Why are lawyers so expensive?

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a deputy Victorian State director of the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. The views expressed here are his own.

Everyone complains about the cost of lawyers, but few look at the cause: occupational licensing laws. Occupational licensing requires anyone who intends to become lawyer to comply with a range of requirements to practice law. These including studying a law degree that is too long, formally applying for “admission” into the profession in an unnecessary ceremony, as well as meeting cumbersome training and supervision requirements that are sometimes unnecessary. These requirements cost law students years of time and tens of thousands of dollars to comply with. The more expensive it is to become a lawyer, the fewer lawyers there will be and the more they can charge. There can be no doubt that this partly explains why lawyers are expensive.

The sheer expense of hiring a lawyer undermines the individual right to obtain legal representation. It means that hiring a competent, effective lawyer can be unaffordable for poorer members of the public. Even wealthier people may find their resources drained by legal fees. The expense of becoming a lawyer also undermines the right to pursue a career of one’s choice, especially poorer students who lack the financial support to study full-time for years and comply with red tape. Lastly, these laws reduce the quality of legal services. The fact that competent would-be lawyers are being excluded from the profession means that existing lawyers have less incentive to operate competently because they have less competition.

The problem starts with the law degree, which must include 11 “core compulsory subjects” but takes three years of full-time study to complete as a result. The degree costs about $10,000 per annum with government subsidies and more without them. Many solicitors may never encounter some of those subjects in practice. Few lawyers practice in constitutional or administrative law. Some solicitors exclusively practice in criminal law or commercial law. Only some do both. It is simply not necessary to study them all in order to practice law. Students should have the choice of studying criminal law and procedure, commercial law subjects or both. Splitting up the degree will reduce costs and create new pathways to legal practice.

But the red tape doesn’t stop there. Graduates must undertake “practical legal training” before they can practice law. They must pay several thousands of dollars to learn what they otherwise should be learning as junior lawyers. If they are not, they can take the course. The problem is that everyone is forced to take it whether or not they have learnt the basics of legal practice. Even experienced overseas barristers have been forced to undertake this training. Forcing this requirement on everyone is unnecessary and wasteful.

Formal admission ceremonies further increase costs. As of 2015, Victorian admission ceremonies alone cost $926. This is a substantial hit to the savings of many graduates. The ceremonies take place monthly, but applicants must apply months in advance to become admitted—further delaying their careers. In the meantime they are simply expected to make ends in meet.

The restrictions pile on after admission. As of 2011, would-be barristers must pass a bar exam and undertake a 2 month readers course, costing thousands of dollars in total, to practice. The exam is unnecessary: barristers typically spend hours to prepare for specific cases, and thinking up answers on the spot will not get you far in the courtroom. Moreover, the exam covers material that graduates may have just covered at university. It’s no wonder practising barristers, even junior barristers, weren’t required to sit the exam: it has nothing to do with upholding standards.

Similarly, solicitors are required to practice for two years under the supervision of another lawyer before they can do so independently—unless they are overseas, or happened to open a practice before that rule was imposed. The inconsistencies in these requirements expose both their arbitrariness and their actual purpose: keeping people out of the profession.

Running a law firm is also unnecessarily cumbersome. By law, all practitioners must obtain “practising certificates” and insurance coverage from a single government-appointed insurer. A competitive insurance field would reduce costs. On top of that, barristers must buy robes and wigs. Costumes can cost thousands. Renting chambers (if practitioners choose to do so) and paying for practising certificates and insurance every year, taken together, costs thousands more.

While there is a great deal of concern about the supposed oversupply of law graduates, the simple fact of the matter is that they are legally forbidden from working without complying with these requirements. The expense of doing so means they cannot compete with established practitioners, which brings prices up.

It is also hard to argue that these regulations protect the public, given that so many current practitioners were exempt from them when they entered into the profession.

By contrast, deregulation will help society at large—especially the poor. Legal fees are just one factor at the margin that can lead to financial insecurity. Reducing costs will help those who are financially at risk.

