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Rewi, Author at Oqürum

Author: Rewi

A post-colonial Australian republic: let’s embrace each other!

A post-colonial Australian republic: let’s embrace each other!

I, for one, am glad to see some renewed debate about if/when/how Australia will eventually become a republic.

I’m really keen that when we do, we do it in a genuinely post-colonial way. We are not now a post-colonial society.

In December I shared my submission to the parliamentary inquiry into proposed amendment of section 44 of the Australian Constitution, the section which caused such angst with dual citizens. I argued that this could only make sense in the context of broader reform including becoming a republic.

Lately I’ve seen some opinion pieces (unfortunately a few behind paywalls which I can’t afford) which have been highlighting the need for recognition as part of a republic process. This is in response to the rejection of the Uluru Statement by the former ardent (now tepid) minimalist republican PM Malcolm Turnbull.

Naturally I agree with these sentiments. I ran in the election for the Constitutional Convention in 1998 arguing for republican constitutional reform that included genuine recognition (the best I can say of that campaign is that 1) unlike my two tilts at local government, my mum was happy with it and 2) I didn’t come last).

My dream for us, though, is for more than a passive acknowledgement of one another. It is for an active embrace.

A couple of things I learned a while ago

The photo above is of the back of a t-shirt I bought when I attended the Garma Festival on Yolgnu country back in 2001. I was working for the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia at the time, and attended with our then President, Ron ‘Doc’ Reynolds.

The academic program for that year’s festival was on criminal law and justice. There were national Indigenous leaders from around Australia, eminent jurists from around the country, leading academics and a very freshly elected NT First Minister, Helen Clark, flew in to give one of her first public speeches.

In the plenary sessions, though, I was struck by the contribution of a particular Yolgnu elder.

He stood in front of legal and political luminaries and junior servants of the struggle like me and let us know that some fundamental British constitutional principles, imported into Australia, were comparable to principles in Yolgnu government.

So, for example, the Yolgnu word used to name the academic program, Njärra’, he informed us, referred (in one usage) to a law-making meeting akin to a parliament.

He argued that at another time elders would meet to apply the law, in the manner of a court.

His point was that these two functions were distinct in Yolgnu government: there was a separation of powers.

Around a fire one night I had a conversation with a young elder, and we spoke about the dynamism of Yolgnu law. In particular, he highlighted that once the Yolgnu had practiced capital punishment for severe crimes, but that they had been persuaded by arguments that no government has the right to take one of its people’s lives.

They hadn’t been persuaded because Anglo-Australian law prohibited it, he was very clear. After all, Anglo-Australian law prohibits all forms of corporal punishment and we know that however dynamic Indigenous criminal sentencing has been over the past century it hasn’t abandoned corporal punishment altogether.

No, his point was that Yolgnu lawmakers had been persuaded of the ethical basis for abandoning capital punishment.

It was at that festival that I met and had a chance to hang out with Marcia Langton a bit.

I floated with her and a colleague of hers from Melbourne (whose name, I regret, I’ve forgotten) a few thoughts about the debates I’d been listening to at the forum. She invited me to talk about those ideas at a forum, so I did, and the gist of these ideas is what I’m posting about today.

The idea of legal pluralism is a colonial solution

Discussions of Indigenous customary law in Australia have centered around the idea that we can recognise different customary legal processes as sitting aside Anglo-Australian law and procedure.

This has been referred to as legal pluralism: the operation of a dual legal system with Indigenous customary law a secondary or subset system.

This isn’t too weird an idea in Anglo-Australian law, as it turns out. To a certain extent some religious organisations are permitted to apply theological laws to their members, for example.

Yet the notion of Indigenous Australians having legal processes of their own has, historically, rubbed a lot of non-Indigenous Australians the wrong way.

That’s explicable given Australia’s really terrible racist past.

For me such a pluralist approach is inadequate because it’s such a missed opportunity.

It places the legitimacy of First Peoples’ law as within the power of the Anglo-Australian system to grant or withdraw.

And it doesn’t adequately reflect the very real shared values between First Peoples’ societies and imported Anglo-Australian society.

Embracing those shared values is the incredibly exciting opportunity that becoming a republic can enshrine.

So, here’s my pitch for constitutional reform and a genuine post-colonial Australian republic.

The constitutional and legal systems of Australian First Peoples and the British system imported here have a great deal in common.

Our law making bodies are constituted as distinct from our judicial bodies even if, in the case of some First Peoples, the same elders sit in a law making body and a judicial body.

In terms of the laws that are made, there are common principles.

There is property (the most important being land) that is common and property that is private to families and individuals. In Anglo-Australian law we refer to that nominally commonly owned land as Crown land, because it is actually owned by the Queen of Australia.

There are crimes against persons and crimes against property and those crimes are punishable according to established sentencing norms.

There are laws governing families and the care for and protection of vulnerable members of those families.

