Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Night in Tamworth

Yesterday our roadtrip to see the relatives on my dad’s side of the family began. Our first port of call was a pitstop in Warwick, the ultimate destination for the day was Tamworth.

During the drive it was hard not to marvel at the stunning green plains, ranges and farmland either side of the New England Highway. The road itself is much more pleasant than the terrible Bruce Highway, north of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

The journey itself took a good six hours or so. But for much of it I was well occupied, adoring the scenery or engaging in some hardcore reading.

We’ve been through Tamworth many times as a family, on our way to my grandparent’s former home in Putty. The town hasn’t changed much, but at the same time it hadn’t stayed the same.

Tamworth is famous for a few things: farming, the country music festival and being part of New England, an electorate whose member helped deliver government to the ALP at the federal level.

The council area which envelops Tamworth is the Tamworth Regional Council. The town is represented by two state electorates: Barwon and Tamworth. And of course the federal electorate is New England.

It’s a beautiful town, and quite a big one. And it’s always worth stopping in.

Next stop: Cessnock.

Les Miserables was Le Best Film

Boxing Day finally arrived yesterday and there was one particular movie which I could not wait to see. Les Miserables finally opened in Australia and my excitement at seeing the latest iteration of the triumphant stage show was palpable. I had talked about the movie for months, and last night at 6:45pm, my long and at times painful wait came to an end. And my was it worth the wait.

Les Miserables is a movie adapted from a uber successful stage production, adapted from a 19th century literary classic written by legendary French author, Victor Hugo. The story begins in the France of 1815 and ends with the June Rebellion, also known as the Paris Uprising, which took place in 1832. The story though is more about love about the divide between the rich and the poor than it is about the attempt at a coup by the anti-monarchists in Paris.

The story focuses on two main characters- Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), Javert (Russell Crowe), but features an intertwining storyline featuring Fantine (Anne Hathaway), Cosette (Amanda Seyfried), Marius (Eddie Redmayne) and Eponine (Samantha Barks). The story also includes the not insignificant characters of Thenardier (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Madame Thenardier (Helena Bonham Carter).

Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, a convict jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, who, upon his release from two decades in prison, made tough by hard labour, fights to become an upstanding citizen. Valjean becomes the mayor of a French town where he meets Fantine (Hathaway). Fantine dies early in the piece and Jean Valjean pledges to raise her young daughter Cosette. All the while, Jackman’s character is pursued by Javert, played by Russell Crowe.

The story then skips about a decade and we find Cosette (Seyfried) all grown up, succumbing to the romantic advances of Marius (Redmayne), who is spellbound by her beauty. At the same time as Marius falls for Cosette, we learn that his friend Eponine has fallen in love with him. But alas Eponine finds that it is a classic case of unrequited love.

Preparations then begin for the uprising, with Marius joining the group of young men plotting to overthrow the monarchy. At this time Valjean rejoins the story taking care of Marius after he is wounded by a musket during the Paris uprising. Valjean, the determined pursuer of Jackman’s character Valjean reappears too, still wanting to catch his man.

There is very little wrong with this film. The weakest link appears to be Crowe, who appears unconvincing and seems to struggle with the musical dialogue in the early part of the film. But this improves markedly as the film progresses. However, the acting side of the equation when it comes to Russell Crowe all adds up. Despite his initially shaky voice, Crowe hits a home run with the expression of emotions and even hits all the right notes as the film heads towards its conclusion.

Hugh Jackman provides the most dominant acting display of his career. He is aided in breaking through to the viewer by great camera work from director Tom Hooper who manages to capture in the most raw, but beautiful way the whole array of expressions we see from Jackman in the most important role of his career. Jackman nails the vocals as any ‘triple threat’ should and if you do not shed a tear or two, especially during ‘Bring Him Home’ then you are probably not human, or something along those lines.

Anne Hathaway is stunning as Fantine. For the period of time her character graces the screen you experience the blossoming of an actress that has not had the best roles of late. Hathaway owns the role with a faultless expression of the poor Fantine who endures many forms of deprivation trying to care for her Cosette. If it could be put simply, the only thing that need be uttered is ‘wow’. It’s what I was thinking and what my tears were saying, especially during ‘I Dreamed a Dream’. And her tears screamed how real it was too.

The romantic chemistry between Redmayne’s Marius and Seyfried’s Cosette was another strong part of the film. The scene where the pair meet and speak for the first time is among my highlights from the film. Both Redmayne and Seyfried put in such polished performances and you experience and can feel the full gamut of emotions from the pair.

