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Editors --- "Sit down Girlie' Legal issues from a feminist perspective" [2000] AltLawJl 16; (2000) 25(1) Alternative Law Journal 43

Legal issues from a feminist perspective

Mandatory sentencing

Sadly, no Girlie out there would not be familiar with the latest consequence of the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws. Lawyers and activists from WA and the NT have been trying for almost three years to draw the na­ tion's attention to the barbaric nature of mandatory sentencing, but the death of a 15-year-old child has finally put it on the agenda. At the time of writing we await the report of the Senate commit­ tee investigating the scheme, and the outcome of Senator Brown's Private Member's Bill, which has the support of the Opposition and the Democrats, and Girlie for that matter, which should make it a shoo in.

On top of concerns regarding mandatory sentencing of juveniles, the Senate Committee has been told that 50 women were imprisoned in 1995/1996 and 276 in 1998/99. Of the women taken into custody in 1998/99, 83% were indigenous. The NT government, which seems to have a talent for responding constructively, has countered that only 11% of these incarcerations were solely the result of mandatory sentencing. Girlie is breathless to discover the identity of the mysterious other fac­ tor which is contributing to a 500% in­ crease in the imprisonment rate of NT women, and the Top End Women's Le­ gal Service points out that an increase of this kind should be a concern no matter what the reason.

With calls for reform being met with the respective responses of 'bugger off' and 'butt out' by the NT and WA Attorney-Generals, Girlie is holding her breath to see if that charismatic, head­ strong, impetuous PM of ours can rum­ mage round his insides and find the guts to use the external powers to override the mandatory sentencing laws. Girlie may well have passed out by the time you read this....

Prison PJs

WA and the NT aren't the only places unafraid to incarcerate children. Over the New Year period Queensland officials arrested a pregnant 13-year-old girl who was locked up in an adult watchhouse for 14 hours. Described by a Supreme Court judge as a 'menace when unsupervised', the girl was under a curfew between 6 pm and 9 am after committing various property and as­ sault offences. She was arrested at 6.20 pm after being caught on the street in her pyjamas.

Heresy on the Bench

Girlie's man of the month may just be Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls, who has launched a campaign to broaden the diversity of appointees to the Bench, saying that there was a greater need for women and those from ethnic and indigenous backgrounds. At the time of writing, two female magistrates have been appointed, Jane

Patrick and Felicity Broughton, taking the total to 24 women and 71 men. Jane Patrick also announced to a recent Feminist Lawyers meeting that the Melbourne Magistrates Court was imple­menting various education schemes for the magistracy, including one regarding women from African backgrounds.

Victoria is not the only State to have made some sensible appointments of late. Last year the NSW Bar elected a woman president, Ruth McColl, for the first time despite the fact that only 12% of NSW Barristers are women. In the last few years the Queensland government has appointed women to senior positions on the Bench, including the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Margaret McMurdo, and Chief Stipendiary Magistrate Diane Fingleton. Diana Bryant has been appointed to head the new Federal Magistrates' Court, only the second woman to head a federal court in Australia.

Speaking at a function in Brisbane early this month, former High Court CJ Sir Harry Gibbs labelled what he saw as the prioritising of judicial candidates' gender over 'merit' a 'recent heresy'. In a less belligerent manner, the Victorian Law Institute President and Victorian Bar Association Chair have both felt the need to emphasise a priority on 'merit' above all else.

Most Girlies would agree that 'merit' is a rather nebulous and loaded concept. However, if by wielding this term its proponents mean 'skill and experience', Girlie is struggling to understand why a proposal to draw members of the judiciary from the vast numbers of highly qualified, dedicated and experienced lawyers who are not Anglo-Celtic males should be greeted with such a caution. Then again, Girlie always was a heretic.

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls also earns applause for announcing a re­ view of the State's Equal Opportunity Act, removing many exemptions from the Act, including those relating to breastfeeding and private clubs. Significantly, the A-G is intending to redress the inequality gay men and lesbians face in the areas of property, inheritance, health and finance. This is something the PM could not bring himself to do, refusing to approve a proposed amendment by the Democrats to a superannuation Bill late last year. Mr Hulls has been reserved, however, about granting gay men and lesbians access to IVF and adoption procedures, referring the matter to an inquiry.

Nevertheless, there is change in the air throughout the country, as the NSW Law Reform Commission last year recommended 161 significant changes to its anti-discrimination legislation, including making it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of duties as a carer. The federal government is considering amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act making it unlawful to discriminate against breast-feeding mothers, and an unusual deal has been struck between Reith and the Opposition. The deal changes the name of the Affirmative Action Act and Agency to the 'Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workforce' Act, and supposedly re­ moves 'red tape' currently impeding the implementation of equal opportunity based workplaces.

The proposed change that Girlie finds most amusing though is the prospect of the removal of exemptions for private clubs, making it unlawful for private clubs to deny membership on the basis of sex, race etc. This pinkoleftolezzocommiebastard proposal would strike at the very core of Melbourne civilisation, devastating such institutions as the Melbourne Club and the Savage Club. Girlie has fond memories of a newspaper contacting a Feminist Lawyer to obtain a juicy feminist sound bite about the Savage Club's all male membership. Clearly not mov­ ing in the right circles, the FL had never heard of the Savage Club. With only the name to inform her, and envisaging a sea of exclusive bondage, the valiant FL told the reporter that she did not know many women who would seek out membership. Girlie wonders how many women will line up, whips akimbo, when Mr Hulls throws open the establishment's doors...


• Chinese authorities in Tibet are implementing strict birth control policies over Tibetan women, including limiting Tibetan families to two children and enforcing sterilisation. In some cases, the Tibetan Women's Association reports, women have been tricked into sterilisation, having been taken to hospital under the pretence of another treatment.

• Meanwhile, the Thai Farmers Bank is adopting a zany new marketing strategy, by running a beauty contest to select a team of women to head up its new e-commerce marketing section. Job applicants must be 18 to 25 years old, at least 165 centimetres tall, be photogenic and have 'beautiful shoulders'. Oh, and they have to have an interest in new technology. A bank representative has explained that, as women and cars have long been a good marketing ploy, they thought women and banks might be a good idea. Now if only our Banks had thought of that...


Girlie is pleased to report that Feminist Lawyers is launching their mentoring scheme on 9 March 2000, one day after international women's day (to allow everybody to fit everything in), at the new Women's Centre at the old Queen Vic Hospital Building in Melbourne.

• Congratulations to a Girlie favourite, Moira Rayner, on her appointment as Director of the Office of the Children's Rights Commission in London. Moira takes up her position almost immediately and we wish her well.

• Contrary to previous plans, the federal government has won one vote of approval from Girlie for announcing the establishment of five new Community Legal Services in regional and rural Australia. The services will be in Broken Hill, Gippsland, Kalgoorlie, Mount Gambier and the Riverland region in SA. Now if they could just look a bit further into their purses and find what they've done with our Legal Aid funds...

• A 'dance club' owner in Melbourne has been found guilty of assaulting one of his dancers after he posed as a customer and 'tested' to see whether the woman would let a customer touch her - interesting form of quality control...

• Police in Queensland are reported to have been making unauthorised use of the Police Service database to ac­ cess details about women. In one case a police officer allegedly gave his friend the silent number of a woman with whom he was infatuated. Apparently the information has a fairly hefty going rate. Nice to see our boys [sic] in blue are using their time constructively...

Happy International Women's Day everyone-don't forget to celebrate with likeminded Girlies on 8 March, and remember that, post 1 July, it's a luxury to be a woman.

Tamara Ponne

Tamara Ponne is a Feminist Lawyer.

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