Friday, 16 November 2018

Confronting the discourse of economics

Yesterday I gave a presentation at the Dangerous Consumptions Colloquium in Melbourne.

I'm trying to work out an article on challenging the discourse of mainstream economics and the colloquium is venue to try out new ideas. I didn't manage to articulate my ideas in full, as I spent a lot of time discussing background, but it was a start.

A fun thing I did was draw a picture for my presentation - above

Will post the rest a bit later

(The Victorian election continues and I am still disappointed with the Greens, but life goes on ...)

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Calling for procedural fairness in the Greens

(Edited 16 November 2018)

People who follow me on Twitter may have seen that I've been expressing some concerns about the Greens. I've been meaning to write about it here. I think the Greens represent the best option in Australia policy-wise, in regard to environment and social justice. However there's been some serious concerns about internal processes and fairness in the party lately, which the leadership has not responded to well.

So I've decided to tell my story, in the hope of getting some more action and transparency around these issues.

The original disputes between me and other members (apart from everyday disputes that happen in political parties) go back to confrontations between the then convenor, Adrian Whitehead, and me in 2003-04. Adrian, with the support of the State Executive Commitee, proposed to restructure the staff in the Greens office. The proposal was to create a new more senior position to replace the office manager position, and advertise the new position. All the office staff were women. I was then the  convenor of the Greens' Women's Network and it appeared that the restructure was being done in a high-handed way and was likely to result in disadvantage to existing staff. (There is considerable precedent that as organisations get bigger, they become more hierarchical and are more likely to appoint men to senior positions.)

The Women's Network put a motion to State Council to defer any decision on the staffing restructure until further ideas could be considered. However due to lengthy discussion on other items, the motion did not get discussed. Adrian said he was going ahead with the current plan and the new position would be advertised. I decided I had no option but to resign, as he was sidelining the Network, and I did so in an email to State Council outlining my reasons.

Subsequently a man was appointed to the new senior staff position and the female officer manager lost her job.

I did rejoin the party somewhat later, through State Council. I got a lot of support from members, but there was a small group including Adrian who opposed me and said I should be banned from the party. I continued to have some reservations about the way the party was working and let my membership lapse in 2004.

The text below from a Twitter thread (21/10/18) sums up the rest of the story:

1. The situation with #Greens and me is, I was a member but let my membership lapse in 2004. Sometime later I applied to rejoin but was refused because some members objected. I don’t know who they were, or what they said about me. I had no opportunity to respond to objections .../2

2. A few years later I tried again and was again refused. This time branch office bearers met with me to discuss, but I still wasn’t told original objections. Legally I think there’s no obligation on parties to give details, but ethically it’s questionable ... /3

4. There’s a need for procedural fairness in #Greens. Otherwise provides opportunities for ppl to attack/exclude ‘opponents’. I’m constituent of @SamanthaRatnam & wrote to her but no response. Been asked to volunteer for @TimRRead but want concerns acknowledged .../5

5. Happened years ago, and I’d let it go, but decided I shouldn’t any more. If #Greens aspire to be more than ‘just another political party’, they need to respond to concerns about #Fairness, not ignore/deny. #Fairness matters @TimRRead @SamanthaRatnam

Thread can be viewed on Twitter here, with replies.

Also below is a copy of my original letter to Samantha Ratnam, the leader of the Victorian Greens. This was more focused on what happened to Alex Bhathal in the former Batman by-election, but I'm no longer talking about Alex's situation, because I believe she does not want it discussed at present. I'm now focusing only on my own situation, but I believe the principles of honesty, transparency and fairness have a much broader applicability in the Greens than just my case. 

