Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Discourse article for comment

The article below is a draft which I am publishing for comment (updated 11 June 2019)

 

Transitioning to a fair and sustainable society: economistic and socioecological discourse


Introduction

Increasing inequality, and environmental degradation (including climate change), pose major threats to the health of people and ecosystems.1-5 In community-based action research in Victoria, Australia, in 2009-16, we identified a nascent socioecological discourse, differing from the dominant economistic discourse of Australian politics. In this report we analyse these discourses, and suggest that the socioecological discourse is better suited to support transition to a fair and ecologically sustainable society.

Economism

… vote for a party which puts the economy first …
(The Hon. Arthur Sinodinos, Liberal Senator for New South Wales, ABC Insiders, 24 March 2019)

The term economism has a long history, originating in Marxist theory,6,7 but has recently been used in a health promotion context to mean understanding “economic considerations and values [as] … most important”.8, p 357 This usage relates to ‘the economy’ understood as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or the value in monetary terms of final goods and services produced within a country.9 Ecofeminist analysis shows that this definition of the economy assumes unpaid work (frequently done by women), and the ecosystem, as not having value, since they do not have a monetary, or ‘market’, price.10-13

In Foucault’s terms, a discourse is a regime which produces and legitimises certain kinds of knowledge.14 The economistic discourse produces and legitimises knowledge about the production of goods and services for monetary trade and exchange, and fails to produce or de-legitimises knowledge about unpaid work and the ecosystem, except in so far as they are understood as ‘resources’11, p 228 (or ‘natural capital’,15 ‘assets’,16, p 75 ‘ecosystem services’,17 or similar) for the economy-as-GDP.

Although there are differences between the two major political parties in Australia, both demonstrate economism. The Liberal party (the dominant partner in the conservative Liberal National Coalition) has a federal platform in which the economy is clearly positioned as most important.18 This is succinctly demonstrated in the statement above by Senator Sinodinos.

The federal platform of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) includes a commitment to reducing inequality, but is framed in economistic terms. “[B]roader” measures of “economic performance and social progress” to “complement” GDP,16, p 15 are briefly discussed, but there is no real challenge to economism. The chapter on climate change, energy and environment focuses mainly on climate change,  framed as a risk to “Australian society and economy”.16, p 74 The limited discussion of environment includes the following statement:

the environment isn’t an impediment to our prosperity, it’s an asset that underpins it.16, p 75

This can be understood as a reaction to an adversarial context in which the Liberal party claims Labor’s pro-environmental policies will harm ‘the economy’. Nevertheless, both parties position ecosystems as ‘for’ humans and ‘the economy’ as primary. Within this context, we analyse the discourse of participants in our study.

The study

The study was a community-based participatory action research project in three Primary Care Partnerships in Victoria, Australia.19-22 Primary Care Partnerships (PCPs) are alliances of local health and community services, usually covering several municipalities.23 The aim of the research was to strengthen the focus on both equity and environmental sustainability in health promotion and related fields.

The study had three stages, following the action research cycle24 of (i) planning, (ii) action and observation, and (iii) reflection. In the first stage, 2009-12, participants from an inner metropolitan PCP,25, 26 developed a draft framework for promoting health, equity and environmental sustainability. The second stage, 2012-14, was an investigation of practice in the original PCP and two regional PCPs.27-30 In the third stage, 2014-16, participants reflected on findings and explored implications. Ethics approval for the research was given by the Monash Human Research Ethics Committee (CF11/0411 – 2011000154) and The Alfred Ethics Committee (402/11).

Action research participants included 38 staff members, employed in health and community organisations, and 12 community members (from the first PCP only, as it was not practicable to recruit community members in the other PCPs). All community members were members of, and frequently office bearers in, voluntary groups concerned with equity or environmental issues. Community members included people who had experience of inequity (such as poverty and homelessness), people of Indigenous identity, public housing tenants and people from non-English speaking backgrounds. In these respects they were similar to clients of local community health services.31 Staff members in the same PCP were much more likely to be from English-speaking backgrounds and to be owners, purchasers or renters of private homes.

Approximately 60 other people provided evidence through participation in forums or through comments on a publicly accessible project blog in stages two and three. Evidence from the study includes reports and notes from forums and meetings (de-identified), transcripts from interviews and discussion groups with action research participants, documents from organisations, PCPs, government and media, evidence from observation, and a reflective journal and project blog kept by the lead author. Methods of analysis included thematic, content, discourse and historical analysis.32-34 The theoretical approach drew on health promotion and action research theory,19, 35, 36 cultural theory (including theory of discourse) and theories of social practices,37-39 within an overarching framework of ecofeminist theory.40-43

 

Findings

Stage one

In the planning stage there was considerable discussion about the meaning of equity, which was seen as an unclear or contested concept. Definitions of equity ranged from improved “access” to services, through “more than just opportunity”, to “capacity to fulfil & achieve potential” (Notes from the first forum).

Building community and promoting social inclusion were seen as important, however many social determinants of health are not determined at local level. There was recognition that action is needed to address social determinants, such as providing secure jobs and good public education.  There was discussion around advocacy, with emphasis on being credible, using real life stories, finding champions and using media. Research participants referred to systemic barriers:

Zoe  (staff member): … we tend to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and we forget we should be up here [gesture], advocating for policy change.

Overall, even within this group of people committed to promoting equity, responsibilities might be imagined as anything from improving access to local health and community services to advocating for major social change.