Historically, First Peoples’ laws governed trade between First Peoples and, in the north of the continent, trade with peoples of what is now Indonesia, Papua, South East Asia and, potentially, China.

And, perhaps most relevantly to the next part of this post, both Anglo-Australian and First Peoples’ legal regimes established protections for the culture and heritage transmitted from our respective ancestors.

It’s not just about recognition

The big hole, as far as I can see, in the form of recognition proposed by the Referendum Council was that it didn’t include recognition of the legal systems that existed prior to colonisation let alone talk about the shared values which ought to be celebrated in our constitution.

These shared values can be built into the constitution of our republic in a comprehensive way (say, including designated seats in parliament), but let’s just start with the Preamble.

We have to reject the arguments of conservative constitutional lawyers that changing the Preamble may alter the meaning of other sections of the Constitution.

Yes, it will. That’s the point. And that’s a good thing.

I’m not presumptuous enough to suggest the actual words of a Preamble. Just presumptuous enough to suggest the ideas it could cover.

That presumptuousness no doubt stems from my white, heterosexual, tertiary educated privilege.

Oh well.

Here are the kinds of sentiments that represent my thoughts, for what they are worth, on a foundation for future harmony.

  • For tens of thousands of years Australian First Peoples governed societies according to complex systems of laws.
  • Over two hundred years ago, British people began to impose their system of laws on the land and, gradually, Australian First Peoples.
  • The British were not invited and their advancing control of the continent was resisted.
  • We, contemporary Australians of all backgrounds, wish that our ancestors had respectfully collaborated to manage approved migration and the creation of communities governed by a shared understanding of the law whose wealth was exploited to the benefit of all according to their rights under the law (it probably would have avoided lots of contemporary social problems if we had).
  • It is too late for permission to migrate to this continent to be sought or granted, and many of the peoples whose permission would have been applicable have been obliterated by colonisation.
  • Living generations are only ever custodians of an inheritance we must understand and enhance for generations yet to come.
  • The descendants of migrants and those fresh to this country ask remaining First Peoples for forgiveness for the crimes of the past.
  • The remaining First Peoples forgive those crimes.
  • Australian First Peoples and those who have migrated here share common values about how we wish to be governed.
  • Together we wish to establish an Australian self-determination that celebrates those shared common values.
  • We value a system of government that enshrines the separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers.
  • We value a system governed by the rule of law.
  • We share values concerning property that is owned in common by all Australians and land that is owned by citizens, including citizens who own land collectively.
  • We share values concerning prohibitions on crimes against persons and property.
  • Etc. (insert further shared values)
  • Under this constitution we declare that our respective unique and distinct heritages of government and law are unified to create a new, uniquely Australian republic.

That’s the general idea, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing (for now)…

If, in thinking about a federal division of powers, we could replace the States, Territories and local government with provinces roughly  aligned with the old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Regional Councils (but which don’t slavishly follow the colonial State borders) that’d work alright I reckon.

Source: Human Rights Commission, Social Justice Report 2005

Launching ‘Lawyers for Anarchism’, Or, Why I’m Not an Anarchist Part 2

Launching ‘Lawyers for Anarchism’, Or, Why I’m Not an Anarchist Part 2

So, spoilers, I’m not really launching ‘Lawyers for Anarchism’.

Late last year I wrote about how my pacifism means I can’t totally subscribe to anarchism.

To recapitulate –

Anarchism includes the right to exercise autonomous violence.

My desire to live a life of non-violence in a violent world requires me to (at least) implicitly licence others to exercise violence in my defence if necessary to protect me from other people’s violence.

This means I have to give up certain things (principally some money and some freedom) so that the state – which is the manifestation of a collective interest in arming some of our citizens to protect us from other citizens who are disposed towards violence – can exist.

All of which leads to a system of laws to govern the terms under which resort to violence by some is permitted by those of us granting the licence.

Now we’ve found law(ful violence), what are we going to do with it?

Violence exercised on our collective behalf should be for a lawful purpose.

We must have a system in place that monitors the violent practices of those holding the licence (namely, in civil society, the paramilitary wing of the state called ‘police’).

I wouldn’t be a police officer for so many reasons, chiefly because I abhor violence but also because there are a number of laws I don’t agree with and which I wouldn’t want to be duty-bound to enforce with violence if necessary.

Those in the state’s paramilitary accept that duty, and I’m thankful for their protection.

But police must be held to account for occasions on which it is alleged their exercise of violence exceeds the lawful purposes for which the licence is granted.

In short, our remaining freedoms include the freedom from fear of arbitrary (unlawful) violence and the freedom to apply the law equally to those licenced to enforce it.

A large part of why I became a lawyer is a desire to protect people from unnecessary application of laws, from excessive punishment under the law, and from arbitrary exercise of otherwise lawful power.

And having become a lawyer, not just a subject of the law but an officer of the court, is another part of the reason I’m not an anarchist.

