Episode 32 26 August 2021
Democracy - cherish and exercise the rights you have!
Principal lawyer, Geraldine Grace | Host, New Earth lawyer podcast
I talk about how important it is that we exercise our democratic rights right now to the furthest extent that we can and in a loving and peaceful manner. This will assert our sovereignty and autonomy to ourselves and the external world and impact events energetically.
This means voting wisely, writing to our lawmakers to express ourselves, signing petitions, protesting and getting involved in the political process ourselves.
In the longer term, to ensure we never give away our rights again, we should insist that our Parliamentarians swear an oath or affirm to serve the people and vote as their conscience demands not on party lines, implement people-initiated referenda, and consider a direct election of our head of government.
I am an experienced corporate lawyer, using the law to build purposeful, human-centred, Earth-friendly legal enterprises & ecosystems, for happier humans and a better planet.
I am also the founder and host of the New Earth lawyer podcast.
I am based in Melbourne, Australia, and an expert in enterprise governance, purpose, business & human rights and modern slavery. I established my own law practice Geraldine Grace in 2020, focussing on enterprises seeking purpose, and actors in the impact economy.
I am a legal advisor to not-for-profits with a national reach in impact and purpose. I work with Boards to optimise performance and help enterprises embed purpose and integrate human rights into their business.
I have over 20 years' experience practising law in Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and mainland China. I have worked for large global and Australian law firms and was a partner of a top-tier Australian law firm for several years.
I sit on the peak governing body of Australia's largest university.
[0:31] At this time, it is important for us to start standing up for ourselves and the way we want to be governed as we are moving into a time of learning to be autonomous and self-governing.
[1:33] Above all else, we must conduct ourselves in the frequency of love, peace, unity and non-violence and move away from fear and divisiveness.
[2:53] Limiting our democratic involvement to voting every few years means that we allow our elected representatives to act in ways which don't serve us.
[4:01] In the short term, we need to exercise our democratic rights as much as we can and in the long term, think about how we can improve the current system of government.
[4:34] First, we need to educate ourselves on our rights within the current system of government. Then we need to leverage the current system as much as possible.
[6:15] We need to know who our elected representatives are at Federal and State level and what laws they are responsible for passing.
[9:34] When we are clear on who our elected representatives are, we should express our opinions to them whenever we believe strongly in an issue. Energetically, this act of asserting our right to sovereignty and autonomy has an impact on ourselves and the external world,
[11:10] Similarly, we should sign petitions if we feel strongly about the issue, because these will be presented to Parliament if enough people sign them and again, we are asserting our rights.
[12:33] Those who are motivated to do so may consider joining a political party and even running for office.
[13:23] The right of lawful protest is an important democratic right. Currently protests in Australia are prohibited by public health orders. This is an impingement on a fundamental right, The concept of civil disobedience becomes relevant here.
[15:19] In the longer term, we should ensure our Parliamentarians take an oath or affirm allegiance to serve the people of Australia.
[15:44] Parliamentarians should vote on their conscience more often rather than along party lines..
[15:57] We should consider citizen-initiated referenda.
[16:23] We should consider if the leader of the Executive should be directly elected by the people as in the American system.
The Australian Federal Parliament website's explanation of Australian Parliament.
The South Australian State Parliament website
The Tasmanian State Parliament website
The Victorian State Parliament website
The Western Australian State Parliament website
The Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly website - it has only one House, the Legislative Assembly.
The Northern Territory website - it has only one House, the Legislative Assembly
The Australian Federal Parliament website on petitions
Hi, everyone, and welcome to the New Earth lawyer podcast. My name is Geraldine Johns-Putra. I'm your host, I'm speaking to you from Melbourne, Australia. And this is Boonwurrung country so I wish to pay my respects to their elders, past, present, and emerging.
So today, I wanted to speak to you as a continuation of what I was talking about last week, which was the rules of democracy that apply in Australia. And what I wanted to talk about this week was just some of the things that we can do as citizens in Australia particularly, but it also applies to other countries around the world, to express ourselves, express our wishes to our elected representatives, and make our voices heard. Now, the reason why this is so important is because we are in a time now when we're going to have to stand up for ourselves more and more, we're going to stand have to stand up for our beliefs, we're going to have to stand up for the way we want things to go for ourselves. We are moving into a time when we are learning what autonomy and self governance looks like.
