his first social work job in the small outback town of Charleville, working with people affected by drugs and alcohol, and his current work with the homeless in Southport.

We also cover the boundaries and ethics of working in personal and digital space; the contradictions of working in social media designed to make a profit; and the challenges of holding on to horizontal democratic practices in hierarchical organisations.

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Podcast episode 12: crisis – what crisis?… an interview with social work academic Shirley Ledger on the place of field education in social work

Shirley Ledger started her working life as an enrolled nurse in a small hospital in rural Queensland. Realising that nursing was not for her she became involved in youth work and domestic violence services. Years later ironically, she found herself back at the same rural hospital as a social work student on placement.

But the focus of our interview was on social work field education.

For some years Shirley has been a university field education co-ordinator. In this role, she was heavily involved in training, curriculum development, supervision liaison, and placement breakdown.

She became deeply interested in academic claims that field education ought to be the “signature pedagogy” of social work. This then has become the work of her PhD in progress.

Lee Shulman, the academic who popularised the term “signature pedagogy”, held that in professional training it comprises the central form of instruction that prepares students for future professional practice.

Consequently, Shirley’s research questions are,

  1. How does the current model of field education connect with the three dimensions (surface, implicit and deep structure) of signature pedagogy?
  2. How does the current model of field education connect with the temporal patterns of signature pedagogy (initial pedagogy, capstone apprenticeships and the sequenced and balanced portfolio)?
  3. How and where are social work programs incorporating the pedagogies of formation, engagement and uncertainty into curriculum design?

This led to a fascinating discussion on a range of issues, including the lack of evidence for the efficacy of current fieldwork practices, questions about the sustainability of current arrangements, and questions about the social justice implications of mandating 1000 hours of unpaid placement, plunging students into poverty and hardship.

And so we dreamt about how necessary changes might be achieved.

Posted in AASW Policy and Strategy, podcast, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Podcast episode 11: adventures in private practice – an interview with Suzanne Doorakkers-Sprague

podcts whit text psdThis episode is a conversation with Suzanne Doorakkers Sprague, a social worker with a large and thriving private practice in Geelong, where she employs 8 staff in several locations.

Her road to social work was a long one- coming via nursing and psychology. She has also been a counsellor at Alzheimers Australia, as well as working in rehabilitation and in social inclusion services for the elderly. Having lived in Geelong most of her adult life, Suzanne has deep roots in the town.

In a wide ranging interview Suzanne discusses the pleasures, challenges and dilemmas of setting up a practice and a business including; marketing, promotion, networking, setting fees, and handling social media. We discuss the anti business culture that exists in some sections of the social work profession, and how that is now changing.

Posted in podcast, Private Practice | 2 Comments

Podcast episode 10: working with LGBTIQ communities- an interview with social worker TL Tran

In this episode I interview social worker TL  Tran. She works in the area of LGBTIQ health.

podcts whit text psdThis is a very personal conversation to which TL brings a lot of humour and grace.

To escape persecution, TL’s family fled South Vietnam when she was 8 years old. TL speaks frankly about her refugee experiences, adapting to Australian culture,  and navigating the process of coming out as a bisexual woman in a traditional asian family.

We traverse her social work career  and  explore the values, knowledge and skills that she brings to her current work in LGBTIQ communities, with particular emphasis on narrative therapy.

Research tells us  that LGBTIQ people are at increased risk of a range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm, suicidality and suicide, much of which has been attributed to experiences or fears of discrimination and abuse.

We explore the devastating impact that this  has on mental health in this community, and how TL approaches the challenge of confronting discrimination in her awareness raising sessions.

TL  provides us with a good map on how we can help people move from tolerance to true inclusivesness.


Posted in Culture, podcast, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Podcast episode 9: What’s wrong with child protection policy and practice? an interview with social worker, Tony Tonkin, founder of the Child Protection Party

podcts whit text psdTony Tonkin is the founder of the Child Protection Party in South Australia.  the Party is about to go national. We talk about the party and its purpose- but this is also a deeply personal interview.

Tony came to social work later in life. It gave him a sense of purpose that had previously been missing. After volunteering at Lifeline, he began studying social work and developed a passion for  therapeutic work. Studying social work changed his values profoundly. He got a job counselling gamblers and began to understand the the interplay of social forces that created the preconditions for addiction, depression, anxiety, child abuse and domestic violence.

As he developed his knowledge and skills he began to work more creatively and wholistically with a range of NGO’s, including confronting men around violence and abusive behaviour.