Anarchism, rules and freedom from state intervention

It’s pretty hard to uphold your duties as an officer of the court – the judicial arm of the state – while arguing that people should create for themselves the conditions of how they relate to one another free from the constraints of laws created by a state and enforced by that state.

There’s a limit to how far advocating those kinds of state-free relationships can go, particularly if anarchists want to form relationships or engage in conduct that actively undermines the state.

But at essence, concepts such as ‘alternative dispute resolution’ are inherently anarchic.

They promote resolving disputes without recourse to the coercive power of the state as applied by its judiciary and executed by its paramilitary, remembering that this coercive power is at best securing compliance through apprehension of lawful violence.

It is a resolution between people according to rules those people agree upon.

The further those rules are from relying on the state for legitimacy, the more anarchic they are.

Of course, to the extent that such agreements comprise demonstrations of asymmetrical power applied to the benefit of one party and the exploitation of another they’re probably not as anarchic as those which are founded on equity, if not parity, in power relations.

That is, it’s pretty hard to have a capitalist anarchism. Some might say impossible.

The core principle, though, that humans can between themselves without intervention of or reliance on the state agree on the basis of their relationship and how to resolve disputes, is at the heart of moving beyond litigation.

And it turns out that, just as tax accountants are the best at figuring out how the wealthy can ‘minimise’ their taxes, lawyers can be pretty good at helping people crystallise the rules they want to agree to be bound by and resolve disputes free from the threat of state intervention.

Pet pigs in Perth: if you must here’s where you can

Pet pigs in Perth: if you must here’s where you can

I’ve never met a pig I didn’t like.

From what I’ve read, they can sometimes be pretty difficult friends to have. But just because your friend is difficult doesn’t mean you kill and eat them. So be nice to pigs.

Pigs also live for around fifteen years, so don’t get one if you’re going to simply get rid of it when you’re sick of the hassle.

The RSPCA says, for what it’s worth and for many that’s not much because they give accreditation to slaughterhouses which seems counterintuitive, that pigs ‘require plenty of mental stimulation or they will become bored and destructive.’

Animal rights activists are critical of owning pigs as pets. Keeping pigs that have been rescued from slaughter is a growing movement but those pigs are generally the huge 350kg animals. Don’t put one in your backyard.

These are good practical and ethical reasons for thinking twice about having a pig in your backyard.

All in all, unless you’re absolutely sure that you can be a good friend to a pig and be a good pet owner, don’t get a pig.

And if you can’t be a good pet owner, just steer clear of pets altogether.

People who want to keep pigs as pets in metropolitan areas (rather than sanctuaries for rescued animals) aren’t talking about something the size of Esther the Wonder Pig. Those guys got duped.

What they’re talking about are pigs that are about 60 centimetres at the shoulder, or about 90 kilograms at most.

So what are the rules? Bear in mind we’re looking at pigs in residential areas and not piggeries and that there are a bunch of other conditions you would have to comply with if you wanted a pig as a pet in a residential area.

You can find further information about this from the Department of Agriculture.

This is just your starting point and it is a survey only of local laws. Citations are to the relevant local government authority’s Local Health Laws unless otherwise specified.


East Fremantle and Peppermint Grove don’t appear to have local laws governing the keeping of pigs. Good luck getting the Department of Agriculture to approve your registration there.

If you’re an anarchist (in which case this whole post is probably irrelevant) and you can find an anarchist in the Department as your collaborator it would appear that for once Peppermint Grove is your natural home.

You shall not pig

The clearest ‘you may not’ comes from:

Bassendean, Canning, Claremont, Cottesloe, Mosman Park, South Perth, Stirling No one may keep a pig: Bassendean – s. 5.15(1); Canning – s.63(3); Claremont – s.69; Cottesloe – s.69 (miniature pigs specifically included); Mosman Park – s.66; South Perth – s. 65; Stirling – s. 5.8(3).
Kwinana Pigs may only be kept in rural zoned areas: Piggeries By-laws s.1.
Rockingham Pigs may only be kept in rural zoned areas, but you can apply for an exemption: s.71.

Pig potential

For some councils you can seek approval to keep a large animal, which includes pigs, but the restrictions probably rule it out in many cases due to residential density:

Kalamunda An application must be made to keep any animal, including large animals. The information to be included in an application to keep any animal is detailed and each application will be determined on its merits: ss 4.1, 4.4, 4.5.
Nedlands Large animals may only be kept with approval of the council; and must be kept in a ‘stable’; and must not approach within 15 metres of a house or food premises: ss 68-70.
Bayswater, Perth, Subiaco, Victoria Park Large animals may only be kept with approval of the council; and must be kept in a ‘stable’ which must be 15 metres from the nearest house; and must not approach within 15 metres of a house: Bayswater – ss 5.14-5.16; Perth – ss 68-69; Subiaco – ss 70-71; Victoria Park – ss 68-69.
Belmont, Vincent Large animals may only be kept with the approval of the council; and must not approach within 15 metres of a house: Belmont – ss 67-68; Vincent (defined to include ‘miniature species of the same animal’) – ss 68-69.
Mundaring Large animals may only be kept with the approval of the council; and must not be kept within 15 metres of a house: s. 5.3.2
Fremantle Large animals may only be kept with approval of the council; and must be kept in a ‘stable’ which must be 15 metres from the nearest house; and must not approach within 15 metres of a house except the house of the owner which it may approach no closer than 6 metres: ss 71-72.
Melville (Approval not required) Large animals must not be kept within 15 metres of a house: s.67.
Armadale An application must be made to keep any farm animal. The information to be included in an application to keep any farm animal is detailed and each application will be determined on its merits: ss 30-33.

If you can find a property sufficiently large in any of these areas (some more likely than others) you can have a miniature pig.

Pig deal

The most miniature pig friendly councils are:

Cambridge, Cockburn, Joondalup, Wanneroo You can keep one miniature pig under strict conditions. A miniature pig is defined as being no higher than 650mm at the shoulder and weighing no more than 55kg: Cambridge – ss 1.6 & 5.9; Cockburn – ss 2.1 & 2.28; Joondalup – ss 6 & 41; Wanneroo – ss 6 & 41.
Gosnells You can keep up to 2 miniature pigs in a residential zone: ss2.8(1); 2.10. A miniature pig is defined as being no higher than 650mm at the shoulder and no more than 55kg: s.1.
Swan Apparently you can keep any livestock in any part of Swan so long as it’s fenced: Consolidated Local Laws 12.22-12.24.

The Pig Short

If you want to have a miniature pig, then, your three options are:

  1. Live in the Cambridge, Cockburn, Joondalup, Wanneroo or Gosnells local government districts and hope your pig doesn’t get too heavy, or
  2. Live on a large property in a district where you can keep a fully grown pig, but just have a miniature pig instead, or
  3. Lobby your council to amend their local laws in the same terms as those councils.

Good luck!

Section 44: submission regarding proposed amendment of the Commonwealth Constitution

Section 44: submission regarding proposed amendment of the Commonwealth Constitution


Today I lodged a submission into the Commonwealth Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Inquiry into matters relating to Section 44 of the Constitution. Here’s what I submitted:

I write regarding the following Terms of Reference for the Committee’s inquiry:

C. Whether the Parliament should seek to amend section 44(i) (for example, to provide that an Australian citizen born in Australia is not disqualified by reason of a foreign citizenship by descent unless they have acknowledged, accepted or acquiesced in it);

D. Whether any action of the kind contemplated above should be taken in relation to any of the other paragraphs of section 44 of the Constitution, in particular sections 44(iv) and 44(v);

It is my strong view that for the Parliament to seek to amend the Constitution as contemplated in these Terms, absent any other proposed amendments, would constitute a self-serving exercise by Australia’s political elite.

The Australian Constitution, venerable as many hold it to be, contains significant flaws in need of correction.

I reject the pragmatism of incremental change. Two of the last three amendments to be passed, in 1977, were concerned with, in effect, amending the terms of employment of those exercising power on behalf of Australians, namely Senators and judges. The third expanded the franchise to citizens in Territories.

Australians have not been asked to contemplate any significant change to our system of government in decades, if at all since Federation. ‘Minimalist’ republicanism simply does not rate as ‘significant’. Indeed, the 1999 referendum is a study in the failure of adherents to the incremental change mantra.

We need a Constitution that establishes an Australian state free from legal shackles to its imperial heritage: our Constitution should be an act of its free peoples, not an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Our Head of State should be one of us, and the position held by that person ought to be what we acknowledge as we pay respect to the law on entry to a courtroom.

Our Constitution must include a Bill of Rights, because we have seen in the Northern Territory Intervention and the suspension of rights under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 what happens when rights are merely legislated.

Our Constitution must pay due respect and regard to the original legal systems that applied in Australasia, the systems of its First Peoples.

It is in the context of these significant opportunities for constitutional reform that our leaders ought to contemplate a re-ordering of government in our country to deliver a 21st century approach to health and education responsibilities, so that we no longer suffer through buck-passing and waste.

We ought to ask ourselves whether the majoritarian cartel that is a consequence of our current representative system, founded in the Constitution, is delivering the quality of governance we deserve. Perhaps the growing disjunction between Government and Opposition and the electorate at large is a product of the fundamentally flawed pretence that mass parties can adequately present unified perspectives to electors all-too-aware of their internal divisions.

In short, Australians should have a thorough discussion about a new Constitution.

Not because its entirely broken (although parts of it certainly are), but because we should aspire to higher ideals of democratic representation rather than settle for the status quo just because it’s easier.

If amending section 44 forms part of a more comprehensive package of constitutional reforms, all well and good.

