Our Living World Constitution:
Charter for Economic Rights—Articles 6-9

Posted on 7 May 2019 | Comments Off on Our Living World Constitution:
Charter for Economic Rights—Articles 6-9

2013 Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Article 6.

All companies will be wholly and completely responsible for for the damage their production methods cause the environment. They will also be wholly and completely responsible for the recycling and disposal of all waste they create from products to marketing materials.

Article 7.

All international trade will be moderated by considerations to do with human and environmental rights, ensuring our interactions with other countries is always fair and ethical. Australia will not offer in trade nor accept in trade goods and services that are created under conditions that induce hardship for those growing, manufacturing, or selling them, nor items that cause considerable distress to living beings and/or damage to the environment. We will seek to minimise international financial entanglement.

Article 8.

The economy is central to our ability to collectively survive and will also be democratic. Therefore, economic decisions to do with the management and distribution of goods and services will be made electorally available to the public at the Federal, State, and Local levels.

Article 9.

All services necessary to human life in our current world will have socialised versions which are more than adequate to meet people’s needs. These services will include:

  • education: from creche to tertiary and continuing studies
  • access to knowledge
  • medical
  • dental
  • development and manufacture of pharmaceuticals
  • scientific research
  • professional mental and emotional help
  • community animation and social work
  • public media
  • communications infrastructure
  • transport infrastructure
  • housing infrastructure
  • energy infrastructure
  • water and public sanitation infrastructure
  • banking and financial instruments
  • farming
  • fire fighting
  • natural wealth extraction

Further: to ensure a society founded on equal respect and care for all its citizens, private medical, education, and legal services will be abolished in favour of their socialised versions. Other services will be converted to full socialisation as deemed necessary for the maintenance of a fair and just society.


Explication

Article 6.

Companies have long made it the responsibility of individuals to recycle, and rely on the government to clean up their mess when they poison rivers, destroy forest lands, and more.

We frequently have no idea what the real cost is of the items we buy. The price of standard food products is kept artificially low via government subsidies, most especially in the cleaning up of farm effluents that make it into our rivers, or choose to simply ignore the damage and allow our waterways to become toxic.

When companies are made responsible for the waste they create and the damage they do, they start changing their behaviour in significant ways that are of benefit to the whole community. Germany has for some time been functioning under this sort of legislation with positive results.

Article 7.

Becoming self sufficient as a nation certainly has environmental value, because it reduces our carbon foot print. However, our planet’s diverse blessings are not evenly distributed throughout the globe.

Trade has always been an important part of our survival: not just through goods themselves, but also through the goodwill and friendship trade can generate. This is only possible when we are thoughtful trade partners, respected for our integrity. However, we cannot expect that sort of respect if we bully and plunder the wealth of militarily weaker states.

The current global crises we are facing calls us all to be better citizens of the world. We must learn how to get along with our neighbours, so that we can face our shared existential threats together.

Businesses have been trading out of personal self-interest and not the best interest of their countries or planet. They have been able to disguise the perpetuation of slavery and peonage, and all the cruel treatment attached to those practises. This will end.

Article 8.

At this point in time most extra-governmental power is non-democratic power. Power without secure oversight is dangerous to a country’s well-being and most especially its citizens. This is why we have separation of church and state, and military and state. This is why we divide our legislative bodies up, so that they can provide balance to one another. This is why we need separation of business and state.

However, for a government to take over greater economic power we must then institute greater civil checks and balances for this aspect of Federal care taking. If we are going to be rationing goods, we must ensure this is done in a way that different people’s needs in different areas are appropriately met while ensuring our collective well-being.

We seek equity rather than simple equality.

If you were to give the same amount of money to two people, but one of them had to use their money to pay for pharmaceuticals just to survive, the results may be that one could live in a comfortable house and the other experiences poverty. That is simple equality. Equity would ensure they both have access to adequate housing, food, water, etc. It would then ensure that anything extra that is needed to make enjoying those necessities possible is available. No more trading health for shelter or vice versa.

The above is when equality is interpretted to mean equal physical shares. Equity can be interpretted to mean everyone is given the shares they need to experience relatively equal well-being. Therefore, those who are very young, very old, infirm in some way, or have any other special needs may receive more physical help, but the outcome is that they are assisted such that they have greater access to enjoying their lives as close as possible to the same degree as most other people.

The best way to ensure equity is protected is for communities to be engaged in economic decision making. We need to know who is having troubles and why. We need people feeling secure that their problems will be heard and resolved. We need people engaged enough such that if someone is caught trying to rob from the biscuit jar for their own enrichment, they will be called out. People need to feel and understand that they are the government–a democratic government does not exist without them. If a people feel that they are largely subject to their government, then it is no longer democratic.

Article 9.

For a long time Australia functioned in a manner similar to the Nordic Model. We had a comprehensive welfare state, much of the country unionised, and free market capitalism. We believed strongly in social safety nets and risk sharing. We were concerned about the “little Aussie battler”.

Around the turn to the previous century we were described in Europe as “the great socialist experiment”. This was because between WW1 and WW2 we set in place widows pensions, help for the poor, help for veterans, free medical assistance, and free education.

Australia and the Nordic countries have had both public and private versions of many industries. This was because we felt that anything necessary for human survival should be readily available to everyone. However, the government in no way kept businesses from setting up their own alternatives. In countries such as Finland government services competing with public services was seen as healthy, because not only were everyone’s needs met, it set the bar on quality.

How much government intervention do you need to ensure adequate safety measures are in place, when people start choosing government services over public ones because they feel more secure? For a company to survive it must then provide goods and services superior to the government.

The argument corporate CEOs make against this system is that “it is wrong for a government to compete against it’s own country’s businesses.” This is the argument that was used to sell off Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, and Qantas, and the argument for cutting funding for our public television providers.

We need to examine who decided it was “wrong” and why? Did selling our collective assets that belong to all of us, so that they now belong to a few, genuinely create new jobs? Or were jobs cut? Did workers continue to have the rights they had when they worked under the government? Or have their wages stagnated and their rights become eroded? Have their services maintained high quality, or have they slowly slipped below previous standards? Has the money originally invested into these services by the public remained in Australia, or have the new shareholders been transferring funds out of the country to benefit their personal wealth creation, while diminishing funds that could be circulating in the country to everyone’s benefit?

Handing sole control of critical goods and services to corporate interests gives the shareholders the power of life or death over Australian citizens. “Can’t afford what we have to sell? Too bad, you will have to suffer. Not happy with how we are treating you? Too bad, do as we say or you will live on the streets and suffer.” The more these shareholders own, the more power they even have over the government. Case in point is how the mining industry spent over $22 million in advertising in order to stop Prime Minister Kevin Rudd from pushing through a super profits tax. Later they donated millions to Coalition candidates to ensure they had the means to take over government.

According to Peter Hartcher of Sydney Morning Herald February 2011, “Massive advertising attacks by sectional interests have successfully frustrated two major reforms and helped dispatch the past two prime ministers. This week we learnt how cheaply it can be accomplished, with the disclosure that the mining industry spent just $22 million to get its way. Call it direct action. It has been so successful for its sponsors, at such a low price, that we can be sure it will be used to intimidate governments for years.”

This is exactly what is happening concerning the Adani Mining operations. Our major parties are nervous about standing up to a deeply unpopular move to mine parts of Queensland, because corporations have been handed the right to influence elections and buy politicians. Adani’s mines will damage the Great Barrier Reef, they will damage forests, they will endanger species, they will destroy stolen ancestral land, and they will produce a product that will exacerbate Climate Change. Coal resources need to stay in the ground. So long as there are mining companies, they will need to mine resources in order to make a profit. Since mining must be seriously curtailed, this industry in particular must be taken over by the government in order to preserve our future.

We live on this planet together. We rely on one another for our well-being. We cannot allow a few wealthy individuals to cut off everyone else’s means to survival. That is ultimately suicidal. Instead we must show greater commitment to helping one another.


Other articles in this series:

Our Living World Constitution:
Charter for Economic Rights—Articles 1-5

Posted on 1 May 2019 | 1 response

Our Common Wealth

Article 1.

Earth is a precious and finite resource that belongs to all who have ever or will ever live upon it. As such we must share what we have been provided.

Article 2.

To curb the excesses of business, ensure lawmaking is consistent with environmental goals, and protect our collective future we will establish Rights of Nature Tribunals at state and federal levels, granting them formal judicial powers.

Article 3.

Land use is of great consequence to the well-being of our planet. We will reserve spaces for natural processes, in order to secure the health of our shared biosphere and to respect the homes of non-human living beings. We will also ensure all Australian citizens and residents have access to secure habitation.

1) All land will be under the caretaking of publicly elected bodies and no longer privately owned.

2) Lands designated for human use will be done so under lease and will require regular payment to the government in the form of a land tax.

3) Everyone subsequent to their majority will have available to them free public housing, which is more than adequate to human habitation.

Article 4.

Any cash, assets, or property must at its core have some form of real and accountable human beings associated with them. Any cash, assets, or property of any kind not claimed by a living person, government or accountable foundation is abandoned property and its ownership will be handed over to the state.

Article 5.

We can no longer ration goods by price point: whereby only those with sufficient money can afford diminishing goods. In times of great trial we have rationed our resources among the entire populace. In this way we safeguarded our collective well-being.

1) As the Earth is straining under our use, we will return to communal rationing in order to preserve our living world.

2) In our modern world we no longer need the intermediary of money to distribute goods and services. Therefore the government will provide and administer infrastructure whereby goods and services can be directly requested and delivered fairly as available.


Explication

Article 1.

This article sets the premises upon which all other articles are based: sharing and preservation of this Earth for our collective well-being.

Article 2.

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature has set up an International Rights of Nature Tribunal in partnership with a number of concerned groups.

The tribunal was created as “a system of jurisprudence that sees and treats nature as a fundamental, rights bearing entity and not as mere property to be exploited at will.” (GARN: About us)

According to the Earth Law Center, one of the founders of this tribunal, “People’s Tribunals have a long tradition of addressing fundamental issues of justice beyond the reach of traditional courts, including military interventions and human rights abuses. They can and have evolved into formal, legal Tribunals…” (Earth Law Center: Rights of Nature Tribunals)

In Australia 2016 the Australian Earth Laws Alliance assisted in the formation of a permanent Rights of Nature Tribunal for our country. This Tribunal is a Regional Chapter of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal. The Australian Peoples’ Tribunal (APT) for Community and Nature’s Rights has a panel which is made up of First Nations Peoples, lawyers, community representatives and eminent scientists.

Its work needs to be expanded so that everyone can feel its influence and share in improving the well-being of our planet and our people.

Article 3.