Participants were not asked to define environmental sustainability due to concerns that argument about climate change might derail discussion, but the meanings they gave to it include caring for the natural environment and other species. People were at times talking specifically about climate change:

Climate Change is a great big issue – reduce from Global issue to a local answer shared by everyone (Notes from the first forum).

Commonly, however, they were talking about environmental issues in a broader framework of people’s relationship to earth/land and nature:

Ongoing relationship to the land needs to continue, we need to band together – individuals cannot do it alone.

Learn from the Mob: Look after the land and the children [From a group that included an Indigenous Elder]
(Notes from the first forum).

An environmental sustainability officer at the second forum said their team was encouraging local residents to think of themselves as belonging to the land, rather than the land belonging to them. The similarity between this and the Indigenous approach, “Learn from the Mob: look after the land and the children”, is apparent. Megan (staff member) commented:

the thing that struck me today … was that chap’s comment about belonging and ownership, and I think at that level we were changing the way … we think about things.

This suggests a shift to a socioecological consciousness, thinking about the ecosystem not as ‘for’ humans, but about humans as part of ecosystem.44, 45

Participants discussed commonalities between equity and environmental sustainability. In the forums this discussion was mainly about how they might be promoted together, through identifying common principles and areas for action. In one group of community members, much time was spent discussing and translating concepts. One research participant, Bron (community member) suggested later that the terms equity and environmental sustainability were both too “professional”. Nevertheless, themes emerged. Participants saw themes of starting small and building community as related. This was discussed between Vera and Sophia (community members whose first language was Russian) and a Russian interpreter, who interpreted their views as:

This should be started in small communities – so they can work with residents … Because it’s easy to unite these communities and it’s easy to start work with them.

In another group, Bob, a community member, suggested "… you have to generate that sense of yes, we’re part of this, part of community".

There was a sense that being part of a community, addressing local issues, and involving everyone, were important to address these complex issues of equity and sustainability.

Participants were not asked about causality, but some had discussions touching on this, often drawing on concepts of ‘entitlement’.  Angela suggested people felt “a sense of entitlement” to drive their large “four wheel drives”. Heather (staff member) commented that people thought they had a “right” to their income and “shouldn’t have to share it”. At this time, conservative politicians were using the term ‘entitlement’ to argue that access to publicly funded services should be restricted.46 This illustrates conflicting discursive positions: in a discourse where equity is valued, the ‘entitlement’ of higher income groups who don’t want to share income by paying taxes is criticised; in a discourse where inequality is normalised, the ‘entitlement’ of lower income groups who think they should have access to taxpayer-funded services is criticised.

The draft principles developed at the forums are shown here. Taken together, the principles and discussion suggest a nascent discourse of meanings, values and assumptions amongst participants, which we describe as a ‘socioecological’ discourse. In this discourse, inclusion, cooperation, caring, localism and accountability are valued. Affect and rationality are both valued. Professional or expert knowledge is valued and lay or experiential knowledge is also valued. Indigenous and multicultural knowledge are specifically valued. There is an emerging understanding of people as part of ‘earth’ or ecosystem, rather than ‘owners’ of it. In contrast, participants suggested a ‘mainstream’ discourse, in which inequality and ‘entitlement’ to unequal wealth and environmentally damaging behaviour, are taken as normal.

Stage two

In the second stage we investigated what participants in the three PCPs were doing in practice to promote environmental sustainability, equity and health (an article on the findings of this stage is currently under review and hopefully will be published later this year). This investigation found capacity to address both environmental sustainability and equity, but also significant challenges. Evidence and local knowledge, supportive government policy, relationships and networks were helpful. Lack of support from management and organisations, politicisation, particularly around climate change, and difficulties engaging ‘hard-to-reach’ people were challenges.

Underlying these factors were discursive themes, about language, communication, values and meaning. Regarding helpful factors, Galina and Vera, community members from a non-English speaking background, suggested that people generally care about children, “the future” and a “good life”. Several people spoke about ensuring that everyone felt respected. An Indigenous Elder talked of the importance of “deep listening”.

Discussing challenges, Louise (staff member) argued that thinking on health, equity and environment or climate change is “siloed” rather than “holistic”. Clare (staff member) mentioned that some health and community organisations had not participated in a climate change project because “they just could not see where it fitted in with their core business”.  Sarah (staff member) discussed how the health of Indigenous people should be a priority for equity, but if they are only a small proportion of the local population, senior managers may not accept this. Mel (staff member) suggested a local “car culture” made it difficult to promote active transport. All these comments are discursive, concerning “point of view” (Sarah).

Observation showed gender and hierarchy were also important, although not often discussed by participants. Over the whole study, 98% of staff members participating were women, although participants were not recruited or selected by sex. Statistics suggest between 75% and 90% of the paid health and community services workforce are female.47-52 It is possible participants were representative of the health promotion workforce in Victoria, as all were serving on health promotion committees or related groups, although many were not formally health promotion workers. Estimating how far they are representative of the health promotion workforce would be difficult, particularly since there appears to be no reliable demographic information about this workforce. The high proportion of women in the study may also reflect their higher concern about environmental issues.53-55 In any case, the gendered pattern is a significant observation that should not be taken for granted.

In contrast, half the twelve community members who participated were men. Again, community members were not recruited or selected on the basis of sex. In Victoria, women and men volunteer at about the same rate, around a third of the population.56, 57 While volunteering is not exactly the same as membership of a community group, this suggests the equal gender balance amongst the community members participating in this project may be similar to that in voluntary community groups more generally.

