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.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

'Consuming the world'

Below is a copy of the presentation which I gave to the Dangerous Consumptions Colloquium in November 2018, with my notes (edited for sense and ease of reading).


I begin by paying my respects to Elders and custodians - in particular to the Bunurong people, on whose land we meet, and specifically to Elders who participated in and supported my research project. The image refers to:

  • human activities heating the world (climate change), and
  • the discourse of humanity (or 'Man') as lord of creation, with power over other species and ecosystems, through the image of the “crown roast”

The image of a lamb crown roast fits the Australian history of white invasion of Indigenous country, and over-running it with sheep (ironically still celebrated in Australia Day advertisements for lamb barbeques).
However, it also refers to the latest IPCC report on global warming of 1.5, which suggests reducing meat eating and switching to plant based foods as an important part of one possible pathway to stay within 1.5C warming.
This is the first time I am aware of that the IPCC has put strong emphasis on ‘demand reduction’ and ‘behaviour change’ as feasible parts of the response to global warming. Meat eating represents danger for planet, but also danger for human health, through the way meat is consumed in high income countries. Like other forms of dangerous consumption, meat eating is often valorised and associated with pleasure. It is also often associated with a certain construction of dominant masculine identity.
The IPCC report also mentions demand reduction in relation to transport, but seems to have less confidence that it can be achieved. However, the report does go beyond a price-based, 'market driven' focus alone. It also looks at co-benefits, and links with the Sustainable Development Goals. Like the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, the IPCC report also begins to look at 'bottom up' as well as 'top down' responses.
As well as affecting climate by our 'dangerous consumption', we are also destroying biodiversity. A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund says the population of species they monitor has decreased by 60%. Similarly several indicators of the United Nations Environment Program are already at or past crisis point.  


The research project involved research with three Primary Care Partnerships (PCPs) from 2009-2017. PCPs are alliances of local health and community services, usually covering several municipalities. During 2011-16, we looked at theory and practice at community level.

We identified 32 projects promoting health, equity and environmental sustainability in the three PCPs. These involved:
  • Sustainable food systems & caring for natural environment, healthy eating, growing food, reducing food waste, community gardening, links to Indigenous cultural awareness
  • Housing sustainability, particularly for low income groups, reducing energy use and costs
  • Active transport, walking cycling and public transport use
Even though small scale, these projects fit with the sectors identified by the IPCC, and with bottom up responses. This work is community based rather than market driven. However it faced significant challenges, particularly political and discursive challenges.

Across Victoria as a whole, planned action to address climate change or environmental sustainability in PCP strategic plans declined from almost 50% of plans in 2009-12, to just over 10% in 2013-17. Some PCPs kept doing the work but ‘labelled’ it differently, however there was clearly a real decline. One respondent in the research project said that the biggest challenge to the work was that climate change was so politicised that "people are too scared to even talk about it".
The politicised context was also a threat to health promotion in general. There were major cuts to health promotion and public health after the federal Liberal National Coalition (LNC) government was elected in 2013. However, there was a particular threat to work on climate change or environmental sustainability.

This political context was also gendered. Julia Gillard was the Labor Prime Minister until September 2013. The government at the time of the image above (2011) was proposing to legislate a carbon price and other measures to address climate change. Ms Gillard was demonised as a liar and ‘witch’, who had sneakily overthrown the male Labor leader Kevin Rudd, and had ‘lied’ about her intention to introduce a carbon price ('tax').
This movement was led by a conservative white male, Tony Abbott, as leader of the Opposition, but as apparent in the photo, it was not supported only by conservative white males. Several LNC female MPs went along with this. (Two of those pictured above subsequently left Parliament, one losing her seat to a female independent)

The thesis also explored the deeper level of discourse underlying this immediate level of political conflict. It explored how the discourse of mainstream economics – the most politically powerful discourse of our polity – although apparently neutral, and about ‘individuals’, actually has embedded assumptions from the patriarchal discourse of the white invasion of Australia
This approach draws on ecofeminist theory, particularly the work  of Carolyn Merchant. However, this theoretical approach is complex and not easily accessible, and can provoke opposition, particularly in conservative regional areas, where two of the PCPs in the study are located.

I am now trying to relate this analysis more clearly to public discussions about climate change and environment. Some examples of such discussions come from participants in the thesis, others I have seen in media and twitter, and in academic sources.
One type of discourse often drawn on is about culture, lifestyle, and even addiction. For example, a participant in the research spoke about a “car culture”, saying people would get into their car to go from one end of the street to  the other (talking about a street in a country town such as the one in the image). I also conducted a review of relevant health promotion literature, which looked in part at suggested causes for the ecological crisis. Several articles suggested 'lifestyle', or people's desire for affluent lifestyles, as a cause. Some academics, such as Frederica Perera (2008), specifically use the language of addiction (‘Children Are Likely to Suffer Most from Our Fossil Fuel Addiction’).

