Making the difference for the new millenium
Christine Milne, MHA, Leader of the Tasmanian Greens Canberra, 6 March 1997
Recently I went to the National Museum’s travelling exhibition Women with Attitude – an exhibition celebrating 100 years of political action by women in Australia – and I began to think about how leading Australian suffragist, Vida Goldstein, must have felt when she stood up to address an international suffrage conference in Washington on 15th February 1902.
She had been invited because of the success of the campaigns for votes for women in Australia and was able to report on the dynamic movement throughout the 1890s which had seen New Zealand, South Australia and Western Australia introduce women’s suffrage and was able to foreshadow the impending federal legislation which she described as a “splendid object lesson to every civilised country”.
As Jill Roe, Professor of History at Macquarie University, said:
At that moment Australian women could feel that they were leading the world and that aspects of their experience were of international interest and relevance – and this without deluding themselves that Australia was a paradise for women any more that it was for workers.
Women with Attitude, National Museum of Australia, National Capital Printing, ACT, 1995, Page 10
If any of us was asked to stand up now in front of a global audience and identify the ways in which Australia was leading the world and to describe those aspects of our experience which were of international interest and relevance, what would we say?
With less than four years to go before the beginning of a new millennium, there is no sense that the excitement and momentum which built up in the 1890s in Australian society and led to Federation, women’s suffrage and the emergence of the Labor party will be replicated.
If anything a sullenness, a dullness and meanness of spirit has gripped the country. The right has swept all before it, as Jeremy Seabrook has recently noted:
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has been in the ascendancy everywhere in the world. Growing social injustice and environmental degradation, the aggravation of inequality, the preservation of the existing concentrations of wealth and power is the programme of the right both at home and abroad. As we have seen over the last ten years, today’s unthinkable becomes tomorrow’s orthodoxy.
Seabrook, Jeremy. A World to be Won, New Internationalist, Jan-Feb 1997
Who would have thought that on the doorstep of the future Australia would lurch backwards in an ugly race debate?
Who would have thought a federal Attorney General would threaten to shut down community legal centres dedicated to environmental issues because they sometimes sued State or Federal Governments?
Who could have believed that in 1997 we would witness the dismantling of structures built up over decades by which independent consumer, welfare and environmental groups were publicly funded to argue their cases and test the legality of government actions and nominate experts as representatives on government boards and advisory bodies?
As Millett and Kingston have said in last weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald, “by nobbling outrider agencies, bringing semi-independent bodies under direct ministerial control, and ending funding for specialist community groups”, the Coalition believes it has a “reform” agenda.
Where is the vision for Australia for the next 100 or 1000 years?
What happened to the debate begun in the 1980s about the possibilities being offered by this single moment in time?
It may be only a single moment but I find the symbolism it provides compelling. A new century, a new millennium, a time to reflect on the past, to recognise the mistakes, to put right the wrongs and to plan ahead with hope and optimism so that as the new century dawns in Australia our children and grandchildren will be faced with opportunity, not burdened with our failure to exercise wisdom and foresight now.
I see the beginning of a new millennium as a rite of passage, an opportunity for humankind to address the environmental, social, economic and spiritual breakdown occurring everywhere and to end an era, to leave behind in the 20th Century those things rightfully belonging there as a legacy of the Industrial Revolution and the excesses of capitalism and economic rationalism. It is a point in history around which to focus debate on the fundamental questions of our time.
- Will there be a fourth millennium?
- Do we care?
- Does humanity have the capacity to save itself in the face of environmental collapse?
- In the light of cloning, what makes a human being human?
- What future do we want for our children and grandchildren?
- Is there a future for the nation state in a global system?
- If so, what is Australia’s role in the global system?
- What do we as Australians want to take into the next century and what do we want to leave behind?
- What does it mean to be Australian? Is that important to us?
- Would we like that definition to be different?
Twenty five years ago Dr Richard Jones stood before the United Tasmania Group, the world’s first Green party and he said: “We do not believe that our time is the best time ever, but it is our time and we owe it our prime duty and affection”.
