Saturday, July 31, 2010

Criminalising citizen protests and demonstrations

image courtesy of Perth Now

"Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely
essential to it."
Howard Zinn

"..... there is an increasing and disturbing trend to answer civil disobedience and peaceful protest with criminal prosecution, and using harsh, disproportionate punishments as a means of stifling dissent, and restricting freedom of expression"
Dirk Voorhoof and Serge Gutwirth.
On the ABC's online publication Drum Unleashed two Belgian academics, Dirk Voorhoof and Serge Gutwirth have written about the growing threat to activism and civil disobedience presented by the use of the tools of the criminal, policing and justice systems.

The authors argue that that political freedoms such as the freedom of expression, the right of civil disobedience, citizen action and political protest, as well as the political liberties of citizens, are increasingly at risk from the actions of political leaders and police and legal systems.

They highlight recent cases in Denmark (the Red Carpet Four who were arrested during protests at the Copenhagen Climate Conference in December 2009) and Japan (two anti-whaling a activists were charged with trespass and theft) where activists were harshly treated by authorities and arbitrarily detained for long periods.

The recent G20 summit in Toronto provides further evidence. Police were granted sweeping new powers for the duration of the summit to prevent protest and dissent and harass and arrest demonstrators. These laws were passed secretly without any public or Parliamentary debate. The result was massive and brutal police harassment of protesters, resulting in thousands being arrested for demonstrating, Police using rubber bullets on demonstrators and citizens being arrested for failing to identify themselves. A lawsuit is being launched by Canadian Civil Liberties Association against police action for violation of citizen rights.

Here in Australia as Zoe Hutchinson and Holly Creenaune in their article in Dissent show that similar trends are evident in Australia where there has been a major expansion of police and other powers, particularly so called 'emergency powers' to stifle protest and dissent and target social movements.

Here in Western Australia the stop and search laws being proposed by the Conservative Barnett government provide police with greater powers to criminalize protest and target demonstrators in designated areas.

There is a valuable Australian site of resources for activists Activist where you can read more on these issues.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Funding crises enveloping small not- for- profit agencies

The funding crises affecting Deckchair Theatre, the Fremantle based not-for-profit arts organization, may arise from factors unique to the arts industry (such as declining public funding, lower ticket sales and flagging corporate sponsorship), but it is symptomatic of a much larger funding crises affecting small-not- for-profit agencies in WA.

After 28 years Deckchair Theatre faces its greatest crises, forced to lay off 3 of its 4 full time staff and reduce its operations substantially. Deckchair receives annual funding from the WA Government and it is using an advance of $50k from next years funding to remain afloat before its remaining annual funding becomes available.

The problems confronting Deckchair are similar to those confronting many small not-for-profit agencies around WA, for whom survival is a month by month, even week by week challenge.

There are a number of reasons for the funding crises affecting small agencies. There is growing structural inequality in the not-for-profit sector across all industry sectors between the haves (usually the big agencies) and the have nots (usually the smaller agencies).

The funded NGO sector has seen growing concentration of power, voice and resources as a result of the rapid growth of large NGO's. Government contracting and funding regimes advantage larger agencies who take a greater share of available funding. Governments prefer to deal with a few large agencies than a multiplicity of small agencies. Corporations and business also prefer to deal with and fund larger higher profile agencies. The result is that smaller agencies have to compete for declining funding and are forced to operate in ways that serve funder interests. Viability and survival become ever more precarious.

The adoption of market and corporate practices and managerial values across the not-for-profit sector has the effect of extending market ideology and attitudes across the sector. They become a standard which all agencies are expected to aspire to and are judged by, although this severely disadvantages small agencies who are not funded to a level appropriate to these expectations and requirements (in terms of governance, accountability, management practice, salaries, business planning, risk management etc).

Sadly, government policy compounds the funding problems facing small agencies and the result is that more and more small not-for-profit agencies are struggling to survive, whilst the larger NGO's continue to grow and prosper. This situation is not a positive outcome for the not-for- profit sector, nor for the wider democracy and society.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

New Political Party for carers and family members

The Parents Families and Carers Party, which represents voiceless parents, families and carers of Australia, is political party that needs our support.

The party exists to politically represent family members and carers who care for people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, older people and other Australians who rely on family care.
The Party has run candidates in previous State and Federal elections.

The Party argues that despite their rhetoric, the main political parties have abandoned parents, carers and families to the market and/or to service providers who are driven largely by provider self interest. They are absolutely correct in that.

The party has a well argued analysis of the problems and a radical agenda for change. This is from its website:

"For more than a century, political parties of both Right and Left have presided over a steady shift in power away from individual citizens towards large corporate and state institutions. In the process, both Left and Right have become defenders of these powerful corporate, institutional and provider interests at the expense of relatively powerless individuals and families.

