talking #refugees

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Zonta Club of Perth‘s Cultural Awareness Day. The day was aimed to ‘foster empathy, friendship and an enhanced understanding of the lives of women that come to Australia as refugees’ but I was there to talk about stories from CASE for Refugees. The stories from the other ladies, though: WOW.

I gasped and bawled.

Catrina Hoang showed us photos from her amazing book Boat People: Personal Stories From the Vietnamese Exodus 1975-1996

She made a pretty important point which is rather relevant to the current issues we’re having here, and that was that asylum seekers do not get into rickety boats and risk death on the high seas for a better life. They are doing it for life. Just life. They risk it all for life. Full stop.

Pretty powerful stuff.

One of things I think is really important in the whole debate about refugees is the fact that so few people really understand why asylum seekers leave their countries. This problem is only magnified but the offshore-processing system where asylum seekers are ‘out of sight & out of mind’ in remote locales around Australia, most often behind razor wire.

All these programs and policies that keep these incredibly vulnerable people isolated from our community (and away from services that they often desperately need) are aimed at appeasing sections of the electorate who are (allegedly) anxious about boat arrivals.

The thing is: people who understand the issues and the stories and the reasons why they have left their homeland are not anxious about the small percentage of asylum seekers that arrive here by boat. Just as no-one (at all!) fears the majority of applicants for protection visas that come here on tourist visas or as students or workers.

That’s why the event today sharing stories and discussing the issues was so heartening.

Speaking of debates and discussions – the Law Society of WA’s Young Lawyers Committee are holding a panel on the asylum seeker debate during Law Week featuring:

  • Senator Michaelia Cash, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration;
  • Robert Lindsay, Barrister-at-Law, Sir Lawrence Jackson Chambers;
  • Paul Murray, Radio Host, 6PR and former Editor, The West Australian; and
  • me!


The Young Lawyers Committee asked CASE, who were like “Oh. Well Sunili’s a Young Lawyer. Done.”

The deets are:

Date: Thursday, 19 May 2011
Time: 6pm to 7.30pm
Venue: The Law Society of Western Australia
Level 4, 89 St Georges Terrace, Perth
Cost: Free (bookings essential)
RSVP: Email by Wednesday, 18 May 2011

[PDF flyer]

I promise I will try not to get too shouty / ranty at Sentatorer Cash and P-Muz.

This event will foster empathy, friendship and an enhanced understanding of the lives of women that come to Australia as refugees

two decades too long #deathsincustody

The report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was released in April 1991.  In the 20 years since the Royal Commission’s 339 recommendations were handed down, 269 of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters have died while incarcerated.

Along with the deaths in Australia’s immigration detention centres, this loss of life strikes at the heart of any claim we have to be a decent, humane society.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA and the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee of WA are holding a public event in Perth on Friday 15 April to mark the anniversary and to demand change – please see here for details.

Image: Indymedia.

Zimbabwean law lecturer faces death penalty for #Egypt lessons

Munyaradzi Gwisai is a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe who has been charged with treason. The government is saying he showed internet videos about the democracy struggle in Egypt to his students. If convicted he faces the death penalty.

While he has been released on bail pending his next court appearance on 20 April, Gwisai testified at an earlier hearing that he and other accused were brutally tortured after their arrest by state security agents.

An event organised by Adele Carles MLA, Melissa Parke MP and Senator Scott Ludlam at the Fremantle Town Hall this week will call for the rule of law and freedom to be restored in Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, 20 April at 7pm.


I’m just about to start up fourth week at my Dream Job: I’m in the Civil branch at Legal Aid WA and I’m working on a whole range of things from Legal Advice Bureaus and Criminal Injuries Compensation claims to assisting asylum seekers in detention centres get through the hoops DIAC makes them jump through to ‘prove’ that they are genuine refugees.

Because, you know, people who come here on boats are sneakily trying to slip in through the ‘back door’ and jump those sensible and orderly ‘queues’ that exist in war-torn countries MIGHT ACTUALLY BE NASTY FOLK WHO ENJOY EXTREME ADVENTURE HOLIDAYS RIGHT ZOMFG INTERROBANG

The thing that pisses me off the most about the whole dog-whistle ‘debate’ we’re having is that asylum seekers and refugees are talked about, trollumnised on, statistified.  They are made into unhumans.