The next four years is our time to consider these fundamental questions. The “great man” or “great woman” view of history would already have determined that it is too late, that we have failed – that Australia has not produced the leadership at the mainstream political level to frame the context for the national debate or to participate in international debate. If you subscribe to this theory then the future certainly looks bleak with our Prime Minister described as the leader for the times. And what are the times? They are the “don’t bother me with politics” times.
Kitney, Geoff. The Year of Living Comfortably, Sydney Morning Herald, 1st March 1997, Page 31
With Clinton on the world stage taking the United States into the 21st Century with a focus on education, the Internet and bridges to the future, Australia pales into total insignificance. As it stands, the Year 2000 will only be distinguished in Australia by the Olympic Games reinforcing our already overindulged sense of the sports hero or heroine being the quintessential Australian: the moment being captured in history in photographs on the side of an aluminium beer can.
I was one of those who felt uplifted when Australia secured the Games for the Year 2000 as I thought it would intensify and focus the debate on what we wanted to say to the rest of the world about Australia and being Australian, but now I’m alarmed that whilst other nations and cultures consider the new millennium in the broad context over the next critical few years, Australia and its politicians and media will be consumed by debates on the size of the stadium or the pool or the cost of the construction. We must not let the Olympic Games squander our best opportunity for revisioning our future. We must not allow the Games to distract us from a critical appraisal as to who we are and who we would like to be and where we are going.
We must not allow the current conservatism and “reform agenda” to depress us into inaction or rob us of achievement. Now is the time to get involved, to become proactive.
So if we are to have the debate for which many of us are longing, then we must abandon the “great man/great woman” view of history and do what the young feminist historians did when they began to write political histories of Australia which included women. That is, rethink the meaning of politics itself. For them,
It meant a new focus on the local, the specific, and the less visible forms of politics. It also meant looking at not only those participating within the political organisations and positions created and defined by men, but also at those women developing a new form of politics.
Women with Attitude, National Museum of Australia, National Capital Printing, ACT, 1995
Herein lies the capacity and opportunity for women or the feminine perspective to continue to shape the future in Australia. Recent history in Australia with the emergence of the second wave of feminism, the Women’s Electoral Lobby and the Women’s Party, the environment movement, the Australian Green Party, the peace movement, the indigenous people’s campaign for reconciliation, gay and lesbian rights, all demonstrate that these progressive movements are within the new definition of politics – local, specific, less visible but new forms, instituting ways of doing politics differently. The Australian experience is as Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Look for inspiration to Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma.
The politics of the future consists of reformulating social relations, environmental relations, institutions, cultural signs and values.
Stewart, Randal G. Farewell or Fair Wage? Australian Labour as a Social Movement, Politics of the Future, Edited by Christine Jennett & Randal G Stewart, Melbourne 1989
It means inventing new norms, institutions and practices. It means putting new meaning, spirit, solidarity into the lives of individuals.
Hames, Richard. The Management Myth, Business and Professional Publishing, Sydney, 1994
This is what I mean by a Reform Agenda and it cannot be delivered by the old political parties.
The conservatives will never take on reform because it threatens to disrupt the institutional order that protects the interests of their members. The unemployed, ethnic groups, environmentalists, gays and lesbians, temporary workers, women, indigenous people and welfare recipients all are “granted citizenship while deprived of power” under their regimes – the closure of the legal centres being a case in point.
The Labor Party is also not capable of the fundamental transformation that would be required to adopt such reform as its party political agenda. The Labor Party is an old historical social movement that is now defending the interests of only a small proportion of what it would once have called its constituency. Bargains struck with capital or the State, i.e. wage fixing agreements/enterprise bargains, do not do anything to empower those who are not in the paid workforce. Apart from the Labor Party, the Trade Union movement in Australia has abandoned transformation of existing social relations, it has abandoned social equity; it has accepted institutional limits to reform and has agreed to work within those limits.
It has, in the words of Randal Stewart, “become reduced to another player of musical chairs with capital, hopping up and sitting down to win a minor point when the music stops”.