Women in Australia are more likely than men to do ‘caring work’, as normally defined (that is, caring for people) both paid and unpaid.49 In this study, however, in which ‘caring work’ involved caring for ecosystems as well as people, men were extremely under-represented as paid workers, but equally likely to participate as members of community groups. It appears therefore that it is not only gender that affected participation, but the interaction of work (type of work and whether paid or unpaid), organisation (community group or health and community organisation) and gender.

There were two main types of work structure in the study, organisational hierarchies and community groups. In hierarchical, pyramid-type structures, typical of health and community agencies in this study, at each level ‘up’, people have more decision making power and are paid more. The organisations normally have a Board, or an elected Council in local government. Boards usually include some members elected from a larger group of voluntary organisational members or subscribers. The staff of the organisation is accountable to the Board or Council through senior managers. Therefore, the organisations express some democratic principles, but organisationally are hierarchical and unequal.

Voluntary community groups generally work on democratic models where office bearers are elected and do not receive pay (therefore there is no income inequality). One community group represented in this study specifically states that it is “nonhierarchical”.58

While these structures are often taken for granted, it is important to make them explicit. It was evident that participants aimed to work in a way that was inclusive and egalitarian, but were doing so in a society that normalises hierarchical inequality. However, while in the first stage of the project inequality was questioned by both staff members and community members, in stage two staff members did not seem to question work hierarchy. Senior managers were sometimes seen as helpful, and sometimes as challenges, but staff members did not explicitly critique the existence of work hierarchies. Some comments by community members, however, came close to a critique of hierarchy, for example comments from Luke (community member) about managers in a local council:

there’s all that political power control game and if someone wants to benefit their career and can save x amount of money … [if reducing expenditure helps these managers to rise in the organisational hierarchy, this may be more important to them than objectively evaluating the worth of projects]

Participants discussed whether this reflected a political shift to the ‘right’ in the specific council, but concluded there had been a general ‘neoliberal’ shift in recent years. Overall, they offered a critique of organisational culture as representing a neoliberal ideology that is about market principles rather than community development principles, and suggested this trend had been evident for some time, regardless of political party. This critique was reinforced by several staff members in the final reflective stage, looking at recent developments in services such as aged and community care.59 Within the community members’ discussion, there was arguably also an implied criticism of work hierarchy as such.

Stage three

Researcher reflections

The findings from stages one and two show that participants were caught between two discourses: on the one hand they were trying to promote a society that was more equal and cooperative, that used less resources and shared them more fairly; while on the other, they were living and working in a society where the dominant discourse normalises hierarchical inequality and privileges market-based economics, competition and growth. Participants suggested this is because “we live in a capitalist society” (Bron, community member) and that it reflects neoliberalism, as discussed above.

The findings do, to at least some degree, seem to exemplify Marxist theories about class and power, and also the insight of theories of practice that structure only exists as far as it is enacted in practice.37, 60 Staff members who wish to be paid, have little choice but to accept work hierarchies. Moreover, some managers who were criticised for not having community development values were female. This seems to suggest Marxist or cultural and practice theories explain this situation: people’s attitudes towards hierarchy depend on their class position or their location within, or outside, a hierarchical work culture. These theories do not, however, explain why nearly all the staff members participating in this study were female, nor the evidence from other sources that regardless of people’s attitudes towards organisational hierarchies, men are more likely than women to ‘succeed’ in them.47 Theories of class and practice explain some of this picture, but theories of gender are necessary to explain it more fully.

Karl Marx critiqued private ownership and capital accumulation but not commodity production and trade, nor the idea of nature as use value. Marx was interested in the value that “men” [sic] added by their labour to that which was provided by “nature” 61, p 31, but only in the production of goods for trade, not the value added by unpaid subsistence and domestic work.62 While Marx acknowledged that ‘nature’ provided raw materials, he did not analyse the contribution of nature, but took it as a given. Indeed, Marx used a specifically gendered metaphor when speaking of “material wealth, of use values”:

As William Petty puts it, labour is its father and the earth its mother 61, p 31.

(William Petty was a 17th century English economist and theorist).

This exemplifies Merchant’s11 later ecofeminist analysis that ‘men of science’ saw both nature and women as belonging to the sphere which men ‘improved’.

Marxist feminists proposed a schema of ‘production and reproduction’, which recognised that labour had to be ‘reproduced’, in order to include women’s unpaid work of caring and procreation in Marxist analysis.63, p 70 This schema is unsatisfactory, however, because it positions the adult worker as the normative person and locates caring work as subordinate, rather than valuing caring in its own right.64 Thus, while Marxist theory is useful in understanding inequality and exploitation, it does not provide a sufficient basis for an ethical position that values unpaid caring work and ecosystems (‘nature’) in their own right.

Similarly to the way Marxist theory saw unpaid work in homes and communities as ‘reproduction’ of workers, mainstream ‘neoliberal’ Australian policy when this study began saw health promotion in terms of its contribution to a healthy workforce. The shift towards neoliberalism65 (often described in late 20th century in Australia as ‘economic rationalism’)66 began in the 1980s under Labor governments and was expressed particularly through ‘Competition policy’.67 This was redefined in the early 2000s as ‘National Reform’,  which addressed “human capital” as well as competition.68, pp. 35-42 ‘Left neoliberals’, such as the then Victorian Labor Premier, Steve Bracks, argued that health promotion could support the National Reform agenda, by increasing workforce participation and supporting a strong economy.69 This approach did contribute to increased funding and support for health promotion during the subsequent period of federal Labor government (2007-2013), although the federal Liberal National Coalition (LNC) government in 2014 drastically reduced this. Pragmatically, this approach may work, at least sometimes, and has been adopted by some health promoters,70 but it still positions caring and non-market oriented work such as health promotion as subordinate to ‘the economy’.