And Samantha Barks, playing Eponine, provides for another exceptional display of acting and singing. Why would she not? Barks after all has again taken on the role which she first played on the London stage in 2010-11. Barks in that version of the immensely popular story performed brilliantly and beautifully. Her onscreen reprisal of the role certainly lived up to the lofty expectations developed after her immaculate performance onstage.

This film works, not just because of mostly amazing casting, but because of the brilliant work behind the camera from two people in particular. Director Tom Hooper, an Academy Award winner for The King’s Speech, managed to capture absolutely everything on film, from different aspects of the French landscape, to the all-important facial expressions and human emotion which needs to be captured and displayed in pure form in a first-class drama. At times the computer-generated imaging looked a bit too fake, but there is not much more that could have been done. And producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who brought Les Miserables to the London stage, managed to bring all the magic of the theatre production to the silver screen.

Fans of Les Miserables will almost without fault absolutely adore the movie and hold it just as dearly in their heart’s as they do the stage productions they have seen. The movie just works. But for some, the movie will not be an option, and that is down to little else but the length of the film and of course some people’s aversion to the drama genre.

Hugh Jackman will win the Oscar for Best Actor and Anne Hathaway will come away with Best Supporting Actress. They would have to be odds-on favourites for the two gongs. Don’t be surprised too if Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne receive award nominations for their supporting roles.

If you want to experience the joy of cinematic and musical excellence combined, then you simply must go and see the movie.

Merry Christmas to All

‘Tis the day before Christmas and all through the house
There is family who are stirring, making food that tastes grouse.

The year has whizzed by. It feels like it has only been a few months, maybe half a year since I started this blog.

And now it’s Christmas Eve. The season is a time for family, for sharing both presents and love, as well as some bloody good grub. It’s also a time to think of those we have lost and the impact they have had on our lives.

Christmas is also a time to remember those less fortunate than us, and to give what we can to them.

We must also give thanks to our armed forces serving overseas away from their families. They have loved ones in Australia who will be apprehensive, who will be worried this Christmas.

I too must thank you all for reading, regular, semi-regular and casual readers alike.

Merry Christmas to all, right and left. I look forward to getting back to writing about politics and sport for you all early in the new year.

A Little Bit About Bundaberg

The annual pilgrimage to Bundaberg for Christmas celebrations with the family has begun. I now find myself in the suburbs of Bundy, a bustling town, readying my stomach for an early Christmas feast.

Because I just could not last more than a day without writing- yes, let’s call it an addiction, a passion, I’ve decided to share some information about the place.

Bundaberg is of a decent size. There are over 70,000 residents in the town which is about 4 hours from Brisbane.

The town is famous for two things: sugar and Bundaberg Rum. And the latter is not made without copious amounts of the former.

Though Bundaberg is really famous for the teeth-rotting stuff and ‘cane-cutter’s cordial’, a significant amount of fruit and vegetables are grown in the area.

In terms of politics, the town is the main centre of the the Bundaberg Regional Council area.

At the state level, Bundaberg has two MP’s. They are MLA for Bundaberg, Jack Dempsey, the Police Minister and the MLA for Burnett, Stephen Bennett who won the seat from former LNP member, Rob Messenger. Both representatives are from the LNP.

When it comes to federal politics, the MP is Paul Neville, the Member for Hinkler. Mr Neville is also from the LNP, a National Party MP before the merger of the Liberal and National Parties in Queensland.

Now that you’re all schooled up on Bundaberg I must get ready for some overindulgence.

Lessons Learned From Australian Politics in 2012

As if you didn’t already know, the year is fast coming to a close. A few weeks ago now was the end of a tumultuous year in the federal parliament which saw us experience more noise, more nonsense and more annoying antics than ever before, not to mention many new rules and regulations. As I remarked to someone the other night, politics is a continuous learning curve, even for those of us that observe it closely and perhaps a little to closely.

To that end, I thought I would share with my readers, some lessons that I have learned from Australian politics in 2012. And you, the reader, may have learned these lessons too.


Now, I know upon reading the title of this section, that you are probably thinking, but of course we should be cynical about politics. And you are right, we should, unfortunately, be cynical about politics. Politics for many, including seasoned observers, has an uncanny knack of disappointing, of making us feel like we should almost always expect bad things from our elected representatives.