But above all else, we've got to do this in a way that keeps love at its centre. Because love is the frequency at which we now operate. And love is the frequency at which the new paradigm is going to operate. And love is incompatible with divisiveness. Love is about unity. So we've got to remain understanding of each other's viewpoints. And we've got to refrain from seeing the other person as wrong or bad or not one of us. We have to maintain unity and inclusivity. This is really important. And as we assert our rights, we need to remain peaceful and non-violent. Love, unity, coming together. And non-violence, peace, these are super important. And finally, the last thing that we have to we have to move forward without is fear. Because the fear belongs in the old paradigm and where we're going, fear is not a currency, fear has no validity.
One of the things in a democracy, to be honest, the way things are structured in democracies, most democracies today, Australia included is that the rights that individuals have to be heard are supposed to be at the ballot box. So that means that with elections every few years, that's when people are allowed to have a say. There are many shortcomings to that. That is, that we have to then trust that our elected representatives are going to act for us in our interests in the interim period. And as I explained last week, there are many reasons why structurally, that doesn't always happen. In Australia, we also have the added complication that the rights in our Constitution are limited, because we haven't got a Bill of Rights, for example, and I spoke about that in a previous episode. And we have in common with many other democracies Parliaments that are riddled with party politics and self-interested politicians.
So for those of us who are interested in increasing the rights of the people, and honouring individual liberties and human rights, and having a system of government that's truly for the people, we need to have our minds broadly on two things. The first thing is that in the short term, we need to get serious about exercising with love, and with peacefulness, the rights that we do have, and then in the longer term, we need to think about how we can improve the system.
So the first thing we need to do is to start to get interested in our governments and our rights. Educate ourselves, which is part of what I'm doing with this series of episodes. We have left things to our so-called leaders for too long, and under our current system of government now they're motivated to act in the interests of of themselves and their political parties. They want to get ahead, they want to climb the ladder, they want to get a juicy portfolio, whatever. So when we vote, the first thing is coming back to this idea that our fundamental rights is to vote, when we vote, we need to take that vote seriously. And we need to really look at who we are electing, based on how well they will represent us. So stop thinking along party politics is my suggestion, stop identifying yourself as a voter of this party or that party, this side of politics or that side of politics and start looking at the individuals. Are they trustworthy? Are they going to act with honour? Are they going to put the public interests first and foremost?
And then we need to leverage our existing system. In Australia, we have this system of representative democracy. And we have a peculiar way in which our parliamentarians are elected. Every country will have its unique systems in the tweaks on democracy. And so do we. So we need to understand we have a Federal system where we have a Federal level of government and a State level of government. Of course, in Australia, we also have local governments and councils, but I'm not going to talk about those today. I'm just going to focus on Federal and State.
And then as I explained last week, at the Federal level, we have a Lower House and Upper House, House of Representatives and the Senate, and then that's replicated also at the State level, most States except for Queensland. Now a Federal government deals with laws in certain categories. And these are set out in the Australian Constitution. specifically set out are what the Federal Parliament can pass laws about. So there's a whole list of them. And they include things like taxation, interstate trade and commerce, corporations, banking, defence, quarantine, immigration, marriage, and external affairs, there are few or quite a few others, but those are some on those lists. In the Federal Parliament, each of us Australians, voting Australians, we have a local Member of Parliament who sits in the Lower House or House of Reps that represents our electorate, our electoral district, that's your local federal MP. You will also have, in each State or Territory also has a number of senators sitting in the Upper House or the Australian Senate representing that State or Territory. So at Federal level, you will have a local MP. And you'll have the Senators that represent your State or Territory. You should know them. Because they're the people you're going to make your voice heard to, when there's something that you want to write about that affects a Federal law, or Federal area of concern.
Now, the State Parliaments, what they deal, with the laws that they deal with is everything other than what's expressly specifically set out in the Constitution. So that's a whole bunch of things. And most importantly, for the purposes of today, I'm going to call out health and education, because those are two things that really impact us, in our day to day lives a lot. So in your State Parliament, at that level, you will have a local Member of Parliament in the State Lower House that represents your electoral district, your State electoral district, and then in every State other than Queensland, you'll also have a number of Parliamentarians in the Upper House because Queensland doesn't have an Upper House. And they all represent, in some States, there are electoral regions, so Victoria has a few large electoral regions, and those members in the Upper House represent those large regions. Or sometimes as happens in New South Wales, the whole State is an electorate for the purposes of the Upper House. So that means that in New South Wales, the members of the Upper House or the Legislative Council represent the whole State. So you need to know who your local State MP is. And also who the Upper House Parliamentarians are that either represent your region or who they are for the whole State. Because they are the ones you will want to be writing to if you have concerns about State laws.
