Why too many fearless people on a team make collaboration less likely

Why too many fearless people on a team make collaboration less likely


People high on psychopathic personality traits, such as fearlessness and impulsiveness, often refuse to find common ground.
from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND


Hedwig Eisenbarth, Victoria University of Wellington; Martina Testori, University of Southampton, and Rebecca Hoyle, University of Southampton

Team work is common across society. From schools to multinational businesses, people usually collaborate in groups towards a shared goal.

It can work well, but sometimes, it can be a disaster. One team might create a proposal for a new policy because all members manage to agree on details, while another fails because they can’t find common ground.

Why is it that groups can vary so much in their outcomes? We know that some people are better team players than others. In fact, job interviews and personality assessments often include questions about team skills.

But this assumes that only individual personality is relevant, not the interaction between people with various personality characteristics.

Investigating group behaviour

We don’t yet fully understand how different personality types within a group interact and how that affects group outcomes. To address this, we investigated which mixes of personalities create more or less cooperative group working styles.

We wanted to know whether it matters how many group members show personality traits that have been found to be less cooperative. People high on so-called psychopathic personality traits are characterised by goal-oriented, fearless, impulsive, manipulative behaviours, and also by less cooperative behaviours such as refusing to find common ground when interacting with another person.

Read more:
Not all psychopaths are criminals – some psychopathic traits are actually linked to success

But does the proportion of individuals high on these traits within a group matter for the overall group behaviour?

We asked participants to decide whether to cooperate with the people sitting next to them in mixed groups, composed of different numbers of participants with high or low scores on a questionnaire for psychopathic personality traits.


Participants who did not know each other were asked if they would like to cooperate with the people next to them, over a series of rounds.


Usually, this setup leads to a maintenance of cooperative behaviour across a series of rounds of sharing. In our research we investigated how this tendency toward mutual cooperation is influenced by personality traits of the members of the group.

We found groups that were composed entirely of people with low psychopathic traits and groups with a low proportion (20%) of individuals with high psychopathic traits showed the expected cooperative behaviour. But in groups with a larger proportion (50%) of individuals with high psychopathic traits, the overall rate of cooperative behaviour was significantly lower. We measured this by the number of cooperative decisions participants in a group made.

Read more:
How design thinking can help teachers collaborate

What does that mean for teams?

The overall group behaviour seems to be more than the sum of its parts. Group composition had an effect on cooperation over and above the effect of the individuals’ own level of psychopathic traits. Group members with low levels of psychopathic traits behaved less cooperatively and more “psychopathically” when in groups with more people who had high levels of psychopathic traits.

This suggests that interacting with people with high psychopathic traits increases uncooperative behaviour across all members of a group. The personality characteristics of group members matter for cooperative behaviour, and can change individuals’ behaviour. But the effect is only seen when a substantial proportion of individuals in a group have non-cooperative personality traits.

These findings indicate that group composition matters. Teams working on a collaborative task are more likely to cooperate successfully if most of the group members have more cooperative personality types. But our findings also trigger new questions about what role the type of task plays in collaborations and whether group behaviour stabilises over longer time periods.The Conversation

Hedwig Eisenbarth, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Victoria University of Wellington; Martina Testori, , University of Southampton, and Rebecca Hoyle, Professor, University of Southampton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Here’s what you need to know before you quit your job to start your own business



Here’s what you need to know before you quit your job to start your own business

a person standing next to a fence© Provided by ABC BusinessFinding a job you value and actually enjoy going to each day can be a real struggle.

For some, they love what they do and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

But for most people, there comes a time in your career when the idea of leaving seems better than staying in a job you hate.

It could be that the boss was overbearing; maybe the colleagues were unfriendly; or perhaps the entire industry felt like the wrong fit, despite spending years training or studying to work in that sector.

The pressure to stay in an unsatisfying, but permanent full-time job to make the most of a steady income, paid leave and other benefits can feel enormous — especially as a growing number of employers are favouring contract-based roles or casual jobs.

But what if quitting that job and taking a risk on making money from a passion project actually paid off?

