Alternative Law Journal
Starting, as all good journeys do, in the red centre, Girlie is alarmed to report that in April this year the NT Attorney-General told Darwin Community Legal Service (DCLS) that the domes tic violence service it had provided in Darwin and Alice Springs for the previous seven years would be put out to tender. The reason? To achieve an 'alternative method of service delivery'. Girlie suspects that this is Government speak for 'unaccountable, not-our-responsibility and we-don't-care-anyway', and the DCLS has certainly expressed a number of concerns, including that the tender process did not provide for any 'hand over' period to the successful tenderer.
It had been hoped by DCLS and the Women's Legal Services in Darwin and Alice Springs that the domestic violence services would be taken over by the Top End Women's Legal Service. Girlies in the Northern Territory were therefore disturbed to hear that the tender for the service was likely to be awarded to a private firm, even more so given the re port that Top End was the only organisation to submit a tender in accordance with the advertised procedure.
At the time of writing Top End is running the service on a weekly basis with no agreement finalised. It has reluctantly agreed to reduce its tender and is hopeful to have an agreement in concrete in the near future, but little information is forthcoming from the NT Government. Girlies are keeping their fingers crossed …
Some good news, however, for Top End and their clients when a client was successful in a claim for crimes compensation in which she had not reported domestic violence to the police. Section 12 of the Crimes (Victims Assistance) Act (NT) provides that 'The Court shall not issue an assistance certificate ... where the commission of the offence was not reported to a member of the Police Force within a reasonable time after the commission of an offence... ' At first instance, the magistrate found that failure to report the offence did not preclude the applicant from being awarded compensation for injuries sustained as a result of an assault. On appeal a Supreme Court judge could not quite stomach this idea, but this was overturned by the wise residents of the Court of Appeal, who took into account the Act as a whole, and held that the Act was remedial in its purpose and therefore should be interpreted beneficially.
Girlie considers this an important decision, as many Girlies will be aware that survivors of domestic violence frequently do not report violence to police, for a variety of reasons. In the above case, the claimant explained that going to the police made her feel worse, that she felt degraded and as if she was wasting police time. She said that police often apprehended the offender, then released him at which point he assaulted her again, a cycle with which many Girlieswill be familiar.
Like the flame, Girlie heads south on her journey, where South Australian Victim Support Services have been lobbying the Attorney-General, Trevor Griffin, to increase payments for victims of crime. They have pointed out the discrepancy between payments to victims of civil wrongs and those made to victims of crime, a discrepancy recently highlighted when an angler who fell from a jetty was awarded $288,000 and crimes compensation victims are limited to a maximum of $50,000. However, the AG has ruled out an in crease, saying it is not the responsibility of the government to compensate victims of crime fully. There's that pesky not-our- responsibility thing again ...
Turning her face towards the rising sun, Girlie is quite excited. She has heard, from an ambivalent opposition, a sobbing Senator and a Prime Minister diminutive in every respect bar his in surmountable inadequacy, of the fatherless generation lining Victorian streets, swinging on the arms of their deviant mothers like Prada accessories. It is an anticlimax to say the least, then, when all she encounters are newspapers frothing in frenzy, a number of ordinary people eager to welcome a child into their lives, and a society basically in tact except for the PM's determination to erode every human rights provision ever established in this country.
Of real concern in Victoria, Girlie finds instead, is the state of the private women's prison at Deer Park. Labelled by the Minister for Corrections as the 'worst run prison in the state', the prison has had three default notices issued this year as a result of serious safety breaches in respect of staff and prisoners. Girlie is also informed that tear gas has been used three times since the prison was privatised, in contrast with a total of NEVER before privatisation.
Girlie is encouraged, however, by external organisations, such as the Victorian Women s Prison Council, which is attempting to establish a mentoring scheme to help women settle back into the community post release. Additionally, the advocacy group Women s Inmates Speaking Allowed has lodged a submission with the Hume Council to use a vacant council-owned property as emergency accommodation and sup port for women post-release after the Council pledged to donate the house to help homeless people.
Also encouraging down south is a record payout awarded to a Melbourne mother of two after her employer failed to allow her to work part-time from home. The woman was particularly concerned about the health of one of her children, a severe asthmatic, and had requested to work one or two days from home and offered to provide the fax and modem facilities herself. The award of $161,307 is the highest re corded damages award for an equal opportunity case, and while an appeal is currently pending, unions and women's groups are hailing it as a victory for women and for flexible work practices.
However, heading north again, Girlie is reminded by none other than Her Hon our Justice Mary Gaudron that women still have a long way to go in terms of equality in the workplace . At a recent conference Justice Gaudron slammed what she labelled 'lip service to equality', noting what Girlies have long suspected, that the concept of 'merit' only arises when women are being considered for jobs. Reliable Eva Cox has ruffled some feathers, accusing workplaces of being 'more dickridden and masculinist than ever'. In support of this accusation, a report by the Affirmative Action Agency recently re: leased estimated that it would take another 175 years at the present rate of change before women achieved parity with men at the top levels of the workforce. Certainly Justice Gaudron remains the only woman on the High Court bench some 13 years after her appointment. As some Girlies have suggested in the past, we will only know that we are getting somewhere when there are as many incompetent women as there are currently incompetent men in positions of authority.
On her arrival in Sydney, Girlie is rather alarmed to discover the enormous expansion of powers given to NSW policein the lead up to the EventThatStopsANation. Resting her weary bones on the pleasant Sydney foreshore, she is hurriedly told to 'move along' by one of the thousands of officers authorised under a series of recently introduced legislation, the Homebush Bay Operations Act 1999 and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Regulations, just in case she causes an ugly feminist scene in public. Girlie is particularly concerned about the implications of these powers for Sydney's homeless, youth and sex workers, who she suspects will be targeted in a rather unsubtle endeavour to present a nice sparkly image of Sydney to the world's media. She is interested to hear from any Sydney Girlies after the Games have been and gone if her suspicions are correct, or whether Girlie is just being a crusty old cynic again. Nasty Girlie, making a fuss when she should be happy just listening to Livvy at the opening ceremony. After all, what more could an Aussie Girlie ask?
Flo is a Feminist Lawyer