So we shouldn’t be depressed about the current state of play! It is now – as it always has been – that Change comes from the Periphery of Power, not from the Centre. Transformation is only possible from the outside; from peace activists, women, indigenous people, environmental groups, ethnics, gays and lesbians, people who are not too close and who can see another way and have no stake in the status quo.
So having relieved ourselves of the burden of having to wait for the “great men” or the traditional political parties to lead the debate, what are we to do?
Futurists talk of probable and preferred futures: a probable future being that into which we will drift if we do not make choices to do things differently. A preferred future on the other hand is one that is imagined and one to which people aspire by making choices and investigating ways of getting there. Consider this quotation from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:
“I can’t believe that.” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” said the Queen in a pitying tone. “Try again, draw a long breath and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There is no use trying,” she said. “One cannot believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.
Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking Glass, McMillan, London, 1980
Let us first consider the probable future – the status quo – and then let us get some practice. Let us imagine a preferred future and invent a way of getting there.
First, the probable future – Business as Usual.
I would like to tell a story of an island lost in time and space. An island of only some 150 square miles – small enough to walk around in a day. At first the island was uninhabited, but it was deeply forested. The first people arrive in massive wooden canoes from some 2,000km away.
At first the people lived in harmony with the land, with one of the most sophisticated social systems known. But then something interesting happened. The people began to engage in a ceremonial activity of building ahu – large stone platforms surrounded by stone statues. Monument building defined who they were. Soon a race emerged among the 7,000 villagers to erect these monuments and in the process give meaning to their lives.
Two centuries later, when Europeans arrived, they found only a few dishevelled impoverished people living in grass huts and engaging in cannibalism. The land was totally devoid of trees, but was dominated by thousands of large stone statues, mostly laying flat on the ground and many still unfinished in quarries. What went wrong?
The answer lay in the statues. When asked how the statues were moved, the few remaining people could only say that they “walked across the land”. Actually the statues were moved by rolling them across the land on tree trunks. The people became so involved in giving meaning to their lives by building the monuments that they failed to notice that they had destroyed all the forest and with it their livelihood.
They could no longer go fishing as the nets were made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree and the canoes from tree trunks. Growing food became difficult as the top soil had largely washed away following the deforestation. Chickens had to be defended in stone fortresses.
The inability to build monuments had a devastating effect on their social system, beliefs and values. Rather than erecting monuments, they turned to destroying the ahu of other villages. What was one of the most advanced societies in the world collapsed.
Without trees the people were trapped in their remote home, unable to escape their self inflicted environmental collapse. In the end they turned to cannibalism.
Of course, this island is Easter Island as described by Clive Ponting in his Green History of the World.
The island was all these people had. They must have known their very existence depended on the island. It was small enough for them to see what was happening, but they seemingly could do nothing about it. Why?
Monument building defined who they were. Either they did not attempt or were unable in time to redefine themselves in a way that found the right balance with their environment. Despite its inappropriateness, the islanders clung to a value system based on competition and a definition of themselves and a way of relating to each other which was destined for extinction, but they were unable to stop, to take stock in time to avoid the inevitable.
Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World, Penguin, Great Britain, 1992. Page 7
Despite its small size and remoteness, it provides a valuable warning for another island floating in space. Like Easter Island, the people of earth have no practical means of escape.
Mikhail Gorbachev captured the same sentiment when he said:
For all the contradictions of the present day world, for all the diversity of social and political systems in it, and for all the different choices made by the nations in different times, this earth is nevertheless one whole. We are all passengers aboard one ship, the Earth, and we must not allow it to be wrecked. There will be no second Noah’s Ark.
Gorbachev, Mikhail. Perestroika
So why is it that when presented with the visual reality, in photographs, of a finite planet earth, that we continue to believe that a closed loop system has infinite carrying capacity and no breaking point? It makes a complete mockery of the notion of unlimited economic growth. Our children can see it, why can’t we? Easter Islanders couldn’t see it, why are we as blind?