Recently Prosper Australia released a report that found a total of more than 60,000 homes in Melbourne were vacant in 2017. Karl Fitzgerald, the author of this report, suggests that properties are being held vacant in order for their value to go up before opening them for sale or rent.

According the the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census of Housing and Population 2016, more than 20,000 people were suffering from homelessness in Victoria.

We have more than enough housing available for our poorest citizens. What we need is the political will to ensure they have some place to live. According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Land and housing speculation are seen as the most secure areas of investment, because in order to survive people must have some place to live. For thousands of years certain people have used land ownership as a means to hold people hostage and demand their labour.

Traditional forms of land ownership are inimical to modern democracy.

Worse, holding land for the purposes of emptying it of its natural resources solely for personal enrichment is destroying our living world and making our planet a lifeless waste.

People need security. Within certain limits we all need things we call our own. We also need a healthy thriving world, which is only possible when sufficient land is set aside to allow natural processes to keep our biosphere properly functioning.

Land must be made a common resource under the protection of our duly elected government.

The government could still arrange lifetime leases for residential properties, which must be renewed whenever a new person takes over ownership of the house. However, any use of the land would accrue a tax because any benefit someone derives from it belongs to all of us.

When a mining company strips land of its mineral wealth for sale, that wealth cannot come for free. The company must pay for removing our collective resources and the damage it does to our natural world. Currently, the public is not receiving adequate remuneration for mining operations. Nor are these companies taking appropriate and direct responsibility for the damage they do. The same can be said for other uses of our land. As such a few people become immensely wealthy, but the public is not receiving sufficient to fund public services. This is a form of theft.

Certain states of Australia have instituted land taxes, in particular inspired by Henry George and the Georgists. Providing free housing for all without means testing was trialled in the US under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the Housing Division within the Public Works Administration. Currently the People’s Policy Project is working to bring back free public housing in that country. Urban-policy scholar Peter Dreier has written, “Americans are used to national parks, state parks, fire departments, police departments, public schools, public-utility companies, water utilities—they are used to public ownership of essential services, but somehow they don’t think of housing in the same way.” Efforts are being made to change people’s minds.

Article 4.

No one document can close all legal loopholes that bad actors will use to abuse our country’s public systems. However, we do need to set a standard of responsibility. Tax avoidance is a crime because it is theft from the public coffer and thereby the well-being of our nation’s people. We have a duty to be gentle with those of small means and expect greater responsibility from those with greater resources. The wealthy should be deprived of methods by which to hide their riches. As all citizens they are required to participate in the public welfare of their nation by contributing. If any asset lacks clear ownership by individuals, especially in order to avoid legal responsibilities such as taxation, it is forfeit.

Article 5.

According to the Food Security Information Network’s 2018 Global Report on Food Crises an estimated 124 million people in 51 countries are currently facing Crisis food insecurity or worse. That is an 11 million increase since their 2016 report.

Sara Menker, founder and chief executive of Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data technology company, says we won’t have enough food to feed the planet by 2027.

The UN reports in 2018 that over 2 billion people lived in countries experiencing high water stress. With the existing climate change scenario, by 2030, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people

We are also using up the planet’s resources. MIT reports that “Earth’s phosphorus is being depleted at an alarming rate. At current consumption levels, we will run out of known phosphorus reserves in around 80 years.” Phosphorous is used for fertilisers. Currently, it is used once on fields then washed out to sea while damaging our water ways.

We may have reached peak copper. Most copper ore that is mined only contains about 1% of the metal. More than 97% of all copper ever mined and smelted has been extracted since 1900. More than 50% of all copper ever mined and smelted was extracted in the last 25 years. Copper can be recycled. However, its depletion currently makes it a valuable resource for creating wealth. Therefore mining is likely to continue. University of Virginia warns, “The environmental consequences of the mining process are substantial and have both acute and chronic effects on the geography, water, vegetation and biological life in the surrounding areas.”

Forests, fish, coal, oil, natural gas: many resources we are using up at high speed and once they are gone, they are not coming back. Meanwhile we have people preying on one another using scarcity as a means to extract wealth and dominate political policy. China may have already used its dominant holdings of rare Earth metals to affect Japanese policy. By reducing its export of these metals in 2010 to Japan it is speculated that it forced the country to return Chinese prisoner Zhan Qixiong, whose fishing trawler collided with two Japanese Coast Guard patrol boats.

Scarcity of necessary resources creates tensions between nations and can result in war. Scarcity of resources within a nation, especially when the wealthy have primary access to them, can result in civil war. Wars obliterate precious lives and create refugees. Wars are also tremendously damaging of our fragile ecosystem.

Australia has many natural resources, but we are squandering them. We are contributing to the causes of Global Warming and bringing about greater desertification of our own lands while increasing the chance of wildfires.

We can’t recycle our way out of this. We have to live more moderate lifestyles. We have to share what we have with one another more. We must fairly ration goods and services. As Greta Thunberg has said, “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then maybe we should change the system itself.”

During World War 2 and afterward people were willing to ration in many nations including the UK, Canada, the US, and Australia. They did this not only to support troops, but when the war concluded to share essentials with the people of Europe who now needed help to rebuild. The challenge we face right now may seem somewhat less visible than an army, but its effects are more far reaching and dangerous. Using modern technology to move goods and services around with community input, rather than relying upon cash, is a fast and effective way to reach our goals.

