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Cite as: Cite as: March 2012 86 (03) LIJ, p.66

This month's reviews cover consumer law, homeless law, construction law and an Australian legal drama.

The Australian Consumer Law

SG Corones, The Australian Consumer Law, 2011, Thomson Reuters (Professional), pb $120.

The Australian Consumer Law (ACL) under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 has been referred to as the most ambitious reform in Australia’s consumer protection regime since the introduction of the original Trade Practices Act three decades ago. While the ACL has been in force (in its current form) since 1 January 2011, it is nevertheless often misunderstood.

Practitioners who are unfamiliar with its development may be led to believe that the ACL is merely a superficial name changing exercise, with familiar concepts randomly reshuffled and relocated into a confusing new order. The reality is that the ACL represents a genuine overhaul of the existing law. In addition to introducing brand new concepts such as consumer guarantees (replacing statutory “implied” terms and warranties), the ACL also harmonises and replaces many state and territory laws, on topics ranging from product safety and lay-by arrangements, to door-to-door sales and telemarketing.

Professor Stephen Corones’ text, The Australian Consumer Law, will help demystify and provide insights into the new legislation. Filled with historical contexts and extracts from various reports, speeches and explantory memoranda, this text will be most useful to existing practitioners with a good working knowledge of the “old” consumer protection laws. Written in a succinct but easy to understand manner, the text is well set out and includes some useful visual tools such as a table mapping the provisions of the old law to the new provisions.

While being marketed as an offering to assist “practitioners, academics and students” to come to grips with the ACL, some may find the discussions within the text to be slightly selective (which suggests that the text was written as a companion guide to be used in conjunction with other works, such as a more fulsome annotated version of the ACL). The text could also benefit from more robust editing, to provide a more cohesive point of view for individual chapters and a clearer structure, were it to be recommended as an introductory text.

The Australian Consumer Law is a most welcome and timely addition to the Australian consumer protection literature.

YANSON CHING, MALLESONS STEPHEN JAQUES

Homelessness and the Law

Tamara Walsh, Homelessness and the Law, 2011, The Federation Press, pb $49.95.

At last count there were almost 105,000 Australians experiencing homelessness each night. The legal system can have a profound impact on people becoming homeless or staying homeless, evidenced by the six Australian jurisdictions with specialist homeless law services. Until now, there has been a paucity of literature discussing the practice of homeless law.

Homelessness and the Law demonstrates the author’s deep understanding of homeless law issues, presenting clear links between certain legal events and housing status. The book covers key interplays between the law and homelessness: “houselessness”, criminal law, “social welfare” law (child welfare and social security), impaired capacity, discrimination and access to justice. In each area, it outlines the impacts of legal structures and systems on people who are homeless. Particularly commendable is the use of people’s own words to describe their experiences of homelessness and the law – going beyond the orthodox source materials allows this book to provide a realistic, and sometimes harrowing, assessment of past laws, policies and practices on this acutely marginalised group.

Dr Walsh adopts international human rights arguments to present homelessness as a breach of human rights, citing international instruments and comparable jurisdictions’ laws and cases to argue that Australia’s struggle to accept this phenomenon is a breach of fundamental rights.

While Dr Walsh demonstrates the impact of the law on people who are homeless, she also shows the potential of laws and policies to address this egregious social ill. However, she also notes that competing social and economic policies of successive state and federal governments impact on people’s ability to access safe and secure housing.

Policy makers and service providers should take note of Dr Walsh’s many thoughtful and incisive reflections on homelessness. This is not simply a book about the law, but about the impact of the law and its systems on people at the margins – a thoughtful, impactful and important addition to the law library.

JAMES FARRELL, LECTURER, DEAKIN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW

Former manager, PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic

Construction Law in Australia (3rd edn)

Ian Bailey SC and Matthew Bell, Construction Law in Australia (3rd edn), 2011, Thomson Reuters (Professional), pb $119.95.

In Construction Law in Australia, Professor Ian Bailey SC and Matthew Bell again succeed in providing a concise, yet detailed, text which explores the central issues in the increasingly specialised field of construction law. In this third edition, the authors not only incorporate new legal developments since the last edition, but also usefully illustrate how those developments impact on traditional construction law concepts and established norms. It is a must-read for construction law practitioners, teachers and students alike.

The authors begin with an overview of the Australian legal landscape and its application to the field of construction law. They go on to consider the participants in the construction industry and describe the role that each participant plays in a typical project. The legal relationships between those participants is further explored in the next chapter, which introduces the unique genre of construction contracts, illustrates the primary role of contract law in the industry and considers the multitude of legal issues which typically arise in those contracts.

After ensuring that the reader is well acquainted with the many legal facets of the construction industry, the authors introduce the concept of procurement. This chapter considers key issues which underlie considerations of risk allocation between contracting parties. Naturally, this leads to a discussion of a variety of practical issues which arise in construction projects.

The authors conclude with an overview of the role and regulation of professionals in the construction industry and dispute avoidance, management and resolution. The infamous complexity of construction disputes is presumed to be the reason behind the allocation of the text’s entire final chapter to the conduct of construction disputes.

Coupled with the general introduction to Australian law at the beginning of the text, a section of reference papers at the end of the text enables the reader to gain an understanding of the entire history of construction law. This aspect of the text is particularly useful for those unfamiliar with the uniqueness of construction law and a comprehensive reading will no doubt show that the 13 years since the last edition was well worth the wait.

MORRY ROSS, MOLINOCAHILL LAWYERS PTY LTD

Crownies

Crownies, Series 1 Parts 1 and 2, DVD $49.99 per part.

There are very few genuine guilty pleasures left in life. Eating junk food certainly raises the guilt levels but very rarely delivers on pleasure, while society these days tells us that anything that gives us pleasure is to be celebrated rather than repented. For something that will truly give you the sort of pleasure rarely experienced with your clothes on and then fill you completely with a loathing self-hatred, you need something extra special. In short, you need to get yourself a copy of the first season of Crownies.

While most of the dialogue is clunkier than a 1970s Kingswood and the acting as stiff as Ray Martin’s hair, there is an undeniable charm to Crownies that means you will keep coming back when every rational part of your being screams to stay away. Whether it is the joy in watching someone else get a grilling in open court, as happens on a weekly basis to the sensitive Richard Stirling, or the thrill in knowing that no matter how cocky you may have been as a junior lawyer you were never in the same league as young silver-tail Ben McMahon, there is something for every practising lawyer to enjoy in this show.

And just to make sure that no cliché feels neglected, Crownies throws in some more characters that are supposed to reflect the real world of us lawyerly types: Tony Gillies, the crumpled “once brilliant prosecutor embittered by failure and a thwarted life”; Lina Badir, the hard-working first-generation Aussie; Tatum Novak, the “Gen-Y princess”; and David Sinclair, the fearlessly independent DPP who pushes the government to the limits. In fact, the only cliché overlooked is the knockabout larrikin who turns up to court in thongs and calls the judge “your mateship” – no doubt an oversight that led to the ABC cancelling the series after this wonderful maiden season.

If Crownies proves anything, it’s that Australia can make TV that is just as artery-cloggingly cheesy as anything produced by the Americans. And that is something we can all be proud of.

JOSEPH KELLY, KELLY WORKPLACE LAWYERS

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