Ecofeminist scholars provide a more comprehensive explanation of the development of hierarchy, the normalisation of inequality, and the subordination of caring and nature (ecosystems). Scholars such as Lerner71, Eisler72 and Gimbutas73 analysed the development of patriarchal, hierarchical societies from about 5,000 years ago, and also studied the earlier, more egalitarian societies that were displaced. These scholars explored the implications of male-dominated, hierarchical societies, in that the work of caring, particularly caring for the body, came to be seen as the sphere of women and slaves, a sphere that was subordinate and to be used by men. Historians such as Merchant and Folbre, 11, 12 show how subsequently, following the Enlightenment in Britain and Europe, both caring work and ‘nature’ came to be seen as passive areas, to be controlled and used by educated or ruling class men, through patriarchal capitalism and the discourse of scientific rationality. This formed the basis for the ‘economistic’ discourse. 8, 10

Contemporary economistic discourse concerns trade and exchange between individuals, rather than ‘men’, but is still based on patriarchal understandings that do not acknowledge the work of caring and subsistence that is not done for trade. The economist discourse is extended to services, including caring, when they are provided on a paid basis. However, this is an uneasy fit. Caring work does not fit well with the theory of the market. In particular, paid caring work like health promotion or community development that is done for public or common good rather than for individuals, does not fit well with the theory of markets, and is thus especially vulnerable under the economistic discourse.

The work of caring, whether it be caring for humans, other species, or the environment, is not in any essential sense inferior to the sphere of trade, competition and hierarchy. Since human life could not continue without the ecosystem and the creation and nurture of human beings, the work of caring can be seen as primary, a pre-condition. As Robinson argues in her work on the ethics of care, “[h]uman life as we know it would be inconceivable without relations of care” 74, p. 2.

In Australia, Indigenous societies, which saw people as having a responsibility to care for each other and the earth,75, 76 were in historical terms recently replaced by a society that was hierarchical, patriarchal and capitalist, following the British invasion. This society saw white men as having an inherent right to own and control land because they could ‘improve’ it and profit from it (even though in practice their use was environmentally destructive).77-80 They also were seen as having an associated right to be ‘heads of households’ and to control the governance of society.81, 82 This ideology is now contested and some, though not all, dismantled. We no longer have a census that treats men automatically as head of the household or laws that give men authority over women and children, precedence in getting jobs or higher pay for the same work, even though such things still happen. The ‘White Australia’ policy and the view of Indigenous and non-white people as essentially inferior have officially been abandoned,83 although there is no doubt many people still hold these views. Waring10, however, has shown that patriarchal and white supremacist/imperialist assumptions are still highly influential in terms of our understanding of work and economy, even though they may now be expressed in neutral language.

This has particular relevance for the health promotion work considered in this study. Much of this is about sharing resources, and encouraging activities outside the market sphere, such as growing and sharing food locally, walking or cycling instead of using cars, reducing energy use, caring for local environments and respecting Indigenous knowledge. This is not readily valued within a dominant discourse that privileges competition and the market, and relies on the idea of continual GDP growth. Ecofeminist analysis explains how this has come about, how the ecosystem and the work and perspectives of women, Indigenous people, and people of colour have been taken for granted or excluded from public debate.84, 85

Participant reflections

Within the time limits of the study, it was not possible to explore the ecofeminist analysis fully with action research participants, although a summary was provided to them in stage three. Nevertheless the concept of an ‘ethic of care’ or ‘care-sensitive ethic’42 seems to fit the emerging discursive position of participants in this study. In the final two consultations, this was tentatively presented in a contention that: ‘societies where people care for each other and share resources equitably would be more likely to use the earth’s resources sustainably than those based on competition’. This proposition appeared acceptable to participants, with several strongly endorsing it, although it was not possible to explore the degree of support in depth due to time constraints.

Conclusion


In the final stage, one participant commented:

Many of the questions posed [by this study] are really fundamental societal ones. Ultimately what future do we want for our world?

Further research is needed on whether a ‘socioecological’ discourse, based on an ethic of care, can contribute to a positive alternative future, rather than the increasing inequality, environmental degradation and climate change we are currently experiencing.

The possibility of more egalitarian, gender-balanced and socioecological approaches is evident in historical evidence, including the growing evidence from Indigenous societies in Australia.86 There are still some cooperative work structures in contemporary society, in both paid87 and unpaid work, and there is a growing body of socioecological measures of wellbeing.10, 88, 89 The ALP has cautiously dipped a toe into this alternative discursive approach in its platform,16, p 15 and the Australian Greens hint at problems with the current discourse in their economic premises,90 but much more could be done. The New Zealand Government has produced a "Wellbeing Budget"91 that attempts to balance a continuing focus on economic growth with a new focus on wellbeing, including environmental wellbeing. This is an area of importance for public health, where public health practitioners can play an important role in education and advocacy.



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Monday, 1 April 2019

Why we should address both climate change and inequity - responding to the Green New Deal

Rhiana Gunn-Wright, the policy lead for the Green New Deal in the USA, paid me the courtesy on Twitter of being interested in my research findings.

It's been hard to respond, for reasons I explain at the end of this post. However I've tried below.

The question is, why should we try to address both equity and environmental sustainability (or climate change more specifically, as the Green New Deal does)? Rhiana has posted several threads addressing this question on Twitter, because people evidently ask about it a lot (for good and bad reasons). I won't try to summarise all her answers here, but recommend people to look at some of them, for example here.