In the course of his practice he became very concerned about punitive practices in child protection which he felt did not uphold human dignity, or work for the best interests of children. This led him to systemic advocacy work in an effort to correct these abuses.

Our conversation explores the causes of child abuse and the effectiveness of prevention policies. We tease out some important questions. How much power or influence does the state have in preventing child abuse? When things go wrong, what is the balance between blaming individual workers versus cultures and systems? How much responsibility do we have to call out unethical practices in institutions? Given the truckloads of investigations, reports, and commissions that point to remedies to improve child protection, why do we see so little change?

For more information on the Child Protection Party- check out their website.

Posted in podcast, Politics, Social Policy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Corporate logic trumps democracy: the AASW poised to remove the right of members to elect the National President

podcts whit text psdThe AASW has released a discussion paper proposing changes it would like to see agreed to at the next AGM in November. (You will have had an email about it- and you had until June 29th to comment.)

In relation to electing the National President the Paper states,

“..the National President and National Vice President will be elected by the Board from amongst their number on an annual basis, rather than be elected by the members..The President being elected by the Directors rather than the members is the usual practice in contemporary association governance. This is because the Directors will have closer experience in working with potential office bearers than the membership at large. The primary role of the President is to chair and manage the work of the Board. This means that the Directors are in a better position to assess who would best perform this role.” (my emphasis)

A “closer experience”? It is quite possible that many Directors will be meeting each other for the first time.  The Board is asking the members to leave these decisions to the grown-ups because they know best. Am I the only one who feels patronised?

In fact, the current Constitution is rather more expansive about the role, stating that the President,

 is available to consult with the CEO and delegated staff on Company matters between Board meetings;

c) represents the Board and the Company between its meetings;

d) reports all important interim actions to the Board;

e) in consultation with the Board, nominates convenors of all national committees who are ratified by the Board;

f) is an ex-officio member of all Company Boards, committees and other Company forums (excluding the ethics panel) but must not be appointed as a convenor of a national committee or a division of the Australian College of Social Work while holding the office of the National President;

g) assumes portfolio responsibilities for national committees as outlined in the By Laws and determined by the Board;

h) shall regularly communicate with members about the Company, its operations and issues affecting the profession;

This proposal will in effect downgrade the role of President to an annually elected chair of the Board. Currently, the President is a guide, mentor and Board communication conduit for the CEO, as well as being the public face of the profession. The AASW proposal seeks to put these duties in the “governance charter”- where of course they can be changed at the whim of any future Board without consultation.

Democracy is the wisdom of the crowd – and direct elections that involve all eligible voters are truly consequential. If the US election had been directly decided by the voters, Hilary Clinton would be President, have gotten 3 million more votes than Donald Trump. Similarly, if the Labor Party had directly elected their leader, it would not have been Bill Shorten, and if the Greens members had had their say, it would not have been Richard Di Natale.

Stripping students of voting rights

Another dubious idea  floated in the Discussion Paper is to deprive student members of the right to vote. The paper states,

“It is common in an association of professionals for Student Members not to have voting rights until they become a full and qualified member of the profession. Not all Student Members will go on to become social workers. Completion rates for students undertaking Bachelor of Social Work courses hover are around 64%, with lower completion rates for students who study off-campus, are part-time, are mature-age students, have low ATAR scores or are of low socio-economic status.” (my emphasis)

I find this deeply offensive on many levels. Students are adults. As prospective social workers they have (up until now) had the right to participate in choosing their professional leaders. What is the relevance of ATAR’s and completion rates? Could they have kept the right to vote if they were smarter and more well off? Does the fact that it is “common” elsewhere for students not to vote make it right? Has conformity become a guiding principle of the AASW?

There are around 15,000 social work students in Australia. The AASW has been able to enrol a paltry 10% of these students as members. Our students are graduating into a precarious work environment. Full time permanent jobs are diminishing. Temporary contracts are the norm, and private practitioners’ incomes fluctuate with the whim of government. We need to enrol far more students as members now! Having a commitment to social justice and building the social work profession means being inclusive and fostering diversity. It also means being as democratic as possible.

Moving messy stuff (State Branches, The College, Ethics Committee) into the by laws

The proposal states,

The Australian College of Social .. is not a part of the governance structure of AASW. It is more appropriate that the rules around the College are placed in internal policy documents or the by-laws, rather than in the constitution.


.. branches are not a part of the governance structure of AASW. It is more appropriate that the rules around branch operations are placed in internal policy documents or the ByLaws, rather than in the Constitution.

