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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The day I bought my son ‘beautiful gold shoes’

I have an article up on Essential Kids about the challenges of raising our son to be free of the constraining effects of gender stereotypes.

I’m driving to the shops with my four-year-old to buy a pair of ‘beautiful gold shoes’. He desperately wants a pair just like his big sister’s.

When we find them – a pair of sparkly gold slippers with fluffy white bows – I wait for the sales assistant to say something. She does double-check that they are actually for him, but then appears to swallow her objection and smiles nervously. I breathe a sigh of relief. He has a lifetime to deal with the weight of other people’s gender issues; he doesn’t need to hear them now.

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The government vs the environment: lawfare in Australia

The good people at The Conversation asked me to write an article about the government’s proposed changes to the EPBC Act after the success of the litigation against the Adani Coal mine:

A key feature of authoritarianism is that the government is above the law – it is not accountable to the people for its actions. In contrast, under a democratic system, the rule of law means that the government is constrained by law and can be held accountable by the people. Continue reading

‘Think of the children’ – and other spurious arguments against marriage equality

I was nine when it happened. Mum introduced my brother and I to her girlfriend and told us that she was going to move in. I remember the feeling I had in my stomach. It churned. I felt sick.

‘Lesbian’ was the worst insult in Year 4. It tarnished you. It made you dirty; disgusting.

I kept my mother’s sexuality a secret. It was a shameful burden that isolated me. I avoided inviting people over to my house. I tried not to talk about home.

That’s the power of stigma. It needs no rational basis. It just is and it sucks.

Spurious arguments against marriage equality are grounded in stigma and they serve to entrench the discrimination against same-sex attracted (or LGBTI) people and to legitimise its extension into so many areas of life.

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Byron Bay Writers Festival – Day Two

Let me just admit from the outset that I didn’t see Julia Gillard. I realised early that if I wanted to get a spot in her session then I would basically have to plan my whole day around it. I considered doing this, but in the end I decided to take advantage of the relatively smaller crowds elsewhere and enjoy the rest of the festival.

So, first up I checked out the local authors at the ‘Meet the Locals’ panel. I enjoyed hearing more from Emma Ashmere and Eden Venter, and was entertained by the fact that Lisa Walker found inspiration for her book, ‘Arkie’s Pilgrimage to the Next Big Thing‘, at the Big Prawn in Ballina. It was also lovely to see local High Schooler, Thea Shields, win the Susie Warrick Young Writers Award. She read an excerpt from her winning short story and it was beautiful writing.

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Byron Bay Writers Festival – Day One

The first day of the Byron Bay Writers Festival was gloriously clear and sunny. So, when the traffic slowed to a crawl, I abandoned my car (legally) and walked the final 500m to the festival gates.

I decided to attended ‘The Appeal of War’ for my first session solely to see Sally Sara, but actually the whole panel was fascinating (despite my ambivalence about the topic). The Chair, Mick O’Regan, joked that it was an odd topic for the Northern Rivers and that he was surprised by the strong turn out. He then proceeded to interrogate the panel on the affects of war on people and cultures, and on the way that the effects of war can echo throughout lives. Sally Sara talked about her confronting experiences of reporting from the front line in Afghanistan, while Mark Dapin talked about his interviews with over 150 Vietnam War Vets. It was interesting to hear that for many returned servicemen the war was basically the highlight of their lives.

Mark Dapin, Gregory Day, Sally Sara & Mick O'Regan

Mark Dapin, Gregory Day, Sally Sara & Mick O’Regan

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Brandis’ vision for human rights in Australia

This post was originally published on Larvatus Prodeo.

Before the election, the Human Rights Law Centre asked Mark Dreyfus, Penny Wright and George Brandis to each write a short article outlining their visions and priorities for human rights and justice in Australia. Now that Brandis has become our Attorney-General, it’s worth examining what he said in his piece.

The title of Brandis’ article, ‘Reclaiming human rights from the fury of ideologues‘, tells us a lot about his approach to the issue of human rights. He sees it as an explicitly ideological contest. Brandis starts off by complaining that, ‘the [current] discussion of human rights issues has been both narrow and one sided. The very term “human rights” has been appropriated by the Left, as if human rights advocacy were a left-wing cause.’ Then he proceeds to outline a frighteningly ‘narrow, one sided’ and conservative vision for human rights under his watch.

