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Queensland Helps Break the Political Mould

In the world of politics there is a lot of talk about different eras. In most countries politics is referred to in terms of pre and post-war eras. In Australia we talk about pre and post war politics and even post-1975 Australia. And in the United States of America there is also discussion of a post-war era. Today in Australia, we can fairly comfortably talk of there being a post-2010 age of politics.

The Newman Government – and Campbell Newman himself – dramatically lost power in Queensland in what has to be one of the biggest shock results in politics, even eclipsing the hung parliament outcome in federal politics in 2010. To put it simply – nobody saw this coming, surely even the Australian Labor Party in Queensland.

A number of people argued after the Victorian election earlier this year and the hung parliament in 2010, that one-term governments could be the big new possibility in Australian politics. It was far from certain that it could be a new feature of Australian democracy on a semi-regular basis back when Daniel Andrews became Premier, but now it seems it can be seen that way. Barring drastic change in the fortunes of the federal coalition, it seems the Abbott Government will be a one term government.

The questions that will be asked a lot over the coming days and weeks are ‘what happened? And how/why did it happen?’. Without a doubt there were multiple factors, including things the LNP had control over and that they did not.

By far the biggest factor which the outgoing government in Queensland could control but failed to was how they governed the state. Campbell Newman and the LNP governed with an arrogance, surely in large part fuelled by the whopping majority handed to them by voters in 2012.But they also began governing without listening to voters. It is one of the simplest rules in democratic politics that you must listen to the public.

Even in conservative Queensland, it is hard to deny the fact that federal politics played a role. A number of state and federal Coalition MP’s admitted as much, including Jane Prentice in a most dramatic fashion on the ABC election night broadcast. Long gone is the time when you could safely say that federal issues had little or no bearing on state results. In this space, it has come very quickly to a point in time when most people are asking when Tony Abbott will lose his job as Prime Minister rather than if he will.

The assets question is an interesting one. It is a question that was put to Queensland voters by the LNP Government a while back and one the LNP thought they could build a case for on the back of deciding to lease some assets rather than sell them. However it seems that polling indicated it was one of the big issues on the minds’ of the voting public.

The cuts made by the LNP at the beginning of their tenure surely played a role in the devastating result too. Voters knew that the LNP had to make cuts and they always have to after a long-term Labor Government. It was the terrible and shady way this issue was dealt with which would have really annoyed the people of Queensland.

It is hard to argue that the ALP won this campaign, and therefore government. The whole campaign it felt like they were going through the motions. It was quite obvious that the only goal many in the party saw achievable was knocking over Campbell Newman in Ashgrove. To put it quite simply it was the LNP who lost government. They did so through a series of politically stupid decisions.

The LNP have to make some difficult choices now in order to become electable again in three years’ time. They have to pick a new leader and really think about which issues to keep on fighting on in the usual way and those where they need to have a different perspective.

In terms of the leadership question, it looks reasonably likely that the Liberal National Party will finally turn to Tim Nicholls. As far as experience in a key economic portfolio goes, he looks like the ideal candidate to replace Campbell Newman. The trouble with his candidacy will be the question of whether or not he is viewed by the public as damaged goods having been the Treasurer for Campbell Newman.

The LNP would really want to think long and hard about this very important consideration. The issue with John-Paul Langbroek and Lawrence Springborg, other than their ministerial association with the former government, will be their failed attempts at the party leadership in the past. However, working in their favour is the example of John Howard.

There is one other contender thrown up in the leadership equation, and that is Scott Emerson, the former Transport Minister. There is the ministerial association with the outgoing administration, however he has not been as heavily linked with a string of tough decisions as the other candidates have been. Mr Emerson would also be a lacklustre choice, but then so was Annastacia Palaszczuk and she will become the new Premier.

There are not a lot of certainties in Australian politics anymore. We will have to keep watching intently to see what else may happen and just what is possible the next time Queensland heads to the polls.

