Episode 11: Alexandra Saltis

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In this episode of the Scarlet Letter, Tamara and Ronli interview Monash Law graduate Alexandra Saltis, who is a project officer at the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA). 

Alexandra talks to us about the role of VARTA, as well as the new legislative scheme that came into effect in 2017, which has impacts on donor anonymity. In addition, we discuss the surrogacy laws in Australia, and the links between feminism and reproductive law. 

Check out the latest episode of our podcast, the Scarlet Letter.


Episode 10: Richard Joyce

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In this episode, Tamara speaks with Dr Richard Joyce about his work on sovereignty, his conception of feminist theory, both in a philosophical and a modern sense, and the practical implications that feminism has on his research. 


Check out the latest episode of our podcast, the Scarlet Letter.

Special Episode: Rosemary Hunter Presentation Part 2

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In this special episode of the Scarlet Letter, we present Part 2 of a seminar by Professor Rosemary Hunter of Queen Mary University in London.

Professor Hunter discusses the Feminist Judgements Project and her research on how feminist ideology impacts the judicial process.

Check out the latest episode of our podcast, the Scarlet Letter.

The part-time illusion for lawyers with caring responsibilities when applying for work in the Australian Public Service: My View

By Rachel Morrison-Dayan

mother and kids

Photo Credit: How Will They Make it in the Big City by Russ Siedel, Creative Commons

My pet hate is the claim made by the Australian Public Service (APS) to provide fair recruitment procedures and flexible working arrangements. It’s easy to be misled by this claim. I wonder whether this is the case for female lawyers, and indeed other professionals, with care responsibilities seeking to be recruited on a part-time basis.

When applying for a new legal position, one may turn to the APS as a sympathiser that understands how carers struggle to commit to a 37.5 hour work week because they are providing the unpaid social good of care to another person. Some APS advertisements for part-time and full-time legal workers may appear to promise such flexibility:

  • ‘Candidates interested in full time and part time opportunities are encouraged to apply.’
  • ‘We are a flexible employer and are open to discussing employment arrangements that might suit you best at this time.’
  • ‘As an employer, we aim to be a diverse and inclusive workforce, and help our employees achieve a sense of balance between work life and personal life.’

Let’s not jump for joy too soon. For the question is, shiny advertisements aside, how many APS employers actually go on to grant part-time work arrangements to newly recruited lawyers who are mothers of a young child, carers of a disabled adult or an aged parent? My inner conspiracy theorist may be lurching forward as I say this but I hazard a guess whether many applicants are shafted from the recruitment process upon uttering the fatal words ‘part-time requested’.

I must confess, my thoughts linger as to why my own application with a public statutory authority (which noted my availability for part-time hours only) did not proceed to interview stage.

I was disappointed to discover that the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (s 65) makes it clear that the legal right to request flexible working arrangements is only granted to current employees who have accumulated 12 months of service. What is more surprising is that this 12 months requisite does not seem to be quite in tune with the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA).

The SDA (s 14) forbids discrimination on the basis of family (caring) responsibilities in determining who should be offered employment and the terms and conditions of employment that the employer affords the employee. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine whether the SDA has been complied with because recruitment files are confidential.

The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) does not allow non-employee applicants to challenge the recruitment process. Where is the ethical conduct and transparency in the area of APS recruitment, or is it a case of discrimination behind closed doors?

In my view, while tougher legislation is needed, at a minimum to ensure its compliance with the SDA, the APSC needs to create (and enforce) policies and procedures to ensure that female lawyers with caring responsibilities are recruited into the APS on a part-time basis. Procedures must also be developed which allow job applicants to raise allegations of discrimination and be met with an adequate response.

Perhaps the issue of discrimination of female lawyers and other professional women and also male carers with family responsibilities in the APS is a matter which the Australian Human Rights Commission would like to take an interest in investigating—sooner rather than later I hope.

Rachel is currently studying for a MPhil in Law (Migration) with Monash University. In 2016 she was awarded the Fragomen Prize for first in her year in the Masters of Law in Migration Law with ANU. She previously worked for a federal government department in Canberra, in its various forms, after legal experience abroad and acquiring a foreign legal qualification. Rachel likes to write creatively in her spare time and has been published in a number of magazines. Originally from Sydney and Newcastle in NSW, Rachel now lives in Melbourne with her two young children and kitten.

Why there should be no room in the law for celebrants to discriminate on same-sex marriage

This article was first published on 16 November 2017 in The Conversation. You can hear an interview with Becky on this issue here and here.


Celebrants should not be free to discriminate against couples who ask them to perform a marriage ceremony.  Source: CityofStPete, Creative Commons

The process of legislating for marriage equality is underway. Marriage celebrants are looking forward to Australia’s busiest-ever wedding season. However, with the proposed laws now on the table, not all marriages will be equal.

The private member’s bill sponsored by Liberal Dean Smith is being debated today in the Senate. Attorney-General George Brandis has said he wants to amend the bill to extend religious protections to civil celebrants.