I've encountered similar questions, including an email discussion I had with a prominent 'public intellectual'. I've referred to this in the thesis, but won't quote directly because the person's views may have changed. As I understood it at the time, he agreed that addressing inequity was important, but saw it as a very complicated and difficult long-term challenge, whereas climate change has to be addressed urgently. Therefore trying to address equity while addressing climate change means we risk dangerous delay.

Most people in the climate change/ environmental sustainability policy area probably recognise that the risks for people are most severe for disadvantaged groups. So in that sense, most probably recognise we have to take that into account. But in regard to the question above, it's not just about minimising risks, it's about actively seeking measures that will improve equity as well as mitigate climate change and promote environmental sustainability - and in the case of my research, specifically health and wellbeing as well. (I apologise for calling it 'my' research, but as I'm writing this post, and indeed this whole blog, as an individual, I can't always say 'our', or attempt to speak for everybody concerned, even though it was collaborative research.)

The Green New Deal is a policy to address climate change and equity in one of the world's largest and most powerful countries, whereas our research project was a collaborative project involving just over a hundred people in three areas of Victoria, Australia. So this is very much small meets big. But intensive small scale research can help us understand big questions.

The focus of our research was on 'how' to promote equity and environmental sustainability together. It was a practice-based question that arose from the fact that both were existing priorities for us in the original Primary Care Partnership where the research started. But as it went on, I realised the 'why' question was important, and started to think a lot about it, particularly about the issue of common causation - are there common causes for inequity and environmental sustainability? Because of course this really provides a logical basis for addressing both together, as well as an ethical one. I spent quite a lot of time looking at this, but because I came to it late in the project, I didn't have much opportunity to consider it with participants. I am writing further about this now and trying to pull the threads together. Specifically the key points are:

1. The insight of research participants that we are living in a society in which some or many people feel they are entitled to have more wealth and resources than others, and to use the earth's resources in ways which are unsustainable and cause harm, including harm to other species (how far this is conscious or unconscious was not explored).
2. Evidence that this is not just 'natural', but culturally constructed, because in the preceding (and continuing) Indigenous society, people were (and are) specifically constrained to look after the earth (country) and the children of the earth.
3. My analysis, drawing on ecofeminist theory and historical evidence, that this is not only due to capitalism (as suggested by some research participants) but to a society (established following the British invasion) which was patriarchal, hierarchical, white supremacist and capitalist. The underlying proposed ethical basis or justification for this society may be expressed as 'white men who have the capacity (through capital, education in scientific rationality, and, particularly in the occasional case of emancipists, hard work) to improve the land, have a natural right to own and have control over it in order to make profits and accumulate wealth. They also have an associated natural right to be heads of households and in charge of governance.'
4. A lot of this has now been contested (especially the overtly anti-democratic, sexist and racist aspects of it) and some dismantled, but by no means all. Many aspects are still reflected in practice if not in theory, and some have not even been contested, including the rights to private ownership of land, and to unequal income, power, wealth and authority (especially evident in work hierarchies, which are getting less, not more, equal). The right to environmentally destructive actions is being contested, but this is very difficult, and the grounds are limited, with many politicians and their expert advisors preferring a system based on price, rather than dealing with questions about inherent rights to environmental destruction.
5. The idea that societies can be egalitarian is often contested by those who point to the 'failures' of socialism. But socialism in this sense is a very limited social experiment of recent times, and still had many of the sexist and racist assumptions, and assumptions about 'man's' superiority to, and capacity to improve upon, nature, embedded in it. If we want to look for examples of egalitarian and sustainable societies, we have a much better and extremely long lived example in the Indigenous societies that preceded British invasion in Australia. To say we can learn from them doesn't mean we have to exactly replicate them, or that white society hasn't produced anything good or useful. But we have to lean to critically evaluate both societies, and recognise that a lot of the ideas we have about the so-called 'primitive' nature of Indigenous societies are actually myths based on racism (see for example Dark Emu).

Why it's hard to write this.


This discussion is inherently complicated and difficult and lends itself to misinterpretation by those who want to retain the status quo. But additionally, as a feminist who has been quite heavily involved in politics as a researcher, adviser and candidate, I've often been extremely depressed and discouraged by the way I've been treated - especially by men, but also by some women. This depression and discouragement makes it hard to do the intellectual work of putting my ideas in a coherent form. I feel 'what's the point, no-one's going to listen'.

In fact, two political parties (Labor and Greens) have taken my policy work to elections, but they've done it while deliberately excluding me - and few people seem to care about that. I think this is one important reason why white male dominated politics persists, because we 'others' who dare to question it get discouraged by the constant belittling or ignoring of our perspectives or contribution.

But I am trying to keep going. It is important to focus on positives, and Rhiana's interest is a positive. Therefore I will try to do the work of responding to it.

Like most academics, I'm also under pressure to publish in academic journals if I want to be taken seriously, and this kind of work is also hard to do for that reason. There's the constant feeling 'I should be working on my article' even though the kind of political work that Rhiana is doing will have much bigger immediate consequences (I also know that Rhiana and others have done the academic work behind this as well, of course).  Anyway, I've had a go, as above. 

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Submission to Greens - blown off course

My draft submission to the Greens has been blown off course by the resignation of Alex Bhathal from the Greens. You can read about that here, here, here, here and here.