But presenting such an amendment, which only serves those who contemplate a political career, while failing to present any amendments that would deliver meaningful, positive change in the lives of many Australians is self-interest in leadership’s clothing.

Democracy in a state like Australia

Democracy in a state like Australia

(Well, France’s democracy is a bit like Australia’s, isn’t it?)

Because I’m me and I live in Australia, which some have touted as one of the world’s most stable democracies, when I consider the form the state should take I tend towards a democratic state. Maybe if I’d ever experienced a benevolent autocracy I’d have a different opinion, but I haven’t so I don’t.

‘Democracy’ is contested ground, though, and we need to be sure what it is we mean when we use it. Returning to some fundamentals is essential if we are to conceptualise the ideal towards which we should be heading. Surely no one suggests that the form of democracy we endure in Australia today is that ideal form. To assert the contrary is would mean that Indigenous incarceration rates are a bi-product of our ideal democracy, for example, or that Australia’s position on carbon pollution pricing is an ideally democratic outcome.

Let’s adopt a pretty basic approach as our starting point: democracy in 21st century states manifests as the right to have an indirect role in determining the laws that govern those states by exercising decision making power about whether to vote and, if so, who to vote for.

If exercising this right results in an attempt to vote (regardless of the validity of the attempt), this decision at the very least implies acquiescence to the laws that result from any government elected. Our votes legitimise the electoral process and are evidence of our endorsement of the manner of state apparatus we employ and those we elect to operate that apparatus.

This is as close as we actually get to an active representation of the social contract. It is, though, an active demonstration of acquiescence to the chimera that we voluntarily agree to receive the benefits of a state so long as we accept certain obligations as a result.

This act of individual decision making power is enough for those inclined to do so to extend the language of democratic rights to democratic duties.

The argument goes that if, for example, the rule of law is a defining principle of our democracy, and the right to trial by jury a defining principle of our criminal legal system, then it is reasonable to extend the proposition of jury duty as a democratic duty. By exercising our basic democratic right to vote in an election we, at the very least, impliedly endorse the imposition of this duty, regardless of whether an individual compelled to so serve themselves endorses those principles or the laws that result from the state that governs them.

Furthermore, we are compelled to observe the civic duties imposed upon all of us equally regardless of our relative privilege to affect the laws to which we each are subject or indeed to even know the extent of those laws.

You may be privileged enough to enjoy more than the indirect role of lodging your vote, but at its most fundamental this is the only decision making power that our states guarantee us as citizens. We each have differing levels of capacity to involve ourselves more deeply in some level of democratic decision-making, and we do not each have the same privilege that permits us to influence or decide at the highest levels.

There are many who would argue that we do a great deal to empower citizens and increase participation in deliberative processes, community consultations and the like, and that’s entirely true. This notion of ‘participatory democracy’ is one where we all get to participate in influencing decisions and it sounds great, and it is great, but it is still an exercise in relative privilege.

The circumstances into which we are born can be enough to make the difference.

The manner in which we have obtained the knowledge we claim is itself open to dispute and those disputes offer those inclined to do so another opportunity to exclude. What constitutes ‘life experience’ can be the subject of an argument itself, let alone the relative merits of any ‘life experience’ against ‘book learning’ (which again, is of contestable value such as the relative value of a degree from one university over another).

The labour we must dedicate to alleviating crippling net debt to income ratios may be a significant constraint on how willing or able we are to participate in community forums on the future of the local shopping precinct, let alone provide a written submission to a Senate inquiry.

The Director General or Secretary of a government department has multiple opportunities every day to influence or direct the decision making authority of the state. An eighteen year-old former ward of the state recently released from juvenile detention has no such opportunity.

But our democracy, built on our equal votes, is not founded on recognition of our varying circumstances (other than our citizenship) and does not demand of us ‘participation’ beyond our vote.

Those who govern impose laws and use the lawful violence of the state, or the mere threat of such violence, to compel compliance. In 21st century democracies the legitimacy of the state the apparatus of which is effectively operated by far less than 0.1% of its population on any given day is derived from nothing more than our attendance at a ballot box and the tallying of numbers.

Fifty per cent plus one is the magic formula, and it’s a formula in which every individual unit is assumed equal by virtue of their status as an individual human. In almost every other aspect of our society we see that individuals are not equal, and yet when it comes to determining who it is that will create laws to which we are all subject suddenly equality is assumed.

I would hope that whatever our ideal of ‘democracy’ is, it’s more than this. Surely our obligation to ensure that the least privileged in our society are not unfairly discriminated against as a result of democratic decision-making demands more than that we ‘consult’ with them before we pass laws to their detriment.

Perhaps the notion of democracy demands more of our society than this simplistic, immature numbers game. If we recognise that some interests are more privileged than others, more capable of influencing decision making, perhaps this ought to be recognised in the calculation of our votes. Perhaps the votes of those whose capacity to influence is significantly less than others ought to be given more weight, a form of ‘horizontal electoral equalization’ based on privilege.