6.2 The current clauses B15 and B16 regarding payment of capitation fees will be removed. The allocation of the Association’s finances is the responsibility of the Board based on the agreed plan and budget. As the Branches are not separate legal entities, the management and control of funds rests with the AASW Board and under delegated authority to the CEO.


Current rule D20 lists 3 mandatory Board committees. This will be amended so that the only mandatory Board committee will the Finance, Audit & Risk Committee. The Constitution should give the Board flexibility to set up (and cease) other committees as required (my emphasis)

 The Discussion Paper doesn’t bother to tell us what these committees are. And so -a reminder- the 3 committees are Finance, Risk Management and Ethics. In effect, 2 committees are being combined and the Ethics Committee will be banished to the Bylaws or another sub document. Ethics is the main purpose of our profession! Our heart and soul.

Whilst lip service is paid to the Branches, the College and the Code of Ethics , once they are removed from the Constitution to the Bylaws, they can be radically changed or abolished without consulting the membership at all. Any current Board that seeks to reassure that such a thing could never happen, cannot guarantee the action of future Boards.

So why make it possible? The net effect is to unnecessarily centralise power and diminish diversity. The Branches, The College, and our ethics experts need a measure of power, authority and relative independence.

The AASW is a broad church. Whether it be College experts; brilliant researchers; ethicists, branch committees; or mature aged students, struggling to finish their degree whilst keeping food on the table; all are entitled to a voice. We need a constitution that is a platform for a robust exchange of ideas, not a cosy consensus amongst a handful of powerbrokers behind closed doors.

Some of the key values of social work are empowerment, inclusion and participation. Let our structures embody our values. I hope the membership give this emerging monoculture a reality check.

The AASW want the membership to approve these changes at the AGM in Perth in November this year. The consultation process around these proposed changes has been very poor to date.

November update

The AASW is persisting with key elements of its proposals – including abolishing direct voting for President and Vice President, as well banishing the College and Branch Powers to the by laws. (See my more recent blogpost about this)

Please take the time to vote against these proposals. You can do this by going to the AGM in Perth on November 9th, or by filling out a form to give your vote by proxy to someone attending the AGM.
My friend and colleague Brian Wooller will be attending and speaking against the proposals. He is very well known to West Australian members. He has held many positions including West Australian Branch President and National Director. He is also a Life Member. He is happy to collect proxies from any member wishing to vote against the amendments.
Below is the link to a proxy form pre- populated with Brian’s details.

AASW Proxy Form nominating B Wooller

Please print it, fill in your details, scan it or take a photo of it and email it to Brian.       brian@slampt.net

He will ensure it is registered with the AASW before the deadline.

Share this information with fellow members!


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Podcast episode 8: hospital social work in Sydney and New York- an interview with hospital social work manager, Bobbi Henao Urrego

podcts whit text psdSome of the deepest roots of social work in Australia are grounded in the traditions of the hospital almoner; a tradition personified by Bobbi Henao Urrego, who the manages the social work service in a large western Sydney hospital.

My conversation with Bobbi explores the role of hospital social work, particularly in the light of her experiences last year as a social work scholar at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York.

This  6 week scholarship is coordinated and managed by the Department of Social Work at the Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York City, and is offered to a handful of overseas social workers each year.

It is designed to enhance leadership, strengthen research skills, and build global social work relationships.

Mount Sinai is a mega hospital based in the Upper East Side of Manhattan between some of the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods in the city.

The Social Work Department, established in 1906,  is one of the oldest in the United States. It takes pride in encouraging innovation and research. Currently 30 of its social workers are on the faculty of the Department of Preventive Medicine of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Bobbi along with other scholars was required to develop a research program to bring back to Australia. We touch on her research and ponder the future of social work in health care.

To obtain a obtain more information about the scholarship, please drop me a line and I will send you contact details.

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Podcast episode 7: counselling and psychotherapy with older people in care- an interview with social worker, Felicity Chapman

podcts whit text psdThis podcast features an interview with social worker Felicity Chapman.

Felicity combines a private practice of counselling, training and consulting as well as being a sessional lecturer and tutor at the University of Adelaide, in their Graduate Program of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

The focus of our interview is her landmark book on counselling and psychotherapy with older people in care. You can find all the details on her website.

The book is a great primer, equally valuable for a beginner or seasoned therapist. It is packed with helpful clinical vignettes, as well as practical tools for assessment and critical reflection.

Felicity provides a map that helps navigate the complex terrain between families, clients, aged care homes and the cultures in which they are anchored.

Just as important the book confronts the medicalisation of ageing, acknowledges psychotherapy as both an art and a technology, and privileges the voices of older people in how they would like to be engaged with and related to.