From the perspective of space, everything is obviously interconnected, yet when viewed from earth, the problems and challenges posed, not by the earth but by how we choose to live on earth, are overwhelming and seemingly unrelated. Worse still, they are treated as such by public policy makers and politicians.
As society has become more complex and fragmented, human kind has lost contact with the essential truth understood by indigenous people that the human species has evolved as part of an earth community, as a strand in the web of life and that whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
Instead, we now organise for isolation. We have divided up the planet into political entities called Nations and subdivided those into states and territories, cities, towns, local government areas, community, committees and so on – these entities bear no resemblance to bioregions or cultural regions and have left a legacy of alienation, discontent, war and fragile peace.
People live in one place, worship in another, go to school somewhere else, play sport somewhere else again. They work in towns to which they travel in separate cars and in buses and trains whilst hiding behind newspapers. Our whole lives are divided into compartments which we can often separate so diligently that we can accommodate a variety of value systems – even a different one for home, school, work and play. How many people teach their children to share, then refuse to share with developing countries, indigenous people, the poor or unemployed; or teach them not to pollute, to care for the earth and then vote the opposite.
We have allowed the complexity of the earth community and the human community to be so simplified, depersonalised and reduced, that decisions are easily made without reference to the whole: the unity and mutual interrelation of all things. Therefore if you keep your head down, forget the past and the future, consider the here and now and the little bit in front of you and not the whole – it is possible to contribute to irreversible ecological damage, species loss and human misery and drive home at the end of the day with only a marginally troubled conscience.
After all our sense of moral obligation grows out of our relationship with each other and the earth. If we have no relationship with the people or the place then it is not difficult to destroy them.
That is why government ministers will not go and look at the forests that they destroy with a stroke of the pen; that’s why it’s easy for Prime Ministers and Ministers to sit here in Canberra and allow the Tarkine Wilderness and its world heritage values to be destroyed by chainsaws and bulldozers. If they experienced it they would feel a moral obligation! They would ask themselves the question Socrates pondered a long time ago – what ought one to do? Instead of what does the polling say? They might even consider Martin Luther King’s words:
Cowardice Asks Is it Safe
Vanity Asks Is it Popular
Expediency Asks Is it Politic
But Conscience Asks Is it Right?
With this physical, emotional and moral disengagement, we have seen the market emerge as the dominant force.
The economy has become the be all and end all. We have forgotten that the economy is meant to be the means to the end of a wholesome society, not the end in itself, and if you don’t believe it, read yesterday’s Australian headline: “Global opportunities versus social justice” – a variation on the theme of development versus environment.
Kelly, Paul. Global Opportunties versus Social Justice, The Australian, March 5, 1997, Page 11
Picture this cartoon. It shows a small row boat surrounded by a sea of pollution. In the front was a women staring ahead saying, “We’re drifting helplessly!”. Whilst at the stern sat a man engrossed in a bundle of papers saying, “But we’ve almost paid off the boat”.
Because we have lost sight of what it means to live in a society, environmental and social problems have to wait until we have fixed up the economy, and when we have paid off the boat, then we can think about the other problems. Our political leaders have trapped us at the back of the boat shuffling papers with them as they manage the economy, rather than lead the society.
They manage for economic rationalism; as Gore Vidal said: “They are just reading the corporate ads.” They do not lead, especially if you accept that the essence of leadership is vision and courage. As Justice Kirby said:
Leadership is not just following the transitory opinion polls and popular opinion as some people of power think. It is not simply looking at corporate balance sheets. It involves a commitment to improving the lot of fellow human beings, especially those who are suffering. It involves taking some risks.
Kirby, The Hon. Justice Michael. On Leadership, City Ethics: Newsletter of St James Ethics Centre, No. 17, Sydney 1994
Consider this definition of an Enterprise Association from John Casey’s Pagan Virtues:
We might imagine a city founded purely as a trading post. The laws of the city will reflect its original purpose and have to be understood in relation to this purpose. Contracts will be vigorously enforced however unreasonable or unjust, because it is of the highest importance to retain the confidence of those with whom the city trades. Indeed the notion of a contract being unjust will have no meaning. All education will be subordinated to the need to produce an “enterprise culture” and no subject will be studied as an end in itself. The rulers of the city will regard themselves essentially as managers of the enterprise. Their tasks will be to maximise wealth and promote trade.