28 July 2018
Ms Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens MLC for Northern Melbourne

Dear Samantha
I am a former Greens member and a long term volunteer. I have worked in numerous election campaigns, including volunteering for your campaign in the last federal election.
I am writing to you to express my deep concern about apparent failures of democratic accountability and respect for people’s rights and welfare in the Victorian Greens.
As you know, the campaign by Alex Bhathal in the recent by-election in the (former) seat of Batman (now Cooper) was severely damaged by one or more individuals who leaked details from a confidential complaint against Alex to hostile media sources. The resulting media coverage was deeply damaging, not only to the Greens, but to Alex and members of her family.
I have not seen any statement from the Victorian Greens, or from yourself, which acknowledges this. I read mainstream media, follow social media, and receive regular emails from Greens, including from yourself and Richard Di Natalie. At the time of the by-election Richard condemned these actions, but since then I have not seen any recognition by the Greens or yourself that these actions were wrong and caused harm.
This is an appalling situation. It is a betrayal of the Greens and the people who support the Greens.
For me, it also has some personal resonance. As I said, I was previously a member of the Greens. I stood as a candidate in the 2002 Victorian election, and was national health policy convenor in 2003- 4. I also served as convenor of the Victorian Greens Women’s Network in about 2003. In that role, I had a dispute with the then Victorian Greens convenor, Adrian Whitehead, over his treatment of female staff in the Greens office. I resigned over this issue, then subsequently re-joined the party, but continued to be somewhat disillusioned with Vic Greens leadership and subsequently let my membership lapse in about 2004.
Since that time I have twice applied to re-join the party, and been rejected, apparently because some anonymous people in my local branch (Moreland) are opposed to me. None of these people, whoever they are, have spoken to me directly or attempted to resolve their differences with me.
Looking at these issues, it seems to me there is a serious ethical problem in the party, possibly relating to a misunderstanding of the principle of consensus. Consensus should mean that all viewpoints on issues are respected, even if they are minority viewpoints, and solutions sought that recognise the validity of different viewpoints. However, some people in the Greens seem to be interpreting it to mean that members who are opposed to a particular individual can do whatever they want to exclude that individual, regardless of harm to that person, to those associated with them, and to the party itself.
Consensus should mean seeking to resolve differences, not seeking to harm or exclude others because of personal differences.
Surely you, and the party, can see that this is ethically wrong? In the case of Alex, I, and many others I know, including people who have never been members of the Greens but have voted for the Greens, are astounded and dismayed by your and the Victorian Greensfailure to act. I urge you, and the Victorian Greens, to take a strong stand on this, and to make it clear that you do not support or condone behaviour that is primarily intended to damage or exclude individuals. 

I have seen the Victorian Greens admit to failures of process, but this is not only about a failure of process. It is about a failure of ethics and principles. The Greens should stand for peaceful, non- violent resolution of conflict, not condone actions which are primarily designed to harm individuals.
If individuals are to be undermined and publicly humiliated as candidates, or denied membership, as in my case, or even expelled, as some of Alex’s opponents apparently called for her to be, then that needs to be a decision made by the party, based on very clear and publicly accountable grounds. It should not be the result of a few anonymous individual Greens members acting without accountability. The right to belong to, or represent, a political party is an important civil and political right, and should not be denied or undermined merely on the basis of anonymous individual grudges.
I urge you to make it clear publicly that the Greens do stand for the principles of democracy, accountability, honesty, care and respect for others, and peaceful conflict resolution, and do not condone actions intended to exclude or harm individuals. I also urge you to acknowledge the harm that was done to Alex, and those associated with her, and commit to ensuring that the party will do its best to ensure this does not happen again. Whether Alex wants any form of public acknowledgement or apology is up to her, but I believe it needs to be acknowledged that harm was done, and made clear that you, and the party, support her.
Yours sincerely
(Signed by me) 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Moving the debates

Let this go for ages as usual, in spite of good intentions. So much happening and I am more engaged on Twitter, which is immediate and easier than blogging. However I should try to keep a record. I attended the award ceremony for my PhD yesterday, interesting though the mystique has worn off a bit for me I suppose.

There are so many things to think about, it's hard to focus on just one. To prioritise - we have perhaps an opportunity to get some action on important issues. We've had the IPCC report and the Wentworth by election recently. There's been an opportunity to focus on two particular issues: Australia's response to climate change and off-shore detention. This is largely because the popular independent candidate in Wentworth, Kerryn Phelps, has taken a position on these issues.

I understand the concerns of those on the left and feminists of colour that she is a privileged white woman who is probably quite conservative on many issues. But to ignore or minimise that she has been able to take clear positions on these issues, and win the by-election, is counter-productive. She has moved the debate significantly and we should appreciate that and build on it.

Which moves me on to my next issue: apparently the Greens cannot acknowledge that women like Alex Bhathal, and me in a less prominent way, have been treated badly. I really don't understand what is wrong with these people: what would it cost them to acknowledge there are some problems in the party? They go on about the 'old parties' but my experience is that Labor is more tolerant of dissent than the Greens, notwithstanding that the Greens have better policies.

So I'm thinking I'll make my dispute with the Greens public. I wrote to Samantha Ratnam - for whom I campaigned! - weeks ago, and I've heard nothing. No acknowledgement. I think Alex has decided that she will stay in the tent, and campaign for Lidia Thorpe - a worthy cause - but I don't think I'll do that. Much as I appreciate what Lidia stands for, and how important it is to have her, and people like her, in Parliament, I also think the Greens must be honest.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Racism and the new PM

As ever, I find its hard keeping up to date with the blog. Nearly a month has gone by since my last post, the situation I was writing about there is still unresolved, and other things have happened. Perhaps the only way to keep this blog up with any regularity is not to worry about being consistent or writing in a considered, in-depth way but rather to write quick, impressionistic pieces when the opportunity is there. 

I'm currently on holiday in WA. I've stayed in Broome and spent one night in a remote Indigenous community (staying in the house of a white service provider). It has brought home the challenges and complexities of racism and reconciliation in Australia. 

Across the street, something bad was happening, involving Indigenous women - shouting and crying in the night, sounds of violence. Police were called. Someone said it was due to ice (or crack?). 

In the remote community, white service providers said 'surely people want education for their children?' They equated wanting education with caring for children, but what if it's white education? In a sense, we lock children up in schools.

I listened to reminiscences of old people about their childhoods in Broome on a social history podcast, and they reminded me of my childhood. Our society then was racist - clearly more formally racist than today. Yet as children, we made spaces for ourselves. We had more freedom, we were allowed to do more. That's partly growing up in the country, but it made spaces where white children and Indigenous children could come together as friends and playmates. 

The children in my tiny rural primary school used to go to school early, sometimes in spring, so that we could go looking for orchids in the bush. I don't know if our parents even knew - they must have I suppose, since even though we walked to school, we would have had to leave earlier than usual - but it seemed like something we organised for ourselves, like the children in Broome organised their play in the mangroves. It wasn't till later, when I went to live in the irrigation areas, that I saw Indigenous children being ridiculed and abused and effectively driven out of high school.

But those are stories for another time, maybe. This week Scott Morrison talked about "indulgent self loathing" because another Council has decided to change the date of Australia Day. I felt such fury when I read that - just fury. I tweeted angrily that he could "fuck off forever" with his racism, that he was not my Prime Minister. Generally I try not to swear on Twitter but there are times when it seems the only way to show feelings of outrage. So yeah, I'm the lefty outrage brigade. I am outraged by racism and sexism. I'm furious about them. Conservative white men are stuffing up the world, and I am furious at their sense of entitlement, their born to rule judgements. This business of not allowing Councils who change the date of Australia Day to hold citizenship ceremonies is outrageous. It's dictatorship. How come we let this happen? 

Today Morrison is trying to walk back his comments a bit, while still keeping the substantive stuff around refusing to change the date and not letting the Council hold citizenship ceremonies. He has suggested another day for celebrating Indigenous culture (we already have NAIDOC week and having a separate day is an apartheid type suggestion anyway). He has rabbited on about 

" ... that is the day [ie 26 January, when the First Fleet carrying white people landed in 1888 and the invasion began] where we have to deal with everything and we have to embrace it all, warts and all, and accept our successes and acknowledge where we haven’t done so well.
“There are scars from things that have happened over the last 200 years and more, and we look at that like anyone looks at their entire life. ..."
Well if his life has included the near genocide of an entire people ... I don't know where to start. Who is the "we" in this statement? Is he saying that white people committing near genocide is an example of "where we haven't done so well"? Are Indigenous people included in this "we"? What was it that they "haven't done so well"? They didn't gracefully accept their new overlords? What is he talking about? 

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The everyday awful problems confronting women

As ever it's been too long since I wrote my last post, and many things have happened, including the political turmoil of last week, resulting in a new PM who is less popular and possibly more likely to lose the next election than his predecessor, but is more conservative and probably less likely to act on climate change, which apparently satisfies some powerful people. We can all speculate as to what has 'really happened' here, but that's my take on it.

Rupert Murdoch, and the rich fossil fuel and conservative interests who ally themselves with him, may think they can play us like fools, but who knows? Even Scott Morrison may be more complex than he appears. Peter Dutton, when he still had hopes of being PM, said he would have liked to bring all the refugees on Manus and Nauru here. Of course, we on the left scoffed at him, but it shows he wanted to be seen as a decent human being. In a weird way, it suggests there is (maybe, perhaps) hope for this country. I can only hope so, for the sake of those people, particularly the children, locked up in those camps.

But anyway, I am turning back to my personal/political problems, which are mine, and personal, and include particular individuals, but which are those of all women on the left - how we do ally ourselves with men who have behaved badly? How much should we ask for, in terms of apology and reconciliation? It's a difficult balancing act, when those on the right can do so much harm. But we should not be asked (again and again) to sacrifice our right to decent treatment for the greater cause.

This is like the issues that face Indigenous people and people of colour. I am always amazed at the generosity of those who accept me as an ally and a friend, when my ancestors were amongst those who dispossessed their people. I feel they should spit in my face. But they don't - they accept me, kindly and graciously, and I feel blessed by a kindness I have no right to expect.

So if I learn from them, maybe it is this - I won't pretend that injustices didn't happen, but I will forgive and work with those who admit the wrongs they were part of. And I won't pretend that I was perfect, or that I never made mistakes or did bad things, but I won't let that hide the structural injustices that translated down to some individual men treating me unfairly.

I am in a position where one of those men who treated me unfairly could now help me in achieving a really worthy cause of addressing climate change, promoting environmental sustainability and equity. I think it's a goal that we've always shared, but in the past he was prepared to sacrifice me, a middke aged woman, while young men were protected, all in the name of the greater good. So it's a difficult quest.

Will try to write the next episode more quickly, but this is hard.