Contribution to Discussion of Canberra’s Social Plan


Doug Cocks


Sept 2003

This document contains extracts from my 1999 book Future Makers, Future Takers (University of New South Wales Press) in which I present the election manifestos of three hypothetical political parties representing three socio-political stances---Conservative Development, Economic Growth and Post-materialism.  The extracts here are the sections from each manifesto setting out long-term party policy with respect to maintaining and enhancing social health.


Management of social health---Policy of the Economic Growth Party

The Economic Growth Party is concerned about several aspects of Australian society which it believes to be unhealthy.  One is the high level of criminal activity.  The other is welfare dependency, a situation under which more than a quarter of all Australians obtain their main income from government.  In fifty years, the welfare state has failed to significantly reduce poverty.  While it is self-evident that no-one wants to be the victim of criminal activity, we also believe that most Australians of working age want to earn a decent income from being honestly and productively employed or self-employed.  It is the problems of crime and welfare dependency that are the main focus of the Economic Growth Party’s plans for managing social health when in office.  These plans have both general and particular aspects.  

In general, we believe that a poorly functioning economy will almost always lead to a poorly functioning society and that the minimally-regulated or ‘free market’ economy we will be encouraging will provide adequate employment for most Australians.  We similarly believe that most individuals and families can solve most of the problems of day-to-day life if given the freedom to do so. The essence of the individualism we believe in is that people should not be bound by any moral or communal ties they have not freely chosen (Sandel 1996).  

More particularly then, we plan to symbolically offer all Australians a social contract that guarantees them personal freedoms and economic opportunity in return for accepting certain responsibilities and duties.  We will not be adopting the fashionable idea of embedding citizen and community rights and responsibilities in legislation.  Apart from difficulties in giving legal interpretation to complex concepts and the problem of conflicting rights, we are reluctant to see decision-making power passing from governments to the courts.

The social contract

The social contract is the partly tacit-partly explicit understanding that people have of their rights and their responsibilities as members of Australian society.  With several exceptions, the Economic Growth Party believes that the individual has no responsibilities, obligations or duties that s/he does not choose to assume.  These minimal duties are to obey the law and vote.   Also, we believe families have a duty to teach their children to be law-abiding, industrious, self-reliant, patriotic and responsible for the well-being and behaviour of family members.

Apart from protecting traditional civil and political rights, the State’s primary duties to the individual are to ensure justice before the law and to ensure that the law and police powers are used to protect private property and personal safety.   Under an Economic Growth government, the individual will be guaranteed the opportunity to participate in the vigorous activity of a minimally-regulated market economy.  Because we do not wish to return to the days of the workhouse, those who fail to provide for themselves and those who cannot provide for themselves in a free market society will be supported in frugal comfort by the State.

In keeping with our liberal philosophy, social constraints on personal behaviour that does not interfere with the rights of others will be largely removed by an Economic Growth government.  For example, people will have the right to suicide and the right to use abortion services.   People will not have the right to sell themselves into slavery though.  All recreational drug-taking will be decriminalised and we expect the establishment of legal drugs markets to lead to massive reductions in crime, so much of which is drug-related.  Combining this with strong policing and the effects of near-full employment, we expect small-scale crime to largely disappear. 


Management of social health---Policy of the Conservative Development Party

The Conservative Development Party recognises that many Australians feel alienated from their society and behave in socially unhealthy ways which include criminal activity and drug-taking.  We believe that the key to reducing anti-social behaviour to tolerable levels is to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity to play a useful role in society, in particular to have access to employment under reasonable conditions (eg not too dirty, exhausting or dangerous) and at a living wage.  Our avenue to managing social health is a full-employment society.

The social contract

The social contract is the partly tacit-partly explicit understanding that people have of their rights and their responsibilities as citizens of Australian society.  The Conservative Development Party believes the time has come to expand people’s rights beyond traditional civil (eg the right to own property, the right to sue) and political (eg the right to vote) rights to include economic rights, in particular the right to work and earn a living wage; or if that cannot be met despite the best intentions of society, the right to a guaranteed minimum income. 

