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)

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Why 'not having children' isn't the most important thing you can do reduce emissions

(Edited 11 December to clarify a few points. I also wanted to look at this from the perspective of population decline, but I can't write more on this page on the iPad, so will have to start a new post)

On Twitter and elsewhere, I frequently come across people who believe that not having children is the best thing they can do to reduce emissions. I discussed the problems with this idea in my presentation to the Dangerous Consumptions colloquium, which I'll post soon. Basically it's the problem of trying to apply averages in situations where they don't apply. In summary, the reason why this doesn't work is that countries with high birth rates tend to have low emissions, while countries with high emissions tend to have low birth rates.

Differences in emission rates correlate with wealth, but also reflect whether the country produces fossil fuels. Countries like Australia, USA, and the Arab gulf states (wealthy fossil fuel producing countries) tend to have very high emission rates. Australia's per capita emission rate, according to the latest greenhouse inventory report, is almost 22 tonnes CO2e per capita. (Around 2 is probably a sustainable level).

To help make it a bit clearer why 'not having children' isn't the most important thing anyone can do at present, I've included some simple calculations below. I should make it clear that I'm not saying sustainable population isn't important - Australia's birth rate is a bit below replacement rate at present,  which without immigration would lead to a declining population. That's not a bad thing at present. However decreasing the birth rate even further isn't the most urgent or important thing we collectively can do to reduce emissions.

I'm interested in any comments on this, including the calculation below. I haven't seen much research on this, which is why I'm looking at it, but there's bound to be people somewhere specialising in this, I'd think.


Australia's current population - c 25 million (ABS)
Australia's average yearly births - c 310,000 (ABS)
Australia's per capita emission rate - c 22 tonnes CO2e (as above)

So total emissions = c 550 million tonnes CO2e (25m x 22). If we had no births next year, and if we assume babies have the average per capita rate (questionable, but to keep it simple), then we would save about 6.8 million tonnes CO2e (310 thousand x 22), or 1.2% of current emissions. Over the course of 11 years to 2030, that would be cumulative, so would add up to about 12% reduction in emissions per annum by 2030.

So is that the biggest thing we can do? Well no. Over the 11 years to 2030, we need to reduce emissions by about 50% or more if we want to stay within 1.5C global warming (Climate Council), so it's only a minor proportion. Secondly, it's of course completely unrealistic to expect everyone to stop having babies for 11 years. I've got no idea what you could realistically expect. The birth rate certainly declined a lot in the 20th century, but once it's below replacement rate, it's hard to say how much lower it could go, especially in only 11 years. Maybe a decline of 10 or 20% is possible, which would amount to less than 3% decline in emissions, out of the more than 50% decline we need.

On my reading of the latest IPCC report on Global Warming, the most important things we collectively could do (not in any particular order) to reduce our emissions, are:

  • Reduce energy use and shift to renewables (which of course includes stop mining coal)*
  • Shift to a locally grown, organic* plant based diet as much as possible 
  • Shift from motorised to active transport as much as possible 
  • Reduce consumption across the board (reduce, reuse, recycle)
I'd argue the main obstacle to these is the 'economistic' discourse of growth, shared by both major parties in Australia, and not effectively contested by the Greens so far. Underlying that, I'd say, are the assumptions of hierarchical, capitalist patriarchy, but that's a long story I'm trying to write about in articles at present, so won't expand now. 

Interested in any comments on this, especially if my calculations are wrong.

*as far as I know the coal we sell isn't currently included in our per capita emissions, but we should stop mining and selling altogether anyway
* organic in this case to reduce emissions associated with production, transport and spreading of synthetic fertilisers, although there's other good reasons as well.

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.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Reconciling person, citizen, paid employee 1

It was a common saying of ‘second wave’ feminism that 'the personal is political' - that what happened in homes and ‘private life’ was not outside the sphere of politics, but reflected power arrangements in society.

We are still seeing that playing out, particularly in the sphere of work-life balance, domestic and family violence, and sexual harassment and violence. It’s been a long struggle to get these issues taken seriously, and the struggle continues. For example, recently the Age (3/8/18) had a front page story and editorial about violence against women. It was strongly worded, but it's certainly not the first time there have been such calls. Will it make a difference? I don’t know, but I am fairly certain that it is less acceptable for men to hit their wives than it was when I was young.

The struggle to show that the personal is political continues. The unfair burden of domestic and caring work on women, and family violence, still go on, but are no longer (I think) seen as just ‘private’ matters. In the area of sexual harassment and violence there is still a huge way to go, for example in that that most rapes are not reported to the police and there is very small chance of successful prosecution.

Most informed commentators agree that underlying this, there is a broader social problem of discrimination against women, of women being taken less seriously than men, as Jane Caro recently expressed it. Old patriarchal ways of thought still see men as more important. Kate Manne provides a useful discussion of misogyny as social circumstances that function to subordinate women, rather than some kind of individual hatred of women (see Down Girl, chapter 1).

Like most women, particularly of my age, I can provide many examples of sexual harassment or violence in my private life, particularly as a young woman, including being hit, or being groped in the street, to the doctor who made me walk around his room naked under the guise of a medical examination. One of the reasons I don't talk about this much is that it's demeaning, even, or perhaps most, those things that seem minor and foolish. I think people would probably laugh at me if I talked about these things, or try to silence me from embarrassment. The shame - which should attach to the perpetrators - somehow seems to attach to me, to those who have experienced such things. Moreover, if we try to talk about such things, we are also likely to be seen as persecutors, as vengeful women who are trying to shame men who are basically 'good guys' who haven't done anything 'serious'.

This silencing of women, which Manne also writes about, is serious. Today, however, I want to discuss my experiences as a citizen, in that area between the ‘private/domestic’ and the 'public/paid employee'.

In that area, I've been active in recent years through discussion on blogs and on Twitter, over the longer term through participating in many protests and marches for more than 50 years, and, particularly in the late 1990s  and early 2000s, through being a member of political parties, and active in policy development and campaigns. In that area, I've experienced several forms of silencing and exclusion, which I find confusing and hard to analyse: are they about 'me' as a (difficult) individual, or are they about misogyny, in Kate Manne's sense? I'll start a new blog post to discuss this

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Coming back to this blog

For a while I have been blogging at a new blog I started, speakingfspeakingfearlesslyearlessly. However, I've decided to bring my blogging back here. I thought that I needed a different blog to speak freely, or fearlessly, in a way that I could not do as a researcher and teacher at Monash University. But I've now decided there must be a way to speak honestly that is compatible with my work as a teacher.

Some issues were about expression - being honest about emotion, even if that meant swearing or saying 'uncivil' things. This was also about not being boring - safe, cautious and boring. Others were about politics - I support the Greens because I think they are the only party that is facing the real challenges of inequality and environmental degradation that we are facing. I can't see why I shouldn't say that really. However, there are some real problems in the Greens which I have some involvement in now, and I can't talk about it all because it involves other people and things that have been said to me in confidence. Some of the issues were about my feminism and the personal battles I've had, some of which involved people prominent in my field. There's a lot that's unresolved there, but I hope to resolve it.

It was useful writing there, but I think I should be able to integrate all this. I'll polish this up later, and add in some relevant links, but I'll try to bring the theory and practice together here.

Update 4 August - I’ll do a new post instead of trying to polish this one.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Red face emoji and thesis details!

just realised that I haven't updated this blog to reflect that my thesis was finally finished and accepted!

It's now called 'Promoting equity, environmental sustainability and health: frameworks for action and advocacy' and is available in the Monash University library. I'm happy to provide a copy to anyone interested - contact me on Valerie.kay (at)

A copy of the 100 word summary is below. I'll add the abstract later. The 100 word statement takes a fairly broad brush approach to economics and gives economics rather more centrality than the thesis as a whole does. This is because there are some important ideas that I wanted to communicate in a few words. I'll discuss this further later.

The study addresses the urgent problems of environmental degradation and inequality, using community-based action research. Participants developed a framework for promoting environmental sustainability, equity and health. The framework expressed an ethic of caring for people and environment, demonstrated in projects on local fresh food, housing sustainability and active transport. The value of such work is not fully recognised by mainstream economics. Mainstream economic discourse reflects patriarchal and colonial ideas about man improving nature, and sees caring as less important than competition and technology. I urge health promoters to challenge this discourse and advocate for an ethic of care.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The ISEPICH Social Inclusion and Equity Checklist

This was a checklist developed by an ISEPICH health promotion working group in 2010. It doesn't appear to be available on the internet anymore, but it's a useful document, which is also referenced in my thesis. So I am making a copy available here. This seems to be as large as I can make it onscreen but I think the pictures can be more clearly viewed by clicking on them. The first page is definitions, the second is the checklist.