I was aware of the possibility that Alex might be taking legal action against the Greens and have therefore for some time been trying not to comment on Alex's situation, although it was that situation that sparked my plan to do a submission in a sense. I had pretty much given up worrying about my own poor treatment by the Greens, and had continued to support the party for policy reasons, until I saw what was happening to Alex last year and thought I could not stand by and let this go.

Alex's resignation means I need to rethink my position. Should I continue with this submission, or should I be calling for a new party, because the Greens are - currently - a lost cause? I've talked about this with various family and friends, and I don't have a clear view.

In the meantime, I will just paste here the most recent readings and notes from preparing my submission, without trying to write them up properly. I think they are still relevant, and hopefully I will have time and inclination to extract the key points in another post soon.

Notes for (possible) submission:
Anika Gauja 'The Legal Regulation of Political Parties: Promoting Integrity?' Election Law Journal 15(1) 2016
- introduction to issue of journal on this topic
- "Together, the articles in this symposium strive to draw deeper connections (through both theoretical and empirical approaches) between the intentions, the substance, and the effect of party laws, build- ing on the concept of ‘‘electoral integrity’’ as an overarching heuristic device (Norris 2014; 2013). Grounded in international commitments and global norms, electoral integrity can be defined as the ‘‘universal standards that apply to all countries worldwide throughout the electoral cycle, including during the pre-electoral period, the campaign, on polling day, and in its aftermath’’ (Norris 2014: 9). A prominent example is the requirement set out in Article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which provides that: ‘‘the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in peri- odic and genuine elections which shall be by univer- sal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures’’ (see also Davis-Roberts and Carroll 2014: 21–24). While the concept lends itself to the evaluation of a multi-stage electoral process (see Norris 2014: 34), the authors in this symposium have been asked to focus specifically on how these norms of regulation affect the operation of political parties in a diverse range of democratic settings (for exam- ple, as voluntary associations, as electoral competi- tors, and as legislative groupings) and across their various functions" p 1
-
- Discusses article by Cross which looks at internal party regulation and idea that representation should be encouraged or regulated (sees regulation as too limiting?)

Anika Gauja 'The Legal Regulation of Political Parties: Is There a Global Normative Standard?' Election Law Journal 15(1) 2016
"Given the diversity of regulation across the globe, the primary objective of the analysis is to determine whether there is a consistent set of universally ac- cepted principles that govern the regulation of polit- ical parties (particularly as electoral actors), and where there is not, to determine the opposing prin- ciples and competing rights that are at play" p 5
- Elections a partic concern inc "free" vs "fair" elections, finance in elections
- "core values such as equality, liberty, participation/deliberation, and integrity are still actively contested" p  6
- Concept of free elections reasonably well understood and regulated, fair elections (including conduct/regulation of parties) not so much
- "the role and place of political parties in demo- cratic societies have always been contested" p 7
- "For example, should party government be privi- leged at the expense of assemblies of independent legislators? Are political parties voluntary associa- tions—free to determine their structure, or should a particular organizational form be imposed upon them?" P 7
- Looking at international law, there appear to be clear regulations on conduct of elections but not so much on conduct of political parties
- Only two binding international treaties specifically mention political parties
- "one report from the UN Human Rights Committee mentions political parties— acknowledging their existence insofar as they facil- itate the individual freedoms of political association and expression provided for in Article 25 of the ICCPR.6" p 8, and there are several other reports  from international orgs (found about 6 in total)
- Generally parties seen as important in ensuring participation and representation
- "most pro- lific source of international principles on the legal regulation of political parties is found within elec- tion handbooks." P 8 , tend to be from NGOs, found 25 sources
- "Are there consistent international standards for the regulation of political parties?
The international documents that contain men- tion of political parties do so in the context of five main aspects of the electoral contest that cut across stages in the electoral process: freedom of politi- cal association, freedom of political expression, electoral competition, public funding and state sub- sidies, and political finance. The role and accep- tance of parties within each of these five elements varies between sources, as do the regulatory pre- scriptions that follow" p 9
"The role of political parties as facilitators in en- abling individuals to exercise their freedom of polit- ical association and expression is the most accepted global norm" p 9
Also appears to be some norm around the need for electoral competition, therefore multiple parties, hence an "open and inclusive" process of party regulation p 9
- there are issues around conflicting needs for open and inclusive processes and the need to ban or restrict unacceptable or "frivolous" parties p 10
Issues around public funding - lack of clear norms in this area
However general norms around party accountability and transparency of funding, and at least the possibility of limiting or capping finance (eg donations)