As part of the ABC’s personal finance project, we asked two women to tell us what it was like to start their own businesses.

What does it take to be your own boss?

In 2010, aspiring photographer Zoe McMahon started working as a studio assistant in Sydney, taking pictures of grocery products for supermarket catalogues.

“I was the battery hen of the photography world, earning $37,000 a year, including super,” she said.

“I left that job because the way they treated people was appalling.

“There was one woman who was in her early 40s, with kids at school, and if she got in at 7:30am and finished at 4:30pm, they would say to her, ‘Oh doing a half-day are you?’ when she was leaving.”

Ms McMahon moved on to a higher-paying job, photographing artefacts at a museum. She said while her former role was more enjoyable, she did not see any chance of career progression.

“I was also on one of those annual contracts that had to be reviewed every year for funding,” she said.

“So I had to jump through the hoops of reapplying for my job all the time and, to be honest, after four years I found that quite offensive.”

In addition to working full-time, Ms McMahon was spending her weekends photographing weddings and taking publicity shots for bands and entertainers — work she felt truly passionate about.

By 2016, the wedding photography business was generating enough income for her to quit her full-time job.

But as a financial buffer, she took on three days of casual work a week as a personal assistant.

“I doubled my annual income fairly quickly and by solely working in my business now, I’m earning substantially more money than I was when I started out in this industry,” she said.

Starting your own business is ‘not for everyone’

While Ms McMahon found success in setting up her own business, career coach and principal consultant of Career Vitality Donna Thistlethwaite said a big leap was not always the right answer.

“If security and stability are strong values to a person, then it might not be a good fit,” she said.

“Before leaving a job, I would suggest a person tries to change their perspective on the situation.

“By questioning what’s good about the job, we often find elements of it that we do enjoy, and an understanding of the full picture can help us see how we might make the most of the situation we are in.”

More often than not, a big career change also means preparing for financial hardship.

In some cases, what you earn might never meet the same salary level as your previous permanent job.

Lisa set a deadline (and stuck to it) to open her business

Brisbane-based graphic designer and fine artist Lisa Schroder left a lucrative role in the corporate sector nine years ago to start her own freelance design business.

She said she wanted to have a more flexible working arrangement so she could start a family.

“I knew my baby years were coming up, and even though I was exceptionally good at what I did and was being paid very well, that job wasn’t going to fit with what I wanted for my family.”

She allowed herself 18 months after resigning from her corporate position to set up her business before having children.

“It’s probably a bit crazy, but when I left work I didn’t have a single contract in place, and amazingly I landed on my feet and picked up some really good national accounts that I freelanced from home,” she said.

Mrs Schroder said her previous employer did not offer paid maternity leave, so she did not feel she was walking away from significant employee benefits to start her business.

Her income, however, took a large hit.

“In my first year, I dropped about $30,000 and then with babies, your available time becomes so limited, so my earning capacity dropped,” she said.

“And while you do factor that in, I’m looking forward to when all my three kids are at school and I know my earning capacity is going to go up again.”

Be aware of the financial challenges of being your own boss

Mrs Schroder also acknowledged that her husband’s full-time income was crucial in enabling her to start freelancing.

“You do rely on that other salary because I have had things like major clients just stop using me overnight and I’d miss out on about $2,000 worth of income within the space of one phone call,” she said.

“That’s the nature of the business and it may just be a case of a new manager, or the company is sold to someone else and they fire the existing team, meaning you’ve lost your relationship with the people, so you lose the client.”

She and her husband are renting their home and although their goal is to one day buy a house, Mrs Schroder conceded that would not be easy.

“Banks don’t like you as much when you have your own business, so you’ve got to save triple hard,” she said.

“Having that one person in the partnership who’s got a secure income means the banks are going to be more favourable with home loans, car loans and that kind of stuff.”

On the other hand, Ms McMahon and her fiance bought a home in rural Victoria when she was still working as an artefacts photographer.

She said a purchase like that would be almost impossible now, despite how well her business is doing.

“My partner has his own freelance photography business and as small business owners, we would struggle to get a bank loan together, especially now when borrowing money has become a lot harder in the space of just a few years,” she said.