In hand with the right to work, people have a right to be employable.  That is, they have a right, which must not be limited by socio-economic status or geographic location, to the opportunity for a vocational education.  Disadvantaged students have a right to affirmative-action programs.  Where opportunities within a vocational training course are limited by society, selection should be by a ballot of qualified applicants. 

More generally, members of disadvantaged groups, such as Aboriginals and some migrant groups, have an ‘in-principle’ right to programs that ameliorate their disadvantage, with those at most disadvantage having first call on resources available for such programs.  

The other side of the social contract is that each individual has a duty to contribute to the smooth functioning of the society.  Our view of individual responsibilities is that these include a duty to play an informed role in the political process (at least to vote) and a duty to obey the law; perhaps also to serve one’s country in time of war.  We further believe people have a presumptive responsibility to contribute to the wealth of society by seeking and earning a living through employment or self-employment.   Society has a corresponding right to ensure that children are socialised to want to become fully-contributing members of society.

Following Donald Horne’s (1996) suggestion, the Conservative Development Party, in office, will develop a ‘Charter of the Rights and Duties of Australian Citizens’.  An Office of Rights and Duties will help people under this Charter.  At some later date the Party will consider the difficult task of further extending this Charter to include some environmental rights (eg to clean air and clean water).


Management of social health---Policy of the post-materialism party   

Lurking in our hunter-gatherer past, there are good reasons why humans are gregarious (or associating), collaborating, altruistic animals, just as there are good reasons why we are competing, aggressive animals.   All societies have to continuously keep re-striking a balance between encouraging vigorous, self-serving individual behaviour which facilitates innovation and encouraging vigorous, group-serving collaborative behaviour which facilitates synergy and symbiosis.  At a social level, an excess either way is wasteful of societal capital, albeit for different complex reasons.  At a personal level, people need to both express their individuality and enjoy the security of group membership.

The collaborative (or voluntary or civil) sector of society occupies a sort of middle ground between the government and the private sectors.  It is not where we vote and it is not where we buy and sell.  It is where we talk with our neighbours; co-operate voluntarily, without the coercion of government  but, like government, work for some common good.  It requires the liberty that the private sector requires and the thirst for common good that government claims (Barber 1996).

Social health is a term for indicating widespread satisfying relations and interactions between individuals and groups, especially joint endeavours (Wolfe 1989).  While social health is an important end in itself, a source of personal gratification, it is also, we believe, a predisposing factor for better achieving post-materialism’s other major goals---moderate consumption, social justice and a quality environment.  A society of ‘team players’ stands to be a more just and environmentally-superior society.

At the heart of the Post-Materialism Party’s agenda is the perception that  Australian society is in poor health.  For example, around ten per cent of Australians suffer from so-called social phobia and are uneasy about social interactions.  Aggression, depression and compulsion have all increased in recent decades.  We believe that the current prime movers of social organisation, the state and the market, are undermining rather than improving our willingness and capacity to function as ‘team players’.  Although we are in the middle of a major trend towards interdependence, it is an impersonal interdependence, lacking the social interaction conducive to learning sociability.

So, it is the collaborative sector of society that we most want to rejuvenate.  We believe it is necessary and possible to deliberately move society towards more collaborative forms of social organisation, ie those characterised by participatory processes in which people with different interests define and then agree to work towards common goals.  Hence, the promotion of intra- and inter-group collaboration in all aspects of Australian life is a primary goal of the Party’s plans for the management of social health.  Over time, we expect this process of building up social capital to create a healthier society in which people feel more secure, wanted, useful, empowered, and able to grow.  In this manifesto we will particularly note our initial plans for facilitating and encouraging collaborative decision-making in political and economic life, the justice system, environmental management and the delivery of community services such as health and education.