In government, Left and Right have administered legislative and regulatory regimes that favour large corporations over small business; provider interests over consumers; professionalised and incorporated entities over informal civil society arrangements; state accreditation and licencing authority over voluntary and localised initiative; funded quangos over independent self-funding governance; and impersonal litigation-prone rules and regulations over personal and communal responsibility. As the initiators, enactors and administrators of these regimes, the two major political machines (Labor and Liberal) have become instruments through which powerful corporate, institutional and provider interests uphold and preserve their dominance over society".

You can read all about the Party here at its website. Membership of the Party is free and details for joining here.

The article below is by one of the Party's Queensland candidates.
Political Change in Disability and Health by Pam Maram Queensland National Council Member, Parents Families and Carers Party

I have two teenage sons who rely on the full support of close family to lead as ordinary a life as possible. I have two daughters without disabilities (a lawyer and a social worker) and two sons with disabilities (unemployed and uneducated).

The experience of disability has meant I had to stop working to care at home and have lived on the poverty line for over 5 years. This existence has exhausted all financial resources, and the saddest thing is that my children with a disability have passed through their school years with virtually no education, since there have been no appropriate school options available since day one. My boys will therefore start in the job market with two strikes against them. 1. Poor literacy etc... and 2. the abysmal statistics for employment for people with a disability. A legacy of poverty has been created through no fault of mine as a parent and through no fault of the children who want to try and have not been given adequate support.

I am weary of the fight from the bottom up. Changes need to come through the political process, with the law followed by legislation. De-institutionalisation was important and I would not have had it any other way. But a gap was created as the need for support at home was ignored. This has now grown into a housing crisis with the prisons filling up with people with disabilities. This state of affairs must not continue for another minute.

Our experience to date is that so many of the federal dollars spent on disability are wasted. Much of this money is being spent referring us away from support and building an impenetrable and layered bureaucracy that has left my family on the brink for years. Of late the only program that offers funding for my children with a disability has forced us into the position of begging and explaining and re-explaining their needs - which have not changed in years - to access the funding that is their entitlement. I feel they are wasting the precious resources available but they act like we are the ones wasting the money. Those resources can either make or break this family and to have to beg and be spoken down to is a burden, day in and day out. There is no system, no standards, no empathy and no understanding that being in control of the resources means being in control of the decisions, that, but for the disability, a normal family would make as a family.

There must be a political force to create the change necessary for people with disabilities to be included and to be supported as required by the law and to lead an ordinary life with choice, an education, health care and a place to live free from abuse and neglect.

I do know that without the voice of this Party to direct policy, the decisions made by governments will continue to be made in ignorance. So much money is being spent on the bureaucracy (which is always too hamstrung to make the changes its funding was set aside for) and this is not the intent of it nor does this spending comply with the laws that the money is meant to implement and support.

More money is not the answer, the answer is in how the money is spent and by whom. Speaking as a mum, the journey for people with a disability has been a journey of discrimination, labelling, blaming, a lack of service and a lack of empathy and understanding. But for the children without a disability I would have had no reference point to refer to and I am glad of it, both the experience of raising children with and without a disability. My fear now as my sons grow up is that they have been given a pension and sidelined...but for me.

I am determined not to let resources go to the providers which for us has literally meant no service at all alongside no accountability for the lack of service and more referrals to more no service agencies and at my sons' ages we are talking about dental, mental, health, school and so on...These were a non-issue for my two children without a disability.

Why? Because my sons have a disability and discrimination against them is a daily occurrence even though it is now against the law and yes I am willing to fight to change this.

I urge every other parent and relative and friend in disability and mental health to join this Party and contribute in building up our collective strength. On my own, I am just a solo mum living with two children with a disability. But all of us together, then we can't be ignored.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interesting US blog on the "Non Profit Mind"

An interesting blog on the US Non Profit sector is The Life of the Non Profit Mind which is the blog of David La Piana, who runs La Piana Consulting a specialized US based non profit consultancy (The website of La Piana Consulting is here)

Well worth a visit. There is much to learn from David's knowledge and perspective on the sector

Friday, July 9, 2010

Justice for Mr Ward, his family and community

“A question which is raised by the case is how a society, which would like to think of itself as being civilised, could allow a human being to be transported in such circumstances” —Alistair Hope, Coroner (WA)

Can only but agree with the comments of State Labor Politician Ben Wyatt on the appalling response of the WA Director of Public Prosecutions and consecutive State Governments to the death of Aboriginal elder and community leader Mr Ward.

“The death of Mr Ward in 2008 was, and remains, a disgrace.

