The High Court of Australia has a Vimeo account!

No, really. I’m not kidding. They’ve had one since 1 October 2013. And it reveals so much.

Frame 1 ~ Web Design

The High Court uses its Vimeo account to host audio-visual recordings of its Canberra hearings.  The most recent recording is of a case called Grajewski v DPP, which took place two days ago (12 October 2018). The video is stored at the following URL.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/294701727

sorry this video cannot be playedBut that link won’t work. The High Court isn’t quite ready to brave the storm of angry internet comments just yet. So the two-hour Vimeo clip is actually embedded on the High Court website, accessible here:

http://www.hcourt.gov.au/cases/cases-av/av-2018-10-12hca av recordings cover photo

 

Can we just take a moment to marvel at this? I mean, it looks like a PowerPoint presentation made by a Year 4 kid. And it’s hosted on Vimeo! (I’m too scared of the Terms of Use to actually paste an image from the hearing, but I encourage you to click through and have a look!)

If they wanted to, the High Court could have easily hosted these videos on their own website. But that would have required more bandwidth on their end. Instead, they’ve used Vimeo – a private, third party, multinational corporation based in the US, and blocked in China and Indonesia. Have they no dignity?

The High Court’s website is similarly cute. It looks like something out of 2005. hca accessibility

Notice the highlighted text in the top-left corner. The text is the same colour as the background (for the curious, that colour is #ae9566). If you were browsing the page normally, you wouldn’t see it. It’s there to help people with impaired vision, who are using screen readers to browse the internet. But it’s such a primitive solution! Other government websites, working under the same Disability Discrimination Act requirements, have managed to look far more elegant.

You can talk all you like about sovereignty, jurisdiction and Chapter 3 of the Constitution, but the website and the video undermine it all. When all’s said and done, the High Court of Australia is just 7 people in a room who don’t have the budget to hire a designer.

Frame 2 ~ Mooting

Looking at actual High Court hearings, it seems that there isn’t actually much difference between what law students do in mooting, and what barristers do before the High Court.

For a start, I have to commend the person who made the UNSW Mooting Submissions Template. The formatting looks awfully similar to Grajewski’s submissions – size 12 Times New Roman font, 1.5 spacing, numbered paragraphs, footnotes, party names in bold capital letters aligned to the right…

The principal difference, to my ear, is that mooting is actually much more condensed and well-prepared than High Court hearings. The pace of speech in the High Court is glacial.

In responding to questions, barristers too give the heretical response, “I’ll address that later on in my submissions”. Barristers wave their hands about. They stumble and they hesitate. They lapse into the vernacular. And they don’t do formal citation. The only excuse I can think of is that two hours is a long time to talk.

Frame 3 ~ The Law in Action

Bear with me. I’ll go through the case in the video above, of Paul Grajewski.

Section 195 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) says “a person who intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages property…is liable to imprisonment for 5 years”.

Paul Grajewski climbed some stairs onto a coal loader as part of a protest, and refused to come down. He didn’t cause any physical damage to the machine. The machine operator stopped the coal loader so that Grajewski wouldn’t die. Police charged Grajewski for damaging property under section 195. Well, that certainly makes sense!

Somehow the NSW Court of Appeal decided unanimously that this did make sense, and upheld the conviction. But our protestor appealed. So the NSW Crown Advocate, David Kell, was left with the unenviable task of telling five High Court judges that damage doesn’t require damage. Kell is the barrister talking in the last 80 minutes of the video.

According to Kell, the case law adds two glosses on the meaning of ‘damage’:

  1. ‘rendered imperfect’
  2. ‘impairment of usefulness or function’

It’s essentially about drawing lines, relying on facts of past cases. Everyone agrees that throwing a stick into the gears of a machine is damaging the machine. But he goes further.

If dumping soil on a block of land slated for development is damage, then perhaps protestors lying on that land is also damage. If pouring petrol into a house is damage (because it makes the house unusable until the vapours disappear), then we might have some rule that damage is about usability.

This is crucial. If we accept these two things, then we might be able to say that a protestor getting onto a bulldozer and refusing to come down, is damage.

