: Girlie does it for equality

Girlie does it for equality

Ina Quality and Mary Mee

Stand up Girlie!

This column got its name from a Family Court Registrar who, back in 1980s, roared at Renata Alexander, then a Legal Aid Lawyer, ‘Sit Down Girlie!’  So, how much has changed since then? Well, the Law Council of Australia has long been concerned about the high attrition rate of women lawyers and has updated its 2013 National Report on attrition and re-engagement. In South Australia, a new program has been introduced to encourage women to become barristers. The South Australian Chief Justice has acknowledged the imbalance with only 16 per cent even considering the Bar as a career move and he supports the initiative. Sashi Maharaj, currently Chair of the SA Women at the Bar Committee, will help run the new program. There is recognition that unequal representation of women at the Bar means unequal representation in judicial appointments. 
(ABC, PM (online), 15 April 2015.)

Women on the Bench

The fifth woman ever to be appointed to the High Court of Australia, Justice Michelle Gordon, has joined Justices Susan Kiefel and Virginia Bell on the elevated bench. Her advice to young lawyers is ‘be yourself’ — the same advice given to Girlie many years ago, and look what that led to! Justice Gordon is a hard worker who says, ‘The work of the Court is relentless and, inevitably, comprises the truly hard cases. But it’s that combination which presents both the challenges and the rewards of the tasks that will fall to me’. (Tarang Chawla, ‘Justice Gordon’s rise to the High Court of Australia’, 
Voice 11(6), The Age, June–July 2015).

Dessau as Governor

Not only is she Victoria’s first female Governor, Linda Dessau is also the state’s first Jewish Governor (Shane Green, The Age, 1 July 2015). Known for her championing of social justice and diversity, Linda Dessau has been a magistrate, Family Court judge and an AFL Commissioner.  In her judicial role she has been exposed to the damage done by family violence and abuse of children.  She says she is not party political, and will leave politics to the politicians, but will not deny what she has learned.  She also plans to enhance the involvement and understanding of young people of the role of Governor.

Vale Francine McNiff and Thank You

Francine McNiff, Victoria’s first female judicial officer, died in April 2015.  She has bequeathed $4 million to the University of Melbourne, to fund two endowed chairs; one in Criminology and the other in Human Rights.  Alison Young, an expert in graffiti and street art, will take up the Francine V McNiff Chair in Criminology; Dianne Otto, the Francine V McNiff Chair in Human Rights Law.

Words a Turn-off for Microphones

As the White House lit up in rainbow colours in June 2015 to celebrate the US Supreme Court decision favouring same sex marriage, ultra conservative Coalition members of Australia’s government continue to assist Prime Minister Tony Abbott to keep the brakes on. In his rearguard action to delay the inevitable, Eric Abetz sledges the US Supreme Court accusing it of being ‘activist’ and of setting a ‘dangerous precedent’. (Eric Abetz, The Age, 1 July 2015).  Some wedding participants, however, have found their own way to protest in favour of equality (Michael Koziol, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 2015).  Brides, grooms and wedding guests have been blocking their ears when it comes to the controversial words added to the Marriage Act by the Howard government in 2004 which requires celebrants to say, ‘Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’. The words seem to have triggered some technical malfunction by suddenly switching off celebrants’ microphones.

Safe Access Zones

For years women seeking services from reproductive clinics in Melbourne and Albury have been harassed by self-proclaimed and definitely unwanted ‘kerbside counsellors’. A legal action in the Supreme Court against the Melbourne City Council, seeking to have the Council exercise its nuisance powers under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, failed in August 2015. This spurred Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party to introduce a Private Members Bill — the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access) Bill 2015 (Vic).  The Victorian government has since indicated it will ‘take ownership’ of the issue and remove a few unintended consequences.  Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make the services accessible to women and special thanks to Fiona Patten and Victoria’s Human Rights Law Centre.

INA QUALITY and MARY MEE are feminist lawyers.

(2015) 40(3) AltLJ 208
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