Other articles in this series:

Our Living World Constitution:
Charter for Economic Rights—Preamble

Posted on 23 April 2019 | 1 response

CC BY Church Street Marketplace

Human rights and environmental rights are easier for us to demand than economic rights. We already have respected documents we can point to with which people will be inclined to agree. However, without solid well-spelled out economic rights, these can be easily undermined.

Many people have begun to call capitalism into account. The Guardian writer Phil McDuff says, “Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism…Policy tweaks won’t do it, we need to throw the kitchen sink at this with a total rethink of our relationship to ownership, work and capital.” Sadly far too many people feel that “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism,” a quote attributed to both Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek.

Most people do not fully understand what alternatives are available. If something is not capitalist, it is frequently deemed communist and therefore not worthy of any thought. The term “pinko” arose during the Cold War era to describe anyone supporting socialist policies, because they were dismissed as only a little less red than the commies. Free education is socialist. Free medical assistance is socialist. Old age pension is socialist. We have these things in Australia, even though they are being eroded.

The fact of the matter is that socialism comes in a variety of flavours and communism comes in a variety of flavours. Some flavours may be more appealling than others. Some of them may even help to rescue us from our own self-destruction. We need to consider what ideas within these social-economic structures might be of use, then leave the rest. I want everyone and every living being to be treated with respect, therefore unconditional social and environmental support by my community and therefore my government is a worthy goal in my mind. Violent revolution is not. However, such a revolution will come about, if enough people become desperate enough. Then mindless change will be enforced upon us all.

In order to write a Charter of Economic Rights I have had to tread into largely untested waters. Just remember that US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was given a free hand to trial his social programs because people were ready to try anything. During The Great Depression the US suffered under a 25% unemployment rate. In Cleveland, the unemployment rate was 50%; in Toledo, Ohio, 80%. Ultimately, a number of his programs were successful. This is why we are hearing talk of a Green New Deal. We are facing the death of our planet and that means our deaths. This is the time to make significant changes.

Below are my beginning thoughts on changes our economic system must make. I will be publishing this economic charter in pieces in order to explain the background to my suggestions. Please take a moment to consider them.


Charter for Economic Rights: Preamble

Economic rights are a critical foundation to establishing human and environmental rights.

Economic imbalance unduly places greater power into the hands of those with greater resources.

Humanity has lived through a history of human rights abuses perpetrated in order to ensure some enjoy more power than others.

Humanity has similarly abused our living world for the purposes of gaining and maintaining power through holding hostage necessary resources, then using coercion to enforce the will of power holders.

This is not a sustainable way to interact with our natural world or one another.

It should not be possible within a truly democratic society for some people to suffer in penury while others do not. For we must all be free and equal in dignity and in rights in order to properly exercise our collective democratic powers.

The answer to these issues is to find better ways to share power, share resources, and interact with our living world as good stewards, ensuring the well-being of our planet in perpetuity.

As such this charter of economic rights is explicitly constructed, in conjunction with our human rights and environmental charter, as part of our newly reformed constitution to establish a means by which to guarantee our future and the future of this planet.


Other articles in this series:


In peace and kindness,

Katherine

Our Living World Constitution:
Charter for Human and Environmental Rights

Posted on 16 April 2019 | 2 responses

CC BYSA “Adventure Camp” Arupamdas

Whereas our well-being relies upon the collective well-being of all humanity, all living beings, and our greater home: the planet Earth, and that securing this well-being is critical to human survival, we deem it necessary to make human and environmental rights core elements of the Australian Constitution.

Article 1.

Australia played a significant role in the foundation of the United Nations. We respect its purposes and principles. Further to the formation of this organisation was the forging of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such a document is foundational to a functioning democracy and the capacity of nations to peacefully interact. Australia had a hand in writing this document and subsequently signed it. It is long past time we honoured this declaration and came in line with its principles, which we have internationally claimed to support. As such we hereby establish the Universal Declaration of Human Rights within the Australian Constitution.

Article 2.

Furthermore, human rights are directly affected by the state of the environment. The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration) states that humanity has “the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions of life” and that we bear “a solemn responsibility to protect the environment for present and future generations.” Therefore, we hereby establish the United Nations World Charter for Nature within the Australian Constitution.

Article 3.

These two documents will from here on be central to our considerations in making and adjudicating law, and guide us in our relations with the rest of the world.

Article 4.

Our agreements with the United Nations are done out of a sense of collective responsibility. It is important to us as a nation to act with integrity and to maintain an international reputation for integrity. As such we will acknowledge and honour our agreements with the United Nations, and work toward furthering its purpose of establishing and maintaining national and international peace.

Article 5.

In these unstable times we would also encourage the creation of a democratically elected United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. Australia would be proud to once again be foundational to creating a body whose purpose is to ensure the betterment of humanity and our living world.


Other articles in this series:

In peace and kindness,

Katherine

Our Living World Constitution: Introduction

Posted on 12 April 2019 | 5 responses

Photograph by JarrahTree…commons.wikimedia.org

Our Living World Constitution addresses human, environmental, and economic rights, and the mechanics of politically achieving these rights.

We write this with the understanding that regardless of the borders humans have created to divide “us” from “them”. We are all one humanity, we are all part of the web of life that is our planet. Our fates are deeply interconnected and we cannot function as a species without acknowledging our relationships, no matter how distinct one person is from another or one species from another.

We seek to enshrine the values of humility, justice, respect, care, individual and collective responsibility, wisdom, cooperation, the freedoms necessary for living self-realised and politicallty engaged lives, security, and peace by living these values, teaching these values, and being governed by these values. It is good to have concrete means by which to achieve these ends. Which is why we seek to create a national constitution that gives structure to these values in our every day lives and optimises a balance of the utilities of justice, liberty, and security. At its heart our constitution must be:

  • Compassionate
  • Fair and
  • Effective.