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Feminism and the terrifying dependency of children

For Australian women of my generation, many issues of structural gender inequality can seem far removed from their daily experiences and, thus, difficult to relate to. Many civil rights, which were only recently (and only partially) achieved, are easily taken for granted when you have grown up assuming access to them. For this reason, it is not uncommon for women to feel shocked when confronted the ongoing reality of structural inequality when they become mothers and they suddenly find themselves falling into gendered roles and suffering from gendered disadvantage as a result. Given this fact, it is a shame that the dominant form of feminism in Australia – liberal feminism – does not deal particularly well with the structural inequalities faced by mothers.

Liberal feminism has failed to adequately respond to the realities of motherhood, because it has primarily focused on helping women to overcome their historic status as second-class citizens by becoming independent. This vision of equality has led to the struggle for a range of positive measures for women, including:

  • the rights to education, to work and to receive equal pay;
  • the right own property;
  • the right to participate in public life by voting and running for political office; and
  • the right to bodily autonomy, including the right to refuse to consent to sex and to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

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In defence of mummy blogging

This post was originally published at Larvatus Prodeo.

Six years ago I stopped blogging here at LP because I became a mother for the first time and suddenly the style of discourse that dominated here became jarring. Newly immersed into the constant and somewhat shocking demands of motherhood, I found it impossible to engage in the combative debates that were par for the course here at LP. So I retired to my personal blog, which rapidly morphed into what is now so charmingly described as a ‘mummy blog.’

On a personal level this so-called ‘mummy blog’ of mine did a lot for me. It helped me to connect to other people (mostly women, it must be said) who were experiencing the transition into parenthood in similar ways to me. It helped me to fight off the crushing isolation of the early months of my daughter’s life, when I knew so few other young parents and had few reasons to leave the house. It also helped me to gain confidence in my own approach to mothering, and to discover that what I was experiencing was quite normal and would get easier with time. For me these benefits were an absolute lifeline and I shudder to think of how I would have coped with out them.

However, so-called ‘mummy blogging’ is not a purely personal endeavour. Despite the gleeful mocking of ‘serious bloggers’ and ‘hilarious male columnists’ the issues explored by ‘mummy bloggers’ are often highly political. For many women of my generation, motherhood is a time when we are confronted with the full force of patriarchy and the seemingly insurmountable challenge of maintaining equality in our relationships, let alone within society, after becoming mothers. The shift in dynamics begins with the vulnerability of pregnancy, when our bodies suddenly seem to become public property and we are thrust into a medical system that strips us of our rights and treats as like children. It continues as many of us take time away from the paid workforce to care for our children and find the dynamics of our relationships changing as a result. For those of us who breastfeed, the public desire to control our bodies rolls over from pregnancy and continues with the ever-helpful social pressure to breastfeed our babies for the arbitrarily determined length of time that Western culture sees as necessary, while ensuring at all times that we do it in a manner than inconveniences and (most importantly) offends no-one (i.e. at home).

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Because the water is life

This is an article that I wrote for the Human rights defender in 2008. I am reprinting it here now, because I think it is relevant to what is going on right now in South Africa. All over the country people are protesting the way that the government has gone about providing (or not providing) basic services. The forced installation of prepaid water meters into Soweto is just one example of the autocratic approach that has characterised much of the delivery. Sincethe publication of this article the Constitutional Court handed down its decision in Mazibuko and found in favour of the City of Johannesburg – i.e. that Operation Gcin’amanzi was not a violation of the human right to water. This is one of the central topics of my PhD thesis.


When I arrived at her house, Jennifer Makoatsane and her daughter were sitting in their dusty courtyard washing clothes. Jennifer is a key member of a grassroots campaign working to rid Phiri (a section of the Soweto township on the edge of Johannesburg in South Africa) of prepaid water meters installed by the government-owned water company.

I went to Phiri to speak to Jennifer and her community about the impact the meters are having on their lives and the washing seemed a natural place to start. Small buckets crammed full of clothes and bedding crowded the tiny space. While we spoke, Jennifer’s daughter continued scrubbing the clothes carefully so as not to waste a single drop of precious water.

‘We used to rinse under running water so that clothes can get rinsed properly. But now it becomes difficult,’[1] Jennifer said, lifting some clothes out of a tub so I could see how dirty the rinse water had become.

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