Nor are regulations the only way to protect the public. Lawyers’ societies could still accept, reject or expel members on the basis of reputation, skill, honesty or competence just as the regulators do now. Ratings systems and online review websites  can also serve an important role in keeping the profession honest. These measures are informative and cost effective. Lastly, in serious cases incompetent lawyers can still be sued by clients for breach of contract, just as they are today.

Those concerned about upholding the standards of the profession forget that some legal work is already competently performed by non-lawyers with knowledge of the law. Tax agents and accountants, police prosecutors, patent attorneys, and industrial advocates all provide legal representation in their chosen fields right now. Indeed there are prosperous, stable nations with reliable justice systems like Sweden and Finland in which anyone can practise law without a licence. There is no reason why Australia cannot adopt a similar system for lawyers or other trades and professions, for that matter.

The case for deregulation is clear: it empowers the poor, the public as a whole and law students. Occupational licensing laws must be repealed. The law must recognise that for many lawyers, the years of study and tens of thousands of dollars spent obtaining a licence to practice is unnecessary.

Language as the weapon of mass hysteria

Jack Ryan explores how different political parties use language to communicate to the public to garner support amongst different segments of the electorate. And the increasingly alarming tactics used by the left!

The reason Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party won the election in September 2013 was because they provided a clear alternative for government compared to the disgraceful mess of the Labor / Greens alliance. The Liberal Party with its extremely calm, cool and considered approach was hitting home runs. Labor was trying to follow this example but had clearly lost their ability to communicate effectively with the electorate. This is important to note, because due this superior communication with the electorate the Liberal party romped home! Largely off the back of Babyboomers and Gen Xers as voting blocks. However, winning office is one thing, keeping office is another. Which makes it a concern that for all the time in opposition there is an important lesson which the Liberal party failed to learn, how the convey its message to a new and emerging voter base which is commanding ever greater attention from governments. This is of course refering to Gen Y and Z, lets call them ‘the younger’. This begs the next question of ‘Why’. Why are Labor and the Greens so much better at courting the younger as a voting block? Why is the rhetoric used by the left so good at conveying its message that it grabs their attention and influences their political affiliations?

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All Quiet on the UNHRC Front


One of the most under reported stories of recent months must surely be the troubling developments at the United Nations Human Rights Council (the UNHRC – not to be confused with the UN High Commissioner of Refugees) writes Elle Hardy

Formed in 2006 from the ashes of the hamstrung and ineffective Commission on Human Rights, the body’s watery but noble aim is to “help member states meet their human rights obligations through dialogue, capacity building, and technical assistance.”

The UNHRC is the lead body within the UN for human rights. Its reports and recommendations can ultimately only be enforced by the UN Security Council. It serves three functions: to review and give recommendations on the self-reporting of human rights in all participating countries every country every four years, to promote and discuss human rights, and to report gross violations.

The Council’s great fame is its infamy: passing repeated resolutions to condemn Israel, while only expressing “deep concern” on Sudan’s genocide in Darfur (and subsequent nomination of Sudan for a seat on the Council by the African bloc), and the repeated resolutions on “defamation of religion” brought by Islamic states and backed by allies in despotism, such as Cuba, Russia, and China.

In July this year, envoys from both Syria and Iran announced that they would attempt to run for a seat in 2014. Presently, the Council is reviewing the human rights credentials for the nominations for the 47 seats by Saudi Arabia, Senegal, China, Nigeria, Mexico, Mauritius, Jordan, Malaysia, Central African Republic, Monaco, Belize, Chad, Israel, Congo and Malta.

Last week saw all but several western countries take to the floor to congratulate Saudi Arabia and China on their ‘advancements’ in the field. Farce is a too temperate word; irony too wry.

A seat on the UNHRC may be of little consequence to the enslaved women of Saudi Arabia, or the starving Congolese – but there is an ethical incumbency to prevent tyrants and megalomaniacs from possessing the faintest air of legitimacy, or a platform to espouse their bilious views.