"The internal organization of political parties is a dimension of party politics that is left virtually un- touched by international norms and standards. None of the public international law documents in the Carter Database prescribes a particular organi- zational form or any standards of international best practice for matters relating to membership, in- ternal party decision making such as candidate
or leadership selection, as well as policymaking— activities that could all be regarded as core functions of political parties in representative democracies. The closest international law comes to setting stan- dards for the internal organization of parties is the requirement that political parties embrace equal op- portunity and endeavor to balance the number of male and female candidates. States must take appro- priate measures to ensure that political parties do not discriminate against women.24 Hence [author suggests there is a norm that]:
9. Political parties should be supported through appropriate regulatory measures to facilitate gender parity in candidate selection and equal access to public office.
[although there seems to be no positive regulation around this nor enforcement]
There is no general requirement that candidate or leadership selection should be inclusive, nor for that matter any suggestions that party organizations be internally democratic." P 11
Overall:
"The source and scope of international public law standards
A number of interesting findings arise from an analysis of international public law contained in the Carter Database concerning the legal regulation of political parties. The first is that binding interna- tional standards found in treaties and interpretive sources are extremely rare and have only been utilized by states with very limited or no experience of stable party systems, for example the CIS and the AU. The bulk of international norms come from state-level documents and reports authored by re- gional bodies such as the EU and a variety of NGOs. The second finding is that within this body of law there is general agreement upon the regula- tion of parties in a number of areas. Political parties should be recognized in facilitating the individual freedoms of political expression and association, that regulation should seek to establish minimum levels of party competition, that state support consistent with the principles of equality may be provided to parties, that party finance should be transparent and may be legitimately restricted, and finally that political parties should encourage the equal representation of women. All of these princi- ples are expressed in broad terms, however, and very few detailed prescriptions are made with re- spect to the specific type of regulatory measures (for example, provisions for registration and levels of expenditure caps). These are matters for individual states to determine. In addition, international law con- tains practically no standards that relate to the internal organization and form of political parties." P 11-12
The Carter database does not include constitutions and state docs so have looked more generally at these as illustrative of differences and tensions. Eg many constitutions don't mention parties, but German constitution specifies that they should be "freely established" and that their organisation should "conform to democratic principles" (response to Nazism) cited p 12
"This type of con- stitutional provision is common to other states with previous experiences of authoritarian and fascist re- gimes." P 13
Similar provisions may be found in "developing and transitional" democracies p 13
"In this context, parliamentary common law states, such as the U.S. and the U.K., as well as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, now appear as curious outliers (Gauja 2010: 24–5). In one sense, this omis- sion could be seen as a response to practical consid- erations: political parties were not significant organizational entities at the time when many of the first influential constitutional documents were drafted. It might also be viewed as a product of ‘‘min- imalist’’ constitutional designs as mechanisms for preserving flexibility in the design and regulation of future forms of representative democracy (Gauja 2010: 28). However, debates surrounding the inclu- sion/omission of political parties from constitutional documents also reveal the dominant social attitudes towards parties at the time: parties were viewed negatively and not seen as appropriate or desirable constitutional actors worthy of codification. The
dominant ideals of legislative independence— including the influence of Burkean notions of rep- resentative democracy stood in tension with the concept of party government. " p 13
Comment: there is little in the article that relates to membership. The requirements for "democratic principles" are probably the only relevant sections and as shown in the article these seem to be mainly found in countries which have had relatively recent experience of fascist or non-democratic government. The older democracies, which have evolved, don't seem to have considered these issues much. Within these countries, as discussed in my own research in Australia, there is a conflict between democratic and egalitarian principles, and an inherited tradition of top-down, hierarchical, white male dominated forms of governance.

William P Cross 'Considering the Appropriateness of State Regulation of Intra-Party Democracy: A Comparative Politics Perspective' Election Law Journal 15(1) 2016
This article considers the pros and cons of state regulation to ensure internal democracy, however it is not concerned to define internal democracy broadly and is mainly concerned with processes for candidate selection and leadership rather than more general internal party organisation and conduct. However it cites relevant sources
"There has been a considerable amount written in recent years regarding state regulation of political parties. The most comprehensive study is that led by van Biezen at Leiden University. This project finds an increase in the regulation of political parties and notes that ‘‘many of these regulations were first introduced or were substantially extended in the wake of the introduction of public funding for par- ties’’ (van Biezen and Romee Piccio 2013: 27). Some of these regulations are purely administrative in the sense that if parties are to receive taxpayers’ dollars there must be some minimal regulatory scheme in place to oversee things such as qualifica- tion as a party, public registration, eligibility for financing and perhaps expenditure disclosure require- ments. As van Biezen and Romee Piccio (2013: 27) note, while regulation of party affairs was initially ‘‘limited to the organization of the electoral pro- cess . In recent years, however, the state has in- creased its propensity to intervene in both the external and internal manifestations of party politics" p 22
...
" The internal regulation of parties concerns state rules dictating both how parties organize themselves and how they make their internal decisions. Because parties are key players in public life, and in general elections, the distinction between their internal and external activities is not always clear. Van Biezen and Romee Piccio (2013: 35) describe the internal regulation of parties as state prescription of the in- ternal channels of accountability, the composition of internal organs, the frequency of party meetings, voting and election procedures, rights and duties of party members, eligibility for party membership, and the type and form of organizational structure. In their comprehensive survey of European democ- racies, they find that while ‘‘a considerable number of party laws make explicit reference to the various aspects of intra-party democracy,’’ they generally leave it to the parties themselves ‘‘to elaborate spe- cific rules in their internal party structures’’ (38). In this way, the state signals that it sees internal party democracy as a virtue deserving to be ‘‘elaborated in greater detail in party statutes, while at the same time keeping away from infringing upon their autonomy and freedom of association by not legally prescribing specific directives.’’ Thus, they find that ‘‘party laws tend to assign the prerogative to outline the precise details of intra-party processes to the party statutes, rather than regulating them di- rectly’’ (48). "
The question for my discussion however is not centrally about whether and how far the state should be regulating parties, however, but what are the norms and principles of internal democracy and are they being implemented in practice?


Sunday, 13 January 2019

Submission to Greens - political and legislative context - in progress

Notes for submission to Greens


The Constitution does not contain much information on voting except that qualifications of electors are as in original state constitutions (subsequently modified to ensure women, and much later, Indigenous peoples, were all entitled to vote). Political parties are not discussed.

On political parties, the Parliament of Australia Info sheet 22 - political parties says: "Political parties are not formally recognised in the standing orders of the House." However, in practice, the operation of Parliament is based on political parties forming the government and opposition (plus cross benchers, minor parties and independents).