If a democracy is to avoid entrenching disadvantage on an intergenerational basis, surely it must recognise relative privilege in the essential, for many only, decision-making process that defines it as a democracy. Yet our system does quite the opposite. It is designed to favour some interests over others, and deliver disproportionate benefits to those favoured few. It is an imperfect democracy with little evidence at hand to suggest any significant movement towards a more ideal form.

Anarchy is Love, or, Why I’m not an Anarchist, Part One

Anarchy is Love, or, Why I’m not an Anarchist, Part One

I have thought for a very long time that anarchy has been unjustifiably derided.

It is used as a pejorative too easily, synonymous with chaos.

A ‘descent into anarchy’ seems so akin to a descent into Hell, doesn’t it? It must be evil.

Yet at its heart, anarchy is love.

Anarchy is, after all, an absence of hierarchy and an acknowledgement of mutuality of power.

It is a rejection of exploitation by one of another.

For anarchy to thrive we must each see one another as equals, as deserving of our needs and of peace.

Anarchy requires that every individual is able to consider their own needs and the needs of everyone else and choose that course of action that respects all needs.

Who could argue with that?

Here’s the but…

But perhaps anarchy merely has the potential of love, and is truly more likely to result in violence.

‘Anarchy as love’ falls down whenever an individual is incapable of or simply chooses not to respect the needs of others and reverts to violence to claim for themselves disproportionate and selfish use of one thing or another. Such expropriation is exploitative and anti-anarchist.

Anarchism also, then, provides that each individual is entitled to exercise their own violence to prevent such expropriation.

It also provides that to claim an anarchist future (some say reclaim, but I’m not convinced anarchy ever truly existed) it is appropriate to use violent means to overthrow capitalist patriarchy (I’m not sure if that’s a tautology but will take my chances).

If, for anarchists, might does not necessarily make right, nor is it necessarily wrong.

I’m a pacifist (though one prone to fits of anger from time to time which manifest as some swearing and shouting which I always regret. Also an extremely problematic attitude to what should be done about things like genocide).

So, for me, violent overthrow of patriarchy isn’t an option.

And I’ll always be prone, won’t I, to anyone who wants to gratify themselves violently or is prepared to take my stuff by force. And I’m a 180cm bloke in full command of my muscles. I’m sure you don’t need to imagine the circumstances of someone with different physical attributes similarly disinclined to violence. Or simply incapable of it.

Who do I licence to protect me (and is such a licence even OK)?

I’d rather I wasn’t assaulted or my stuff nicked, so maybe I need to be protected. As soon as I admit to this need I empower the person whose role it is to provide my protection. I am indebted to them, and must pay a price.

So long as that person doesn’t exploit their relative power to my detriment, perhaps anarchy can persist (although leaving us with the problematic position of the pacifist apparently licencing violence by another).

Far more likely, though, is that violence between those agents will progressively escalate and formalise. That’s what history shows us, anyway, and perhaps it’s OK to take past behaviour as indicative of future behaviour in this regard.

If we’re going to have people who are authorised to exercise violence on behalf of those who don’t want to or can’t then they ought to be constrained from doing so arbitrarily and to their own advantage in an exploitative way. There ought to be rules we agree to apply to those who accept the responsibility to exercise violence on our behalf.

In short, out propensity to violence means that we need a state in recognition of the fact that we simply do not all share equal capacity for violence, even if we all had the will, and the controlling minds of that state must be accountable for their decisions.

That’s not anarchy.

So is there a place for anarchist thought in a statist society?

I do believe, though, that we should be considering public policy from, in part, an anarchist perspective.

My expectation, my demand, is that the entity to which I contract my right to violence does not abuse that contract by exercising violence to entrench or deepen exploitation and disadvantage.

Our society is improved every time we find a way to peacefully and kindly resolve differences using our individual agency. Talking to our neighbour about their noise and agreeing to a compromise on how it may be reduced is superior to calling their landlord or the police. It is more respectful and loving. Collectively and voluntarily providing a safe space to meet the needs of children is superior to locking them up.

The state isn’t going anywhere in a hurry, if at all. But its controlling minds can, in considering how to respond to any particular public policy question, look to how they can best empower individuals and communities to agree to solutions rather than impose measures upon them.

Public servants already, in proposing particular policies or programs, report on the consequences of their proposal by way of ‘impact’ reports. They consider, for example, the impact on families, on small business.

I say let’s have ‘Anarchy Impact Statements’, where a proponent must reflect on how a particular proposal either dismantles or entrenches hierarchies that rely on violence to sustain exploitative relationships. In particular, proponents should be required to defend measures that defends or advances exploitation that relies on recourse to the ‘lawful’ violence of the state without which those who suffer from such exploitation would resist it.

If the state is going to continue to be used to protect expropriation and entrenched disadvantage, its controlling minds ought to be required to at least acknowledge that they are doing so every time they act.