Rugby League Shining Brightly

Sixteen weeks ago, Newcastle Knights’ player Alex McKinnon suffered a serious neck injury which has seen him confined to a wheelchair. The 22-year-old now has a long rehabilitation process ahead of him. Almost immediately after the incredibly rare, yet devastating event, the rugby league community, from the professional right through to the grassroots level, rallied around the rising star of the NRL whose whole life has now changed.

In a wonderful gesture, the Newcastle Knights – under financial strain – said that they would honour the rest of Alex McKinnon’s contract in order to assist Alex and his family with the long rehabilitation process. The NRL stepped up and delivered too. Alex McKinnon was graciously offered a job for life with the organisation, and a foundation was set up in his name.

But that was not all. Not that long ago the NRL said that Round 19 would be the #RiseForAlex round. The aim of the round, to raise funds for the foundation and for McKinnon. Another wonderful idea.

That round commenced on Friday night, with two very entertaining and high-scoring matches played. The two games so far were a celebration of rugby league, as much as they were a chance to help out a young man in need.

As I sat comfortably in my loungeroom, I began to ponder all things Alex McKinnon and all things NRL. It was a cathartic experience as I parsed through the thoughts I was having about what this tragedy, and the way the different actors have reacted, says about the NRL and its’ players. And there were thoughts about the man himself.

There might have also been a quiet tear or two. But they were happy tears. The Alex McKinnon situation resonated with me on a personal level.

Aside from a small issue I have grappled with in relation to the #RiseForAlex hashtag, and the contentious judiciary decision involving a Melbourne Storm player, the Knights and the rugby league community as a whole, not just the NRL have conducted themselves admirably. Their actions soon after the full extent of the injury to Alex McKinnon was known, could barely be faulted.

The one thing that I am still the tiniest bit unsure about is the wording of the hashtag. Is it a call to the community to get in and raise money? Or does it imply, in the tiniest way, that others have to help Alex and that he cannot help himself? I am probably over-thinking this. I have a tendency to do that. But nonetheless, the thought did cross my mind. Obviously though, I am not claiming there was any malicious intent. It’s just the case that words can have different meanings to different people.

Aside from my happiness at seeing the NRL community pull together, I also considered how Alex has so far dealt with what is the biggest challenge in his young life.

This is where it got really personal for me. I too have a disability. I was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.

I thankfully still have the use of my legs. But life has not been without its challenges. But they pale in comparison with those struggles that Alex and his family are now enduring. Alex is the very personification for me of the old adage that there is always someone doing it tougher than you.

The way that he has dealt with his acquired injury – and in the public eye – is something to behold. I have known nothing but a life of disability and I struggled to come to terms with it, basically until I found swimming when I was about 11. A few months after his injury, Alex appears to be dealing with his far more severe disability in a much more positive way. Of course he admits there have been tough times, but it barely shows when you see his smiling face in the video updates.

A horrific event in rugby league has brought out the best in those involved in the game. And it appears it has brought out the best in the victim. Perhaps most importantly, the response of the broader community appears to have been quite significant based on early indications.

You cannot underestimate too, the effect this might have on the way that we as Australians view disability.

Carbon Tax Repealed, Hyperbole Revealed

Today the Abbott Government were, 10 months after their election, able to see the repeal of the former Labor Government’s carbon tax pass through the Senate. Finally the Coalition was able to deliver on their most solemn commitment to the Australian people in 2013. It has not been an easy road to this point for the Coalition, not just in the area of carbon pricing, but in general. Understandably then, the relief of today’s events among Coalition MP’s and Senators was palpable.

But not all political players were happy. The Greens led the way with the condemnation of the government and understandably so. It was at their insistence that the former Labor Government introduce a price on carbon in return for their support in minority government. The ALP also voiced their concerns with the events of today. Their position being that Australia needs an Emissions Trading Scheme.

As often happens when controversial things occur in politics, there was not much restraint shown in the language used to describe what happened in Canberra. Hyperbole got a real workout. Both politicians and social media indulged in making hyperbolic statements.

The trouble is, whatever your viewpoint on this, or any other issue, hyperbole does little to further your cause. It makes you look overly emotional and can turn people off your cause. Simple language without outlandish claims works best when trying to communicate serious points. Few people like feeling as if they are being preached to. It is better to feel you are part of a solution than it is that you are part of a problem.

