Thursday, June 09, 2005

SNAIL Becomes Choc-a-holic

It was 8:30pm. I had decided to call it a night early after a long day of reading about other people’s legal problems. I had hardly closed my eyes when the blasted mobile rang.

“Get your ass down here! Choc’s fighting, and my brother can’t make it tonight.”

The voice was unmistakable. My friend Carter is perhaps the only Bankstown “Leb” who plays cricket. He prides himself on being skippier than the skips. But when Choc fights, Carter becomes a “brudder”.

And tonight he was determined to drag me out of my comfortable bed to watch someone I hardly had much enthusiasm for.

Anthony Mundine was a superb footballer, even if he played for the wrong team (sorry, I’m a Bulldogs supporter). But after he switched to boxing, I lost interest. Boxing is not a sport for Sensitive New-Age Industrial Lawyers (SNAILs).

I read Mundine’s sad attempt at an autobiography. I could see why it did not win him the Nobel prize for literature.

Mundine’s verbal antics also made me a bit sceptical. I’ve known Mundine’s manager (Abdullah Khoder) for over 20 years. We first met at a Muslim youth camp. “Abs” (as we like to call him) was always a bit over-the-top. Sadly, his heart of gold was often badly disguised by loud ranting.

So as I waited for the NRMA man to heat up my car, I made sure I packed my iPod. I was prepared for what I thought would be a boring night. And as I waited for Carter to bring my ticket, I saw police cars everywhere. They had their eyes firmly fixed on me.

Why me? OK, so I have tanned skin. But that has more to do with watching too many Bollywood movies and eating too many potato-filled samosas as a child. Why stare at me for?

I peered through the windows and could see people of all shades and colours running up stairs and into doors. Carter arrived and forced me to run up 2 flights of stairs with him. As I entered the packed hall, it was clear that this was not a hall ready to cheer for Mary Donaldson’s adopted country.

I had my iPod ready, and tuned it to AC/DC. As my ears were shaking all night long, I saw The Man himself floating like a butterfly across the ring. Opposite him was Mikkel Kessler, WBA super-middleweight champion.

Mundine (or “Choc”, as his family affectionately nicknamed him as a tribute to his childhood passion for chocolate) may have been floating like a butterfly, but he did not quite have the sting of a bee. By the first 4 rounds, it seemed this would be easy for Kessler.

My iPod then moved my ears onto the Baby Animals. Listening to hard rock in a crowd of thousands screaming at a boxing match has a strangely surreal feeling.

“mundine’s goin down”, I SMSed by my cousin. Like me, she’s not a huge fan of Choc. And like most nurses, she is no fan of boxing.

I must have jumped the gun because I suddenly could only see the backs of people’s heads. I switched off the iPod and stood up to see Choc giving Kessler the worst bee-stings he has probably had for years.

And it was at that moment that the entire crowd could see Choc’s huge heart placing itself at the heart of the fight. This was cardiac boxing at its best. Before long, I joined the chorus of “Go Choc! Go Choc!”.

I looked around and saw an enormously mixed crowd. This wasn’t a Country Road affair like the Rugby World Cup final. This was a night for all races and classes and sizes and nationalities.

Choc continued to fight hard. Someone sitting near me mentioned Choc’s wobbly legs. My eyes were firmly fixed on Choc’s fists and arms which had not a sign of wobble.

Choc fought to the bitter end. We cheered for him. Out of nowhere arose a Danish flag. The result was announced, much closer than we thought. Then amongst all the confusion in the ring, one man held up a familiar flag. The whole crowd cheered on the Aboriginal flag. Tonight was a night for all Australians in the crowd to experience some Black Pride.

Driving home, I turned to Stan Zemanek. He was on the phone to “Abs”, Choc’s manager. “Oh no, is this going to be other Sheik Feiz incident?”, I thought to myself. But Abs summed the situation up perfectly. “Choc fought with enormous heart. We are all so proud of him. It may seem weird to hear the manager of a defeated boxer sounding proud. But for Choc to come so close to victory shows he is a boxing hero”. Or words to that effect.

