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According to merit? : Meritorious appointment ...

Every Issue

Cite as: (2003) 77(9) LIJ, p.89

Merit welcomes the appointment of Victoria’s first female Solicitor-General.

Since joining the LIJ in 2000, Merit has endeavoured to report meritorious appointments of women in high-profile legal positions and relished the pleasure of drawing everyone’s attention to the fact that gender and merit can and do mix.[1]

Although Merit still awaits the day when appointments of women to senior positions form part of the everyday news and not one eyebrow is lifted or sigh of relief needed, it was pleasing to hear Attorney-General Rob Hulls announce the appointment of Ms Pamela Tate SC as Victoria’s first female Solicitor-General.[2]

Ms Tate’s credentials are inspiring, including first class honours degrees in law (Monash University) and Philosophy (Otago University), postgraduate studies (Oxford University) and an associateship to High Court Justice Sir Daryl Dawson.[3]

Indeed, the impressive shoes of this “most senior legal position in Victoria”[4] are well filled. Merit is excited by the prospect that Ms Tate’s appointment signifies one more step towards the pool of “women first” positions slowly but surely diminishing.

Mr Hulls watch out – thanks to your fantastic track record of appointing women Merit will be watching your job. Merit congratulates Ms Tate on her achievement and wishes her much success in her new role.

She is yet another inspiration for women in the legal profession.

Living and working happily ever after ...

Another recurring theme for Merit since she joined the LIJ has been the difficult legal issues relating to children – conception, parenting, family, marriage, divorce, work etc. The past few months have again been dominated by issues of parenting and work both at the state and federal level. Merit has reason to rejoice and lament:

  • Merit was pleased to hear Treasurer John Brumby and Minister for Women’s Affairs Mary Delahunty’s announcement that the Pay-roll Tax (Maternity and Adoption Leave Exemption) Bill 2003 was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 30 April 2003.

This provides a payroll tax exemption for up to 14 weeks’ full-time paid maternity leave. Although the exemption does not extend to paternity leave, the exemption does apply to both men and women who require adoption leave. Merit hopes these amendments go further than simply rewarding those employers who already provide paid maternity leave and actually encourages and assists other employers in providing paid maternity leave to their employees.

Merit hopes this encouragement will extend to the federal government and speed up its consideration of the recommendations outlined in the Valuing Parenthood: Options for paid maternity leave – interim paper 2002 presented to it in December 2002 by federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward.

Merit was encouraged by the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) Test Case for Working Parents lodged with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission on 24 June 2003.[6]

The test case seeks flexible choices for employees with children and attempts to address different needs at various stages of parenting by establishing new standards in industrial awards.[7]

Proposed changes to federal industrial awards include the right for full-time employees to work part-time after returning from parental leave. Merit applauds the ACTU initiative and agrees that initiating changes to employment conditions to address work/life balance is essential for the wellbeing of society.

However, Merit echoes Feminist Lawyers Convenor Priya Sarat Chandran’s concerns that the test case does not take into account the often unequal enterprise bargaining positions of women,[8] which needs to be addressed if the proposal is to work.

Merit is mindful that a “one-step-at-a-time” approach is needed for such radical reform but if she had her way Australia would be taking leaps and bounds not only to catch up with other OECD countries[9] but exceed their standards in establishing a work/life balance.

  • Merit has, however, grave reservations about the basis for the federal government’s announcement to hold a Parliamentary inquiry into child custody arrangements.[10]

While Merit supports the rights of both parents to seek custody of their children after separation, the government’s agenda to push for automatic joint custody and access between parents is dangerous and misguided. Merit’s concern is that the motivation for the inquiry fails to address the reality of separating parents and the actual needs of their children. Merit supports the position of the National Network of Women’s Legal Services, among others,[11] in opposing a legal presumption of joint residence for separating families; such a presumption is based on emotive anecdotes rather than evidence.[12]

Despite being angered by comments suggesting that academic interests in women’s rights cloud one’s vision regarding children,[13] Merit was pleased to see the debate place father’s parental roles (both during and after separation) in the spotlight.

Merit hopes that the often exhausting efforts of mothers in raising children is bought to the forefront and the simplistic view of role models is replaced with the reality – a rewarding but difficult balancing act which defies presumptions.


BARBARA WATROBA is an articled clerk with Phillips Fox. This is her first Merit column. The views expressed in this article are entirely those of the author.

merit@liv.asn.au


[1] According to Merit, May 2000 LIJ.

[2] Office of the Attorney-General media release, 8 July 2003, http://www.dpc.vic.gov.au/domino/Web_Notes/newmedia.nsf.

[3] See note 2 above.

[4] See note 2 above.

[5] Minister for Women’s Affairs, Office of the Treasurer media release, 1 May 2003, http://www.dpc.vic.gov.au/domino/Web_Notes/newmedia.nsf.

[6] ACTU media release, 24 June 2003, http://www.actu.asn.au/public/news/1056413522_1092.html.

[7] ACTU, Work and Family Test Case Information Material, http://www.actu.asn.au.

[8] The Age, 25 June 2003.

[9] OECD reports cited in note 7 above.

[10] Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams media release, 24 June 2003, http://www.crimeprevention.gov.au/www/attorneygeneralHome.nsf.

[11] The Age, 25 June 2003.

[12] National Network of Women’s Legal Services Briefing Paper – A Legal Presumption of Joint Residence, June 2003.

[13] Larry Anthony MP media release, 30 June 2003, http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/minc.nsf.

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