Ms Thistlethwaite said it was important to consider the broader financial impacts before leaving a secure job.

“Small business owners often don’t look great on paper because their business expenses will bring down net income and because their income is often variable,” she said.

“This can often be an issue, especially in the early days of business, so do take it into account.

“You need to make sure that you’ve got a good accountant and that they understand your business and personal goals.”

There’s also admin and accounting to consider

Both business owners agreed that managing their own tax and superannuation affairs had been a challenge.

“My business is three years old and yet I only amalgamated my superannuation last week,” Ms McMahon said.

“I do pay myself super quarterly though and I manage my money so that in the off-season, I am fine.”

It has been a bumpy ride for Mrs Schroder as well, given the erratic earnings.

“I didn’t understand early on how to budget forward by 13, 15 or 18 weeks, to make sure I’ve got enough income, so that was a tough lesson,” she said.

“I ended up doing a course that was offered through the Queensland Government — a Certificate IV in Business — and that was my absolute life-saver.

“I followed it up with some business coaching, but there was a whole side of it I had to learn, like operating the book-keeping software and how to put your BAS (Business Activity Statement) in.”

And the demands of starting a business and having kids

Like Mrs Schroder, Ms McMahon has had children since starting her own business.

She found out she was pregnant with her first child just two weeks after resigning from the museum.

“That pregnancy, I shot nine interstate weddings, because it was already on the radar that we might buy a house and move to Victoria, so that’s where I sourced my clients,” she said.

She worked until she was 8.5 months’ pregnant, accessed the Federal Government’s 16-week paid maternity leave scheme, and returned to work when her baby was 4.5 months old.

“I had to take her on the road with me so I could shoot weddings while I was breastfeeding,” she said.

“You’re always offering strangers too much information when you go into venues and say, ‘Hi, I’ve just met you but I’m wondering where I can go to set up for half an hour to pump breast milk and then can I bring my tiny esky with ice bricks and store my breast milk in your freezer?’.”

While some organisations allow women to take a year or more as part of their maternity leave entitlements, Ms McMahon said a much faster return to work was necessary.

“The flipside of working for myself is I did go back to work way earlier than I’d have liked and it’s meant for my second child, I haven’t breastfed her for as long as I’d have liked to,” she said.

It is a situation Mrs Schroder can relate to.

“I didn’t take maternity leave at all for the first two babies,” she said.

“So with my first, I had 10 days off and my second, I had one month off, and my youngest — I did a trade show when she was 10 weeks old.

“Of course, I wasn’t back working in a full-time capacity, but I was answering emails and sending quotes and doing small jobs because you just can’t ever afford to let your business stagnate for weeks on end.”

Some things to consider before you leap

Ms Thistlethwaite said it was vital to make a checklist before making such a major change in your working life.

She said a person should consider the following points ahead of any decision:

  • How reliant are they on income?
  • What are their values?
  • Where is their mindset at?
  • Are they prepared for the long haul?
  • What do they know about running a business?
  • What are they trying to achieve in having a business?
  • Do they have a budget for professional development?
  • If the business is home-based, how do you avoid feeling really isolated and alone?

The last point is one Ms McMahon has addressed through social media, joining a Facebook group with 800 other female wedding photographers.

“We talk multiple times a day [about] everything from copyright law to which insurance company to use for all of your equipment, to the best breast pump to take when you’re travelling,” she said.

“I’m actually organising a Christmas party in July for us all because a lot of us haven’t even met in person and when you work for yourself you can’t exactly have a one-person Christmas party.

“So it’ll be great to get this fantastic, empowering support network together.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 715,300 women business operators in Australia in January 2019 (or 34.9 percent share of all business operators), compared with 1.3 million (65.1 per cent) men business operators.

This is an increase of 46,600 (or 2 per cent) over the past year.

Learn as much as you can about your industry ahead of time

Mrs Schroder agreed with Ms Thistlethwaite that anyone considering a big change to their work situation should really do their research.