What I have in fact discovered over the last twelve months, is that a little bit of cynicism does not go far enough. It has to be at the front of your mind at all times as you dissect what politicians say and do in the mad scramble to get power or to maintain dominance. And that is a shame, because politicians should always have the mantra of doing the right thing in the forefront of their minds, not how to continue to be politically dominant.

The cause for needing extra cynicism is probably largely down to the tight numbers in Parliament House, though you would have to argue that the starting level of cynicism required to view politics is already too high.


The year 2012 has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that negative politics works. We have also proved beyond any shadow of a doubt here in Australia, that it is much easier to engage in than positive policy discussion.

The polls have shown though, that there is such thing as too much and that has affected party votes and leader preferences.

But if there is one thing that political pundits are sick of more than anything, it is exactly the ridiculous level of negativity that infects the political debate. The broader population however have largely switched off from politics and did so a long time ago.


This year, above all others, politicians have spent a large amount of time attacking the character of each other and the way that each side of politics conducts themselves in the political debate. Politicians have done this at the expense of policy arguments, though hopefully, with 2013 being an election year, policies will be the order of the day.

The lesson however, is do not be too hopeful.


Of course the general public experience fatigue from the consumption of politics even after the smallest possible political meal on the nightly news’ bulletins. And the public at large has been subjected to chronic political fatigue syndrome.

But one thing I never thought possible, even at the start of the year after about one and a half years of minority government, was that I, a self-confessed political junkie would at times be too exhausted by our politics and that is a sad indictment on the state of the discourse.


In 2012 we have seen, from time to time, more than I can ever remember, that party names and the political ideologies behind them are becoming even more redundant. In part this is because of the nature of the 43rd parliament and surely too, because of the increasing appeal of populism to political parties.

We’ve seen the Liberal Party become even less of a Liberal Party than under John Howard and have also seen Labor willing to ditch their core values more often than ever in the last 12 months. Both sides shifting has the potential to alienate people.


The year ends in less than two weeks and after that same period of time an election year will be upon us. Soon, the year 2012 in Australian politics will mean very little, as the more important election year choices start being made.

Let’s hope it is a much more edifying spectacle.

Decoding the NRA Statement on the Newtown Massacre

The National Rifle Association, more commonly referred to as the NRA, has finally broken its silence over the massacre which took the lives of mostly school children in Newtown Connecticut. In a statement posted on its website and their Facebook page, the powerful gun rights lobby group said:

“The NRA is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters – and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown. Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

The statement, though short, provides for interesting reading.

The political atmosphere in the United States of America appears to be vastly different after the Newtown slaying. The recent Aurora shooting and others this year shocked America and further fomented the gun control debate worldwide. But those displays of violence, though tragic and disturbing, had little impact on the domestic debate in the United States of America.

Now, quite possibly because so many young children were taken prematurely, both Democrats and Republicans, however few, are coming out in support of a change to gun laws.

Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein plans to introduce a bill which will again ban assault weapons, 100 of them by name at least, which have removable clips. And the President has now announced that he supports the Feinstein bill, a similar legislative move to the ban on assault weapons which was brought into force during the Clinton administration but allowed to lapse.

But back to the NRA statement. What does it  potentially reveal? And what could the mixed messaging in the two sentence statement actually point to in terms of action?

The first part of the first sentence is replete with NRA chest-beating. It seeks to remind Americans that they have 4 million members in the United States of America. The sentence also points out that the NRA membership is made up of people who have sons and daughters and that are sons and daughters, just like the majority of those killed last week.

Of course too, there was the obligatory expression of sympathy in the second part of the first sentence.

And then the first part of the next sentence attempts to explain the delay in the response from the lobby group. The trouble with this is that regardless of the facts of the case, the expression of sadness has been unnecessarily delayed. It is abundantly clear that the public had been expecting to hear from the organisation much sooner than today.

But it is the very last part of the statement, the last sentence, which has provoked the most interest. And why wouldn’t it? The last of the sentences says that the NRA, “is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

Exactly what the “meaningful contributions” are remains unclear to the US and to the world, until at least Friday American time, when the group makes a public statement in front of the cameras.

What must be said too is that the National Rifle Association’s definition of “meaningful contributions” to the debate, probably differs quite dramatically to what those on the gun control side of the debate have in mind.

For any NRA contribution to the debate to actually be even remotely meaningful it must include, at the very least, public support for the Feinstein bill on assault weapons.

And for any action on guns in the USA to be truly meaningful, the response would have to go much further. More than 100 plus assault weapons named in Feinstein’s bill would need to be made illegal for any real impact to be made on the US gun problem. All semi-automatic weapons should be banned.