Furthermore, if any institution with such gravitas, resources, and access is of vacuous morality, is it not conceivable that particular countries or voting blocs could use this standing to cover-up, to corrupt, or to abet further human rights violations?

Outside of right-aligned, pro-Israel groups UN Watch and Human Rights Voices, there is little reporting, let alone criticism. The silence on UNHRC from the major left-aligned organisations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has been particularly disappointing.

It must be asked whether the inherent belief in and support of the United Nations by social-democratic and progressive movements in politics, media, and civil society is informing their silence.

Their collective failure for vocal criticism of the UNHRC can be seen through three key defining planks of much of the modern left: the notion of equality, moral relativism, and environmentalism.

Belief in democracy of nations is a logical fallacy. By giving equal seats at the table and votes to countries who do not afford their citizens the same rights, the UN was flawed from inception. Such an existential right of participation is the most absurd form of collectivism.

Moral relativism defies the modern concept of human rights, which dates from the French and American revolutions – where there was universal support for the assertion that human rights both exist and are possessed equally. Strains of the apparent slur of ‘enlightenment imperialism’ pervade the UN and many of its supporters on the left.

It is essentially a front for anti-American and anti-Israel chauvinism. While both countries rightly receive criticism for their records, they are the straw men of a deeply flawed organisation.  Orwell said it best when he noted “the sin of nearly all left-wingers from 1933 onward is that they have wanted to be anti-fascist without being anti-totalitarian.”

Finally, I suspect the left has abdicated the cause in favour of fighting climate change. While many on the right also support the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is a hybrid of lionisation of the IPCC – and by extension the UN – and a siege mentality. Do they fear criticising the UN could undermine their position in the environment wars?

The only body that can enforce findings of the UNHRC is the impotent UN Security Council – of which Australia is a temporary member. It is well established that our voice on the Security Council will be inconsequential, as the power of veto by the permanent members have rendered it almost completely ineffectual. If Australia wishes to make any use of its time, both the government and human rights groups within Australia should use this platform as an opportunity to condemn the despotic cabals of the UNHRC in the strongest possible terms.

The Human Rights Council is set to review Australia’s commitment to human rights in 2015. It is certain that opponents of the government will pounce upon any criticism of our record. If such opponents do indeed have regard for the enlightenment values of human rights, it will be the height of hypocrisy if we hear scant from them beforehand.

Elle Hardy is a banker and freelance writer with an interest in liberty, politics, international affairs, and the Oxford comma. She can be found on Twitter @ellehardytweets

Centenary of the 1913 Federal Election

A couple of weeks ago on 31 May 2013 was the centenary of the 1913 federal election, which went unnoticed.  It was one of the most critical elections in Australian history and its story needs to be retold, writes John Ruddick 

Between 1901 and 1910 Australia had eight Prime Ministerships with no party having a majority in either the House or the Senate.  The backdrop to this period of political flux was the seemingly inexorable rise of Labor. 

In 1901 Labor had just 14 seats in the House (out of 75) making it the smallest of the three parliamentary parties.  In 1903 the Labor tally almost doubled to 23 and then strengthened in 1906 with 26 seats.  The election of 1910 saw Labor not only win a clear majority in the House (42) but almost two thirds of the Senate.  It was a historic victory – Labor was the first openly socialistic party to win a national election in the world.

At the following election in 1913 Labor lost office to the Commonwealth Liberal Party by a single seat.  Australia was in its formative years and the election of 1913 is arguable one of our most consequential – it embedded free enterprise but only just. 

Chris Watson served as the first Labor leader from 1901 to 1907.  During Waton’s leadership Labor held the balance of power between the two pro-business parties – the Protectionists and the Free Traders.  Watson was a Labor moderate who aimed to advance the Labor cause through trading the two other parties off against the other. 