It was a pleasure to interview Felicity. We discussed how she got into working with older people, and the connections she draws between politics, policy, psychology and social work.

She is also engaged in ongoing aged care advocacy work with the SA Branch of the AASW.

We pondered the position of older people in our culture, our changing priorities as we grow older and we dreamt a little about the kind of aged care home we would like to live in.

As Felicity said –she is constantly looking for the “earthy” connection.

Posted in podcast, Private Practice, Social Policy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Podcast episode 6: dreaming of utopia- an interview with Hall Greenland of the NSW Greens

podcts whit text psdToday’s episode is a return to politics with a capital “P”.

I have joined many of my fellow citizens in paying less and less attention to the daily news. Political chat shows are also off my agenda. There is simply no substantial discussion of any of the things that I care about. The casual visitor from another planet might conclude from our media that things are going ok – and so its business as usual. Shark attacks, drug busts, murders, robberies and weddings.

We hear little or nothing about climate change, the Murray Darling basin, the Great Barrier Reef, the health, dignity and prosperity for our first peoples, the gross inadequacy of the dole and other welfare payments, the lack of investment in primary health care or mental health, the epidemics of obesity, anxiety, depression, and loneliness, the root causes of domestic violence and child abuse, racism and sexism, unfettered gambling and pay day lending, social media monopolies, the explosion of personal debt, the stagnation or decline in real wages, the lack equal pay for all, and the precarious hand to mouth existence for the younger generation- with no security in jobs or housing.

Both major parties are largely in agreement on their policies on all of the above. They confect and inflate minor differences, marketing themselves  like two brands of soap powder colored slightly differently.

Enter the Greens who actually are talking about a better world -and are in genuine opposition to the two major parties.

And so in this episode I would like to introduce you to Hall Greenland , an Australian political activist. He studied history at the University of Sydney in the 1960s and was a president of the Labor Club.

As editor of the student newspaper Honi Soit he was highly critical of the war in Vietnam, and at a time when Australian politicians were fawning over LBJ, Honi Soit accused the US of war crimes.

Hall was one of the participants of the Australian Freedom Rides in 1965. The Freedom Riders were a group of University students, who took a bus around country NSW exposing racism towards the indigenous community.

During the 1970s he wrote for  Rolling Stone and The Digger. He served on Leichhardt Council and is the recipient of a Walkley Award. In 2013 he was the Australian Greens candidate for the Federal seat of Grayndler, losing narrowly to Anthony Albanese.

He was instrumental in saving Callan Park in the inner suburbs of Sydney from rapacious development and he is the author of a biography of Nick Origlass.

He was a founding member of NSW Greens when it was launched in Sydney in 1984 at a public meeting in Glebe Town  Hall. Up until recently Hall was the co convenor of the NSW Greens.

Our conversation covers the early history of the Greens, and the ongoing policy debates in the party. I revisit the theme of episode 2- is democracy dead? And can politicians be held accountable to party members.

We dream a little about utopia, joy and a deliberative grassroots democracy.

If you have an apple device you can subscribe via itunes.


Posted in podcast, Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Podcast Episode 5: Extra relational sex and the gay male couple- exploring the therapeutic terrain

Episode 5 is an interview with Sydney social worker, Paul Andrews.

Arising out of his work with gay male couples, Paul did a major piece of qualitative research in order to better understand how gay couples in committed relationships negotiated the issues around extra- relational sex.

Paul worked for many years as a sexual health counsellor and family therapist. He has worked with people’s sexual issues across the life span- from the identity concerns of late adolescents and early adulthood through the impact on relationships from building families and juggling careers to the experiences of change and loss due to sickness or ageing.

To quote him-

I have seen sex used as an exquisite way to show love and tenderness, and equally to exercise control and express cruelty and betrayal. I have been humbled by the courage and strength shown by survivors of sexual abuse and sexually acquired infections as they reclaim their bodies and rebuild their lives.

Although rigorous in his research methodology, Paul believed that being a gay man himself made it easier to build rapport with participants and gave him greater credibility in the gay community.

For his research Paul interviewed 24 gay men about the strategies they used to manage extra relational sex.

He found that despite diversity of attitudes, values and experiences a core set of processes appeared central to relationship satisfaction.

This research provides some helpful insights into the ways therapists might orient themselves to the therapeutic terrain when working with gay men and extra-relation sex.

My conversation with Paul touches on the sexual revolution of the 70’s, the AIDS crisis, queer theory, shifts in masculine identity,  the gains made in human rights and the challenges of ongoing discrimination.

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