There are other sensible moves too, which the NRA should support and which will not in any meaningful way impact on the 2nd Amendment rights of US citizens.

There needs to be a more stringent and nationally coordinated gun licensing framework than the mish-mash of different regulations across the states at present.

And, as the President has backed, there needs to be a closure of the loophole which has seen unlicensed dealers able to trade in weapons privately and made access to firearms all too easy.

There is surely almost no chance of the them supporting the Feinstein bill and probably no chance of the NRA supporting a ban on all semi-automatic weapons beyond those named by the Feinstein bill. A better, more aligned licencing regime has more of a chance of being supported by the group of shooters. And a closure of the “gun show loophole” would likely be vehemently opposed. But maybe, just maybe, a much more stringent approach to the sale of weapons at gun shows might be endorsed.

It will almost certainly be a case of the NRA and the government, as well as the people, having different definitions of “meaningful contributions” in the fight against gun violence. And once again the NRA will be left behind in an alternative universe where reality has long been a victim of warped worldviews.

Cutting Aid: Why, At What Cost and For What Gain?

The Gillard Government has today confirmed their intention to shift hundreds of millions of dollars from the overseas aid budget to the immigration budget. A total of $375 million in foreign aid will now be redirected to paying for onshore processing of asylum seeker applications. Not surprisingly there has been a significant amount of anger directed at the government from overseas aid providers in the charity sector.

The refocused budget allocations will help pay for the living costs of asylum seekers, 400 of whom have been released into the community, while their refugee claims are being processed.

The move comes weeks after the end of the parliamentary year. The contentious decision has arrived at a time when the government’s budget surplus is looking an even more impossible and unbelievable prospect than when Treasurer Wayne Swan announced that there would be four successive budget surpluses during his May fiscal statement.

Governments have a habit of making bad decisions, ones that will cause a political storm, when they think few are watching. And few likely are paying as much attention to the political debate, not just because of the toxic year in politics, but because we are coming ever closer to Christmas and there is always much less attention at this time of year.

And this latest decision about the aid budget comes after an announcement by the ALP Government that, in search of the elusive surplus, they would delay increasing the aid budget to 0.5% of gross national income by a year.

With the Australian Government moving to temporarily decrease our contribution to foreign aid, the question must be asked: What will be gained by our decision in terms of our domestic political environment?

The answer is, absolutely nothing. The chances of our budget returning to surplus are non-existent unless much more dramatic cuts are made. Returning the budget to surplus is not even seen, according to some polls, as a political necessity to help curb the poll woes facing the Labor Government.

If the Labor Party is so desperate to return to surplus, perhaps they could have considered cutting unnecessary subsidies and government programs which offer assistance to people and businesses that do not require government help.

What makes this decision harder to contemplate, even more baffling, is, as Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has pointed out, that it comes just two months after Australia won a seat on the UN Security Council. And what did we do to help our chances of winning a temporary spot on the Security Council? Why, we played around with our aid budget, offering significant financial incentives to developing nations.

But far more important than the terrible look this has in terms of our recently won UN campaign, is the human cost of such a short-sighted decision, from a government desperate to at least appear as if they have a shred of credibility when it comes to balancing the federal budget.

Of course foreign aid can always be better targeted and is most efficiently allocated when it is focused completely on our sphere of influence.

But development aid should never be cut . This is especially the case when such funds will not be replaced by payments from other nations, when our ultimate aim is to increase foreign aid and especially not when the domestic political situation is part of the equation and will not be changed by such a decision.

This is exactly what has occurred and in the shadow of Christmas.

The Australian Gun Situation and America

Gun reform is again being talked about in the United States of America after a terrible year for mass shootings in that country. There was the shooting in the cinema complex in Aurora, the Sikh temple rampage and now, most recently, the tragic slaying of mostly young children in Newtown, Connecticut. But unlike those needless acts of gun violence before it, the Newtown incident has created a much larger noise about gun control.

Some of the increased support for gun control is coming from within the US, most notably with the President hinting at the possibility of some form of action. Barack Obama however is not giving any hints as to the nature of the action. There is as yet no substance, just calming rhetoric.

What has been interesting though has been the growing interest from across the globe in America reforming its gun laws. It has been an attention, a focus with its roots appearing to go deeper than after any of the massacres this year.

Of course that will ultimately come to nothing. What matters is what Americans think about the issue and the pressure they are able to exert on their leaders. The most important factor, however, is what their leaders are both willing and able to do under  legislative circumstances which are fairly unique to their country.