“How can we as a community genuinely talk about reconciliation and NAIDOC celebrations when Aboriginal men die in circumstances such as that of Mr Ward and the DPP does not take the matter to the court for judgment?”

Ben Wyatt has called on the DPP to make public the legal advice upon which he based the decision not to prosecute the responsible government agency, the private corporation G4S and the two G4S employees who were driving the van in which Mr Ward died.

Like thousands of West Australians I will be attending the protest rally in Supreme Court Gardens this Sunday July 11 at 1pm organized by the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee WA who continue to do a remarkable job fighting for justice for Mr Ward, his family and community. Please support them.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Book Review: Disability and Euthansia in a Market Society

Gavin Mooney has reviewed this book by Western Australian disability advocate and activist Erik Leopldt. Erik's book is based on his PhD thesis.

A Book Review by Gavin Mooney

Book Reviewed:

Erik Leipoldt (2010) Euthanasia and Disability Perspective:
An Investigation in The Netherlands and Australia VDM Verlag Dr. Müller Aktiengesellschaft, Saarbrücken

Each of the two central issues in this book - euthanasia and disability - is big in itself. Bringing the two together is a monumental task and especially when this is set in a values framework. The author succeeds in his efforts to do this and in a way which is both accessible and challenging.

The purposes of the study reported in this book were (p39) `to discuss Dutch and Australian disability perspectives towards euthanasia and physician assisted suicide; and to find how the life experiences of the informants [people with quadriplegia] ... may illuminate these perspectives'.

Yet to me the central theme of the book is not euthanasia as such nor indeed disability. What the book questions in debating these themes is what autonomy is and whether it merits being seen as so much of an individualistic phenomenon as it so often is, at least in this neo liberal world in which so many of us live. As Leipoldt argues `individual autonomy is the dominant discourse of our age'.

Without disagreeing I wonder if things are not changing. I have in the past been much struck by the work of the likes of Catriona McKenzie, Diana Meyers and Natale Stoljar [1] on relational autonomy and the idea of `community autonomy'. Despite the efforts of so many economists today (this reviewer is an economist) - particularly market economists - and many liberal philosophers to see us all as free floating atoms, that depiction of human beings just somehow does not ring true. We are social animals, we rely on others to some extent and maybe even take our identities in part from our interactions with others. And the interdependency of peoples across the globe has been heightened yet further by both the Global Financial Crisis and the threat of climate change. OK the impact of these on government policies and in turn on human relationships have not really percolated through yet. But this is one `trickling down' that I am confident will trickle down.

Certainly Rawls' placing of individuals behind his veil of ignorance was simply a philosophical construct to aid understanding. Yet it is so false that one has to question how valuable that device is in reaching any sort of understanding of what it means to be a person. Behind a veil of ignorance or a free floating atom? In an odd sense, much of a muchness and much of an unreality.

So for Leipoldt to look at euthanasia through the eyes of 28 people with quadriplegia in Australia and the Netherlands provides not only a novel view but one that in turn challenges the notion of individual autonomy in a most useful fashion. Whatever else, no one reading this will ever again see autonomy in quite the same way - unless maybe a person with disabilities.

The views of people with quadriplegia on this issue have not been examined before which is a quite startling revelation in itself. Leipoldt suggests (p38): `The perspective of people with disabilities may be able to contribute new ... aspects to the euthanasia debate. Major physical, social and psychological changes and challenges arise for a person who acquires a significant disability like quadriplegia.'

On the question of autonomy and individualism the shift to more of the latter is highlighted by one respondent (p 170): `people are becoming more assertive and demand more. I think that if you look ten years ahead people's autonomy will go further ... I think society will become more and more individualistic.'

The book is insightful on the issue of dependency with one response (p 205) suggesting that `dependency gives a very deep relationship with people and you'. And again (p 209): `How do we look at things like interdependence, that are the bigger issues? Because it doesn't matter how dependent or independent you are if you have people around you and you are part of what's happening and contributing to that then whether you can do it on your own isn't the issue.' Wonderfully for me, issues of reciprocity, mutuality, participation, sharing and caring shriek out from these pages.

There is a sense in which what this book tells us primarily in capturing the views of a group who are in many ways dependent and vulnerable as people with disabilities are two things. First interdependence and dependence are not negative traits; and second in some sense or other to be complete human beings we need to be interdependent and dependent and we need to recognise that need. These are particularly interesting issues in the very specific context of the main thrust for the author of this book i.e. euthanasia and disability. But for me the book shows that worshipping at the altar of individual autonomy or even individualistic autonomy is to bow down before false Gods. Such autonomy is almost certainly not attainable and, even if were, it aint worth attaining.

This is a powerful book at many levels.

1. C Mackenzie and N Stoljar (eds) 2000. Relational Autonomy. Oxford: OUP.