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Alternative Law Journal

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Editors --- "Bits" [2000] AltLawJl 58; (2000) 25(3) Alternative Law Journal 153


Who's Running this Country?
Government in Australia

by John Nicholson, Little Ark, 2000; 40 pp; $12.95 softcover.

As we enter the 21st century it has become evident that young Australians are becoming active in the political arena. This is obvious in the environmental sphere and increasingly in law and order issues. The baby boomers and those before them normally became politically active well after their formal education had concluded. Now children are more politically aware at an earlier age and the introduction of legal studies into many school curriculums has heightened this knowledge.

John Nicholson's Who s Running This Country is an excellent introduction to politics for any interested primary and lower secondary school students. It is clearly written and thoroughly documented which makes it a valuable and highly readable source for students and parents alike.

This book (supported by teaching notes on the publisher's web site) begins with the fundamental question: Why do we need a government? It examines the political history of Australia and includes a discussion about the Constitution and its conventions. In an accessible and straightforward way it defines political parties and explains their relevance to government. In describing the work of the government, Nicholson provides a comprehensive picture of the parliamentary chamber and explanations as to the functions of each position including the electoral process that created those positions.

Taking a no nonsense approach Nicholson also includes a discussion on democracy in action with reference to rights and responsibilities using the gun control debate as a case study. And as any good introductory book on politics should, Who’s Running the Country concludes its substantive section with the Republic debate.

Fully supported by a glossary of political jargon, colour illustrations and written in a conversational style that most children will understand, this book is must for those who wish to raise the political awareness of young Aus­ tralians. It would also help a few adults too! • DM

Erin Brockovich

Film directed by Steven Soderbergh

Erin Brockovich is one of the very popular films currently screening. It is worth seeing but not only for the obvious reasons. It is based on the true story of single mother who worms her way into a job in a small legal firm. By undertaking research for an apparently insignificant pro bono case she exposes how the water supply in a small town has been poisoned by the local utility Pacific Gas and Electric. In the end, the residents win a substantial financial settlement.

The legal firm, which ultimately won the case on a contingency fee of 40% of the winnings, rakes in 12 million dollars of which Brockovich gets two mil­ lion. The film is therefore at one level a reassuring account of the possibility of people being able to obtain justice in the US legal system. It also highlights important themes including the role of contingency fees in public interest cases and the positive results of partnerships between lawyers and non-lawyers in such cases. It is worth seeing the film to reflect on these themes.

Recently more information has come to light suggesting a number of less well-known aspects of the case. For example, because the settlement was negotiated privately, the plaintiffs had no say in determining the outcome, payments varied widely between plain­ tiffs and were delayed by many months, and no appeal was possible because of the private negotiations. At a deeper level, therefore, the film raises many fascinating questions about the nature of 'private' as opposed to 'public' justice. It is worth seeing for all these reasons. • FR

Conferencing: Face To Face

by David Williamson; Darwin Theatre Company

Recently I saw David Williamson's play, Face to Face. It was a thought­provoking, humorous and at times, tear-jerking drama, about community conferencing as a means of conflict resolution.

Instead of going to court, community conferencing brings together those affected by the crime, face to face with the offender. Everyone involved has to analyse how they have been affected by the crime, the causes of it, and to search for resolutions instead of merely a punishment.

Set in a bare theatre, the 1 0 characters, lined up in a row, face the audience and their own demons that are gradually revealed throughout the ensuing discussion. The audience is witness to the characters as they confront each other with blame and guilt, and are privy to how they deal with the world and with each other.

Glen has written off his boss's car as an act of revenge for being sacked. While such an act seems to be that of a stupid young man with an uncontrollable temper, once the discussion gets going under the watchful eye of convenor Jack Manning, the situation is seen to be much more complex. Those attending the conferencing are Glen, his Mum, Glen's boss and his wife and several of Glen's work colleagues.

The discussion reveals bullying, racism and people operating according to stereotypical behaviour often against their true feelings, but because they are afraid of what others will think. At times the discussions become very tense. However, humour is never far away. For example, there is an intricate subplot of adultery. While such a diversion has great entertainment value, I am not sure that in reality conference participants would be that honest! But it makes the characters all the more recognisable and believable.

This play has a particularly pertinent message for Territorians. It illustrates an alternative to mandatory sentencing, and that there is more to justice than punishment. As Face to Face so admirably demonstrated, justice can combine conciliation, concern, honesty, pride and shame instead of the usual anger, fear and power. Perhaps it is true that we can only be 'saved' by the forgiveness of those we have wronged.

Face to Face also confirms that while we humans have an amazing ability to unduly complicate our lives we can also be decent, honest and positive in the face of adversity. It was fascinating, entertaining and informative, and it is further evidence that Williamson is one of our best Australian playwrights.

Bits contributors were: Karen Bowley, Debi McLachlan and Francis Regan.

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