There is talk of a possible return to the Clinton era ban on assault rifles and this would be a sensible move. But it would only be a band-aid solution, not to mention that it would almost certainly be reversed or allowed to expire by an incoming Republican administration.

There is however a way forward which has been offered and has been given almost as much worldwide attention as the need for the gun law reform itself. And this pathway comes in the form of laws brought in by former Australian Prime Minister John Howard which have enjoyed remarkable success since being introduced in 1996.

These laws instituted a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons and were put in place after our own Newtown, the Port Arthur massacre, where 35 people were gunned down. And these laws worked in Australia.

Of course, it is probably not within the realms of imagination to believe that the US would even consider remotely similar laws to those we have for guns in Australia.

In theory, similar nationwide laws could work in America. There would certainly be a marked decrease in gun violence across the nation. However the prospects of the same level of success that we had in Australia with the same laws in the USA are not good.

For a start, if, in the extremely unlikely event, the US and her composite states were able to agree on similar national gun control laws, the logistical task would be a massive challenge in itself. The sheer population of the US, at over 300 million, provides the biggest barrier to widespread success of the laws.

There would need to be a heavy reliance on honesty and the self-sacrifice of weapons as there was under the gun control laws in Australia. And of course US laws would also require the same combination of the financial incentives of a compulsory buy-back mixed with heavy criminal penalties for disobeying the law.

Policing the same kind of regime in the US would be a much more challenging effort. And any positive effects of the same type of laws would be more gradual and not as abiding as the Australian experience has proved to be.

But the change itself could be attempted if the political realities of the intersection between government and the gun lobby were not as they are, with the NRA holding so much sway and a gun culture  being so deeply ingrained in the national laws and psyche.

The reality however, is that for America, the gun control laws which Australia pursued provide the best and only way to seriously curb the number of gun related deaths.

The best part for a country of people worried about losing their right to bear arms is that Americans will not lose that right. Gun owners and many others will however think they are and that is part of the reason why a legislative change on the same scale as Australia will probably never happen.

The Ashby Decision and Living by the Same Rules

Earlier this week the Federal Court in Sydney threw out the sexual harassment suit against former Speaker Peter Slipper which was brought by his former staffer, James Ashby.

It was a spectacular turn of events after a tough year for Australian politics. The year has been book-ended by scandal, with allegations against Craig Thomson dominating debate particularly at the start of the political year. And now the dramatic collapse of the case against Peter Slipper, brought in April, sees the year end with a twist. 

Federal Court judge, Justice Steven Rares found that former Howard Government Minister and LNP candidate for Slipper’s electorate of Fisher, Mal Brough acted “in combination” with James Ashby and a second staff member ”to cause Mr Slipper as much political and public damage as they could inflict upon him.”

Of course the Gillard Government, as any would in the same position, has jumped on this and are now calling on Mal Brough to be disendorsed by the Queensland-based LNP.

But the ALP are seeking much, much more. Since the judgement was handed down, various Labor ministers and MP’s, including the Prime Minister have called upon Tony Abbott and other senior Coalition members to explain their knowledge of the affair.

And the government has not ruled out an inquiry into the events which have led to this crescendo.

Whether or not Mal Brough is disendorsed could depend on two factors: whether or not an appeal, (which James Ashby flagged his intentions of submitting), is successful, or whether the party organisation considers Brough damaged enough to not allow him to proceed with his candidacy for the Sunshine Coast electorate.

So far no appeal has been lodged and the LNP and senior federal Liberal MP’s have publicly endorsed Mal Brough to continue as their representative for Fisher in the 2013 election.

If no appeal is lodged, then of course Mal Brough should swiftly fall on his sword.

The case, in the way it is being prosecuted by the government, has strong parallels with the recently highly public AWU allegations levelled against Prime Minister Gillard.

Some members of the Labor Government appear to be alleging that there has been wrongdoing and a broader conspiracy involving shadow ministers in the federal Liberal Party.

Like the ALP required of the Opposition when the shoe was on the other foot, they will have to make clear what questions they have, but also which Liberal Party representatives should be answering those questions.  Further, the Labor Party needs to outline what acts of illegality or wrongdoing they are alleging transpired. And finally, the Gillard Government need to outline what evidence they have of wrongdoing.

There is a need for questions to be answered by senior Liberal MP’s, both to dispute the claims and for the sake of transparency.