DIAC’s motto is “People: our business”.  But it hardly feels like that. My clients each have SEVERAL reference numbers that we need to note on all our correspondence – a client ID, a file number, an application ID, boat ID… Their name (sadly) isn’t enough. The government refers to asylum seekers who arrive by boat as ‘Irregular Maritime Arrivals”.  A friend of mine pointed out that it makes these people sound like packages that have been lost in the post.

Rarely do we talk to them or listen to their stories and see them as real men, women and (sadly) children – with hopes and (sadly) many fears and dreams and families.

In my volunteering work at CASE for Refugees and now with LAWA all I do is listening to real stories from real people who have had experiences our subconsciousness couldn’t even process to turn into nightmares.

When Ruddock said recently that unaccompanied minors are coming here as part of a dodgy immigration racket, I just wanted to jump up and down and point to my high-school-aged client whose father and older brother were murdered before they had to flee their homeland. My client’s mother didn’t come with them on the trip here because she stayed with my client’s younger siblings, who couldn’t make such a journey.

If helping that kid to avoid growing up in a war-zone and letting him have a chance to go to school and is a racket, I am damn proud to call myself a gangster.

As Omar Little wisely said on The Wire:

“I’ll do what I can to help y’all. But, the game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple.”

Now. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’re totally wishing that they could help, but bemoaning that they can’t because they are not human rights lawyers like me.  (OMFG. I really am a human rights lawyer now, aren’t I? SQUEE-EFFING-SQUEE, MUTHAZ!!! I MADE IT!!!)

OK: NEWSFLASH! Human rights lawyers only do a teeny-tiny part of this game. We’re just like, the little hoppers on them corners, yo.

The best thing about this here game, is that it’s really easy to play and all’a y’all can be soldiers, aight?

Everyone, every single one of us, all of you peeps at the other end of the internets, no matter what your job, your income, your age, WHAT THE EFF EVER, can take part in supporting asylum-seekers and helping to change a conversation that has been trolling our “lucky” country for far too long.


Talk to your friends about asylum seekers. Request your own “Change the conversation” booklet from Amnesty by emailing your name and postal address to or check out ASRC’s factsheets (summary; big booklet).

Check out ASCI for info on how you can be involved in the Christmas Island Letter Writing Project.

Donate to Dictionaries for DetaineesRefugee Rights Action Network‘s TOTES ORSM project getting bilingual dictionaries into detention centres to help asylum-seekers and refugees learn  English while they’re waiting for their applications to get processed.

Get involved with ChilOut – a not-for-profit community group of Australians who are concerned with the plight of children held in immigration detention.

Perth Peeps can:

In Melbourne and Victoria, the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre does a PHENOMENAL amount of amazing things. Also, their CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM has got a show on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival called ‘The Hateful Humanitarian’ and all proceeds are going to ASRC. Check them out on the Twitters, too, they tweet good and stuff.

And lastly — for the wanna-be hoppers out there: lawyers and law-student types can volunteer with

NB: If there are more you know of that I don’t (I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING YOU KNOW!) please leave a note in the comments and I will update this list.

Awesome tweep Tony Thorpe reminded us the other night:

“None of us can do everything. All of us can do something. Together we can do a lot.”

And a quick message to all them haters out there: GAME ON, MOLES – we’re coming to talk to you politely and sensibly about Teh Boats and stuff over a cuppa. If you’re nice, we might even give you an ANZAC biccie.


teh day of teh wimins #IWD

This is a great quote from a 19-year-old protesting in Tahrir Square earlier this year that was in Foreign Policy recently:

‘There are no differences between men and women here … We are all one hand.’

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  Yes, that’s right.  We’ve been fighting for equity and celebrating  incremental achievements for a century.

And as we cover our Twitter profile images with purple Twibbons and go to fancy breakfasts and muse on the insightful (cough) comments made on last night’s IWD-themed Q&A, it occurred to me how important it is that the fight for equity and the celebration of achievements shouldn’t happen on just one day a year.  It’s like Valentine’s Day, I reckon — if you’re into the lovey dovey stuff, shouldn’t you celebrate it every day?