“Learn as much as you can about business and read as many good business and marketing books as you can,” she said.

“Save up and make sure you don’t have debts hanging over your head like massive mortgages, car repayments or credit cards.

“And then back yourself 100 percent and push yourself forward — just go for it.”

Ms McMahon said she encouraged people to intern or shadow people in the industry they are hoping to work in, to make sure it is the right move.

“I probably should have tried to work with someone who is doing the job I wanted to do or someone who’s really good in the field that I’m wanting to work in,” she said.

“And the other thing would’ve been finding a casual job or going part-time in the industry, so I had the flexibility to have one foot in and one foot out instead of having any sort of panic about needing to make a certain amount of money each month.”

She said even if her business had failed, the lessons she has learned and the person she has become would have made the experience worthwhile.

“When you’re young and early into your career, you’re often really polite and you fetch coffees and laugh at jokes that aren’t funny, and it’s just such a relief to discover that you really don’t have to work in that capacity.”

Original article can be found HERE.

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Turning local libraries, pools and playgroups into sites of surveillance – ParentsNext goes too far

Turning local libraries, pools and playgroups into sites of surveillance – ParentsNext goes too far



Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock
Rebecca Williamson, Australian National University

Sydney Morning Herald reporter Jacqueline Maley evoked the spectre of the Orwellian surveillance state recently when discussing how library staff had been implicated in the ParentsNext program. Maley reported that private providers contracted to run the program phoned libraries or local pools to check on parents’ attendance.

The program aims to get parents “work-ready” after child-rearing. Single parents receiving the ParentsNext benefit are required to report their attendance at particular activities with their children to providers. Activities are based on an approved list, which includes storytime at a local library, swimming lessons, or a playgroup. Payments can be stopped for “not taking part in set activities”.

Read more:
More than unpopular. How ParentsNext intrudes on single parents’ human rights

Surveillance and policing parents

As critics have asserted, this kind of heavy-handed monitoring is problematic for many reasons. It is an example of the stigmatisation of single parents and policing of their parenting practices, despite the stated aim of the program being to help parents re-enter the workforce.

The policing of the program raises issues of privacy and devalues unpaid care work. It also shows a lack of any real understanding of the challenges of single parenting and of the additional barriers single mothers encounter (95% of those receiving the benefit are single mothers).

ParentsNext has been the subject of a Senate inquiry. It reported significant flaws in the program.

What is also deeply troubling is the enrolment of community workers and public spaces in the monitoring of parents. The Sydney Morning Herald’s headline, “The government parenting program turning librarians into snitches”, rightly captures this sense of outrage.

The CEO of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) said: “If staff uphold library values of ‘free access’ and refuse to be complicit in the ParentsNext process, single parents can be denied essential payments. If we sign storytime attendance forms, we are supporting a system which penalises families already on the poverty line.”

In a nice twist of surveillance tactics, ALIA promises to report to the minister the names of ParentsNext providers who use storytime attendance – without prior consultation with the parents – to monitor families’ eligibility for welfare payments. While not explicitly challenging the practice of monitoring parents, it at least highlights the need for better consultation with parents.


A worrying aspect of ParentsNext is the expectation that staff working in community spaces will help monitor parents’ attendance.
Tyler Olson/Shutterstock


Protecting community spaces

Sociologist Eric Klinenberg, in Palaces for the People: how social infrastructure can help fight inequality, polarisation and the decline of civic life, argues that public libraries, schools and other community facilities are critical social infrastructure. They enhance community solidarity and protect against social isolation, particularly for new arrivals, young families and the elderly. They create resilient urban communities.

Ray Oldenburg described such spaces as “third places”: inclusive, egalitarian places outside of work and home, where people can socialise, converse and debate. Examples include churches, cafes, clubs and public libraries. Oldenburg argued that these places are important for civic engagement and democracy.

Community spaces like public libraries or playgroups are also important places of “everyday multiculturalism” where social differences are accommodated and diverse groups of people can interact. They can help shift prejudice and encourage tolerance and inclusion.

Crucially, third places are sites of voluntary attendance. The very fact that people are free to participate in these places makes them such valued sites of social support and leisure.