Acknowledgements and presumption

Acknowledgements and presumption

It has taken a great deal of thoughtful time before I feel comfortable to write again, and it’s a necessary precursor to writing that I acknowledge a few preliminaries.

I have seen some commentary on the question of ‘vanity blogging’. The suggestion is that in order for writing to be valuable it must first pass some independent reviewer’s eyes. All else is vanity publishing, a self-declarative and egotistical exercise in gratification lacking in merit or rigour.

So be it: I presume for myself the vanity of choosing the terms on which I will supplicate myself to such socially ordained discipline and the freedom not to do so (including using flowery language and idiosyncratic grammar if I feel like it even if the SEO plugin tells me my ‘readability’ needs improvement). Here are my thoughts censored only by my anxieties and doubts, though these are possibly not as strong or controlling as they ought to be. Perhaps these thoughts may be reproduced elsewhere, edited, truncated or redacted, but for now they will be as you find them, should you care to look.

I acknowledge the privileges I enjoy living in a not-yet post-colonial society that permit me the opportunity to vainly – perhaps in every sense – scratch away. I am not wealthy by the standards of early 21st century Australian capitalism, but nor am I poor. I am lacking the expertise of specialization as well as the drive to attain the title of ‘expert’. I am, perhaps, too much of a dilettante to ever sustain a serious or deep contribution to any particular field of endeavour.

Nonetheless I have had one person suggest that my white, male, heteronormative views on one thing or another might be worth conveying and so (to borrow from that ‘jingo imperialist’ Kipling), Best Beloved, here are some thoughts for you.

Australian realism and the Anglosphere: five eyes to turn blindly

Australian realism and the Anglosphere: five eyes to turn blindly

The keyboards got a solid workover this weekend as News Corporation journalists and columnists found themselves receiving a concerted scolding from online commentators across the country. Yes, yes, these bloggers are people generally poorly disposed to News Corporation at the best of times, blah, blah, blah, bias, blah.

The point is, they’re giving the Australian in particular a serve because that newspaper has clearly upped the ante on the election campaign that starts today. Well, I can’t be the only one that thinks that’s the latest date on which we could say it’s starting. Possibly it started with the hospitals and health stuff.

A couple of writers who go by the names of Ad Astra and Bushfire Bill, who I find altogether enjoyable to read, have very good lines going in critical analysis of the editorial slant of the Australian pertaining to the domestic political scene. Often I don’t much feel like writing about current Australian political issues simply because there’s such a lot of commentary about that I think’s pretty good. Check out these guys in particular on The Political Sword.

But a couple of articles in the last Weekend Australian caught my eye, and they’re vaguely related to domestic politics and this analysis of the Australian, so I thought today I might bring the issue involved to your attention.

If you’ve been studying international relations at all (as a discipline, that is) you’ll be familiar with the notion of realism in the analysis of such relations. Henry Kissinger was quite a famous realist, although his realism would probably go so far as to say ‘Don’t bother me with your theoretical framework for my approach, I’m far too busy fixing the world.’

I reckon Greg Sheridan would probably consider himself a bit of a realist. Maybe he’ll correct me. I reckon if pushed, Tony Abbott would like to describe himself as a realist, with respect to international relations at least. And the recent Four Corners program about Tony Abbott described Greg Sheridan as a long term friend or something similar.

Last weekend, Greg Sheridan wrote a column about a speech delivered by Tony Abbott on foreign affairs. He was pretty glowing it has to be said, which probably surprises precisely no one. But there was one point that Sheridan picked Abbott up on.

Abbott had referred to the ‘Anglosphere’ of which, he says, possibly accurately, Australia is a part.

Sheridan’s criticism wasn’t that either this construction or reference to it is anachronistic. He just said that, accurate a portrayal as it might be, we really shouldn’t use that term because it might offend the Indians, the Chinese (or, conceivably, any countries outside the Anglosphere. Like France, I guess).

That’s Australian Realism for you. Act on the basis that we’re part of an English speaking coalition against, or at least vis-à-vis, the rest of the world, but don’t fess up that that’s what’s going on for fear of losing customers and influence. And this isn’t for one second an IR alliance restricted to the relationships between states, it’s an alliance of corporations as well. Like News Corporation.

The thing about realism is that its adherents like to pretend that they’re simply acknowledging objective truths about relationships without becoming advocates for any particular courses of action, other than the most realistic in any given set of circumstances of course. That’s why it’s possible that these two might say they’re not realists at all, but openly confess to being neoconservative on international relations. That is, they may actually have an ideological framework for their belief in and support for the Anglosphere as a discrete – and I mean that in every sense – unit of international governance.

The thing is, the best way to keep secrets like this, if they must be kept, isn’t by broadcasting your disagreement about publicizing its existence through the pages of the national broadsheet. If Sheridan and Abbott are really long-term friends, and if they really cared about the potential impact of this attitude on our international relations, surely the former would have simply had a quiet word in the latter’s shell-like? Or should that be sow’s?