David Kell, the prosecutor, tried to frame his case closely to the existing law, using the language of ‘usability’. But that’s a bit dodgy – because, as Justice Geoffrey Nettle noticed, it involves sneaking in the personal safety of the protestor as a consideration in whether the machine can be operated.

We’ll find out the High Court’s decision in 3 days – on Wednesday 17th October, at 9:30am.

Conclusion

The architecture of the High Court is pretty. And the people are smart. But it’s not flawless. Indeed, anyone can see the flaws.

Above all, it shouldn’t be intimidating.

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I can’t deal with it all… who can?

Writing used to be therapeutic for me, I think.

But there are all the trappings, the requirement of professionalism, of consistent posting, of a consistent tone, be it anger or cynicism or majesty. But the tone can’t be sadness – who wants to read sadness? I can’t hold it together any more.

Exhibit A ~

Never get high on your own supply, as they say of social media content creators. Or, as others say, there’s too much news this week. Geoffrey Watson SC appeared on 7:30 tonight to rail against Nauru’s practice blocking air ambulances from evacuating children with resignation syndrome, in defiance of Australian Federal Court orders.

I’ve followed this story for weeks. I know all the details, I’ve read and re-read the news articles down to the profile of the presiding judge in order to package and caption them for social media. I’ve adopted this kind of laissez-faire attitude towards it all: of course Australia’s immigration policy is built on torture, they’re following the electorate, I’m an apolitical observer. I just follow the clicks, and it seems that “angry friends of asylum seekers form one of [our] largest constituencies“.

Am I to believe this exposure to human misery hasn’t affected me? Would it be distastefully fragile of me to suggest that it had? I don’t know the answer to either.

Exhibit B ~

The UNSW Law Journal exists; some of my fellow students are on the board. I didn’t apply for it because I’m buggering off overseas in 2019. It’s been recommended to me; it’s the kind of thing I might enjoy; you get to have drinks in the function room of a law firm every few months, in return for assiduous proofreading of journal articles written by academics too lazy to do the editing work themselves.

No doubt it looks good on a CV. And the journal articles are genuinely quite good – since the UNSW Law Faculty has a (well-deserved) reputation for social justice, the Journal tends to attract academics interested in those issues. And of course, since many of them teach, so there are often pedagogical reflections as well.

But silence all that, and take your opportunity to have an afternoon chat with some weary corporate lawyers. Pretend to be interested in the speaker, sit still and quiet your boredom for an hour and a half. These suits don’t want to talk politics at the end of a long day; no, take an interest in fine wines or nice shoes, and chat with them about these newfound hobbies of yours. That’s what networking means, after all.

Exhibit C ~

Ah, but I can’t defame anyone, and I should refine my title and opening paragraph, and make a nice header image; and I really should move from WordPress.com to the real WordPress and a proper domain. But there is a distinct utility in user-friendly services like WordPress.com. Migrating this site would take time, effort and money.

Is there a large demand for phone apps in the legal profession, I wonder? Is that the niche I’m now to be relegated to, the hard-working Asian techie with glasses? I do rather enjoy it, to be fair. It’s nice to have a niche; it’s nice to belong. But the grass is always greener…

I’ve probably got about 10k words worth of reflection sitting on my laptop, containing all the built-up drama and angst of the past year. Leadership, society exec, organisation… all of it utterly unpublishable. There are relationships to preserve…

I suppose my ‘writing’ of late has been an exercise in accountability. ‘This is what was said’, ‘this is what ought to have been said’, ‘this is how I feel’, ‘this is why I feel this way’. It is virtually ten thousand words of memo-writing, and I write it knowing that it can never be seen. Maybe that’s why I haven’t found writing therapeutic.

I know how Arc works. Their job ads (which closed yesterday, and which I unfortunately neglected to archive) were a phenomenal source of information. The managing editor of Tharunka magazine gets paid $1300 per issue, for eight issues through the year. From memory, Clubs and Grants Officers get paid $25 an hour.

There’s a line in the Clubs Equipment Bookings form about requiring permission from UNSW Hospitality for multiple table bookings; this (as I found out from a lovely woman called Lilian) is a lie. The Arc Clubs Model Constitution has about 6 errors in it; do these people not have spellcheck?