Third places are inclusive, egalitarian spaces where people can seek support and leisure.


Read more:
Many people feel lonely in the city, but perhaps ‘third places’ can help with that

Public libraries are spaces for social connection and support

In her short-story collection, Public Library and Other Stories (2015), Ali Smith argues that public libraries are often treasured spaces to which people feel a strong emotional connection. Libraries are places of discovery where people can “become on their own terms”. Local librarians work hard to create an atmosphere of non-judgment and inclusion.

At the same time, public libraries have always been a site for government agencies to interface with the community. Libraries promote an informed citizenry who can actively participate in democratic life. As with all public institutions, there is a fine line between informing and empowering citizens, and coercing them to conform to ideas about being a “good citizen”.

In this case, the line has been well and truly crossed. Activities that could be empowering and enjoyable become mandated, additional burdens, based on arbitrary criteria that appear to have little to do with work-readiness. Community spaces of social connection and support become sites of surveillance.

It is imperative to ask what this might mean for our city’s third places. Would this kind of monitoring lead vulnerable people to disengage from the very services they need most?

In the context of shrinking public spaces in the city and the withdrawal of social services, such third places are a bastion. We need to continue to advocate for the right of citizens to use these and other community spaces freely and according to their own needs, not those of a surveillance state.

Read more:
Technology hasn’t killed public libraries – it’s inspired them to transform and stay relevant

The Conversation

Rebecca Williamson, Research Officer, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Posted in Private Investigations | Leave a comment

50 years after Australia’s historic ‘equal pay’ decision, the legacy of ‘women’s work’ remains

50 years after Australia’s historic ‘equal pay’ decision, the legacy of ‘women’s work’ remains

Leonora Risse, RMIT University

June 19, 2019 is the 50th anniversary of Australia’s industrial relations system endorsing the principle of “equal pay for equal work”.

Yet, five decades on, a gender pay gap remains.

The 1969 decision was a breakthrough, but also highlighted the problem of putting principle into practice, given a legacy of past decisions being based on clear notions of “male” and “female” jobs.

While various factors contribute to the overall gender pay gap, about 30% is due to gender concentrations by industry and occupation.

Read more:
Will the real gender pay gap please stand up?

Decisions dating back a century have contributed to the unequal wage patterns we still see today, with female-dominated jobs clustered at the lower end of the pay spectrum.


ABS Census of Population and Housing 2016, and ABS Average Weekly Earnings 2018 (Cat No. 6302.0)., Author provided


It’s difficult to untangle today’s gender pay gap from the pages of history.

A living wage, but based on men

A gap between men’s and women’s pay was effectively established early in Australia’s centralised wage-fixing system.


Women working in the Sunshine Harvester factory during World War II.
Museum Victoria


In 1907, the first landmark decision of the new Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration set down the principle of the “family” or “living” wage.

In the Harvester Case (stemming from a pay dispute at Sunshine Harvester, a Victorian maker of farming equipment), the court decided 7 shillings a day was the minimum pay needed by an unskilled labourer – on the basis that the labourer was male and needed to provide for a wife and three children.

The decision laid the foundation for a national minimum wage, but also left female workers out of the picture.

Equal pay, but only for men’s work

The underlying presumption that a woman didn’t need to be paid as much as a man was confirmed by Justice Henry Bourne Higgins, the president of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, in the Fruit Pickers Case of 1912.

In this, the court’s first explicit ruling on women’s pay, Justice Higgins declared women should be paid the same as men – but only when they did jobs predominantly performed by men (such as blacksmiths) or were “in competition” with men (such as fruit-picking). This was out of concern that allowing a lower pay rate for women could put men out of work.

In jobs undertaken only or mainly by women, such as packing fruit, it was a different matter. A woman’s wage could be lower than a man’s, Justice Higgins said, under the assumption that women “have to find their own food, shelter, and clothing; not food, shelter and clothing of a family”.

It was men, he explained, who had the obligation to provide for their wife and children:

How is such a minimum applicable to the case of a woman picker? She is not, unless perhaps in very exceptional circumstances, under any such obligation.