Watson was PM for an inconsequential four months in 1904 (as a result of a parliamentary realignment, not an election) but when the two other parties patched things up he resigned.  Watson remained as Labor leader but his compromises were increasingly resented by the Labor caucus.

In 1907 Labor elected Andrew Fisher as leader.  Like many of early British Labour leaders Fisher was a devout Christian and a teetotaller and unlike today’s ‘Labor’ leaders had spent two decades actually labouring at the bottom of mines. 

Fisher’s colleagues, political opponents, the press and the public would soon admire Fisher as a man of integrity and conviction.  A contemporary noted Fisher: 

has a kind of Olympian dignity, an unruffled and quite impenetrable calm. 

Fisher was an avowed radical socialist who did not think of hiding it.  When campaigning for the leadership he told Caucus: 

it would be cowardly for the man who believes that nationalisation is a proper principle not to express his views in the House.  We have too long shrunk from maintaining propositions which we clearly believe in.

Fisher had absolute confidence that by boldly declaring socialism a majority of the public would soon agree.  He told the Labor Party conference in 1908: 

In the church, the Parliament, in the streets and newspapers all over the civilized world there are no more sneers and scorn for socialism.  Everyone has this one great question to consider: we are all socialists now and indeed the only qualification you hear from anybody is that he is ‘not an extreme socialist.

In late 1908 Labor under Fisher withdrew its support of Protectionist PM Alfred Deakin.  Such were the hostilities between the Protectionists and the Free Traders that Deakin gave his votes in parliament to support Fisher as PM. 

In this first of his three non-consecutive terms as PM, Fisher knew passing socialist legislation was impossible without a majority … so from 1908 to 1909 Fisher principally used the office of PM, not to legislate, but to travel the nation, give speeches and campaign for socialism at the upcoming 1910 election. 

He spoke of: 

soon having a sufficient number in Parliament to express our views in legislation,” and of “Australia being able to lead the world with Socialistic legislation in such a way that it would be helpful to those great countries of the world with congested populations.

Talk like this soon made the two pro-business parties put aside their differences.  The free-traders had lost the debate over tariffs and with socialism a far greater threat the two merged into the Commonwealth Liberal Party. 

It was now obvious Fisher would be removed as PM as soon as Parliament resumed so Fisher mischievously delayed recalling Parliament for as long as he could.  He extended his tour of the nation and his enthusiastic crowds grew. 

After a six month recess Parliament finally returned and Fisher was voted down as PM immediately.  Fisher asked the Governor General for an election but was denied and Deakin returned as PM.  Deakin however was by now tired and probably suffering the onset of dementia while Labor under Fisher had the momentum.

Prior to the formation of the Commonwealth Liberal Party the Protectionists had cut into the working class vote.  The new political environment of two parties (not three) played into Fisher’s hand.  The electorate had a clear choice – the workers versus the capitalists – and Labor’s primary vote leapt from 36.6% 1906 to 49.9% in 1910 making it easily Labor’s biggest ever swing. 

Fisher was Australia’s first powerful PM and he set about using that power.  An unprecedented 113 pieces of legislation passed easily – almost more than all previous governments combined.  Welfare programs and payments boomed. 

Government money was thrown at the arts and sport.  Taxes were hiked as were the number of public servants … but the power Fisher most wanted was to nationalise monopolies and start government owned businesses to compete with the private sector. 

Fisher feared the High Court would declare such laws unconstitutional … so within a year of winning office Fisher put forth two amendments to the Constitution via referendum.  They sought to take the power over commerce and industrial relations away from the states and give it to the federal government.

The referenda lost 61-39%.  Most politicians would back away from such a rebuff but Fisher had often said he would rather return to labouring in the mines than back down on principle.  Fisher immediately announced he would put the questions again to the electorate … and he raised the stakes.  He added six more socialist referenda and timed the vote to be on the same day as the next federal election in 1913.  Fisher reasoned his personal popularity (which was high) would this time get the referenda passed.

In 1913 Fisher’s opponent was the long term anti-socialist campaigner Joseph Cook.  During the campaign Cook focussed not on attacking Fisher but his eight referenda declaring “Labor wants to get in a position of socialistic supremacy over the whole Commonwealth”.

A hundred years ago Cook defeated Fisher by one seat despite Fisher narrowly winning the popular vote.  All eight referenda were defeated just as narrowly.

Fisher did return as PM for a year at the outset of World War One but the war consumed his agenda and he resigned in mid-1915.  He then lived out his days in London depressed at failing to bring about his socialist utopia in the Antipodes. 

One hundred years ago living standards in Argentina were higher than they were in Australia but today the OECD says Australia is the happiest nation on Earth.  Had Fisher’s Labor Party won one more seat in 1913 that may not have been the case.

John Ruddick is a Sydney based mortgage broker

On a Queensland House of Review

Rsz_1197515_108482069234461_1417439_n (1)March 24, 2012 was a historic day in Queensland's history, writes Michael Smyth

Not only due to the utter devastation for the ALP, but also due to its ushering in of "conservative" rule in this state; a sign that the Right in Queensland has shaken off the spectre of Joh.

Before the apologists of Joh get outraged by such a statement, I want to clarify what I mean.

Joh did some good things for Queensland, but his government was ultimately undone by the shortcomings of some of its members.

Whether you love or hate the memory of Joh is irrelevant. The reason that I cite this is that Joh would not have been able to do so much had there been an upper house.

In 1922, the ALP won a landslide victory and decided to abolish the Legislative Council, a move that was questionable from a constitutional point of view.

This led to the ALP holding government for decades, until the 1950s, when the Coalition parties finally won back the Legislative Assembly. This ultimately led to the Joh era, and the expansion of Queensland, but the issue here is the means by which it was expanded.

Due to the fact there is no Upper House, Joh was able to implement his reforms without any opposition from the parliament.

This sounds good in theory, except when you fast forward to the Beattie and Bligh years (1998-2012), where bad laws were made and such an appalling lack of transparency became so apparent that even Tony Fitzgerald complained about it.

Tony Fitzgerald, for those that don't remember is the guy who ran the Fitzgerald inquiry that exposed corruption in Joh's ministry.

So when the proverbial horses mouth comes out and says something along the lines of Labor makes Joh look vaguely translucent, you know you've got a problem.

Freedom of Information requests were frequently ignored by the Beattie government.

So how do you fix this problem? How do you prevent abuses of power – by either side – in the face of only having a unicameral parliament?

You can't really prevent it, once you've cleared the Legislative Assembly, it goes to Government House for Royal Assent, and under our conventions, it is signed into law.

To prevent Joh happening again, and to prevent Beattie from happening again, an Upper House should be restored as a check and balance of our Westminster system.

It is good for constitutional democracy to have the powerful kept in check by a proportional representation of the people.

QUESTION: Won't this mean that reforms don't get pushed through as quickly if they are obstructed by a recalcitrant Upper House?

ANSWER: Yes, but the payoff is that bad policy gets filtered out, or turned into good policy, by consultation with the other parties. It is not healthy to have one party controlling the political and policy agendas.

QUESTION: Why should we allow the Greens (or any other minor party) representation in the parliament if they don't have enough votes to gain a seat in the Assembly?

ANSWER: Because the way our system works in Australia, as a clone of the old Westminster system, is that the state (or country) is broken up into electorates with a roughly equal number of voters, and then to protect the rights of all citizens there is proportional representation for each State (at federal level), and each group of people who feel a certain way at State level.

QUESTION: Won't this cost us more money?

ANSWER: Everything costs money these days, but realistically speaking, we have not increased the number of State electorates for more than two decades. Surely, when we have the money again, we could easily facilitate a restoration of the Upper House, so that no group of voters can make the claim that the government does not represent them.

However, if money is a concern, and at this time it is, it would be feasible to reduce the number of MPs – even if only for a short time – in order to facilitate the restoration of accountability.

QUESTION: What about the Parliamentary Committee system that has been set up?

ANSWER: The Parliamentary Committee system that was set up merely serves to rubber stamp the government’s decisions. There is also the remuneration aspect of each Parliamentary Committee, and each MP sitting on each Committee. Finally, in regards to committees, it detracts from the representative work that each MP does for their constituents.

The 14 years of Labor government serve as a cautionary tale, to those of us who love liberty.

It is our civic duty as citizens, to ask for accountability from our politicians, instead of waiting every three years to undo any policy that could be put through in the night.

There are people with similar complaints about the incumbent LNP government. We need accountability from our politicians, and accountability that does not come just once every three years.

Michael Smyth is the Queensland Branch Treasurer of the Australian Monarchist League

Warm and well fed, or hungry in the dark?

Vic Forbes asks, which is worse – gradual man-made global warming or sudden electricity blackout?

Vic Forbes asks, which is worse – gradual man-made global warming or sudden electricity blackout?

Alarmists try to scare us by claiming that man’s activities are causing global warming. Whether and when we may see new man-made warming is disputed and uncertain. If it does appear, the world will be slightly warmer, with more evaporation and rainfall; plants will grow better and colonise some areas currently too cold or too dry; fewer old people will die in winter and sea levels may continue the gradual rise we have seen since the end of the last ice age.

There may even be a bit more “green” in Greenland. There is no evidence that man’s production of carbon dioxide is causing more extreme weather events. Any change caused by man will be gradual and there will be plenty of time to adapt, as humans have always done. Most people will hardly notice it.

What is certain, however, is that global warming policies are greatly increasing the chances of electricity blackouts, and here the effects can be predicted confidently – they will be sudden and severe.

Localised short-term blackouts can be caused by cyclones, storms, fires, floods, accidents, equipment failure or overloading. People will cope with them. The more widespread blackouts, caused for example by network collapse or insufficient generating capacity, will have severe effects.

All modern human activities are heavily dependent on electricity. Blackouts will stop lifts, trains, traffic lights, tools, appliances, factories, mines, refineries, communications and pumps for fuel, water and sewerage. People will be trapped or stranded in trains, ports, airports, lifts, hotels, hospitals and traffic jams. ATM’s, credit cards and supermarket checkouts will not work. Cash, cheques, IOU’s and pocket calculators will be required to buy anything.

Immediately a blackout occurs, those with emergency generators, fuel or batteries will start using them. But within a very few days, batteries will run flat, emergency fuel supplies will be exhausted, food supplies will disappear from stores and pumped water will not be available. Intensive dairies, hatcheries, piggeries and feedlots will all face critical problems in keeping their animals alive and cared for.

If the blackout is extensive and prolonged, looting will infect the big cities and then spread to country areas. People who are old, sick, incapacitated or alone will be forgotten as able-bodied people focus on feeding and protecting their own.

The real threat to humanity today is not the theoretical dangers from gradual man-made global warming. A far bigger real danger is the growing threat to reliable electricity supplies from deep-green climate policies.

The most reliable electricity supplies come from coal, gas, hydro, nuclear, geothermal or oil. Misguided politicians and uncompromising nature are conspiring to ensure that few of these will be available to generate Australia’s future electricity.

The carbon tax and renewable energy targets threaten the financial viability of using coal, gas or oil to generate electricity. Banks and investors will not risk their capital on new carbon-powered stations dependent on an unstable and polarised political environment. And the declining profitability of existing stations under the carbon tax and mandated market sharing makes it risky and uneconomic to spend money maintaining existing aging stations.

The same green zealots who plot to destroy carbon energy will also work to prevent the construction of new nuclear or hydro plants in Australia. And Australia’s geothermal resources, being generally deep and remote, are unlikely to provide significant electricity for decades.

We are thus being forced to rely on fickle breezes and peek-a-boo sunbeams to generate expensive and intermittent electricity. And it will not be economic to continue building backup gas plants that are run below capacity or sit idle, earning insufficient income as they try to fill the unpredictable production gaps in the supply of green energy. The margin of supply safety will disappear.

Therefore, if we continue to allow green zealots to dictate our electricity generation, blackouts are inevitable. Britain and Germany already face this grim prospect.

All actions have consequences. We cannot continue pouring billions of dollars of community savings down the climate-change sink-hole, without starving our essential infrastructure. We cannot keep adding taxes and political risk to traditional electricity generators without reducing new investment in real base-load generating capacity. And we cannot keep adding unstable solar and wind elements to our electricity network without adding greatly to electricity costs and the risks of network failure.  

When the lights fail, and the supermarket shelves are cleaned out, we will return, at great cost and after much misery, to cheap reliable continuous electricity using coal, gas or nuclear fuels.

Gaia worshippers will find that “Earth Hour” will not be such fun when it becomes “Earth Week”.

Viv Forbes has no vested interest in electricity generation, except as a consumer. And he gets no funds from the government Climate Change Industry. He holds shares in a small Australian coal exploration company which will benefit by exporting coal if expensive unreliable electricity in Australia forces more power-using industries overseas.

Gina Rinehart and how self-styled “progressives” are keeping the boardroom male

Cross-posted from Major Karnage.

IN MY line of work, I get to spend quite a lot of time in high-level boardroom meetings with people who all sit on corporate boards. I also have a few relatives who have sat on various boards in their time and my extended networks include quite a number of others. This means that while am not on any corporate boards, I am not a stranger to them either.

I still remember the first time I was at one of said meetings and a female colleague muttered to me, “do you notice anything particularly… male about the room?” The truth was that I hadn’t. While I had definitely noticed that I was the youngest person in the room by at least a decade (two if you didn’t count her). Until she pointed it out to me, it did not occur to me that she was the only woman there.

That incident jolted me into awareness. Since then, I have been paying attention to the gender balance when I am in corporate settings and a lot of observations have struck me that anecdotally support the mountains of research showing that the boardroom is simply not a place for girls. Not once in the last couple of years have I ever seen anything that even comes close to gender balance. Several times, there have actually been no women present. I also find that the “higher-level” the meeting, the less women tend to be invited.

That said, there are other observations that I can make about people in boardrooms than merely their gender. They are generally very sure of themselves – often manifesting as arrogance, but always including a calm and confident demeanour. They are hard-working, ambitious and persistent to the point of obsession, they know what they want and they make it happen. They are uncompromising – they expect the best and will not accept anything less. They are often very blunt and straight-talking. They can be friendly and charming when they want to, but they can be aggressive and intimidating when they have to.

I note these things not as a criticism of the corporate world and certainly not as an affront to the people that I am writing about. I have a tremendous amount of respect for most of them, they work harder than anyone else I know and they do amazing and under-appreciated (if not under-paid) work, without which our society could not function.

I MENTIONED those character traits is because of a common thread running through them: they are generally “alpha male” traits, they are not things that women are “supposed” to be. Women are loving, conciliatory, family-oriented and selfless. Women are neurotic and emotional, they doubt themselves, they shut-down and cry when bad things happen and they panic when they are stressed. They are not confident, ambitious, persistent and aggressive. When shit hits the fan, they are the ones panicking and screaming, not the ones who take-charge – at least in most sitcoms.

Again, I am not trying to say that it is a bad thing for someone to put others first, display their emotion and focus more on relationships than outcomes. I am trying to say that doing this is unlikely to get you ahead in the corporate world (or in other areas of public life). If you doubt yourself, the person who believes in themself will get the pay-rise or the promotion. If you shut-down and cry or panic, someone else will take charge. If you compromise, someone else won’t and they will have the better result in the end. Potential alone can only get you so far, there is not a lot of room at the top and to get there requires hard work, sacrifices and, above all, wanting to be there more than everyone else.

The public image of most successful women in Australia does not fit the stereotype of a high-powered Director. I say “public image” because, from my experience, the women who get to these positions do have most of these traits in private, but are able to create a persona that comes across as more “feminine” when they want to.

I refuse to believe that the corporate exec described above is actually gender-related. I know plenty of men who do not act like that. That character is simply how a person needs to act in order to reach the top of the corporate ladder – possibly the most competitive position anyone can aspire to reach (except maybe professional athlete). Other high-profile positions (rockstar, politician etc) require a huge amount of luck as well as hard work, becoming a CEO or company chair is about nothing except ability, attitude and work ethic.

THERE IS one very notable exception: Gina Rinehart. Here is a woman who is overweight and unattractive, but clearly not too concerned about her appearance and uninterested in the world of glamour and fashion. She is abrasive, intimidating and even a bully. She is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, without regard to the way it makes her look or the people she is offending. She is ambitious, single-minded and dedicated to the point where she supposedly goes without any of the frills that other billionaires afford themselves so that she can re-invest all her money into her company.

She is also not a “loving mother” figure by any stretch of the imagination. She isreportedly quiet and reserved in person and she keeps her personal affairs completely private. What did leak last year was that, having judged her children as inept for running her company, she offered them each $300mln a year in return for signing-away their shares. When they refused, she fought them all the way to the High Court – becoming estranged in the process.

Meanwhile, her achievements are incredible. She inherited a floundering, debt-ridden mining company that was making its money from a lucky break and transformed it into a hugely profitable, gigantic operation – becoming the world’s wealthiest woman in the process. She is now in the process of planning the biggest Australian-owned mining development in history and is funding it entirely on her own.  Yes, she was born into some wealth due to a lucky find by her father, but many people born into wealth spend their lives turning a large fortune into a small one. She turned a small fortune into a gargantuan one.

And yet she is being punished for this – not by the Andrew Bolts and Alan Jones’ of this world, but by the very people that would generally be the first to jump to her defence if she hadn’t made the unfortunate mistake of being a Conservative and one of the mining magnates vilified by Wayne Swan. Oh, as well as committing the awful sin of giving jobs to people who weren’t lucky enough to be born in Australia.

The best (but not the only) example was the abuse she received from David Marr and Miriam Margolyes on Q and A last month:

Note: I did not criticise the others as Barry Humphries was playing a character, Tony Jones was trying to defend her while still maintaining his “distance” as chair, Jacki Weaver seemed a little stunned and John Hewson later said he regretted not arguing but felt overwhelmed. Also, Marr and Margolyes were the two noted “feminists” on the panel.

THAT INCIDENT did receive fairly wide coverage – in News Ltd papers. It was all but ignored in the ABC, Fairfax (well, aside from the SMH’s balance columnist),New Matilda etc. Some good responses were written that I could find in more minor leftist publications, however it was generally her political allies that were jumping to her defence. More anecdotally, the people on my social networks who would normally be concerned about this kind of thing have been completely silent.

Why is this such a problem? Because it shows that this kind of abuse is acceptable for women that the left don’t like. It sends the message that the only reason anyone complains about comments aimed at Julia Gillard or Christine Milne is that they are on the left and not because this kind of discourse should be unacceptable. It reaffirms the idea that women shouldn’t act like CEOs, which discourages women from acting like CEOs, which in turn means women won’t become CEOs.

To some degree I think that it may be that people who hold corporate leaders in contempt yet think they want to see more women being corporate leaders were somehow expecting female corporate leaders to be more like “women” and less like “businessmen”. The issues inherent in that assumption should speak for themselves.

It’s all well and good to conduct research and then complain about the lack of women at the top, but unless there are a lot of ambitious and competitive young women willing to fight to get there, nothing will ever change.

Major Karnage is a Sydney-based blogger and can be followed on Twitter or Facebook. This article was originally posted on majorkarnage.net