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Good intentions: not always good outcomes

By Roger Smith - posted Monday, 20 August 2007

Just over 50 years ago, a strong and fair-minded young black woman named Rosa Parks started what was to become one of the 20th century’s most celebrated movements. She defended the right of a black woman to make use of public buses on the same basis as whites.

From little things big things grow. Within months, Montgomery, Alabama was in the grip of a boycott of the city’s bus system by negro residents. The US civil rights movement was born. Rosa Parks, through a single assertion of her public transport rights had created the seeds for events that were to send shockwaves across America, and indeed, around the world. Today, no black man or woman in the United States is denied a seat in a designated area of a public transport system because of their race.

Fifty years after Rosa Parks’ act of defiance, however, it is not the right to access public property by virtue of paying our taxes that is in doubt. What of the right to peaceful use and enjoyment of private property? This is property over which no public right or privilege vests. It would be fair to say that if citizens were to purchase a house and land through the fruits of their own labour and to acquire an ordinary Torrens system fee simple interest under the common law, no other party would be entitled to evict him or her without compensation on just terms. But this is not the law in Australia.


Consider this situation. A young Australian engineer Frank (not his real name) elects to work in the oil industry in the South China Sea. He works hard for many years in tough conditions that many would refuse to accept. Through the fruit of his labour, he is able to purchase a house and land back in Australia and pay most of it off within the first five years - thus achieving the great Australian dream. Only one thing is missing - he has no one to share it with.

In his all-too-infrequent time off, Frank enjoys leave in a nearby Asian country. There he meets a beautiful and seductive woman named Sri (not her real name) who befriends him. Frank is smitten by this mysterious woman of the East despite some reservations he has about her lies to him and refusal to discuss how their married life will play out. In fact, Frank and Sri do marry. Being somewhat naïve, Frank fails to realise that Sri’s motives were not as pure as he had hoped.

Soon they are living in Australia. But Sri does not want to work. She also does not want to do any housework. Sri exercises, what to a Westerner is unbelievably manipulative behaviour. Each time Frank objects to one of her wishes, she throws a tear tantrum, refuses to speak to Frank for two days at a time and withdraws all co-operation from the household until he complies.

Soon Frank is, in effect, Sri’s complete slave. He does all the paid work since Sri refuses to get a job and also does virtually all the housework except the cooking. If he refuses or complains to Sri about her behaviour, she withdraws co-operation from the marriage and accuses Frank of having insulted her.

After two years, this pattern of behaviour has become set. They have one child. Sri has now secured her real agenda of gaining permanent residency in Australia and is well on the way to securing property and wealth that would have been beyond her wildest dreams back in the slums of her country.

If Frank withdraws from the abusive relationship, he can, but only based on renouncing his marriage vows and giving a huge share of his wealth to Sri. Therefore, he continues to follow the advice of others to give Sri whatever she wants hoping that it will make her happy and their marriage secure.


But with every concession, Sri demands more and becomes even lazier refusing to do any more housework for him. Pleading with Sri for fairness and reciprocity in the marriage, Sri sneers back in contempt and eventually Frank loses his temper slapping her and telling her to leave.

Sri is an intelligent young woman, knows the system and plays it for all it is worth. Under the provisions of the Domestic Violence and Protection Orders Act 2001 applicable in the ACT where they live, Sri applies to a magistrate and promptly obtains an interim domestic violence order expelling Frank from the family home.

An interim order such as this against Frank is able to be made and successfully extended for up to four months without a requirement for hearing any evidence or argument from Frank or his lawyers.

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About the Author

Originally trained as a lawyer, Roger Smith lived in Indonesia and East Timor from 1995 to 2004 where he worked in the justice, human rights and trade union arenas.

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