Justice Higgins set the minimum pay for fruit-packing jobs – “in which men are hardly ever employed” – at 75% of that for fruit-picking. In the Clothing Trades Case of 1919, more concern about costs led him to decide the basic wage for women should be 54% of men’s.

This gender discrepancy in pay narrowed to 75% with World War II, when women stepped into jobs vacated by men and special regulations were enacted. This 75% rate was accepted as the standard in the 1949-50 Basic Wage Case.

Accepting equal pay, in principle

As social attitudes evolved, the 1950s and 1960s saw more women joining the paid workforce. Pressure grew to match international conventions on equal pay. Unions led by the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, with a young Bob Hawke serving as their lead advocate, took up the cause.

In the 1969 Equal Pay Case, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (which had replaced the Court) finally accepted the principle of equal pay for equal work.

It tempered this acceptance, however, by acknowledging that putting the principle into practice would be complex:

While we accept the concept of “equal pay for equal work” implying as it does the elimination of discrimination based on sex alone, we realise that the concept is difficult of precise definition and even more difficult to apply with precision.


Zelda D’Aprano,a clerk at the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union, chained herself to the front doors of the building occupied Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.
Museum of Australian Democracy


The “mere similarity in name of male and female classifications”, the commission said, “may not be enough to establish that males and females do work of a like nature”.

This meant the principle only immediately applied to women doing exactly the same work as men, and employed in predominantly male occupations. Fewer than one in five working women benefited from the outcome.

Three years later, the 1972 Equal Pay Case expanded on the 1969 principle to encompass “equal pay for work of equal value”, with a single rate for a job, regardless of gender.

But with women and men often finding themselves in different types of work – and the nature of that work often differing vastly – the dilemma of figuring out how to measure “work of equal value” remained. It persists to this day.

Finding a ‘comparable’ male job

Today’s Fair Work Commission has inherited the legacy of its past judgements.

To agree a low wage rate in an occupation dominated by females is an issue of gender inequality, Australia’s Fair Work Act requires identifying a “comparable” male occupation.

This means pointing to a job chiefly performed by men that is similar to the female job in skill requirements and job responsibility but higher paid. History shows finding such a “comparator” occupational group has been hard to achieve.

It’s a problem faced by those arguing for higher wages in occupations such as childcare.

It leads us to ask: how can we meaningfully measure and compare the value of jobs that are so different in nature?

Read more:
How skills and personality traits contribute to the gender pay gap

It’s an especially important question for jobs in areas such as
childcare, schooling and health services – which generate society-wide benefits but are not necessarily well-paid.

When the wider benefits of a job are not reflected by the market wage, this creates what economists call a market failure. It spells a role for governments to step in and correct it.

One innovative approach could be to use occupation-targeted lower income tax rates for jobs with high societal value.The Conversation

Leonora Risse, Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Can a sperm donor be a legal parent? In landmark decision, the High Court says yes

Can a sperm donor be a legal parent? In landmark decision, the High Court says yes


There are competing laws at the state and Commonwealth level that define who can be determined as a “parent,” a conflict the High Court decision did not necessarily clear up.


Cassandra Seery, Deakin University

On Wednesday, the High Court handed down a landmark decision that confirmed parentage rights to a man who donated his sperm to a woman who wanted to have a child.

The ruling could impact thousands of couples and single women whose children were conceived with known sperm donors.

It could also significantly impact the relationship between Commonwealth and state laws on parental matters in situations where children are born via artificial conception.

The facts of the case

Robert Masson and Susan Parsons (their court pseudonyms) had been friends for decades before deciding to “privately and informally” conceive a child in December 2006.

According to court documents, Masson was involved in the girl’s life from birth and developed a close relationship with her, including overnight visits and attending school performances. Masson was listed as the father on the girl’s birth certificate, and she refers to him as “Daddy.”

Read more:
Victoria’s world-first change to share sperm or egg donors’ names with children

After the girl was born, Parsons had a second child with her partner, who is not biologically related to Masson. In 2015, Parsons married her partner in New Zealand and wanted to relocate there permanently with the two children.