Liberal MP’s were slow to react to the news and subject themselves to interviews about the claims. Some have however fronted the media in different parts of Australia and the world. But Christopher Pyne has so far avoided media scrutiny and Tony Abbott upon his return to Australia should perhaps face a slightly larger press pack, if anything for the sake of the image it would portray.

The next part of the equation is up to the Labor Party alone.

The ALP as a whole must outline what acts of illegality or moral wrongdoing they believe has occurred here. So far the strongest claim made by any Labor MP was of a broad conspiracy, but a number of senior Labor figures are singing slightly different tunes on this.

Finally, the Labor Party must produce hard evidence showing what they believe has gone on within the Liberal Party.

So far there is evidence of some communication between Christopher Pyne and James Ashby which has seen Mr Pyne change his story multiple times, but this does not prove collusion between the two, nor other unlawful acts. At the very least it is embarrassing and looks ugly.

Any proof that the Labor Party may have or think they may have of misdeeds will need to be presented. Labor might also use an inquiry as a vehicle for gathering evidence and that is their prerogative.

This saga is likely to extend well beyond Christmas and into the election year. But Labor, in the Prime Minister’s own words, must “put up or shut up.”

How the Gillard Government Wants to Tackle Female Genital Mutilation

On Tuesday night Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her government’s intention to attempt to cut down the number of people suffering because of female genital mutilation, or FGM. Julia Gillard, in making her announcement highlighted a number of elements in her government’s plan to cut down on instances of FGM happening in Australia.

First and foremost is a review of the legal framework. There will also be a national summit, cutting out the ritual will become a national health priority and grants will be offered to community organisations so that they can run education campaigns and increase community awareness about the illegality and barbaric nature of the procedure. And finally, the Gillard Government will seek to ensure that there is more research done on the ugly ritual and that better data collection procedures are in place.

The World Health Organisation defines female genital mutilation as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.”

The WHO goes on to say that FGM “involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and hence interferes with the natural function of girls’ and women’s bodies. The practice causes severe pain and has several immediate and long-term health consequences, including difficulties in childbirth also causing dangers to the child.”

Female genital mutilation is most commonly practiced by people in and from African countries, though it does exist in other countries around the world including in the Middle East and Asia.

It is important to note that conducting such procedures has been made illegal in all Australian jurisdictions, with the short operation being illegal when inflicted upon both children and adults.

With this in mind we should look at the individual elements of the package announced by Ms Gillard and whether or not they will be effective in the fight against FGM.

The first aspect of the government’s response to FGM is to review the legal framework.

There is probably little scope for any dramatic change to the laws and any potential changes are not likely to make the largely secretive practice easier to prosecute. And the consistency of legislation across state jurisdictions is not an issue with the practice illegal across the states and territories.

The best response in terms of the legal framework is to make penalties for those found guilty of this form of harm much stronger and perhaps even more clearly distinguished from other crimes involving physical harm. Making the criminal penalty nationally consistent might also help.

The Council of Australian Governments will provide the best forum to discuss changing state-based criminal laws which make FGM illegal.

Another part of the policy response offered by the Labor Government is a national summit on the outlawed act.

This is the most unnecessary and useless part of the policy puzzle when it comes to trying to prevent this type of harm to young girls and women. It will be an expensive exercise which will not in itself provide a catalyst for a dramatic change in the use of FGM techniques and practices in Australia.

Making tackling female genital mutilation a national health priority is, at the very least an important symbol of the government’s desire to try ensure that this vile and unnecessary act is stopped wherever possible. There are short and long-term health related consequences wrought by this particularly grotesque form of bodily mutilation which will also have a growing monetary cost if the problem is not effectively tackled.

Part of the package announced by the PM is the intention to offer grants to community organisations which will educate people about the harm caused by genital mutilation procedures.

Whether or not this kind action will result in a significant decrease in female genital mutilation is yet to be seen. The program will surely have some kind of impact on the number of procedures which occur when the negative medical and legal consequences are made clear. FGM is however a practice strongly entrenched in some cultures.

A further problem with this part of the response however is that the sum of money involved is too small. Only $500,000 is on offer under the proposal from Julia Gillard and that will not be enough for ongoing programs to educate particularly migrant communities about the negative effects of genital mutilation.

Research and data collection will continue to be difficult unless victims present to medical authorities with obvious signs of the effects of female genital mutilation. A nationally consistent reporting mechanism which takes into account both prosecuted cases of FGM and suspected cases should however be pursued.

The government appears willing to make a greater effort to rub out a practice that is very secretive. But there are gaps and unnecessary elements in the response that has been triggered.

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