If it goes through, the amendment would permit civil celebrants to refuse to conduct a marriage ceremony because of their conscientious or religious beliefs (as another marriage amendment bill did earlier this year).

Permitting non-religious, civil marriage celebrants to discriminate is a bad idea. This goes far beyond protecting religious freedom.

My research into Australia’s marriage laws and civil marriage celebrants leads me to believe that Brandis’ proposed changes will undermine Australia’s flourishing civil marriage system by sanctioning discrimination against LGTBIQ clients. They will weaken marriage equality and will permit humiliating, unnecessary discrimination.

Providing the right to refuse to solemnise marriages to civil marriage celebrants undermines the aims and nature of Australia’s world-leading civil marriage celebrant program. It also compromises Australia’s long-established pluralistic system of marriage, as inherited from England.

Unique weddings and quirky celebrants: Australia’s contribution to the world

To understand the marriage equality law, it is helpful to know a little about the history of marriage in Australia.

Until 1973, when Australia’s world-first civil celebrant program was created, most civil wedding ceremonies were dry, brief and formal procedures conducted by state officials in registry offices.

Read more: As Australians say ‘yes’ to marriage equality, the legal stoush over human rights takes centre stage

The civil celebrancy program was initially set up by the Whitlam-era attorney-general, Lionel Murphy. It went under the publicity radar, unlike the no-fault divorce reforms debated and passed by the federal parliament at the same time.

According to one of Australia’s first civil celebrants, Dally Messenger, the civil celebrant program allowed for a civil alternative to religious marriage ceremonies that was dignified. Marrying couples could choose a ceremony at a place with symbols, dress and a celebrant consistent with their beliefs.

Murphy initially appointed just a small group of civil marriage celebrants in 1973 and 1974. Today, there are around 9,000 civil marriage celebrants registered in Australia. The civil celebrancy program, alongside the secularisation of Australian society, has made civil marriage ceremonies attractive and accessible to brides and grooms.

In other words, before Elvis’ Little Wedding Chapel in Vegas, we had Australia.

It is easy to find celebrants across Australia advertising services for garden weddings, weddings at family homes, beach weddings, skydiving weddings, underwater weddings, helicopter weddings and almost nude weddings (the celebrant said their nudity showed “there was nothing you wouldn’t do to be together”).

Allowing civil marriage celebrants to refuse to conduct a marriage ceremony because of their conscientious or religious beliefs against the marriage of partners of the same sex would undermine a key aim of the civil celebrancy program – to allow for a non-humiliating alternative to religious marriage ceremonies.

It is degrading for anyone to be told that they will not be able to be married by a celebrant because of the celebrant’s personal beliefs about them. The law should not authorise this humiliation.

Religious or civil wedding? The value of choice

The proposed exemption for civil marriage celebrants also undermines the long tradition of a pluralistic system of marriage law in Australia.

Since colonial times, Australians have been able to choose a religious ceremony or a non-religious civil ceremony. Both will be validly recognised as a marriage under law.

This system was inherited from England, where both religious (Church of England, Jewish and Quaker marriages) and civil marriages have been recognised since 1836.

Today in Australia, religious marriages must be conducted by law in accordance with the rites and practices of a broad range of religions. Civil marriages must be performed in accordance with the Marriage Act, and are far more heavily regulated by law than religious marriages.

Read more: The marriage equality survey is won, but the battle against discrimination continues

Most Australians choose to have a non-religious wedding. For nearly two decades, civil marriage has been overwhelmingly the most popular way to be married in Australia. In 2015, almost 75% of all marriages were performed by a civil celebrant rather than a minister of religion.

Over the last half of the 20th century, there was a major shift towards civil weddings. In 1959, just 11.4% of marriages were civil marriages. Civil marriages have outnumbered religious marriages in Australia since 1999.

Providing civil marriage celebrants with the right to refuse to marry a couple based upon their sexuality or the religious beliefs of the celebrant brings an element of religiosity to civil marriage. It reverses the historical separation of civil and religious marriage in England and Australia that has been in place since 1836.

The exemption will limit the ability of Australians to opt into a wedding that is not governed by religious values, defying the trend towards civil marriage.

Discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender has no place in contemporary Australian law and society. If we are to achieve true marriage equality, then prejudice cannot be permitted in the delivery of secular wedding services. Our anti-discrimination laws exist to ensure equal treatment of all Australians, regardless of personal attributes.

Rosemary Hunter on the Scarlet Letter

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We have a new episode of the Scarlet Letter out, and it’s a great one. A couple of weeks ago, the Feminist Legal Studies group put on our first official event – a seminar by Professor Rosemary Hunter of Queen Mary University in London.

In this special episode of the Scarlet Letter, we present Part 1 of the seminar, in which Professor Hunter discusses the Feminist Judgements Project and her research on the role of feminism in the judicial process.

Part 2 of Professor Hunter’s seminar will follow on 15 December.

Have a listen to Part 1 below, and don’t forget to subscribe to the Scarlet Letter so you never miss an episode: