Law, legitimacy and activism in the Anthropocene

In the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred reflects on how she and her fellow Handmaids found themselves in their current predicament – living in a world where a small group of elites have rewritten the law in line with an inhumane and brutally enforced ideology that serves their own interests.

When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists, and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. … Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

In the real world, there’s a dominant narrative that we are blindly walking down the path to catastrophic climate change, which is a pretty depressing thought. But the truth is even scarier – we are being shepherded down this path quite deliberately. We may have taken a while to wake up, but ever since we did and began to object, our governments have been making ever increasing use of state power to silence us.

I reflected on this during a recent trip to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Heron’s reef supports around 4000 turtles, while many more return to the island in spring to nest. During one afternoon snorkeling trip, I was lucky enough to see three turtles, including a small juvenile, feeding on seaweed just metres from me. As I watched, my feelings turned from wonder to horror as it occurred to me that they are likely to see the reef die around them; gradually boiled to death.

[Please buy your copy of AQ: Australian Quarterly to read the rest of my article.]

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Clearing homeless camps compounds the violation of human rights and entrenches the problem

On Wednesday evening, the New South Wales state government passed legislation empowering police to dismantle the Martin Place homeless camp in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. This follows similar actions in Victoria, where police cleared a homeless camp outside Flinders Street Station. Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle proposed a bylaw to ban rough sleeping in the city.

In March, the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, censured the City of Melbourne’s actions, stating that:

… the criminalisation of homelessness is deeply concerning and violates international human rights law.

As the special rapporteur highlighted, homelessness is already “a gross violation of the right to adequate housing”. To further discriminate against people rendered homeless by systemic injustice is prohibited under international human rights law.

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The forgotten people of the Flint water crisis

Last Wednesday, five Michigan officials were charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in the unfolding health crisis in Flint, Michigan — a crisis that has included at least 12 deaths from Legionnaires’ disease, in addition to the possible lead poisoning of a whole population.

These charges are significant, but there are lingering questions as to who else is culpable and why the crisis remains unsolved.

Despite the narrative you often hear, the water crisis in Flint was not discovered by investigative reporters, Virginia Tech researchers, or doctors. The people of Flint were aware that something was wrong from the moment their water was switched over to the Flint river in April 2014. They just couldn’t get anyone to listen.

I have a new article in Eureka Street on the Flint Water crisis. You can read the rest of it here.

Detroit

I’m in Detroit, Michigan for a few days, doing a bit of research into the water shut offs here and the contaminated water crisis in Flint. I’ll write more about this later, but here are a few photos for now.

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Deveny’s ‘financial abortion’ is a form of coercive control

I wrote an article for Overland in response to a recent article by Catherine Deveny supporting a right to so-called ‘financial abortions’ for men.

Deveny argues that men should have the opportunity to ‘opt out’ of fatherhood if a woman ‘chooses’ to continue with a pregnancy against his preferences. The fact that so many men already get away with washing their hands of any parental responsibility – including the payment of child support – is apparently not enough. Deveny is seeking to both formalise and legitimise this existing practice.

So what is the problem? Isn’t this a natural extension of being pro-choice? Shouldn’t women have to take responsibility for their choices?

In a word: no.

With that ring, I thee judge: why the law should not allow exceptions on marriage equality

[Originally published in The Conversation – 6 October 2016]

In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins went into Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, to order a cake for their wedding. Jack Phillips, the owner of the shop, responded by informing them he would not make a cake for a same-sex wedding. Craig and Mullins immediately got up and left. Later they sued Phillips for discrimination.

What if this happened in Australia?

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Dissenting feminisms: reflections on the Feminist Writers Festival

Reflecting on the recent Feminist Writers Festival, I wrote an article for Overland online about the ongoing tensions within the feminist movement and some of the lessons that I learned from the experience of establishing FWF:

So what have I taken away from all this? First, we need to become even better at listening to each other. This might not always be a comfortable experience – it might be challenging or even boring – but it is an essential foundation for moving forward together as a movement. Second, we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and, perhaps more importantly, we need to give each other permission to make them. Only then can we risk making ourselves vulnerable enough to really grow and stretch our capacities.

Lactivism – a review

I was recently asked to review Courtney Jung’s book, Lactivism, for the Alternative Law Journal. While I appreciated much of the nuanced critique of American neoliberal social policy and the penalty that it imposes on mothers under the guise of individual ‘choice’ (an issue that is also very relevant to Australia), ultimately I wasn’t convinced by the central premise of the book – that ‘Lactivists’ (rather than neoliberal governance) are the real culprits in this situation.

My full review can be found here.

Announcing the 2016 Feminist Writers Festival

This week I was so excited to see a long-held dream start to become a reality when I joined with a fabulous group of women from around Australia to launch the 2016 Feminist Writers Festival in partnership with the Melbourne Writers Festival. The festival will be held in Melbourne on 26-28 August and will bring together feminist writers and readers to connect and strengthen the diverse writing communities that exist around Australia.

Our hope is that the festival will expand the themes and voices around feminism and women’s writing by offering a space for critical engagement and practical support for all feminist writers and readers. I hope you’ll come!

Poker machines and the law: when is a win not a win?

If I took all of the money out of your wallet, you’d probably feel as though you’d lost something – wouldn’t you? Now imagine instead that I only took 80% of your money. Would you feel as though you had “won” the remaining 20%?

What if I tried to convince you that you had actually benefited from this transaction by playing happy music and letting off a few firecrackers?

This thought experiment might help you to get your head around a proposed legal action by law firm Maurice Blackburn that plans to use Australian consumer law to argue that poker machine operators are engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct to entice gamblers into using poker machines.

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