More specifically, we believe that a collaborative society rests on three foundations:

·      a credible social contract that gives citizens opportunities to satisfy their material and personal-growth needs in return for their active, collaborative participation in Australian society;

·      a citizenry that has been socialised to be naturally sociable, caring, trusting, collaborative and participatory; and not too obsessed with getting rich;

·      social institutions and organisations explicitly designed to foster participation and collaboration.

We consider in turn how these three foundations can be best reinforced.

The social contract

Over the past decade or two a gradual redefinition of democracy has been taking place---from an almost exclusive reliance on parliamentary representation towards a concept of democracy as enforceable rights (G. Sturgess, The Australian, 11 Apr 1997).

The concept of citizenship in Western societies is evolving to include more rights and responsibilities for individuals.  The social contract is the partly tacit, partly explicit understanding that people have of their rights and their responsibilities as members of Australian society.   The Post-Materialism party believes that an expansion and formalisation of citizens’ rights and responsibilities is fundamental to achieving the radical social transformation we seek.  For example, if the powers of government to regulate capitalism do decline over coming decades (Beck 1992), having an endorsed social contract may strengthen the judiciary’s capacity or a free press’ capacity to protect individuals from irresponsible economic power and a reactionary social order.  More positively, it helps citizens trying to define their social role to know that the community must or, at least, must try to provide them with certain opportunities and that they have a right to those opportunities only to the extent that they accept certain responsibilities and duties.

Herein lies the danger of a legally enforceable social contract, a bill of rights for example.   What if rights are in conflict (ie cannot be satisfied simultaneously) or just cannot be met due to forces beyond the parties’ control?  One answer is to leave questions of rights to the common law but we believe that this is inadequate (Wilcox 1993).  Our two-pronged answer is to enact a legally enforceable Bill of Rights covering statutorily-derived matters that can be circumscribed, namely, traditional political rights (eg freedoms of expression, association, movement etc) and civil rights, while proclaiming a morally binding Charter of Reciprocal Responsibilities covering economic, social and environmental responsibilities of both citizens and the community.  Ideally, this charter of good intentions would be a preamble to the constitution, although this could make updating difficult as concepts of rights and responsibilities continue to evolve.  It would be particularly concerned with emerging economic and social rights (Marshall 1964)      (Box 1).

Box 1: Examples of emerging social and economic rights

A right to be healthy (Birch 1975).  The community has a responsibility to ensure that  everyone has access to adequate health care and the individual has a responsibility to care for hir own health.

A right to an ‘effective standard of communications’ (Raiche 1996), eg rights to fax, telephone and data services and, eventually, free access to the Internet.

A right to clean air and water; and a responsibility to keep the community’s air and water clean (Clayton and Radcliffe 1996).

A right to enjoy the natural world; and a responsibility to protect it.

A right to economic security if prepared to undertake socially useful work.

A right to play a useful role in society.

A right to be treated without a priori discrimination.

A social right of access to effective legal representation, something going beyond the legal right of equality before the law.

A right to an adequate income in old age and access to humane residential and community care (McCallum and Geiselhart 1996).

A right to pain relief and a right to die when you have stopped growing or helping others to grow.

A right to be informed annually of all personal information held in any public or private data bank.

A right to a standard of transport that allows one to participate fully in the life of the community.

A right to both a vocational education and an education in life-skills.

A right to have children provided that this is balanced by taking responsibility for their physical and mental health at birth and beyond.

Balancing the community’s moral responsibility for assuring these and other rights, the good citizen’s general moral responsibility is to think about and proactively do what s/he can to ensure that Australia remains a good place for all to live in; and, in personal relations, to treat others as they themselves would be treated, eg with compassion and fairness.  In office, the Post-Materialism Party will review the case for making formal citizenship a pre-requisite for participation in the social contract, both for foreign- and native-born residents.


Everyone is responsible for their society’s success (Saul 1995). 

Problems of declining real incomes, social decay and environmental degradation cannot be changed by pulling policy levers alone;  they are also problems of personal values, beliefs and attitudes.  The individual, complete with hir preferences, ethics and values is the product of accidental or deliberate social conditioning.  Rather than leave matters to chance, the Post-Materialism party believes it is better to consciously choose what general ethics and values it wants its citizens to have and then, from an early age, place children in social situations where they will learn these values, largely for themselves, but with gentle guidance from role models as necessary.  Social interaction through group play is particularly important in teaching children the rewards of collaborative, co-operative behaviour, facilitated by trust.  A sense of belonging requires acceptance of the rules of the group, many of which are tacit and can only be learned by experience.

As well as opportunities in social situations, children must have responsibility for their own growth if they are to become responsible for others and for the environment.  The community-oriented values with which children are socialised by age five, particularly the behaviours they learn to find inherently rewarding (ie that are their own reward) determine their contribution to society in later life.  If these values are not learned, children may become socially irresponsible adults (Wilkin 1996).  Well-managed, well-funded pre-school and childcare programs are a high priority for the Post-Materialism party. 

We recognise that there can be a fine line between socialisation, indoctrination and social engineering.   The best protection against children being conditioned in socially unacceptable ways is for the socialisation program to be quite explicit and the subject of serious, ongoing community discussion (Sandel 1996).  Parents, in particular, must be deeply involved, as in ‘charter’ schools.  We reject the view that a society must never attempt to change its members' attitudes and values.  Undoubtedly, the most radical value we will be seeking to inculcate is that high personal consumption is socially irresponsible, both nationally and internationally.  Or, more positively, that people are primarily producers (contributors to the community) and citizens, not consumers.   The least controversial value we seek to have accepted is Kant’s ‘golden rule’---to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Through to young adulthood, the lessons of early childhood need to be frequently reinforced at home, school, work and in other aspects of everyday life; primarily through reciprocity.  Reciprocity is a basic ‘law’ of behaviour that recognises the tendency for people to exhibit the behaviour they experience at the hands of others, eg people treated as trustworthy tend to become trustworthy; people treated as demons tend to become demons.  Thus, once either sociopathic behaviour or collaborative behaviour reaches a critical level in society, it tends to spread.  Below that level it tends to peter out.  Teachers, parents and other role models will therefore be particularly important in reversing the contemporary diffusion of sociopathic behaviour (Gorer 1966).  Collaborative behaviour in the public interest will be promoted through an extensive community honours system (Saul 1995).

The human male, for evolutionarily understandable reasons, has a tendency to aggressive and violent behaviour.  But behaviour that may have been useful in hunter-gatherer society is highly destructive in populous urban societies and must be diverted.  Certainly the popularity of aggressive leaders continues to generate much conflict in the world (Burton 1996).  Sport and other competitive activities have an important role to play in diverting such aggression into harmless channels.  Organised sport also has an important role to play in creating a nation-wide culture (Encel 1979).

If all goes well with the socialisation program, we will have, within a generation, a citizenry with well-developed capacities to spontaneously form rich interpersonal relationships and be committed to civic engagement.  Ours would be a civil society in the sense of being self-managing, because of the high level of trust between acquaintances and strangers.  Other instruments of behaviour management such as coercion, persuasion and bribery would become less important.  Perhaps most importantly of all, we would have a citizenry equipped to participate in the paramount negotiation of common goals between business, labour and community interests.

Other inter-personal values

Nearly all cultures teach altruism, conformity, generosity, deference to authority, and honesty; they preach against pride, stinginess, greed, gluttony, envy, lust, theft, cowardice, non-conformity, disobedience and stubbornness (Eckersley 1995).  With Eckersley, we see these values as providing a necessary balance between self-interest ---which needs no reinforcement---and the needs of the community---which do. 

To this list, we must add loyalty and acceptance.  Under neo-liberal philosophies, economic man (sic) is  believed to have no attachment to his fellows except on a short-term instrumental basis.  Every economic transaction is supposed to be a one-night stand because someone may come along tomorrow and make you a better offer.  In this view, loyalty is a non-rational, purely sentimental value.  But the community and the economy need loyalty to better plan long-term relations with customers, to give workers a stake in their companies, to induce firms to stay put  etc.  Without loyalty it is irrational for workers to improve productivity and hence threaten their own jobs (Kuttner 1991).

