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From the president: A day to celebrate?

Every Issue

Cite as: (2007) 81(3) LIJ, p. 4

Anniversaries give us time to reflect on how much progress has been made in social issues.

Australia this month celebrates International Women’s Day.

It will be the 79th annual celebration – marking a 1928 rally in Sydney which called for equal pay for equal work, an eight-hour day for shop workers, paid annual leave and better conditions for women workers.

We’ve come a long way since then, I hear you say, but not far enough.

Women lawyers are still behind in the earning stakes and have low representation in senior legal positions.

And promotion is less likely if women put up their hands for flexible work options such as parental leave, family-friendly working hours, part-time work, job sharing, remote access to enable working from home, and so on.

The LIV Bendable or Expendable? Practices and attitudes towards work flexibility in Victoria’s biggest legal employers report, which was released in June last year, confirmed there was a strong belief that employees who took up the offer of flexible work practices limited their career possibilities.

The 90 per cent female participants surveyed agreed that there was a decline in what’s on offer when returning from parental leave.

More than 330 employees from over 60 major law firms took part – 64 per cent of whom were full-time employees. Women lawyers told us that family responsibilities and motherhood are still the main driver of flexible work arrangements.

Women are more likely than men to be the primary carers of young children. The demands of motherhood are very difficult to fulfil while working the high number of hours required in private practice to meet even minimum performance targets.

However, the good news is that the survey discovered that women’s demands for improved work/life balance had a positive impact on men in legal firms who were encouraged to seek the same benefits for themselves.

Finally, it makes sense to acknowledge women’s advancement for more than just one day in the calendar year.

The most recent admission ceremony was 68 per cent women and 32 per cent men, so recruiting, retaining and promoting the best female talent is a wise investment for any law firm, for the LIV and for business in general. The loss to an employer in dollar terms for every departure is significant.

Someone who recognised the need to promote women in the profession was Concettina (Tina) Millar, who died last month after a long illness. [See “Former LIV president mourned” on page 17 and obituary on page 30.]

In 2000, Tina became the second-only female to be elected president of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) since 1859.

She made many contributions to the law and took every chance to encourage and promote the advancement of women in the legal profession.

She was a prominent member of the Italian community and a vibrant personality at the LIV and those who knew her are greatly saddened by her passing. Our condolences go to Tina’s husband and partner in the firm Millars, Bruce; her daughter and Gadens Lawyers practitioner, Natalie Bannister; and her many friends at the LIV and in the legal profession.

Last month, Victoria marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Ronald Ryan – the last person to be hanged in Australia.

Many of you will remember the strong opposition towards state-sanctioned killing. A debate about that particular mandatory sentence ensued, leading to the abolition of the death penalty in Victoria in 1975.

Ten years later, the death penalty was removed from federal statute books. However in 2003, following the trial in Bali for the bomb blast that killed 88 Australians, Prime Minister John Howard admitted that some members of his Cabinet supported the reintroduction of capital punishment. He then opened public debate on the issue, saying that any change would be a matter for state governments.

The LIV sees this direction as dangerous. Market research (Quantum Australia SCAN) has shown that 51 per cent of Australians favour the death penalty when they perceive a serious threat to their lifestyle, for example, following the attacks in Bali and New York.

Polls taken at the same time in both the US and UK showed the proportion of those in favour of the death penalty was 75 per cent.

The LIV established an Anti-Death Policy following the execution of Australian citizen Tuong Van Nguyen in Singapore on 2 December 2005. We believe that Australia could raise its credibility by initiating a regional coalition against capital punishment.

On 2 February, the LIV and ReprieveAustralia hosted a HumanWrites Forum where a packed audience heard Lex Lasry QC, Dr Mike Richards and Rachel Walsh explore issues surrounding the execution of Ronald Ryan and the death penalty handed down to Australians overseas accused of drug trafficking.


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