I also recognise the role of capitalism, or commercial determinants, and the concept of creating ‘addictive products’, which others will talk about in this colloquium. However, I want to explore deeper levels of discourse, and consent, particularly how mainstream economics often constrains us, including people working in public health, into a form of consent to its assumptions.

I don’t know much about these images and their sources, so show them just for fun, but they do convey messages about advertising and masculinity that are significant culturally, even though contemporary ads aren’t normally so blatant and make at least some appeal to women and diversity (sometimes in a very patronising way).

Different suggestions, such as those shown above, can be found in both popular and academic sources. Many are sensible. But I am concerned with examples of how the apparently neutral language of economics, maths and numbers, actually hides many issues of power and inequality, and diverts from real issues and responsibilities that we need to face.

This may arise from the intersection of contemporary, supposedly ‘non-gendered’ and ‘non- racialized’ ideas, with a continuing underlying discourse that is in fact gendered and racialized. There are continuing historical influences, for example in Australia, from a discourse in which the normative individual clearly was, in the late 19th and early 20th century, and in some ways implicitly still is, a white adult middle class man.

In this analysis I am focusing particularly on suggestions about technology and babies.

One of the commonest examples of what I call the ‘technology will save us’ approach I see in popular discourse, is a focus on electric cars, powered by renewable energy. I think this was particularly cleverly demolished by this image which I saw on twitter.
Clearly the resource implications alone of changing the entire fleet (millions of cars) in 10, or even 30, years, are enormous, and would have major environmental consequences. But even if this reduced carbon emissions, and reduced the negative health impacts through less pollution, many of the environmental and social issues are not changed. The environmental impacts of roads and infrastructure, and the mining and production of metals, plastics and glass, would not be reduced, and some could potentially be increased.

The idea that we can keep living much as we do, but with new technology, seems to involve a reluctance to admit that major social change is needed. Even the focus on climate change alone, rather than environmental degradation more broadly, can be reductionist, although this is a separate and complex issue.

The quote and the picture above are both from Scientific American on population issues. The language of the quote is neutral, about average “people”, or individuals. However the picture tells a different story. It is about a woman of colour. The discourse of population growth and climate change is not always racist and sexist in its unspoken subtext, but it often is.

The parallel with the discourse of economics is suggested by the utility curve. People are envisaged as individuals who want to maximise their utility. This is all supposedly value free and neutral.


When we look deeper, there is no average person
On a country or national level, there are particular countries, Australia being one of them, which have very high incomes, high CO2e levels and large ecological footprints, but low birth rates
There are others that have high fertility rates, and are very low on the other indicators, like Afghanistan. Basically even if the population of Afghanistan doubled in a generation, it would still represent a very small fraction of the environmental impact of countries like Qatar and Australia.

Stable population is an important goal. Improving the conditions for women in low income countries (which many, although not all, of those who focus on population growth admit is necessary) is also important. But focusing on these issues alone is a diversion from the responsibilities of high income, fossil fuel producing countries.

Ultimately I suggest we need to change from the dominant ‘economistic’ discourse, where we are conceptualised as individuals who compete for resources in order to improve our utility, to one in which we are understood as part of a socioecological system, where we all have responsibility to care for each other and share resources fairly and sustainably. As one of the participants in the research project said, we need to think about 'what kind of future we want'. In doing this we can learn from ecofeminist theory and from Indigenous knowledge.

‘Random people on the internet’ are those who shared their thoughts with me on the research project blog and on twitter and the internet more broadly.


Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Submission to Greens - draft notes

Over the next few weeks, I plan to develop a submission to the Victorian Greens, with two main purposes, one specific and personal, the other broad and policy oriented. The first is to ask for a review of the refusal of membership to me, with a clear statement of reasons. The second is to call for a clearer vision and purpose for the Greens, looking at what kind of society they are aiming for, and how the party itself represents that vision.

In brief, do the Greens aim to be an egalitarian, inclusive, democratic and open party, aiming for an egalitarian, inclusive, democratic and open society? Or do they aim to be a hierarchical organisation, dominated by small groups, with limited accountability, and aiming to manage society in the way they deem best? That seems to be the position confronting the Greens, and to be exemplified in the way I was treated, and others have been treated, in the party.

Some of this will necessarily be impressionistic. However, I will assemble and present as much clear evidence as I can. First, I begin with a general description of the Greens' position in Victoria at present.