If it is not effective, it will be neither compassionate nor fair. If compassion does not temper fairness and effectiveness, then it becomes difficult to maintain a humane equity. Central to this document, and the entirety of the Australian law, is striking a balance which best serves all our citizens, our environment, and the well-being of this world that we all share.

However, ultimately it is the spirit of these values which must take precedence. And each generation has the duty of care to evolve and teach previous and subsequent generations how better to achieve them. In this way they make these values their own. Healthy societies then moderate new ideas with the wisdom of experience, and each step is made secure for everyone of all ages. These are the dynamics which we must embrace, even though they may often be uncomfortable and challenging, until such time as we achieve an enlightened consensus and, finally, a peaceful thriving world.


Other articles in this series:

Peace and kindness,

Katherine

Living World Constitution: the proposal

Posted on 8 April 2019 | 5 responses

Eleanor Roosevelt and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

We only have a few years within which humanity must order its house. The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report has given us until 2030 to turn things around, in order to mitigate the worst we have created for ourselves in the way of environmental disaster. Make no mistake, these are life or death concerns.

Our cultures have led us to a literal dead end. Humanity has achieved so much good for ourselves because of our ability to be social creatures. Together we build shelter, grow and distribute food, find cures to diseases, and more. Humanity has created so much suffering and destruction for ourselves and this world because we have allowed ourselves to value status above social bonds. We find clever ways to manipulate one another, kill one another, and sterilise the planet for our own ends.

Currently, we are substituting attention for friendship, wealth for peace, and individual status and security for collective well-being. Attention, wealth, status: none of these will create a world where we experience contentment.

We must gift ourselves with at least one moment where we imagine what it would be like if everyone got along, if all our needs were met, if we all had the opportunity to do those things that give our lives meaning, and we lived in harmony with all living beings on this planet. With that moment of insight it becomes easier to shift priorities.

What does it matter if we are ordinary when we have our needs met, people who love us, and a society that actively seeks to support its members in order to create peace. When everyone is struggling to be extraordinary, that means we live in circumstances where people are terrified and casting around for what will give them an edge in survival. You should only ever have to be yourself in order to be nurtured by your community and recognised as of worth.

Our institutions have been corrupted by our culture of status, which leads to a culture of domination. Many of those institutions had creditable foundations, but they needed to be better understood and over time better evolved. Instead they have come to be tainted in ways that will require significant intervention, if we are to save ourselves.

The institution that must take precedence in our actions to create change is the government. Power attracts those seeking higher status. Power often corrupts those who achieve status, then lose connection with their own humanity and the humanity of others. Part of the point of democracy is that by sharing power, we create a certain amount of checks and balances to those who lose their focus on representing their consituency and the well-being of their nation. However, as the price-point for entering politics rises ever higher, we are living in a world by the rich for the rich. The rich then enhance their power by forming parties where all opinions converge in order to force through particular agendas. Individual members are discouraged from representing their electorate so much as representing their party.

Yes, governments have let us down. But governments are how we cooperate. When speed is of the essence, governments are a means by which we can make broad sweeping changes while protecting the people and the environment for whom these changes are being made.

My suggestion is that we hold a Constitutional Convention. Australia has held four such conventions, the last of which was in 1998. This is nothing new or unusual for our country. All delegates to this convention would be voted for by the people. The resulting document would then be put before our citizens in a national referendum.

The main focus of this convention would be the addition of three documents to the Australian constitution:

  • A charter of human rights
  • A charter of environmental rights
  • A charter of economic rights

Within those three documents will be included governmental reforms that will ensure a greater amount of democracy being made available to the people of Australia.

As a former writer of political policy, I have put together proposals as to what can go into our updated national document. These can form grounds for discussion. Over the next few weeks I will share my proposals and why I believe they are critical to our national welfare.

In peace and kindness,

Katherine Phelps
BA (Hons), MFA, PhD

Remake the Future: Speech

Posted on 3 April 2019 | Comments Off on Remake the Future: Speech

I am not a politician, an entrepreneur, nor a CEO. If I were, I would suggest running out the door.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai once said, “The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.” Young people today have a lot to face. We must give you every tool possible to help you create a future worth living in. More than that those tools must be of genuine value.

Author Anand Giridharadas adds to this by saying, “For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is – above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners…Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view. It will once again be possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful.”

A Background in Support of Youth

My fields of endeavour have been the arts, computing, and politics—particularly peace, environmental, and social justice activism. My most relevant credential today is that I once was the leading policy writer for the Australian Democrats while they still existed.

But my CV of jobs starts with being head of marketing for an independent comic book company, before moving to Australia where I became editor-in-chief for a computer game review magazine. Later I was awarded a PhD in storytelling for computer game design and lectured on this subject at both RMIT and Victoria University. Eventually I drifted off to write for Nickelodeon Cartoons, then wrote my own theatrical productions.

The connecting link in all of this is that I have a deep love of young adults and young adult culture. Your age is when people are often the most vibrant, engaged, and adaptable. You have the future ahead of you, and you have important qualities that make it possible to grab the future and mould it into something better. Many parents are relying on stability in order to provide a secure world for you. However, when that very stability is what’s destroying the world, any security is an illusion. We have to learn how to be brave and take chances.