Casey, John. Pagan Virtues: An Essay in Ethics, Oxford University Press, 1990
Isn’t that the point that we have reached in Australia? People are no longer people or personnel, they are human resources, service providers, health consumers, managers, operatives or collateral damage.
The human resources in their deployment have learned to describe themselves in terms of goods and services or their function in the economy. “How do you do?” used to be the first question people asked on meeting other people, now the question is, “What do you do?” The automatic reaction is for people to declare their paid/unpaid, full or part-time status. I am a teacher, politician, nurse, business woman, etc. I am unemployed. A response such as “I am a parent” or “I am a carer” or “I serve my community” or “I love music” or “play sport”, “I am a home maker”, etc is quite an unusual response. The value then ascribed to the size of the contribution to the economy determines the status of the individual. Hence the alienation and low status of the unemployed and women at home compared with the high flying entrepreneur. But if we were to ask, who is making the greater contribution to the community then the status order would almost certainly be reversed.
Every day in Australia’s media the “real” debate and “real” news is on interest rates, GDP, who can secure the best export markets, who can achieve greater efficiency and competitiveness for Australia, who can secure private sector investment and who would dare to raise company taxes! And the key question for the next election will be, “Who can best manage the economy? Did we achieve growth targets?” Instead of the real questions which ought to be “Where are we going? Who can best integrate economics, environment, social justice and inter-generational equity into every decision so that we get there?”
All this is predicated on the assumption that more material wealth and a higher standard of living will make us happier; that what is useful is what makes money; that if the economy is thriving then the people will be thriving!
We now know that this is wrong and that the gap between the rich and poor in Australia is widening. Simon Longstaff from the St James Ethics Centre puts it this way:
In these last few years of the 20th Century, we are faced with making a choice between living in an economy and living in a society. Either we want a global society of citizens in which “community”, “caring”, “sharing”, “justice”, “fairness”, “ecological sustainability”, “respect” and “humanity” means something and make sense or we want to be locked into an enterprise association, isolated from one another, sick, confined to the role of consumer or producer and faced with ecological destruction of the planet.
Longstaff, Simon Dr. Address to French Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Sydney 1994
In Easter Island terms, the people have been so engaged in giving meaning to their lives by pursuing higher and higher standards of living, that they failed to notice that they had destroyed their life support system!
So by talking about this probable future, the status quo, we have identified what it is that we don’t want and what it is that we would prefer. But is there a way to get there and are there any signs that the Australian population knows that it has reached this point?
Is there an escape route? Norman O’Brien asks:
Is there a way out; a cure; is there such a thing as health? To heal is to make whole again, as in wholesome; to make one again; to unify or reunify.
To heal is to make whole again. The time has come for Australia to make itself whole again. To find a new way of defining what it is to be Australian; to try to discover and to live a shared value system and a way of relating to each other and to the rest of the world in pursuit of a common purpose and a truly civil society. To find a way of redefining our relationship with the land.
In answer to the question of whether there’s a sign we’ve reached this point, I would say there are several. In the last year, there has been a national movement for gun law reform, the Prime Minister is now raising the issue of gambling and the morality of governments depending on gambling revenues and also there was the furore over the closing ceremony in Atlanta.
How was Australia depicted at the closing ceremony in Atlanta? By kangaroos and aboriginal culture – nature and indigenous people – we put onto the world stage as our depiction of ourselves, the victims of two centuries of abuse and domination. No doubt there will be surprises and condemnation when environmentalists and indigenous people protest in Sydney in 2000 to draw attention to this abuse.
Devine, Frank. The Australian, 6 March 1997
It’s a close parallel with domestic violence. You put on outward show that of which you say you are most proud, whilst destroying it behind closed doors. Just as we cannot tolerate the double standards of domestic violence, so we can no longer tolerate the double standard of our own identity. We have to reach a consensus on what we stand for.
Our history has been one of treating the earth in Australia from a male perspective as “a harlot, frenziedly raping her for her wealth, wool, gold and wheat”. (Manning Clark). We have dominated the environment and through violence and force our indigenous people. Australia has been a man’s world – the myths of the bush and the stories of the wars reinforcing mateship, hard living, hard drinking, risk taking, keg cultures with a healthy respect for brawn and not for brains.
The need to dominate is the history of our relationships with each other beginning with aborigines and Europeans, convicts and masters, graziers and squatters, diggers and troopers, men and women, and reaching expression at the level of political representation with two male dominated teams judging their success on their ability to destroy each other. The object of the game being that winner takes all.
Why do we have to go over it again? To critically appraise what has gone before. We cannot know where we are going unless we understand where we have been. The new feminine perspective is to value the earth and to nurture it for its fruitfulness.
Anne Summers said at the time of the collapse of the corporate bushrangers in the 1980s, “Australia needs no more heroes”, but she also observed that there was still a reluctance to take seriously the notion that the things that had got us by over the last 20 years are really not working any more and that reluctance to believe it still exists.
That is the point at which we now find ourselves in 1996/97 and it is epitomised by the Coalition victory.
In spite of the uncertainty about former solutions being the right ones, when in doubt Australians fall back on domination and exploiting the environment and other people. At the business level, there are even signs that the infamous practices of the 1980s may be about to be revisited on the Australian community with a slide backwards to greed; just as the race debate is a slide back to White Australia and the stalling of the Reconciliation process a slide backwards towards denial. Today’s announcement of the granting of an oil and gas exploration permit at World Heritage listed Shark Bay is a slide backwards towards environmental desecration.
Australia’s discomfort about its identity and future has created a gap for women or the feminine perspective to fill. The need is immediate and the opportunity is the new Millenium and the intervening time frame.
The “Don’t Bother me with Politics” times is misleading. I think people want to be bothered with politics but not the old adversarial style with which they have become totally disillusioned. There is no enthusiasm for the slide backwards to greed, racism, and environmental degradation. It is happening almost by default because whilst there is uncertainty about the old solutions, at least they exist. The new solutions always of doing things, a different vision, are not yet visible enough for people to become excited about. That’s our task! As agents for change, it is our responsibility! I believe we know what we want and have the skills, including networking, listening and empowering communities to achieve it. We don’t have a stake in the status quo.
If we lead the reassessment of national identity from wherever we are, then from it will emerge a clear picture to pursue. A picture which celebrates women’s empowerment and intergenerational perspective and which recognises that women want the human species to survive and the world to be a kinder place.
The foundations of a vision must include the ways in which we will satisfy the four basic needs of humankind – to live (material needs), to love (social needs), to learn (mental needs) and to leave a legacy – the need for a higher purpose than ourselves.
We know that to live incorporates the idea of food, clothing, shelter, and that is underpinned by clean air, clean water and uncontaminated soil. So our vision for Australia has to be to protect the life support systems of the planet, and not just Australia: to recognise that our national security is not in guns and machines, but in making sure that we make our contribution by maintaining its biodiversity and eco-systems. Australia must fulfill all its obligations under international treaties and conventions so as to ensure global survival and human rights.
It is inexcusable in the new century for Australia to argue for the watering down of agreements on climate change, ocean dumping of industrial wastes, desertification, biodiversity and so on. Already ozone depletion has made us acutely aware that an army protecting our borders cannot stop us contracting skin cancer. There’s no way we can say “I’m alright Jack, pull up the ladder”. Pollution of the earth’s oceans and air, contamination of river systems and destruction of forests are far more likely to destroy us than a bombing raid. Politicians have to think beyond national boundaries if their interest is in national and international security. Australia is a global citizen with global responsibilities. Therefore if our aim is to satify our material needs into the future, the protection of the environment must be paramount. It is as the North American Indians say – when you have cut down the last tree and polluted the last river you cannot eat money!
