Feminist and leading voice in Australian debates on reproductive rights, Dr Leslie Cannold is a writer, ethicist and academic researcher. She is a regular commentator in the Australian print and broadcast media on ethics, health, the environment, gender, families, sex, civil liberties and more. She is also president of Reproductive Choice Australia and Pro-Choice Victoria, grassroots advocacy groups that seek to maximise the reproductive rights and freedoms available to Australians.
You can hear her regularly talking about ethics with Deborah Cameron on 702 ABC Sydney. Her first novel will be published next year by Text.
1. What’s the headline you’d most like to see on the front page of a daily newspaper?
Torn. Couldn’t decide between these three:
Abortion legalised worldwide. Unnecessary death and suffering of women made thing of past.
Half a brain found. Global leaders act on climate change.
High Court declares religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws invalid.
2. If you could oblige everyone in Australia to click through to one webpage, which one would it be?
If you care about securing Australia’s secular education system, and the public square more generally, this upcoming court challenge deserves your attention. Click here.
3. What is one thing you’ve always wondered about economics but were too afraid to ask?
I actually took Economics 101 at university, as I had a classic liberal arts undergraduate education in the US before migrating to Australia. So my question would be this: When is the discipline going to have the paradigm shift necessary to save the planet? The one that will decouple "growing economy" from "successful economy" because of a long-overdue acknowledgement of the planet’s finite resources?
4. When did you last eat a meat pie?
Never. I think they’re gross.
5. What’s the oldest thing in your fridge?
There’s some scary fetta in the butter compartment, but the prize probably goes to the chutney someone made us the Christmas before last. Never did fancy eggplant.
6. Has anyone got a climate change policy you agree with? Who?
Can’t go past the Australian Greens on climate issues. They know the facts and are willing to face them, and their opposition to racism keeps the anti-big-population rhetoric in check.
7. When was the first time you changed your mind on something important?
My third year at university. I spent the year in England, at the University of Warwick, where I became friends with a number of Palestinians. They used Noam Chomsky’s well-footnoted text The Fateful Triangle to counter a whole range of "facts" I’d been taught about Israel by Zionist organisations with which I’d been involved (I’m Jewish). The experience made me more sceptical full stop, not just about that issue. Now, I never believe what I’m told; you have to persuade me.
8. What’s the household chore you relish the most?
I hate housework. All of it.
9. What sort of shoes do you wear to work?
Depends. I like things with heels, but I’ll only wear open-toed platforms because aching feet make Leslie a nasty girl. RM Williams with cuban heels are my first choice in winter, but I can’t wear the black suedes on rainy days because I take my bike to work.
10. What campaigning tactic do you most want to see in this year’s federal election?
It’s more what I don’t want to see. I don’t want to see slimy leafleting or how-to-vote tactics that confuse or mislead Greens voters to Labor’s advantage, and I don’t want to see my tax dollars funding party political advertising dressed up as public information campaigns. Good luck with that, as my son would say.
11. Nominate a new public holiday.
Barbara Seaman Day. Seaman was a feisty investigative journalist whose fearless and intrepid writings led to the now-routine provision of risk and benefit information with all drugs. She also was one of the pioneers of the notion that medical research and healthcare should be patient-centred, though the present-day dominance of drug-company sponsored research means this now widely accepted view is honoured more in the breach than the observance.
12. If you could go tomorrow anywhere in Australia for a holiday, where would you go?
Uluru and the northern outback towards Darwin and beyond. Twenty-one years in this country and I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t seen it.
13. What’s your favourite YouTube video?
Sonya Renee’s "What Women Deserve" speech. I just watched it again for what must be the third or fourth time, and it still gives me shivers up the back of my neck. It’s so right and powerful.
14. If you were given $5 million, what would you spend it on?
Easy. A house in St Kilda with two toilets (we just have one and I can’t stand it) and an overseas trip with my two boys, before they get too big to dream of going anywhere with us. The rest I’d pack into trusts to fund the things I care about into perpetuity. One would be a permanent reproductive rights advocacy position in each state and territory. The next would be independent funding for medical research designed to protect or foster women’s health. And the third? A merit-based grant for mature-aged, female would-be novelists.
15. Who would you most like to sit next to on a long haul flight?
Nelson Mandela. Or Constance McMillan, the American high school girl who had the guts to say she was a lesbian and wanted to take her girlfriend to the prom, and then to take her fight national, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to do it.
16. What trivia question/topic will you beat everyone else in the pub to the buzzer on?
1970s TV, women’s issues, yesterday’s newspaper headlines.
17. Complete this sentence. I’d like to hear Kevin Rudd say "…"
… something I could understand? Just kidding. I’d like Kev to say he’s in favour of national consultations on a population policy, of an ETS that conforms to the orthodox economic principles he claims to espouse, and of a national disability insurance scheme.
18. Name someone in Australian public life who deserves a promotion.
Maxine McKew! Goodness I miss her genial intelligence. Get her back on the national stage — quick!
19. In 10 words or less, summarise your food philosophy.
Eat to nurture yourself, but only reasonable amounts.
20. What question should we ask our next interviewee?
Whose disappearance from public life would greatly enrich the national conversation?
BONUS QUESTION from our last interviewee:
Can we evolve psychologically and spiritually fast enough to save ourselves from ecological destruction, or are we an evolutionary aberrant?
I’m not entirely convinced that a lack of evolution is the cause of the difficulties we have responding, as a world community, to man-made global threats like nuclear weapons and climate change. Rather, the problem seems to be a twofold one.
Firstly, the complex but long-standing problem of getting complex government systems to behave like rational actors (which they don’t). Secondly, the problem of getting the public to respond to urgent issues by demanding action from their leaders. In both instances, sharper attention by those wanting action needs to be paid to what is already known about how systems and individuals operate, and to how they can be harnessed to achieve particular aims. If, for example, environmental activists consulted marketing experts on how to message the global warming problem to the different actors/groups who need to act on it, and scientists were willing to work with the demands of this approach to deliver their message, I think we would have the necessary community steam to motivate our politicians to act.
Activists aren’t always as smart as they could be about making the world work according to their desires. Before despairing about humankind and the political systems we create, my idea would be for them — or rather us, as I am one of them — to get smarter.
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