Saturday, 24 February 2018

Progress report on thesis and articles

I've received the examiners' reports on my thesis and have to respond to one of them within the next four weeks. Hopefully it will all be finished soon and the thesis can be published.

I'm also drafting articles. The first one I plan is largely describing the work that was being done and helpful factors and challenges. I then hope to publish more analytical articles on frameworks, discourse and the advocacy that is needed to support health promotion on equity and environmental sustainability.

I'm also going to start a new blog. It will relate to many of the ideas explored in this blog and the research project, but be more outspoken. I've felt constrained in some ways in this one as a researcher and academic, so the new one will be specifically about exploring ideas as a global citizen, who happens to be an academic and researcher, but isn't primarily speaking in that role.

It's interesting that I - and I think others - feel constrained about 'speaking truth to power' because we are academics. Indeed it's concerning. I hope the new blog gives an opportunity to do this more, and better. I've certainly tried to speak truth as a researcher here, but there have been some constraints, which I'll explore more on the new blog, I hope.

I will keep adding info here as it seems relevant. One interesting observation - I recently discussed some ideas about equity on Facebook and was heartened by the response of my FB friends. I'll see if I can put some of the discussion here.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Seasons greetings and submission of thesis

Seasons greetings and best wishes for 2018. The photo is a Corranderrk bush at Bollygum Park, in Kinglake.  The beautiful words below are from Wurundjeri Elder, Joy Murphy Wandin:

'Coranderrk is a word from my Granny Jemima’s Pangerang language. This beautiful small stemmed bush grows along the banks of the Murray as it does by the Birrarung in Healesville. It blooms in December with sprays of tiny cream and mauvish coloured bell-shaped flowers; the whiteman call it the prosthanera Lasianthos. When I picture the glistening ripples of the river and the subtle fragrance of this plant, I feel relaxed and peaceful. Perhaps this was what my Granny hoped for, given she, like so many other children, was taken from her family, classed an orphan child and sent to Coranderrk.'
 (Information from AIATSIS at

The plant is also known by the English name of 'Christmas bush'. I have used pictures of the flowers before for seasons greetings, because when I used to live in the hills, their beautiful spicy smell became entwined with Christmas for me.

However, it was not until I read the plaque at Bollygum that I realized that this small tree is also called Corranderk in the Woiwurrung or Wurundjeri language.  I had previously heard that Corranderk was the name for a local tea tree, but it seems it was really the name for this tree. Corranderk was, of course, also the name for the reserve where Woiwurrung and Bunurong people who survived the British invasion went to live, until even that was taken from them.

It is poignantly beautiful, and sad, to think of Joy Murphy's Granny smelling the same beautiful scent, and welcoming the coming of summer, as I did many years later, without knowing this history. Everything in Australia is imbued with this history of invasion and dispossession and until we come to terms with it, there will always be this loss at the heart of our country.

I find it hard to imagine how a people can forgive those who took their land, and directly and indirectly, caused the death of so many of their ancestors. Yet is clear from the words of Elders like Joy Murphy and Boon Wurrung Arweet Carolyn Briggs, that they extend the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation, again and again. Our white political leaders fail to take it, but one day a treaty and reconciliation must happen, I hope in my lifetime.

I also want to say that I submitted my thesis on 7 December and am awaiting the results of examination.  My acknowledgements to Elders and participants from the thesis are below:

I acknowledge the custodians of this land, particularly the Boon Wurrung, Gunditjamara, Jardwadjali, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wergaia, Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, and Jupagulk peoples, whose ancestors have lived for thousands of years on the country where this research was conducted. I pay my respect to Elders past and present. I give particular thanks to Elders, past and present, who supported or participated in this research.

I acknowledge and thank all the participants in this study, who are my co-researchers and co-authors in this study, even though their real names cannot be given here. I hope this thesis can support the work you are doing and ensure its value and significance is recognised.

I will try to post again soon on the results of the research and the challenges of putting these results into plain language.