And why do I say, you know, you should write to your Member of Parliament whether Lower or Upper? Well, it sounds futile, right? It's a little bit like this whole problem of being just one vote among millions. Why would you even bother to do it, is one argument Well, it's really important energetically, it's a statement that you make to yourself. And it's a statement that you make to the external world. I have rights, and I consider them to be important, and I'm going to exercise them. The statement that you make is meaningful because you integrate that with yourself, and you begin to count yourself as an autonomous, sovereign person who is going to exercise their rights. And then energetically, you're announcing to the world that you take these rights seriously. So even though you think, well, who's going to read this particular letter that I write, the act of writing it is important, the act of saying I have a voice and I'm going to use it is important. So that's why I say yes, if you're concerned about something, make it known to the person who is or the people who are supposed to be representing you. Because remember, they're elected to serve us. They are public servants. They're not authorities to whom we bow.
The other thing that I'm going to say is that you should consider signing petitions. Same thing. If you believe in the issue that's under petition, they are ways in which we can directly express our opinions to Parliaments if enough people especially sign them, then they get attention. Now, Parliament doesn't have to create laws in response to a petition, even if it's signed by many thousands of people, or hundreds of thousands . But they will listen if there are a lot of numbers who have signed a petition because of course, they're concerned about whether they're going to be re-elected. So they listen to the electorate. Each house in the Federal Parliament has a procedure for receiving petitions. And that also applies to many of the State Parliaments. And at least at the Federal level, the Lower House or the House of Representatives has a process that requires that where petition meets the necessary conditions, including a minimum number of signatures, it needs to be tabled in Parliament and recorded in Hansard, which is the official record of Parliamentary proceedings, and the responsible Minister needs to respond to them. So there is a democratic process there around petitions.
If you're political in nature, or you feel very strongly about about making an impact, you might even want to consider running for office yourself, you might look into parties that align with your values and consider joining them at least volunteering and then maybe even running. Or you may if you feel like you have an opportunity, enough of a profile in your local area might run want to run as an independent. Don't let people tell you that it can't be done. You know, because you have every right to run for public office, you know, subject to meeting all the conditions. But these are our rights as citizens.
Now I'm going to talk about protests, the right to express ourselves, the right of peaceful assembly is a very important common law right, in a functioning democracy. At the moment in most of Australia, there are orders which prevent us from coming together to exercise that right. And this is an impingement on a very important, right. So it's taken away from us by public health orders, this is something that you know, we need to be very alive to, it needs to be something that's proportionate to remove such a right, so needs to be proportionate to the threat, the public health threat. And different people may have different views as to whether it is a proportionate action to remove the freedom to come together and protest. Because it's currently not allowed under public health orders.
I'm going to say something about protesting in disobedience of those orders. Now I've made my views on civil disobedience clear before. If you've faced what you feel is an unjust law or order, then you may consider it your moral obligation to disobey it. But we need to be prepared, if we're going to disobey any law or order, to do so peacefully, lovingly, and openly and be prepared to face the consequences. This comes back to making sure that we always, from now on, in these times, conduct ourselves in the frequency of love and peace, and not the frequency of fear, hatred, or division.
Now in the longer term we're going to think about, we need to think about improving our system of government, you know, what are the things that really need improvement, I think a fundamental thing is that all Parliamentarians need to understand the duty of public trust and the duty to represent the people. They need to when entering office take an oath or affirm clearly to serve the people who elected them.
I would want to limit political party power. So lawmakers should be allowed to vote on conscience more often and not along party lines.
We should consider referenda initiated by the people, which is something that some political parties in Australia endorse. And it's something that some countries allow. So the people, if enough people call for a referendum on an issue, then the referendum is held. And the people can have their say.
We should consider also whether a system where the leader of the Executive, which in our system is the Prime Minister, should be, as it happens in the American system elected directly by the people and not because their head of the political party that governs or controls the Lower House, is it something that's appropriate for us?
So in short, you know, there are all of these things that we need to think about, having allowed others to govern us for far too long. So stand up for for our rights, you know, exercise them, that's what they're there for exercise your rights, the ones you have, to the max, because of what this says to yourself, and to the world around you. And then beyond that, beyond that, as we are in this time of flux, what are we going to do to make things better so that we never allow our rights to be taken away from us again. So stay well. I'm confident that things will change. See you next week.