Every executive team falls to pieces eventually. Without exception. University students always profess to hate groupwork because people are flaky, but that dynamic is present everywhere. It is present among high school teachers organising a conference. It will be present in the workplace. The only relevant question is how well you deal with it when it all falls to pieces – and that is the sole reason why these experiences are valuable.

I no longer want power. I’m now a slave, I’m a hack, I’ve seen it all, I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve looked over, and I have found it barren.

Just give me instructions and tell me what to do. I don’t want to stress over outcomes. I want to confine my purview within strict bounds, and concern myself with the minutiae of procedural matters, and blame all the rest on someone else.

A friend once told me that despite all the chaos behind the scenes, “some people are just there to play“. She was right. And I need to somehow become such a person again.

Fin ~

There is something wonderfully cathartic about releasing all these lines, reverberating about in my head, into my own corner of the internet. They can never be recalled, now. For that reason, I can forget them.

I need not recall them any longer.

 

PS. If you think you’re up for the challenge, FrenchSoc’s AGM is on Friday 12 October (W11). If my rant hasn’t thrown you off, then that’s all the background I need to know that you’re qualified to exec in 2019. Send an email to frenchsocietyunsw@gmail.com and come to Four Frogs in Circular Quay on the night. Details.

Facebook, Email, and the Self-Importance of Fools

Professionalism is a prime inducement to inefficiency and equivocation.

I hate it when people ask me to email them. The medium is dated and stifling. It demands a subject line, an letterhead and a sign-off. And the greater concern is that it doesn’t get checked very often. It is part of the malaise of our time that everyone is constantly on their phone. Furthermore, in order to exist at a university outside of classes, you need Facebook. Combined, these two facts ensure it will always be more efficient to get in contact with someone by Facebook than by email. And so I will.

The Liberal Party spill happened today – a fact I won’t dwell on for too long. I still can’t quite understand how anyone thought that Peter Dutton could possibly win an election. But in amongst it all, one interesting observation stood out. Once Turnbull received the 43 signatures he requested, the whips sent out a notification of a Liberal party meeting to be held at 12:20pm on Friday 24 May. That message was sent out at 12:06pm. But it was sent out using the messaging service WhatsApp. It was not sent out via email, as is the norm. Frankly, if such a medium is good enough for the government of Australia, it is good enough for me.

What is the difference between Facebook and email? Put simply, Facebook has more JavaScript. JavaScript is the language responsible for all dynamic behaviour on websites – generally speaking, anything that moves. It allows for the real-time refreshing of message boxes. It also produces notifications, with that little red icon that so desperately wants to be clicked. Compared to email, the underlying hardware is the same. It is still the internet; it is still electrical signals travelling through copper wires and Ethernet cables. The single difference in functionality is that emails must be manually refreshed.

As a result, the list of reasons to use email is rather paltry. And a cursory glance at these reasons reveals that they tend to revolve around deception. If you are a university student donning the guise of a competent employee, you might like to employ your much sought-after formal communication skills of typing the words “Dear” and “Kind regards”. But surely we have all outgrown this sort of thing. This is not formality or professionalism. It is inefficiency.

Alternatively, you might want to deceive yourself. You might want to stick your head in the sand and avoid your attention being drawn to the fact that the person whom you are communicating with can see your Facebook profile, an apt and eloquent summary of what you have been up to in the past decade. Here’s a tip – your profile is public, they’ll find it anyway.

If they are a stranger with whom communication is a privilege, there is no option but to contact them at the designated email address. But this situation only arises because, by convention, the person has deigned to advertise their email instead of their Facebook profile.

The particular app being used at any particular time will depend on the proclivities of the relevant community. Journalists like to use the messaging function on Twitter. Terrorists and politicians alike tend to like Wickr and Telegram. In the social networks of universities, it happens to be Facebook.

Of course, these issues are subverted in those developing countries where Facebook is the internet. But that is a story for another time. For now, I maintain that unless you are a MailChimp advertiser, email is a strictly inferior form of communication that under-utilises the technologies of the internet and undermines conversation.