In a multi-cultural, shared-culture society, social health demands more than tolerance (a word with connotations of indifference) of those who are culturally and otherwise different.  Like biodiversity, cultural diversity increases a society’s survival prospects, provided symbiosis between groups can be achieved.  Those who are different must be actively accepted for the diversity and adaptability they bring to society.   This will give them the self-confidence to participate fully in society (Meacher 1982).  It is efficient, not just a matter of equity, to make better use of women, older people, and the variety of skills and knowledge of diverse ethnic groups (Cox 1994 ).  Kids in all groups must learn from their role models (us) to define themselves and their society by positive attributes and shared attributes, not by exclusion; not by what they are not.  Children need to be informed about ‘scapegoating’ and ‘downward resentment’ where the response to declining quality of life is to attempt to maintain status by reducing the quality of life of those lower down the socio-economic scale.

Organisational reform

The source of anti-social and conflictual behaviour resides in both the individual and in the social environment (Burton 1997).  Thus as well as being determined by the scope and credibility of the social contract and by socialisation processes, social health is determined by the way organisations treat individuals and groups when making decisions. The Post-Materialism party believes that dealing with social decay requires a change in the deep structure of society, that is, in the distribution and use of decision-making power within and between organisations, institutions and social structures.

In operational terms we are seeking to create what Pateman (1970) calls a participatory society as the means by which this is to be achieved.  Participation means the inclusion in decision-making of all affected people.  But, while it is fostered by the democratisation of organisations, a participatory society is more than a participatory democracy.  Rousseau, in The Social Contract (Penguin 1968), values participation as the main way, outside formal education, that people learn to be good citizens.  In office, the Post-Materialism party will be seeking to democratise as many institutions as possible and to devolve power from larger to smaller institutions.  We reject the view that a high level of participation threatens a society’s stability and an authoritarian regime; rather, participation protects against exploitation while meeting people’s sociobiological needs for status and identity.

But how is participation to be achieved?  While there is a voluminous literature on empowerment and social development through participation, we subscribe to the model advanced by Carol Pateman (1977), whose starting point is that generating genuine participation is demanding of resources and slow to produce results:

Step 1 requires that information about the decision-making process and its possible outcomes be freely available to all participants.

Step 2 requires enhancement of people’s capacity to absorb and act on information eg through education, affirmative action.

Step 3 requires predictable, adequate access to the decision-making process, eg meetings at convenient times.

Step 4, to exclude token consultation, requires that, for every participant, there must be some prospect of a relevant result.

Participatory processes can be contrasted with adversarial processes in which conflicts and disputes are ‘resolved’ by destroying the legitimacy of the opposition and using power to impose solutions coercively.  But adversarial, power-based processes, such as the present legislative and judicial systems, cannot permanently resolve conflicts between groups because they fail to satisfy the losers‘ non-negotiable needs for recognition of their identity and right to participate in managing their own lives.  Conflicts and disputes between groups, or individuals and systems, can be permanently resolved only by participatory processes. Threat and coercion do not deter (Burton 1982).  While it is not being suggested that proper socialisation and participation suffice to eliminate inter-group conflicts of interest, these processes stand to temper narrow self-interest with a concern for the well-being of others.  In office, the Post-Materialism party will therefore seek to replace adversarial processes with participatory processes as widely as possible.  

Often this will mean redistributing power to smaller, less-specialised organisations and finding leaders able to facilitate negotiations and collaborative problem-solving.  And we would expect such reformed organisations to enjoy increased levels of civic trust and legitimacy.   We see good prospects for and attribute great value to people's capacity to manage their own lives and will specifically encourage all aspects of the self-help movement (Grunow 1986)---seeking new ways of dealing with personal and social problems in primary social groups; forming new communities; promoting the value of ‘ownwork’; raising awareness of lay competence as against expert competence; and forcing institutions to become more responsive to clients’ needs.