Therefore in the context of 2001, Australia should:
- Amend Section 51 of the Constitution to include Environment as a legitimate Head of Power, to develop uniform legislation for the protection and monitoring of the environment and make sure that this legislation is based on the highest standards in the world consistent with Australia’s desire to market itself as the “clean country”.
- Restructure the national accounts to include the costs of environmental goods and services such as clean air and clean water and introduce an index of sustainable economic welfare.
- Make state of the environment reporting just as regular as state of the economy.
- Ensure that the precautionary principle of ecologically sustainable development be applied to all endeavours to ensure that options are not removed from future generations and that Australia’s biodiversity should be preserved. In this context the logging of Australia’s old growth forests should cease.
- Develop an Environmental Bill of Rights to be included in the Constitution.
But life is not only about surviving, it’s also about living.
Our basic needs are to love and to learn and to feel as if we have a place in the scheme of things and that our having occupied a place on the planet for a while meant something, that it had a point of connection with what went before and what will come after, that it fitted into the web of life of the natural world. Just as humankind would be lonely without the rest of the creatures on the planet, so our loneliness comes from our structural isolation.
Therefore we must rebuild our communities. Any vision for Australia must include empowerment of local communities by embracing a value system way beyond efficiency and standard of living to include quality of life; to include co-operation, moral integrity, trust, financial prudence, caring for others and social responsiblity. To that end, by 2001:
- Work must be redefined to recognise the intrinsically worthwhile and fulfilling nature of volunteer and unpaid work;
- The National Account should include the enormous contribution of volunteer and unpaid work to the economy;
- Human services in the public sector need to be rebuilt and expanded;
- Public and private sector job descriptions should be written to facilitate part-time, job-sharing and working from home:
- Good business must be redefined to include ethical responsibility and all stakeholders, not just shareholders, should be taken into consideration; and
- There should be a National Women’s Centre, which includes a national database for women.
But the task of rebuilding communities cannot be undertaken unless we abolish all forms of discrimination. In Tasmania, discrimination against gay men still exists in the law and once again the first piece of legislation I’ll put through the House of Assembly this year will be gay law reform.
In abolishing all forms of discrimination, we need also to celebrate the diversity of humankind and the great achievement of multiculturalism in Australia. Just as the growing gap between rich and poor is a threat to social cohesion, so too is the racism debate. Freedom of speech must be assured, but so too must freedom of information and access to education. People must be educated. We must put in place by 2001 an education system which will allow every Australian to achieve his/her full potential.
To that end, Australia must recognise the rights of our indigenous people in the Constitution and get more vocally and obviously behind the reconciliation process. Frank Devine in today’s paper has said of the threat of indigenous groups to protest at the Olympics: “Who knows what a tag along crew of crazies they will attract if they pursue the idea? Making sure the whole world knows about injustice is no guarantee the world will care much or do anything” (The Australian – 6.3.97.) Well, I care and it’s up to every one of us who cares to make sure that we do not go into the next century having failed our indigenous people.
Just as individuals need a purpose in life, a legacy, something beyond themselves, so do nations.
Australia cannot lead in the Asia Pacific Rim or in the Indian Ocean or on the world stage unless we stand as an independent nation. Australia must become a Republic. At the moment of declaration of the Republic, just like the moment of the new Millenium, we will find that point of connection with our geographical place in the world.
We must go into the next millenium as masters of our own destiny and with a willingness to lead in the area of human rights. Just as we have to stop trying to wriggle out of global environmental responsibility, we should commit 1% of gross domestic product to foreign aid and abandon the current self interested concepts on which Australia’s aid is predicated. What Australia can get out of foreign aid should be over ridden by global responsibility.
I have no doubt that the “Dont Bother Me with Politics” times could become exciting if focused on such a vision but how can women or the feminine perspective get us there given the state of play in 1997?
By harnessing the power of Co-operative Advantage. By voting for the new politics of multi-party governments; by supporting each other; by voting for the feminine perspective when selecting candidates; and by sharing power.
We hear all the time about Comparative Advantage and Competitive Advantage but not the power and energy released by working together for a common goal. Women do it brilliantly – we know the power of sisterhood!