Is it because of the F-word?

While I didn’t watch more than 3 minutes of Q& A last night, but I did see my favourite Conservatroll make reference to a straw-poll from which she concluded that ‘young girls are not finding feminism attractive’.

Even if Aunty Jan is right there, I wonder if maybe that could be the case because Tories like her, whose voices are somehow louder and get more airtime, continue to suggest that women and men ARE on equal footing and that women are ‘opting out’ of high-flying careers/board positions because they want to.

‘Feminists’, meanwhile, are painted as being out of touch (and unattractive?) and whining about issues that aren’t problems any more.

Here’s the thing, right: the facts and the stats speak for themselves, but Kate Ellis said it pretty well last night:

… on your question about why are the numbers so low, what’s stopping women, frankly I think it’s not that we need to stick with merit based appointments. We don’t have merit based appointments. If you think we do then you’re effectively saying that there aren’t more than 8.4 per of women out there with merit, which I think is rubbish.

I’m not going to get into the arguments about the structural issues that lead to women to ‘choosing’ to quit their jobs and drop out of the pipeline to leadership positions or the fact that in 2011 our national ‘broadsheet’ splashes on their front page that the Premier of Tasmania is (shock horror) single, or how this country’s Paid ‘Parental’ Leave policy is aimed at letting mother’s bond with their children and forgets that men can be parents too.

I just want to say that there is nothing wrong with being a feminist.

There is nothing hideous with wanting equity and thinking it’s OK for girls to have the same opportunities as boys.

There is nothing uncool about these boys from Sydney Boys High School who’re championing gender equality among themselves.

What IS wrong is that Hillary Clinton was told she could never be a trial lawyer because she didn’t have a wife.

What IS hideous is that in some countries girls in their teens have no choice other than to drop out of school and let go of their dreams because their parents are dead, missing, or too poor to look after them so they have to get married.

What IS uncool is that if the Coalition was in charge at the moment, dads who wanted to stay at home with their kids would get their ‘parental’ leave entitlements  paid out at the mum’s salary, which would probably be lower because men get paid more than women do.

I adore this quote from Jezabel on the ‘lack’ of female comedians being chosen for SXSW:

You can blame women for not coming out in droves to attack a system that constantly undermines them and their talent or you can change the fucking system.

As I pointed out in my whinge about gender-roles on the ABC’s Unleashed last month, both women and men (as the Sydney Boys know) need to work together if we’re ever going to get close to gender equality.

Annabel Crabb has a great post on The Drum today that makes me want to cheer and clap:

I think it’s a pity that lots of fathers who would love to have more time with their children feel they can’t ask, because of some mad workplace culture that confines them in some atavistic hunter gatherer mind-set.

I think it’s a pity that when we think about women and work, it’s often about how we can do more work at work, when the other half of the equation – how better to share the work at home – is still so unresolved.

“Choose your spouse wisely,” is what Pru Goward once told me, when dispensing – as she still does – advice on how to “do” family and career.

Can I get a ‘hell yes’?

I worked with a Senior Associate whose husband quit his job to take their gorgeous baby girl to swimming lessons and play groups. HELL YES.  And as I’m getting older I’m realising that I’m at that stage were lots of my friends are settling down, getting married, and having little people.  Turns out that I know heaps of awesome young couples who are working together to raise their kids. MORE HELL YES.

Gender equity isn’t something that just benefits women. It benefits everyone in our community, and communities around the world.  And that’s why everyone in our community needs to work together to get there.


I finished up at The Firm just before Christmas and commenced my ‘career break’, in which I go off to do fun and magical things, and the #summerofsunili has been rather epic.