Youth Homelessness

A few years back I noticed a significant increase in homelessness on the streets of Melbourne. Even more horrifying were the numbers who were in their teens and twenties sleeping rough. I’m clearly a nerd girl and didn’t date an awful lot when I was young, because I was working so hard to get into university and then to do well once I entered. Out of that inexperience I married a man who soon revealed himself to be abusive. After three years of marriage I threw all I could into a suitcase and ran. I was homeless, and even after finally securing lodging, I had to go to food banks to gather enough to eat. This happened right after I completed my Masters degree. Homelessness can happen to absolutely anyone.

So when I saw the obvious increase in homelessness here, I was furious.

I went straight to the streets and began spending time with the homeless. I turned up at the rallies to stop the move along laws in the Melbourne CBD, and the protests at Victorian Parliament to end the sale of public housing which are still going on. I then wrote a musical called Share about youth unemployment and homelessness to help raise people’s awareness. You are hearing some of my songs today. More homelessness is on the horizon for everyone, if things don’t change.

Why is this happening, you may ask. An earlier musical covered that subject.

The Interrelatedness of It All

I had been asked to write a play for an organisation about the refugee experience. I spent part of a year with the people in a detention centre. As I was putting the play together I discovered the organisation was doing nothing to ensure that people’s lives would be safe and not in danger through public representation. I left the organisation, but I still wanted the public to understand what was happening and why. So, I wrote a play about a year in the life of elephants. Heard of Elephants received several standing ovations.

Here are the circumstances that were represented: Because of climate change we are seeing greater desertification of farmlands in places like Africa and even here. This causes farmers to clear forest areas to make new farmland. Now the Congo and the Amazon are often called the lungs of the world, their forests produce a certain amount of oxygen, but they have also been great carbon sinks helping to clean the air. Even more significant is how all the decaying biomass from these forests is washed out by their rivers to the ocean where it feeds the plankton, and it’s the plankton that produces most of the oxygen we breathe. These forests largely exist because of their large frugivores such as the elephants. Elephant poop is the perfect package for feeding seeds and nurturing the insect life which found and maintain a forest.

So, when the farmers take over the Congo they are destroying elephant habitat and by association our atmosphere. The soil without the forest is only fertile for a few years. Eventually, the farmers have to either take over more forest or head to the cities to survive. The cities then have an increasing populace of unemployed people who then create civil unrest, as in places like Syria and Burundi. When war breaks out, some people join military groups who go out and kill the elephants to feed the troops. Some people end up running from their homes and head to places like Australia hoping for refuge, until such time as they can return to their beloved homeland.

All of this because Western civilisation has been pumping carbon emissions into the air through our cars and our industries. And as we use up resources, we have been silently rationing goods by price point. This can be done by increasing the cost of items such as petrol or bananas, or reducing wages. Either way only the wealthy few will have access to scarce supplies. However, inflation is kept in check by making our lives insecure, such that fearful people are willing to work longer hours for less pay, or more jobs for less pay, because we are all living without safety nets. Lives of the wealthy are kept stable. Everyone else…not so much.

This is one small slice of the big picture.

Why an Event for Remaking the Future

You are here today because I have production skills and I am on a crusade that these good people share. The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report predicted that we have a twelve year window to turn a significant part of the climate disaster awaiting us around. Twelve years is an incredibly short amount of time, but it is something as opposed to nothing.

This task is largely up to you to bear. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, but this is sincerely about life or death. We will have to pull ourselves together and muster the strength to do whatever it takes to build a liveable future for ourselves.

This can’t be done in tepid little half steps that make the wearers of business suits feel proud of themselves while effectively achieving nothing. What’s this, if I plant enough trees I get to keep my Porsche?

According sixteen year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis…if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then… we should change the system itself.”

Changing the System

We have three major areas of concern that must be addressed together, because we ignore any one of them at our peril, since they are so deeply interconnected.

> We must address human rights.
> We must address environmental rights.
> We must address economic rights

The seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals address these three areas in a non-prescriptive manner. It is up to each country how we will achieve these goals.

In this room are people who I believe have some of the most genuine means to build a better future. You are not required to agree with any of us, but we are available to share our knowledge and answer your questions.

Human Rights

I have my own position that I am representing. I believe we must hold a national constitutional convention. At this convention we will write into the Australian constitution the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights—this is a preexisting document that Australia has already signed. Our guest Alice Drury is here because her organisation the Human Rights Law Centre is already pushing for this.

Environmental Rights

We must also write into the constitution the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The United Nations has declared that humanity has “the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions for life” and that we bear “a solemn responsibility to protect the environment for present and future generations.” Dr Petra Tschakert’s work as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is critical for setting the context for what needs to be done. Ben Howes work with the Roots and Shoots program helps young people to take effective practical action to rescue our planet.

Economic Rights

Technically both of these documents cover the sort of economic changes we need, but again are non-prescriptive. This is probably the area of rights that has been most immovable and at the core of the most grievous crimes against nature and humanity. As such we must address economic rights directly with solid and specific solutions which are given the weight of law in order to integrate them into our society.

Since we do not have a pre-existing document to point to for this area of rights, I have used my skills as a policy writer to draft a preliminary document as a discussion paper. Here is a taste of its preamble:

Economic rights are a critical foundation to establishing human and environmental rights.

Economic imbalance unduly places greater power into the hands of those with greater resources.

Humanity has lived through a history of human rights abuses perpetrated in order to ensure some enjoy more power than others.

Humanity has similarly abused our living world for the purposes of gaining and maintaining power through holding hostage necessary resources, then using coercion to enforce the will of power holders.

This is not a sustainable way to interact with our natural world or one another.

It should not be possible within a truly democratic society for some people to suffer in poverty while others do not. For we must all be free and equal in dignity and in rights in order to properly exercise our collective democratic powers.

The answer to these issues is to find better ways to share power, share resources, and interact with our living world as good stewards, ensuring the well-being of our planet in perpetuity.

Today we have with us Josh McGee from Basic Income Victoria who advocates for a Universal Basic Income—so that no one, absolutely no one has to live in abject poverty. We also have Antony McMullen from Co-operative Bonds who trains people in the founding of democratic workers cooperatives and cohousing.

All of our guests today have well considered positions and ideas on how to address our coming challenges. Use them as a spur to your own thoughts and ideas. Then push on to action. Positive action.

Call to Action

We have to find one another, we have to befriend one another—because compassionate bonds will move us further into a liveable future than anything else. We have to learn how to collaborate and cooperate. Junk the leadership narrative that panders to our egos and perpetuates the culture of status that is destroying us. We must value ourselves and one another without having to be special, just caring human beings.

I would like to end my opening speech by thanking all of you for caring enough to be here today. Take a look at one another, feel some gratitude that you are not alone in wanting to remake the future. We would like to encourage you to make your time at school and in university about skilling up to be the founders of a better world where kindness toward all living beings is key.

Thank you!

In peace and kindness,

Katherine

Remake the Future!

Posted on 18 March 2019 | Comments Off on Remake the Future!

Dr Petra Tschakert has worked with the best international scientific research on climate change. The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not just a prediction of disaster, it holds within it recipes on how to bring ourselves back from the brink. We need to understand what can be done to remake the future.

2pm Saturday 30 March 2019
Preshil School, 395 Barkers Road, Kew
Trybooking.com/BBHMC

Being Mean to One Another

Posted on 10 March 2019 | Comments Off on Being Mean to One Another

Everyone is born into circumstances that they cannot control: ethnicity, nationality, class, health, etc. Everyone is raised by a family and within a culture that has particular outlooks. When you are a child at first you just accept the knowledge being given you, because you have no other knowledge with which to compare it and your survival depends upon learning from the people who are caring for you. Do these things make a person automatically bad?

Here in Australia the instant I open my mouth people think they know all they need to know about me because I have a US accent. They assume I am rich and stupid. They assume I am some sort of American corporate out to take things from them or water down their culture. Whenever the US has an unpopular president I wear a peace symbol necklace, because otherwise random strangers have come up to me to raise their voices and tell me how awful the US is. Many people rarely consider the possibility that I am an Australian citizen and have been a citizen and resident for thirty years.

Australia is not unique in this. I don’t know of any country that uniformly treats their immigrants well. Some countries may do better than others, but you are still an outsider.

The Decisions We Make

We have been making some head way in civil and political rights of peoples who had previously been excluded from such things in some countries. However, even within these countries people are dividing themselves up into warring camps, and the divisions can be very fine. Judgement can be so harsh that no one of any political persuasion is above being permanently shot down for being human, even by their own camp.

We can all decide whether we are going to:

  • actively hurt someone,
  • allow someone to be hurt,
  • deem that some people should hurt,
  • work to stop cruel treatment of one another.

How we experience these decisions goes like this:

  • I have been hurt, so I will hurt you.
  • I have been hurt, so why should you get any better?
  • You have been hurt and deserve it, I have not been hurt and deserve that.
  • I have been hurt, no one else should have to hurt.

Kissing Up, Kicking Down

Most societies are obsessed with status. Currently, capitalism is reinforcing this. Therefore, the safest way people function in hurting each other is by “kissing up and kicking down”. We all tend to pander to the rich, famous, and powerful, hoping for their favour, or at least to forestall their mistreatment of us. We also know that we are likely to experience fewer repercussions if we mistreat people of lower status than ourselves.

This is further complicated by people doing all they can to knock those above them off their pedestals. If someone looks like they might ascend to a pedestal, then some people will preemptively knock this person down as well. If someone is lower in status, but has anything that looks like it could belong to someone of higher status, then people will work especially hard to damage them. An example I have seen of this is when a poor family inherits a nice TV and wealthier neighbours insist the family doesn’t deserve any support because of it and so has the poor family’s food stamps taken away.

If we get caught out doing something wrong, we may use these defense mechanisms:

Denial – I didn’t do it.
Minimisation – If I did it, it’s not such a big deal.
Normalisation – Everyone does it.
Projection – Really, you did it and it’s all your fault.
Rationalisation – I couldn’t help myself for very good reasons.
Repression – I don’t remember having done anything wrong.
Mystifcation – How could I have done it, I am the exact opposite of the sort of person who would do that sort of thing.
Regression – You can’t blame me because I am just like a child.
Unrepentant – I in fact did the right thing.

Our Kind

I want to live in a world of peace surrounded by good people. Many of us do. Some of us do this by gathering “our kind” together and creating a closed community of some sort. We then work to keep the “bad people” out and the “good people” in. Small towns and neighbourhoods can do this by simply being hostile to newcomers. In cities some people turn whole suburbs into fortressed domains with security guards. Then we have presidents who set up increasingly militant border patrols.