 

Premonitions on the Upcoming NSW Labor State Conference

Several hundred metres down from the Sanctuary Hotel, that favoured watering hole of UNSW Commerce students, about 200 men and women sat in front of two projector screens in a basement.

The Labor Centre-Unity Caucus took place today, in an auditorium beneath the Trades Hall building off Sussex St in the Sydney CBD. (Facebook event) It was a gathering of the Right faction of the New South Wales Labor Party, to identify areas of contention to their delegates before their show of scripted unity before the cameras at the State Conference tomorrow. I am told these faction meetings take place regularly – but I wouldn’t know.

Addressing the crowd, the party Secretary and Great and Venerable Ruler Of All Things, Kaila Murnain, joked, “the left have so thoroughly abandoned the ideological debate that they are arguing whether the best lattes are in Surry Hills or Newtown”. That contempt, I think, encapsulates the relationship between the factions in the Australian Labor Party. Also present on the table facing the crowd was Wayne Swan, recently elected as the Right faction’s preferred candidate for party President following his departure from federal politics. Such senior figures as the Bob Carr and Tony Burke had suited up for the occasion, and were having furtive conversations on the sidelines. No doubt there were numerous state MPs, councillors and union representatives also in attendance – I spotted Jihad Dib, but I’m not yet in a position to recognise all the warriors by their faces.

That morning, the federal finance team – Bill Shorten, Chris Bowen and Jim Chalmers – had fronted the media in a park in Perth to announce a critical policy backdown. The Labor Party would no longer reverse company tax cuts for companies with a turnover between $10 million and $50 million, as Shorten had promised a week earlier. A few weeks earlier, Anthony Albanese (a stalwart of the Left) had made a speech that seemed to criticise Shorten’s approach on businesses. Addressing the crowd, Tony Burke said the media would be looking for signs of disunity and conflict, and that “we need to shut that down, we need absolutely to shut that down.” He flagged that the Left faction would attempt to bring an urgency motion on requiring Parliamentary approval for declarations of war, as is required in the US and the UK. Whilst acknowledging the policy debate that individuals in the Right were having on this issue, Burke pronounced nonetheless, “this is not the weekend to engage in that particular indulgence”.

In their totality, the policy suggestions debated at Labor Conferences sound like a wish-list of the UNSW Law Faculty. In drug reform, the Left will push pill testing and safe injecting rooms – two points on which the Right say they are still waiting for evidence, including the results of a review into pill testing at the Groove in the Moo festival in the ACT. Why, then, weren’t these professors – Luke McNamara, and so on – at the caucus? And where were all the thousands of politically engaged young people who place their stock in identity politics and social liberalism? Indeed, what about all those people in that hotel up the street? The lawmaker in this country is neither the Australian Law Reform Commission, nor the vicissitudes of social media. It is the Parliament.

bob carr book

Carr was there to flog his new memoir, ‘Run for Your Life’. $35 for a signed 300-page book – and all copies were gone by the end of the evening. I admit was surprised to see, at this Machiavellian caucus filled with red Centre-Unity banners and balloons, that pale blue UNHCR tablecloth at the door. If I had had more presence of mind, if I had been braver, I would thought to take a photograph. It turns out that the iconography was there because Carr will be donating all his author proceeds to children victims of the Syrian Civil War, through the charity ‘Australia for UNHCR’. Carr said to me that he chose that charity, over UNICEF, because Australia for UNHCR delineated concrete actions to which the funding would contribute. I hear he’ll be doing another book launch of the University of Sydney in early August.

I’ll have to end it there, it’s 11:30pm; I’m to be at Sydney Town hall at 6am to help with setting up for the conference. I confess I’m still working through what it means for something to be off-the-record. I haven’t yet figured out what information, gleaned from conversation, is admissible, and what will turn a rickety wooden bridge into a matchstick inferno. Funny, isn’t it, how Bob Carr can write about how Paul Keating once said to him, “Listen, Robbie, journalism is a rat-shit profession. You’ll be coming down here, feeding off the Labor Party, all your sources will be in the Labor Party, you’ll have none in the Coalition.” (p. 35) Apparently, Carr also made a stir by revealing Malcolm Turnbull’s desire to become the Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union!

But, as ever, I haven’t read up to that bit yet.