Note to Greg Sheridan: Have a word with your colleagues, will you? An article in the very same edition of the Weekend Australian on escalating rates of violence in Australia made a variety of points by reference to trends in the Anglosphere. Probably advisable to get your own house in order before dishing out gratuitous advice to others.

Fixing what ain’t broke: the inherent good of reform

Fixing what ain’t broke: the inherent good of reform

For a while I’d been trying to convince myself that I could write about constitutional reform in a general sense and move on to specific arguments later. But then Tony Abbott reminded me of the time that the phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ really started to get my goat.

You see, this is a nonsense axiom.

The notion that humans should only fix what is broken stands in the face of some of the most wonderful of inventive leaps our species has made. I’ll illustrate with what seem to me to be a couple of stand out examples.

What was it about the way homo sapiens lived that was ‘broken’ and which led to the invention of the wheel? Sure, it’s easy in hindsight to say that the wheel clearly made life better, but that’s not the point in this argument. Making life easier, or better, isn’t the criteria, it’s fixing something that’s broken.

Was candle-power a ‘broken’ way of providing light? In order to really come to terms with this we have to try and conceive of how people felt about those prior ways of life in which only a handful of people conceived of the possibility of change. Did our great-grandparents think that the horse and carriage was a ‘broken’ mode of transport?

What about how humanity conducted its affairs was ‘broken’ that was later ‘fixed’ by space flight?

We’re often told that some of the great inventive leaps have resulted from defence industries, which leads to the question – particularly since World War Two – what was ‘broken’ about the way we kill each other? What’s broken about that now? Isn’t it the case that defence industries are still working at better ways to kill people?

Tony Abbott forms part of this argument because he used the axiom to devastating effect in the constitutional reform debates of the 1990s. It was one of those clichéd phrases which form part of his apparently superhuman power to ‘cut through’.

The problem (or at least one of a few problems) faced by the republicans at that time was that they denied themselves the obvious and critical repost: the Australian Constitution is broken. They could have made the argument, implicit from the above examples, that we as a species don’t and have never only fixed things that were broken. We’ve sought to improve our lives for the sake of the improvement. We’ve made inventive and creative leaps because we can, not just because we must.

But republicans didn’t even get that argument going particularly well, and in any case it’s a little hard to see how the minimalist approach could be perceived as reform that would ‘improve’ our lives in any meaningful way.

Even worse, by pursuing a minimalist agenda which merely changed the names on the letterhead and redirected the mail, the Australian Republican Movement gave us no reason to change. Constitutions are, after all, pretty important things. Symbolism doesn’t really get us there in terms of a need for change.

The glaring, slap you in the face and steal your lunch money problems which come with a nineteenth century constitutional model that was out of date 50 years ago are real and have daily repercussions.

Like the complete absence of the language of rights.

Or the… messed up division of responsibilities between the Commonwealth and State governments.

Health reform, anyone?

Political radicalism in Australia is so hamstrung by some weird combination of a belief in incremental change and an inability to forcefully argue the need for radical change that we’re left in a limbo land where it’s apparently OK to concede that a constitutional bill of rights is unlikely to be successful at a referendum and to, from there, rationalize that we don’t really want constitutional rights anyway.

As if in forcing the Northern Territory Intervention on Aboriginal communities the Commonwealth government’s suspension of legislative rights flowing from the Racial Discrimination Act didn’t actually happen. Wasn’t it a good thing that the Commonwealth stepped in to ‘fix’ that?

But I guess the existence of those rights, and the ability of people to rely on them to ensure that they were not subject to discrimination, must have been at the heart of what was ‘broken’ about the broken lives of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

Good thing our parliamentarians are able to tell us what’s broken about our houses, even if they refuse to do anything to fix their own.

Private surveillance

Private surveillance

In the light of suggestions that Japanese whalers have, through a third party, hired aircraft to conduct surveillance on anti-whaling group Sea Shephed, the ABC reports that Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard is seeking legal advice on the issue.

Professor Don Rothwell has already said, though, that there seems little recourse under existing law to stop Australian airspace from being used in this way.

Now, maybe some people would prefer that such activities not be conducted, and see something sinister at play. They may be right.

But, then, a broader question arises concerning private surveillance generally.

The issue appears to be whether or not a private person, in this case in the form of a corporation or other entity, should be able to use private resources to undertake surveillance of persons they feel may act contrary to their interests. In this case, such surveillance probably wasn’t as covert as it sometimes can be: it’s pretty hard to see how civil aircraft circling the Southern Ocean could be effectively concealed.

If we’re really worried about such private covert surveillance, though, surely such concern should extend to a whole range of ways in which private persons engage investigators to covertly monitor the activities of their competitors, their former spouses, and for any number of other reasons. If we’re going to draw a line on such activity, where should it lie?