Groups of people assume they are good for many reasons: they are all wealthy, all part of the same religion, all part of the same ethnicity, all oppressed in the same way, all have the same education, all part of the same country, all part of the same club, etc. Wearing any of these badges tends to be automatic markers of good, without anyone having to actually take any caring and life-affirming actions. It is even a literal get out of jail free card upon occasion when a community goes into denial that one of their own has done anything harmful.

I have seen terrible wrong-doing happen within communities that has gone unchecked. Here is the thinking: 1) we are the good guys, one of our people couldn’t have done anything wrong and 2) if they have done wrong, we do not want any one else knowing about it, because it would damage our community’s reputation and/or our cause. This is when communities become vulnerable to people preying on their own. “Shush,” they tell the little girl who has been assaulted by a community leader, “Don’t tell anyone what happened because this leader is important and we need him.” I have also witnessed manipulators who cry wolf about being harmed by someone from a different community in order to destroy that person, thereby robbing their community of allies and the ability to seek justice the many many times they genuinely are harmed.

Be Braver

All I can say is that we all need to be braver. If we want to live in a liveable world, we must have the courage to be honest, responsible, and more universally compassionate. Any person’s pain should be worthy of our consideration. All people’s well-being should be sought. Vengeance must be recognised as not the same as justice. We must seek to rehabilitate those who have fallen down a bad path.

We have programs to mentor children at risk because they have been born into dysfunctional families, since it has been shown that with the help of an older friend they can live more functional lives. We are not unchangeable machines. Neither is any of us perfect. We make mistakes and the possibility is always there to learn and to grow. We need the strength to offer recompense and seek reconciliation. We then also need the capacity to forgive ourselves and others…not to let people get away with bad behaviour, but to make a way forward possible.

Be kind.

In peace,

Katherine

Everyone’s Rights!

Posted on 7 January 2019 | Comments Off on Everyone’s Rights!

Don’t even read this article until you have watched the video link below.

We are animals. I do not mean that in the pejorative sense. I mean that in the sense that our behaviour, whether for good or ill, is not that different from those beings with whom we share this planet.

What happens to an animal, who has once enjoyed the benefits of human civilisation, but subsequently is neglected, mistreated, and left on the streets? They become frightened and mean in order to protect themselves. Wild animals rarely descend to the kind of viciousness feral animals rely upon.

The world is changing very fast right now. We are all facing the same existential threats. Whether people are willing to acknowledge the reality of climate change or not, they are still feeling deep terror in the midst of their denial.

Some of us grew up in a world where we were taught that we could expect security and status because of who we were: whether that was because we were white, or male, or wealthy. As the world turns, any sense of security from these markers of privilege has been evaporating.

I was shocked when a young male environmentalist angrily told me that he would have a job, if it weren’t for the fact that women were now allowed to have jobs. So was this person left-wing or right-wing?

Desperate animals bite.

Recently, a friend texted that she was in a moral dilemma. An officially fascist gather was happening on a beach where she was having a picnic. She felt the police were behaving in a brutal manner. However, surely the fascists deserved it?

My answer: We protect people’s rights consistently to ensure those rights are always available, whether or not we like the people who are being defended. If we do not like police brutality, we ensure that it is never acceptable. Otherwise, we live in a cycle of tit for tat without any sort of legal protections.

She then replied that she felt that treating these protestors fairly would be a way of supporting their political agenda.

My subsequent answer: You would not be supporting them, you would be supporting human rights. Other human rights considerations and laws are in place to stop hate crimes and hate groups. Police are allowed to use force in order to stop violent behaviour. However, excessive and inhumane force is always unacceptable. Otherwise, we are no better than those from whom we are defending ourselves. The situation becomes “my tribe vs your tribe” rather than good vs bad.

One fellow responded to my comment by saying, “They’re literally fucking Nazis. They deserve the Nuremberg treatment.” Many people talk about the horrible violent things these people deserve.

Were the Nazis subsequently considered evil because of whom they were torturing and gassing? Or were they considered evil because they were torturning and gassing? Would you think their behaviours: such as enforcing harsh labour, raping prisoners, doing profoundly cruel experimentation on the vulnerable, were acceptable if you didn’t happen to like the people who they had imprisoned? If we rounded up all the Alt-Right and threw them into concentration camps, would we really have rid the world of monsters or simply created new monsters?

Don’t you for one moment think I am on the side of these warped souls, when I demand that we do all we can to be better than they are…and that starts by respecting their rights even when we don’t respect them.

So many people are born into these hate cults. Are you going to tell me that it is somehow genetic?

Some people can be turned, but they have to see that life could be better on another side. If they just see more hatred when looking our direction, what’s the point? They are safer sticking with their tribe. This is the polarisation we are facing in much of the world. It has nothing to do with left or right. It has to do with brands of hatred, and those in power who find a marketing niche with one side or the other.

Being “moderate”, a wishy-washy non-controversial point somewhere between “left” and “right”, doesn’t solve this problem. Standing firmly on the side of compassion and human rights does. If we are consistent in ensuring everyone’s security and access to human rights, we will find within a generation the children of those rednecks will want to escape to greener pastures.

Next time you see something about “poor white trash”, think about what it takes to create a vicious stray dog and what it takes to redomesticate them. We can’t accept the biting, but we can deal with it in a way where perhaps we can rescue a few and if nothing else show what it is to be compassionate and how to build a compassionate society. Don’t become a “blueneck”. Ensure everyone…absolutely EVERYONE…is treated fairly and well.

In peace,

Katherine

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