ANU Legal Workshop recently sponsored the Law Institute Victoria's Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Luncheon in Melbourne.
Distinguished guests and members of the Victorian and interstate legal profession attended the prestigious event to mark the life and achievements of Dame Roma, a trailblazer for women in the legal and political sphere.
Among them were Victoria’s Governor Linda Dessau, the Hon Chief Justice Diana Bryant, the Hon Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, Law Institute Victoria CEO Nerida Wallace, Law Council Australia President Fiona McLeod SC and Victorian Bar President, Jennifer Batrouney QC.
In her opening address Dr Skye Saunders, Acting Director of ANU Legal Workshop, noted the importance of education in Dame Roma’s story.
“It was her widowed mother who, with a strong belief in tertiary education for women, put Dame Roma into a law course at the University of Adelaide,” she said.
“After graduating, of course, much of Dame Roma’s efforts were directed towards the empowerment of women and indigenous Australians, and she also went on to write two books on these topics. Today, though, it is almost impossible for us to comprehend the courage and strength of spirit which it took for Dame Roma to pioneer her challenging path of ‘firsts’.”
Dr Saunders noted that still today it takes courage and strength for people to be the first to speak out. Her own research in sexual harassment in rural workplaces – which led to her 2015 book Whispers from the Bush: The Workplace Sexual Harassment of Australian Rural Women – revealed a correlation between education levels and the preparedness for women to speak up when they are harassed.
“Whilst 85% of women with a postgraduate degree felt able to identify and report sexual harassment, a slightly higher percentage (87%) of women who had not attained a university qualification indicated that they would be disinclined to report the same behaviour,” she said.
“We simply cannot underestimate the privilege and empowerment that comes with education, particularly when it comes with the language, skills and values of the law. In the true spirit of Dame Roma’s life in law, we must make it count for others, too, by speaking truth whenever we can.”
Keynote speaker, prominent author and activist social justice and multiculturalism Tasneem Chopra, spoke about the continuing need for diversity in the legal profession and beyond.