There is another concept which for some reason, in our twenty-first century world where the rise of individualism has crowded out so much of what would otherwise be intelligent discussion, is perhaps more important. That is the realm of responsibility.
In its broadest sense, a right is a legal or moral claim by an entity on a thing which can either be real or abstract. You can see this on display in the English Bill Of Rights Act or the Bill Of Rights which form the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Both of these are where statute has given formal crystallisation to a legal claim.
A responsibility on the other hand is when a legal or moral claim made on an entity. The law might compel someone to perform some act, or moral obligation might compel someone to do something, like a parent looking after their children for example.
As we've moved further down the road of rampant individualism, the cries of people claiming their rights have become progressively louder but all talk about whether or not entities have any responsibility to society at large, is astonishingly non existent. Large corporations have quite vociferously asserted their right to free speech and there have even been legal precedents set which assert that spending money constitutes an exercise of that free speech. At the same time, any discussion about what sort of responsibility that these entities might have to the nation, is deafeningly and screamingly silent.
As we move ever on, on and on towards the General Election on July 2, we find ourselves yet again speaking words to power through the instrument of the ballot box. This might surprise you but actually we do not have the right to vote in Australia. Everyone over the age of 18 does have the franchise and it is right and proper for that to be the case (and as a twenty-first century observer I find it scandalous that it wasn't always that way) but the way that the law is framed in Australia, either by design or historical accident, the franchise is framed as a duty and not a right.
245 Compulsory voting
(1) It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election.
- Section 245, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918
Now when you point this out to people, some will claim a moral right not to vote. The arguments usually run that the government shouldn't force people into voting; as is currently what happens. Moreover this is enforced and people can be fined for not voting, though the fine is a paltry twenty dollars, so is something of a joke. I contend that I prefer that voting is a duty rather than a right because I see the appointment of the elected executive of the nation as the responsibility of its citizens.
One of the phrases in the preamble to the US Constitution is that legitimate governments only derive their power from "the consent of the governed". Quite frankly, I think that it was both daring and hypocritical to say such a thing when at the time, people were disqualified from the franchise on the grounds of sex and race. The law as it is written in Australia, admits that the only way to ensure that you actually do get the genuine consent of the governed is by asking for that consent. What the law inadvertantly confirms is that the citizenry have a responsibility to give that consent.
I think that people claiming a right not to vote, even in countries where voting is optional, are either making active choices to be lazy or actively saying to the world that they think that they have no responsibility to the nation. I utterly reject the notion, even if they claim that nobody who they'd have the choice to vote for will properly represent them, that disengaging from the franchise has any legitimacy at all. I have been on the other side of the ballot box on polling day and have counted ballot papers, and I can tell you that I prefer that people spoil their ballot papers because at least then, that dissent will be counted. The Electoral Commission doesn't currently count ballot papers which have been deliberately spoiled but I think that it should. I think that people who have written obscenities or drawn lewd pictures on their ballot paper, are properly voicing their opinion. Throwing invective into the ballot box is not only amusing for people who have been counting hundreds of pieces of paper but it actively shouts that consent is not given. Being too bone idle and pig lazy to turn up at a polling station once every few years (I don't care how you choose to dress it up, it you put a frock and lipstick on a pig, then it's still a pig), is not only tacit agreement with whatever the electorate has said, it says that the individual thinks that they bear no responsibility to the nation whatsoever. If that is in fact true, then they should immediately leave.
This leads me to a related topic, as well as another reason why I think that some entities should immediately leave.
4‑1 Who must pay income tax
Income tax is payable by each individual and company, and by some other entities.
Note: The actual amount of income tax payable may be nil.
- Section 4-1, Income Tax Assessment Act 1997
The endeavour of government, which includes the writing of legislation, the provision of services and the enactment of policy, is not something which has zero cost. Collectively we have decided that there are some minimum standards of living, the rules under which we operate and things which it is better for government to provide. Arguments abound about the nature of how large or small that government should be, about what sort of rules that it should impose and those arguments fall squarely into the realm of politics. Nevertheless, government isn't free and needs to be paid for by someone.
Just like the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 confirms at law that people have a responsibility to vote, the Income Taxation Assessment Act 1997 confirms at law that people have a responsibility to pay taxes. Again, I think that it is both fit and proper that if you enjoy the services that government provides, if you derive profits from any investment which government has made and if you live inside a legal framework which protects your property, then you should rightly bear the responsibility of paying for it.
Any entity which thinks that it bears no responsibility to the nation whatsoever should immediately leave. I mean this in the most militant, bile filled, invective riddled, bitter and unhappy way. Especially multinational corporations who employ people in this country, who derive profits in this country, but who play tricksy games with profit shifting and residency for tax purposes, should immediately leave.
In days of old when only a few select people had access to power, services and owning anything substantial, it was really only after absolute monarchies had acted dispicabally that people started to ask questions about what people's rights were. In an English Law context, we saw this following the period of the Commonwealth, the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution. It was only after the most hideous wide scale destruction of human life and property following two world wars that the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights was conceived and delivered in 1948.
Human Rights are claims that an individual makes upon society with regards their ability to be an independent actor. They generally allow an individual to make a legal claim to say "I can do this" and this is invariably confirmed by either common of statute law.
As far as I am aware though, nobody has sought to draw up a similar Bill of Human Responsibilities. Responsibilities are generally duties that an individual is either legally or morally required to perform for others. This might be within the context of a family unit, as the result of a contract or perhaps to society at large. Codifying responsibility is often harder to do because although the relationship that an individual has within a family unit or as the result of a contract is easily definable, ther relationship that they have with society at large is more nebulous.
I think that a Bill Of Human Responsibilities if such a thing were to be drawn up should include but not be limited to at least the following points:
- Following and obeying the law
- Obeying those who are charged with enforcing and administrating the law
- Contributing nation welfare of your family
- Contributing to the welfare of the nation
- Participating in the democratic process of the nation
Just like the exercise of human rights, there will be people who choose not to exercise their human responsibilities. The way I see it, where the law has deemed that people should do something, such as paying taxes or voting as is the case of Australia, then the basic responsibility to follow the law and indeed the operation of the law itself, kind of trumps people's objections. People will argue that under certain circumstances that they should not have to follow the law but when the law is neither arduous nor unreasonable, I fail to see what justification is left to get out of fulfilling one's responsibilities. Just like the operation of an individual's human rights should not give rise to the legal power to violate someone else's, those same human rights also should not give rise to the legal power to abrogate one's human responsibilities.
I completely reject the notion that people who choose not to vote are doing anything other than deliberately being lazy, except under specific circumstances relating to matters of conscience where you have a mind aware of what is right and wrong. I also reject the notion that individuals and firms who avoid paying tax, especially when it means entering to profit shifting arrangements across international borders, are acting for any other motive apart from sheer greed. Furthermore, I'd suggest that such individuals and firms if they choose to act in such ways which deny their responsibility to the nation, should immediately leave.