Alternative Law Journal
Just as the centenary of women's suffrage was being celebrated, question time in Federal Parliament became particularly grubby with testosterone induced abuse spurting around the chamber. According to Matt Price (Australian 5/6/2002) 'a series of shocking rulings' by Speaker, Neil Andrew, has encouraged 'rabbledom'. The Australian was so concerned by the virility of the language produced by the Members that it ran Price's story on page one under a headline more reminiscent of the sporting pages: 'Below the belt blows from rabble without a cause'. According to Price, 'despite everyone in Canberra promising to raise parliamentary standards, four Labor MPs were booted out of question time yesterday, Tony Abbot was goaded about an illegitimate child, and the Employment Minister went perilously close to mocking Mark Latham's man hood'. While Tony Abbott was berating Labor for being too close to the unions Labor MP Mark Latham interjected with, 'You've had too many unions Tony you grub'. This was interpreted as a reference to the Minister having given up an illegitimate child for adoption in the 1970s. Price continued, 'The Minister twisted Latham's plea to "muscle up" against the Government into a call for the Opposition to undergo "testosterone therapy". Abbott seemed happy for others to make the link with the loss of one of Latham's testicles to cancer.' Girlie feels so reassured knowing the country is in the very best of hands and, in the 21st century, women voters can select from such a field of sensitive visionaries.
A new code of conduct for Australia's judges and magistrates will prevent them from commenting publicly on politics and matters outside court. The code, with guidelines on judicial behaviour in and out of court, has been in draft form for years. Apparently the initial draft advised judges against joining single-sex clubs, gambling in casinos, owning race horses or drinking in 'raucous' pubs. These proposals were strongly objected to by some judges and have been considerably watered down.
Justice Mary Gaudron of the High Court of Australia recently admonished Justice Roddy Meagher of the NSW Court of Appeal saying he was so anti-women that female lawyers appearing before him may not be able to get a fair hearing (Age 15/6/02). Justice Meagher had questioned the competence of women barristers in a newspaper magazine article in which he was quoted as describing current women barristers as hope less and new ones were desperately needed to replace them. He also referred to hairy-legged lesbians and that the corridors of the courts were thronged with unmarried mothers and abused children, people who are stoned, or were hatched in bottles, or have been raped or cloned.
In Victoria Judge Hanlon of the County Court has been fined and had his drivers licence suspended for driving while over the legal alcohol limit. Judge Hanlon, Girlie fans may recall, pre sided over the 1980s case in which Sandra and Tracy Collis were sent to jail for perjury after withdrawing claims that their father had sexually abused them. The Collis sisters were subsequently released from jail following an intensive campaign by women's groups and were granted a full pardon by the then Attorney-General, Jim Kennan. The solicitor who had advised them to plead guilty was found guilty of unprofessional conduct having acted for the sisters' father at the same time he was engaged by them.
Dry ships, random breath tests and bag searches are being considered by a naval board of inquiry investigating the death of a sailor where alcohol was involved, according to the Ages reporter, Deborah Cameron (8/6/2002). The Australian (5/612002) also reports on 'a spate of obscene behaviour, excessive drinking and nude romps' which have triggered 'a sweeping review by the navy of its codes of conduct'. Allegations include sexual assault of a female colleague, obscene behaviour in a public place and nudity. Chief of Navy Vice Admiral David Shackelton is quoted as saying, 'Some personnel seemed not to under stand or have difficulty abiding by the standards of decent behaviour expected of them'. The latest review will include alcohol and drug usage, the conduct of 'crossing the line' ceremonies, alcohol awareness training, rewarding good behaviour and reforming leadership pro grams. While this is a refreshing change from past practices of covering up such behaviours, Shackelton's statement that, 'The navy takes any allegations of assault -particularly indecent assault very seriously', will be viewed sceptically by many women officers who feel their complaints have not been taken seriously.
The actual numbers of victims of child hood sexual abuse by clergy will never be known but it is clear abuse was sys temic, extensive and covered up. The Catholic Church is currently under fire for linking compensation to victims with a hush clause. While it is not unusual for compensation releases to have confidentiality clauses the Catholic Church in Australia has a protocol, 'Towards Healing', which states: 'No complainant shall be required to give an undertaking which imposes upon them an obligation of silence concerning the circumstances which led them to make a complaint, as a condition of an agreement with the Church authority'.
Women with superannuation will retire with half the payout that male colleagues receive according to a University of New South Wales study. The authors, Dr Diana Olsberg and Shauna Ferris said women live longer and will find themselves with insufficient funds for a comfortable retirement. The main reason for the disparity is women leaving the workforce to raise families. The study found women spent about 17 years in the workforce compared with men at 39 years. Dr Olsberg considers employers should be obliged to continue to pay women's superannuation when they leave work to have families.
Since the collapse of the United Medical Indemnity Fund at the end of April 2002 doctors' voices have been heard loudly and dramatically in the media. Medicos, it seems, are nervous and threatening strike action by refusing to perform surgery for fear of being sued while uninsured. Obstetricians say they are particularly vulnerable. Interesting then that doctors9 voices have had precious little to say in support of midwives who have always had enormous difficulty getting insurance cover. General insurers do not see midwives as an attractive risk and those who have managed to get insurance have seen an alarming rise in premiums. This may force many out of business and women will find themselves with even fewer choices of birthing options.
Polly is a Feminist Lawyer.