Results of the last six elections:

Lower house votes
2018, Greens 10.71, ALP 42.86, Liberal/National total 35.20, Other 11.23
2014, Greens 11.48, ALP 38.10, Liberal/National total 42.00, Other 8.42
2010, Greens 11.21, ALP 36.25, Liberal/National total 44.78, Other 7.76
2006, Greens 10.04, ALP 43.06, Liberal/National total 39.61, Other 7.29
2002, Greens 9.73, ALP 47.95, Liberal/National total 38.21, Other 4.11
1999, Greens 1.15, ALP 45.57, Liberal/National total 47.02, Other 6.26

Upper house votes
2018, Greens 9.25, ALP 39.22, Liberal/National total 29.43, Other 22.1
2014, Greens 10.75, ALP 33.46, Liberal/National total 36.13, Other 19.66
2010, Greens 12.01, ALP 35.36, Liberal/National total 43.15, Other 9.48
2006, Greens 10.58, ALP 41.45, Liberal/National total 38.98, Other 8.99
2002, Greens 10.87, ALP 47.49, Liberal/National total 38.88, Other 2.76
1999, Greens 2.23, ALP 42.19, Liberal/National total 47.00, Other 8.58

Overall the Greens have been a significant presence in Victoria since the 2002 election. This likely reflects the big shift in 2002, following the Tampa incident, when Labor members like myself began leaving the party and switching to the Greens. 

The Greens vote, however, has declined somewhat in recent elections. For the lower house, it has declined from 11.48% in 2014 to 10.71% in 2018, while for the upper house, it has declined from 12.01% in 2010 to 9.25%. The Greens upper house vote is at its lowest point this century. 

This decline would likely in part reflect the increase in votes for minor parties and independents, which has been very marked in the upper house in the last two elections, and also present, though to a lesser degree, in the lower house (see 'Other' figures above). It is noticeable though that this has not affected the Labor party to the same degree. While the Labor party vote has declined since 2006, it has increased in the upper house in the most recent election and in the lower house in the two most recent elections. The Liberal National total vote has decreased since 2010 and declined dramatically in the most recent election. 

Overall, both Labor and minor parties/independents have increased their vote significantly in the last two elections, particularly at the expense of the Liberal/National coalition, but also apparently at the expense of the Greens. I argue very strongly that this should not be happening. At a time when climate change and environmental degradation are existential concerns, inequality is increasing dramatically, and the Victorian population overall seems to reject racist populism and the demonisation of asylum seekers, the Greens should be the party of choice on the basis of policy. The fact that they're not seems to indicate problems in the way the party is perceived, and in its messages to the people. It is in this context that I make this submission.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Continuing the discussion about population and emissions

In my previous post, I discussed why 'not having children' isn't the most important thing people can do to reduce emissions, contrary to what some people believe. I think this idea particularly comes from some American modelling a few years ago, which I will try to analyse in a subsequent post. However in this post I want to expand on my simple calculation in the previous post.

In that post I suggested that if everyone in Australia stopped having children, the theoretical reduction in total emissions by 2030 would be 12%, which is well below the necessary reduction of about 50%. However of course it's totally unrealistic to think everyone would do that, so I suggested we could probably think about a 10-20% decline in births at most, which would equal a 1.2-2.4% decline in emissions - not nothing, but very small.

That's a highly simplified and theoretical calculation of course, and is more like 'emissions forgone' than an actual reduction. If we were currently reducing our total and per capita emissions, it might be more meaningful, but we are not. A slightly more realistic way of looking at this might be to calculate the actual population decline involved (leaving aside immigration).

The current number of deaths per annum in Australia is around 160,000 (ABS). (It puzzled me a bit at first that they are so much fewer than births, which are around 310,000, but the discussion below* explains this.) I won't show the detailed calculation, but if you think of the impact of not having children in terms of population decline and associated decline in emissions, the annual decline in emissions would be about 0.6%, or cumulatively 6.6% by 2030. This is a more 'real' way of calculating it (potentially an actual decline rather than emissions forgone), but again the likely decline in births is much less. Taking the 10-20% estimate again, the likely real decline would be 0.66-1.3%. A tiny amount of the needed 50% in other words.

Over the long term, a declining population would reduce emissions of course. And over the long term, because our fertility rate (births per women) is below replacement rate, we could have a declining population (depending on immigration levels). A declining population also causes some social and economic problems, which I won't go into here, but the big issue is we don't have a long time. We have to reduce emissions fast, and the thing we as Australians can do is work out why our emissions are so high and how we can reduce them. (Suggestions based on the IPCC report are in the previous post, I'll try to expand on them later.)

Finally, it's an ethical question. Even if we could reduce our total emissions in Australia by reducing births and restricting immigration, why should we continue to have such high per capita emissions rates? What is there that justifies us emitting so much CO2e per person, one of the highest rates in the world, if not the highest? We need to think as global citizens rather than just Australians, and calculate how we can get down to a sustainable level of emissions, as fast as possible. We could do this in ways that have multiple social and health benefits - to be continued ...

*The reason deaths are so much fewer than births is that the number of older people is still much fewer than younger people (see figure here). The Australian population grew rapidly until about the 1970s, when the birth rate began to drop. So although the fertility rate is now below replacement rate (which is about 2.1 children per woman, while the current fertility rate is about 1.7), births still outnumber deaths at present as there are many more in the reproductive years than in older age groups.
(Edited slightly for clarity today)