Political parties are governed by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 

(15 January 2019 continued) - and presumably similar state Acts which I haven't consulted, which set out the conditions for a party to be registered or deregistered by the Electoral Commission.

For the purposes of this discussion, the relevant requirements are that a party either has representatives in Parliament already or has at least 500 members, that it has a written constitution, and that it stands candidates for Parliament. There are other requirements regarding name, logo, etc that are not relevant here.

Generally speaking it appears that political parties are not highly regulated. An article by Anika Gauja 'The legal regulation of political parties: is there a global normative stadard?' Election Law Journal 15(1), provides an overview.
To be continued ...

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Submission to the Greens - my CV

I've had a response from the State Secretary of the Victorian Greens to the concerns I raised during the state election. We've had some email discussion to and fro, which I think can be summarised as Sean (the State Secretary) trying to explain to me what the relevant Greens administrative rules are, and me trying to explain why I think they're wrong. So we are talking past each other a bit I think, and I need to focus on getting the submission together. 

I won't reproduce the emails in full but I will be drawing on the information provided by Sean. I've let him know that and am awaiting his response, so prior to discussing the process further, I'll set out some background information, this time about my work for the Greens. This is particularly in response to the claim by the Greens that the reason for refusal of membership to me was that my relationships in the party were "consistently fraught". 

I've discussed the most significant "fraught" relationship, my dispute with the then party convenor, previously. I'm not suggesting there were not other "fraught" or difficult relationships, but most of them I would say were relatively minor, and of the sort you might expect in politics, particularly if you're a feminist. The information below relates to my positive work for the Greens (I'm not exactly sure of some dates but this is accurate as I can make it).

I joined the party in 2001 and was a member until 2004. During this approximately three years, I did the following:
  • Stood as a candidate for the then Province of Eumemmering for the Victorian Legislative Council in the state election in 2002, achieving an overall vote of 11%.
This was a very good result given that there hadn't been a Greens candidate for that Province before. Eumemmering (which doesn't exist now, since the electoral system for the Legislative Council was changed prior to the 2006 state election) covered the lower house Districts of Dandenong, Gembrook, Narre Warren North and Narre Warren South. As well as my own campaigning, I put a lot of effort into supporting my Greens colleagues who were standing in those seats, preparing election material, getting stories in local papers, organising how to vote cards and organising people to hand out at polling stations. Compared with the other candidates, I was more experienced, as I'd been an adviser in the Labor party prior to joining the Greens, and I was therefore able to give them support. The Greens had not stood before in most of the area (there was a Greens lower house candidate in the former district of Pakenham, which covered some of the current District of Gembrook, in 1999).

It's difficult to compare the 11% result with successive elections since there have been many changes, not just in the electoral system, but because there are many more parties contesting, particularly in the upper house. So the fact that the result hasn't been equaled since is not simply related to the efforts of me or anyone else. However I can say that in the area where I had lived until 2001, the town of Cockatoo, the upper house vote for me at 20% was a lot higher than the 1999 vote of 10.3%. I was very honoured and humbled by this, however I don't think many of my fellow members in the Moreland Branch would have known or cared about this result, as they were very focused on the Brunswick election, where Pamela Curr was the candidate.

I have also volunteered for the Greens, including variously handing out how-to-votes, campaigning, serving as a booth captain and scrutineering, at state and federal elections, and some local Council elections, right up until the 2018 state election, when I decided I could no longer ignore the problems in the party.
  • Served as Convenor of the Victorian Greens Women's Network in about 2003-04.
I was invited to take on this position and elected unopposed when I agreed. This probably gives some idea of the challenges. In theory, the Greens have always been very supportive of women, and had a commitment to affirmative action where required. Certainly the Greens had a better record on standing female candidates than other parties at that time. Nevertheless, the State Executive and State Council tended to be dominated by certain men who spoke loudly and held the floor. Trying to deal with this was quite difficult, and in addition to the problems of the staff restructure (which I've discussed elsewhere) meant my job was very difficult. I don't think it's at all unusual that women in such positions are perceived as difficult, however I did the job as best I could.
  • Coordinated the national health policy working group and the development of the Greens national health policy for the 2004 federal election, and supported both state and federal health spokespeople.
As well as coordinating the development of the national health policy, which involved pulling together and editing the contributions from members of the working group, and writing some sections myself, I also wrote a submission to Senate inquiry on Medicare and arranged for Richard Di Natale and myself to speak at the inquiry, and prepared material for distribution at a Medicare rally in 2004 where Kerry Nettle spoke. 

As well as these formal positions I was also a branch member and helped out with fundraising and social activities of the Moreland Branch during the time I was a member. 

I acknowledge that I had conflict with some members of the Moreland Branch at times, but to suggest that I could have achieved all these things, in the relatively short period of my Greens membership (only about three years) if I had really had "consistently fraught" relationships with everyone, as some Moreland Branch members apparently allege, is self-evidently questionable.

In the next post, I will discuss the question of whether, and how, some Greens members use processes such as consensus and complaints, in a way that is similar to factionalism and is at odds with the way those processes are intended. In doing this, I will discuss my own experiences but I will also have to refer to what happened in Darebin Branch and the former electorate of Batman in 2018. I'm trying to confine this submission mainly to my own experiences, because others are following up those issues and I don't want to confuse that process, but I need to talk about it eventually because what happened in Batman is crucial to this submission and why I decided to make it, after letting these issues go for so many years.