I have experienced the power of co-operation and whilst I didn’t know Pamela Denoon, she also understood the importance of coalition building and bringing together strong minded people to work for a common goal. Tributes to her life are very much couched in terms of cementing relationships, co-operation and communication. Bringing people together and creating coalitions was the strength of the Wesley Vale campaign.
When I was first elected to the Tasmanian Parliament in 1989, the atmosphere was hostile in the extreme as the Liberal Government had refused to recognise the legitimacy of the Labor Green Accord and was removed by a Parliamentary vote after the Governor had satisfied himself that the Labor Party had the confidence of the House. My colleague, Di Hollister, and I were referred to by Robin Gray’s Liberals as “political sluts” and “political prostitutes”. We had a very raw lesson in the power of language to express and generate a culture and determine behaviour.
Yet I was determined with my Green colleagues to change that culture. I did not want to be like Margaret Thatcher. If there is one thing that I learned from Margaret Thatcher, it was that not all women share the feminine perspective. She played by the rules created by men. She failed to create new rules.
My colleagues and I shared with all those of feminine perspective “the special heritage of values and priorities that have been traditionally associated with women as wives and mothers, and we wanted them recognised as sources for strength to create an enlarged vision of society”. (Doris Kearns Goodwin) Those feminine principles are intuitive, values driven, co-operative, stakeholder oriented, non-hierarchical and concerned for the environment.
Poulson, Chris and and Hanson, Dallas. Generative Men, Generative Management: Helping Masculine Managers Adapt to the Emerging Management Paradigm, Department of Management, University of Tasmania, January 1997
In Tasmania, with Balance of Power politics, we have achieved a quiet revolution.
On election night, 24th February 1996, I said that Tasmania was about to embark on a new era of the politics of co-operation and stated a view that the people had voted to reject the old adversarial hierarchical, two party system in which strength was measured by the capacity to bludgeon someone else and that we were about to begin a different way of doing politics. Gone was the world of “scumbags”, boxheads, loopy crims, piss ants, rust buckets, perfumed gigolos. We were adopting a new language of respect and co-operation recognising the wisdom of Manfred Max-Neef in his belief that if you change yourself something may happen which may change the world.
The cynics were everywhere, but we have succeeded in demonstrating that feminine principles can provide the mechanism for conflict and issue resolution hitherto unknown in Tasmanian politics providing that one group does not have all the power. The extraordinary thing is that by taking out the adversarial and the personal and the language of violence, we created a vacuum. What were politicians left to do if their strength or power was not defined in their ability to crush or denigrate opponents. For the first time in years, the vacuum so created has been filled by a focus on the issues. I am excited by what we have been able to achieve in creating a process capable of addressing the difficult questions of our time. The tri-partite talks to achieve gun law reform are a case in point.
The Labor/Green Accord was exciting for its boldness as a political experiment and it delivered a lasting legacy of an expanded World Heritage area, but so too will this time of Liberal Minority Government in Tasmania, for its legacy may be even more crucial in assisting the revisioning process.
As I said in the beginning, change always comes from the periphery.
Green politics emanated from Tasmania and New Zealand in the early 1970s with the formation of the world’s first Green Parties, the United Tasmania Group and the Values Party. Globally, one other example of change is in the governance of Antarctica. In the true sense and literal sense of “bottom up” politics, the light of the Antarctic may yet set the world on fire. It is the only example so far of nations negotiating and working together to maintain the concept of Antarctica as a land of peace and wilderness. Environmental values dominate the whole agenda and with the recent signing by the United States of the 1991 Environmental Protocol, there is hope that it is possible for nations to work together, to co-operate in order to foster the environment.
With Antarctica and Tasmania, the light and power of co-operation is certainly spreading upwards and outwards.
We must not become like the proverbial turtle, hiding and protected in its shell. To move forward, we must stick our heads out and lead. There is a role for everyone.
One hundred years after women’s suffrage and right at the beginning of a new Millenium, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to say, feminine principles underpin the way we do politics in this country. It is the way to make the difference for the new millenium.