A few things to mention:

  • I wrote an article for ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ about the United Nation’s review of Australia’s human rights record (and will writing a follow up for New Matilda about the outcome of the review).
  • Last weekend I got a little offended that someone said on newsdotboodoau that Gen Y women have no ‘female skills’ and sent off a missive to ‘Unleashed’ about how Gen Y women are actually, like, totally awesome – which received some interesting feedback.
  • The WA Chapter of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights is getting off the ground and I’m helping to set up all the interwebs stuff.
  • My work on the board at CASE for Refugees is going well, but it’s nowhere as interesting as the volunteer work I’m still doing with them.
  • I was selected to be in the ‘recruitment pool’ for Legal Aid WA, which means they’ll call me when they get funding for a position.
  • Today Geordie Guy said he reckons I should be on Q&A #insteadofdevany, and put me on the same suggestion-list as Prof Larissa Behrendt, who was nominated for Australian of The Year, as well as a whole bunch of amazing people, which is an absolutely delightful compliment.
  • And I had a reeeeeeeally interesting request from someone asking if I’d done much public speaking and if any was recorded and if I could please send them something , so I sent them a link to a video I am in speaking about depression in the legal profession, so they’re going to get back to me next week (#vaguebulletpointisvague).

Also on a fun-factor I did Raw Comedy again and followed it up with some open-mic stuff which was super-fun and I’m going to do it again. Hoorays!

Whew. Maybe I might get some sleep now?


I’m having too much fun!

The one about loving weekends [work]

Wow, I sure need to brush of some cobwebs around here.

What up, team?

My first two months of work at The Firm had simply zoomed by. Time flies when you’re having fun, right?

I’m in the Litigation team, and we’ve been run off our feet with insolvency matters.  I’ve even been given smaller, less complicated matters to open and run myself because there just aren’t enough warm bodies around to deal with all the work!

So from a work-experience perspective, this economic crisis has been amazing 😛

We’ve had a salary freeze, like most of the other firms in town, but since I’ve only had 2 paychecks (we get paid monthly) that reeeeeally doesn’t bother me.

I haven’t been blogging because the last thing I want to do when I get home from 10 hours at the office is turn on my laptop, and the weekends have also been computer-free zones.

But I’ve tried to Twitter as much as I can so follow me!  It’s totally mainstream now, so I don’t know how long it’ll last… stay tuned while you can 😛


The one about my first job [life lessons]

Tomorrow is the last day of my first job out of university.

And boy, was it ever a case of “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times“!

There were definitely some exasperated Fb status updates for quite a solid period of time in the last year.  I was working long hours, holed up in a beige cubicle that had no sunlight, no air-con (seriously, we had to order pedestal fans. How retro) and no love. My boss, who’d been working on this bitch of a case for like, half a decade, was about a million times more frustrated than I was, and that rubbed off on me too.  The stress was chronic and contagious.  My co-worker and I were not getting along.  I’d been told I’d be there for 6 weeks, tops, and that I’d get to return to the fun stuff straight after.  Everyone else seemed to be having a GREAT time.  I was miserable.

But despite all that, I am still so grateful I had the chance to do what I did.

First of all, I did it. I survived. I learned a HECK OF A LOT, and not just in terms of the Work-work, either:

  • I learned about how I deal with stress (and, subsequently, how I can change things to make it better);
  • I learned patience;
  • I learned about the impact of hope (things got SO much better when we could see the light at the end of the tunnel; even though we were still miles and miles underground); and
  • I learned that even when things seem their worst, it’s probably not going to effing kill you, so [have a bit of a whinge if you must, then] get the eff over it.

I also learned a heap about grammar and proofreading (although you might not always see the impact of that on this blog…) — most of what I did involved proofreading the largest legal judgment so far handed down in this country (if you happen to find mistakes in it: STFU. You try doing it for 8 months and see if you don’t miss anything) — and met someone whom [shit: who?] I look up to in so many ways and who[m] I will forever idolise as a mentor in my career and life in general.

Oh, and, I also had the opportunity to work with one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the judiciary.  His Honour had the most amazing capacity for knowing the tiniest details about the most mammoth (and horrible) litigation imaginable (for example, facts that occurred over a span of some two decades, two decades ago) as well as the capacity to explain the most complex applications of legal principle in such a clear and effortless way.  Just being able to listen while he spoke and read what he wrote was my honour.

Then, once I emerged from that part of the year, things got exponentially better.  I can’t express how amazing the last three months have been, and what a joy it has been.  I’ve learned SO EFFING MUCH about law and writing and a bunch of other things.  Plus I have been able to work with the most wonderful colleagues who are each incredibly brilliant in their own way.  I am going to miss them incredibly but I also feel thrilled knowing we’ll always stay friends.

Gods. This is such a lame, soppy entry. I’m going to stop now.