Masson took legal action to prevent the women from moving, a move that would have effectively separated him from his biological daughter.

Legal parentage considered in family court

In 2017, Justice Margaret Cleary of the family court prevented the mothers from relocating to New Zealand, finding that the two women were not in a de facto relationship at the time the girl was conceived.

As a result, Masson was recognised as the child’s legal parent based on a section of the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 that deals with the parentage of children born via artificial conception procedures.

In her ruling, Cleary gave weight to Masson’s intentions when the girl was conceived and his subsequent involvement in her life.

On appeal, the mothers argued that Cleary failed to consider a section of the NSW Children Act 1996 which states:

If a woman (whether married or unmarried) becomes pregnant by means of a fertilisation procedure using any sperm obtained from a man who is not her husband, that man is presumed not to be the father of any child born as a result of the pregnancy.

This section goes on to state that this presumption is irrebuttable.

The full family court agreed with this argument and found that this section of the state act must be applied when questions of parentage arise in a federal court.

Read more:
Secrets and lies: why donor-conceived children need to know their origins

As a consequence, Masson was presumed not to be the legal parent. The court also rejected the notion that a child can have more than two parents.

Masson filed an appeal to the High Court earlier this year. In an unusual step, both the Commonwealth and Victorian attorneys-general filed notices of intervention to argue which laws they believed should apply when determining parentage rights in sperm donor cases. (Victoria intervened because it had an interest in making sure state law was applied, even though the case originated in NSW.)

Can a sperm donor be a legal parent?

In this week’s ruling, a majority of the High Court found there was no reason to doubt Cleary’s conclusion that Masson was, in fact, a parent of the child.

The court concluded that the federal act’s definition of a parent was not exhaustive, and

the question of whether a person is a parent of a child born of an artificial conception procedure depends on whether the person is a parent of the child according to the ordinary, accepted English meaning of ‘parent’.

Interestingly, the court was silent on whether a child could have more than two legal parents, but did suggest that the federal act might support this assumption.

The majority pointed out that it was

unnecessary to decide whether a man who relevantly does no more than provide his semen to facilitate an artificial conception procedure that results in the birth of a child falls within the ordinary accepted meaning of the word ‘parent’.

In this case, Masson had clearly demonstrated, in addition to being a sperm donor, that he had an ongoing involvement and relationship with the child, meeting the definition of “parent” under the federal act.

What is the impact of this decision?

This means that the federal act, which recognises a broad range of people who may qualify as parents, will apply in future cases seeking to determine parentage rights. This can now include sperm donors who demonstrate they meet the definition of a parent under the act in cases where the biological mother did not have a spouse at the time of conception.

Read more:
Your questions answered on donor conception and IVF

While the extension of the definition of “legal parent” to a sperm donor may initially appear to be far-reaching, the implications of this decision are limited.

A fundamental principle in family law is that the best interests of the child be a paramount consideration. As a consequence, there is a presumption that shared parental responsibility is also in a child’s best interests.

It is these underlying principles that have been applied in this case.

The High Court has arguably taken a common sense approach by recognising that any person – including a sperm donor – who is found to be taking on a parental role should share in the responsibilities of raising a child, under certain circumstances.

This decision does not open the door to custody battles from anonymous sperm donors who have never seen or had a relationship with their biological child. However, the ruling does point out that sperm donors who develop a relationship with their biological children may find themselves taking on the role of a “legal parent”, whether they intend to or not.

This could also serve as a deterrent for sperm donors who may have been open to some level of contact or connection with a child in the past. Now, many may refuse such contact in fear they could be found to have legal responsibilities – including possibly financial obligations – to their biological children.

The threshold at which a person transitions from “sperm donor” to “legal parent” remains somewhat unclear.

Ultimately, prospective parents, including those involved in arrangements that deal with artificial conception, have been put on notice that a child’s right to both parents is paramount – even where this might infringe on a parent’s individual rights.The Conversation

Cassandra Seery, Associate Lecturer in Law, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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