I guess the ARL will have to wait a few more years for Choc’s return. In the meantime, this reluctant SNAIL has become a confirmed choc-a-holic.

(Irfan Yusuf likes to think of himself as a Sensitive New-Age Industrial Lawyer.)

Friday, June 03, 2005

313 Words of Wisdom

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Australian Financial Review today. It follows the publication of the article that appeared on this blog concerning the near-futility of Mr Howard’s war on unfair dismissal laws. That article can now be accessed at the following location …

At the time of writing, one reader of the Online Opinion article has responded as follows:

“Two things worry me here, first of all in small business it too hard to find good employees and a long and expensive process to train them. Why on earth would a small business dismiss them unfairly? Seems a HUGE amount of red tape is created that succeeds in little but creating loopholes for expensive vexatious claims.

Secondly, I have a great fear of the government when it says it is going to "simplify" things. Our "simplfied" tax system has blown the tax act out to four times the Melbourne phone book. My Business interests now require 20 tax returns per year instead of 4. They must have a different dictionary to me.”

Anyway, this is what I had to say in the AFR …

IR's legal lode

John Howard's industrial relations package reads great on paper. But if only he had sought advice from one of Australia's great industrial counsel (who also happens to be his deputy and treasurer), the PM might have realised that closing off unfair dismissal merely opens more floodgates for common law, unfair contract and trade practices claims against employers.

And if employers and their representatives realised this, they would not be cheering so loudly. But sometimes employer unions represent their members' interests as badly as employee ones can.

Still, whoever wins in this titanic battle for industrial relations supremacy, one thing is for certain - lawyers will always win in the end.

Irfan Yusuf, Sydney Lawyers Pty Ltd, North Ryde, NSW.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

My First Textbook of Legal Practice

The law handbook - your practical guide to the law in New South Wales, edited by Vani Sripathy and Lorain Ogle, 6th edition, Redfern Legal Centre Publishing, Sydney, 1997, 1140pp, $60.

HAVING SPENT SIX YEARS AT LAW SCHOOL and then six months of torture at the College of Law, I thought I knew everything there was to know about law and legal practice. Then I started my first job as a solicitor in a general practice at Blacktown. It was sink or swim all the way. I was nervous. I sought help. I rang my uncle (also a solicitor).

After calming me down, my uncle gave me one piece of invaluable advice. He said, "If a new client comes in and asks you about an area of law you know peanuts about, always read up on it in the Law Handbook."

To this day, his advice rings true. The Redfern Legal Centre's Law Handbook is without a doubt the best cure to the jitters experienced by graduate solicitors. In fact, even the most experienced practitioner will find it useful. And with the publication of the 6th Edition, the Handbook has become even better. And it is quite current as well, with the law stated as at May 1997.

The new edition appears to be better arranged than previous editions. It is a masterpiece of plain English law, and covers just about every aspect of law as it affects the common person. Scattered throughout the text are summaries of decided cases, which are presented not as legal precedents but more as practical examples of how the law applies in real life. The arrangement of the chapters makes it extremely user friendly.

At the end of each chapter is a useful guide on helpful resources (including internet sites for surfers), as well as a comprehensive list of names and addresses of government departments and other agencies related to the area covered. This makes the book even more useful for a practitioner, combining as it does, a reference, a bibliography and an address and phone directory.

Given that the book is so useful to lawyers, how much more useful would it be to the average non-lawyer? And can you imagine its value if it were translated into common community languages such as Arabic or Vietnamese? A very expensive project, I admit. But certainly one for governments and ethnic community organisations to consider especially in these times of legal aid cutbacks and increasing complexity in the law.

But don't just take my word for it. Go out and buy one, and see for yourself. With over 75 contributors and at only $60, it's well worth the investment.

(This book review was first published in the Law Society Journal in November 1997. The Law Handbook continues to be an invaluable resource for lawyers and sensible people alike. By the time I finish formatting this article, the Handbook's 10th edition may have been released.)