By far the most overblown and indeed overused claim today was that the repeal of the carbon tax would doom the planet. It was said by many that our children and their children should be told it was Tony Abbott and his government who should be held responsible for the state of the planet in their lifetime. This is just plain wrong.

What one nation does in isolation will not curb or exacerbate global warming in any significant way. What the international community as a whole chooses to do, or at least the vast majority of countries, will have an impact.

What one nation does in reversing action on curbing emissions will, on the other hand, have a significant impact on their own natural environment and the health of their citizens.

This so far might sound like an endorsement for so-called ‘direct action’. It is not. That policy is incredibly expensive.

What Australia needs is an Emissions Trading Scheme, or ETS. We almost had one not all that long ago. It was not perfect, but it was a very good start. And it would have saved a lot of political trouble for multiple players in the years after it was dumped. And it would have been reducing emissions long before Labor’s carbon tax began operating.

The debate around climate change and how to tackle it will continue. And that leaves open the possibility that minds will change. The key is that emotion is largely taken out of the debate, while still being able to calmly discuss the potential consequences of global inaction.

DisabilityCare, Geelong and the Decentralisation of Public Services

Planning for the NDIS, now DisabilityCare is coming along quite well. The only state yet to sign up to the full roll-out of the Gillard Government’s new plan for disability services is Western Australia. And just a few short weeks ago, the legislation for the funding of the disability scheme was introduced into the parliament and swiftly passed through both the upper and lower houses of parliament.

And on Monday this week the government announced that the headquarters for the government program will be in the Victorian city of Geelong. The move to base the head office of the scheme in Geelong came less than two weeks after the city took a big hit with Ford announcing it plans to cease production of automobiles in the country, a decision which will cost over 1000 jobs.

As a result of the government’s announcement, three hundred jobs will be on offer in Geelong, in what is being pushed as assistance to a town which will be beginning the transition away from large-scale manufacturing, at least as far as cars go, over the next three years.

But here we reach the first question. Is it really of great assistance to Geelong, and in particular, workers who will be leaving Ford Australia? Potentially. Some may be picked up over time by the DisabilityCare agency as they try to seek work locally. Some will inevitably retrain in another area, perhaps in public administration or disability services. But others will need to look elsewhere in Geelong, or perhaps much further afield.

What the announcement really is, in the way it was framed, is a symbolic gesture by the Labor Government, meant to appeal to the heartstrings.

Another claim put forth by the government is that it is an example of a commitment to the decentralisation of the public service. And it is decentralisation, in the sense that  the top brass in the DisabilityCare bureaucracy will not be based in the traditional heartland of the commonwealth public service in Canberra. Having a number of staff in the states and territories is also an example of decentralisation.

What this policy needs however, is a more deeply decentralised structure. Rather than simply saying that the top end of the bureaucracy should be based in one city or town or another, we should be spreading it around Australia more, on the basis of the population of each state and territory respectively. We ought to have decision-makers much closer to “the action”.

This reform is about delivering the best we can to the most vulnerable in our community. This means throwing as much as possible into a number of local areas, including major players.

Of course the CEO and some staff are going to have to be placed in one location. That is not a problem, but more senior staff should be spread around.

There are still other issues to be teased out in terms of making sure that the funding commitments aside from the levy are maintained, regardless of who is in government. And we must make sure that Western Australia joins in with the disability insurance scheme, or worst case scenario, offers a policy almost identical to the national one, save for possible improvements on how to administer it.

There is a lot still to be discussed, but the die has been cast and Geelong has secured some employment opportunities. But all care needs to be taken and in particular, lessons need to be learned, during and after the trial phase which commences in just a number of weeks.

Hopefully there will be no hard lessons in the coming years.

But One Story of Sacrifice

The month is April and the year 1945. The war with Germany is fast coming to an end. For now, the bombing continues but a victorious end is in sight for the Allied powers. There is just one month of armed conflict still to play out between the Germans and Allied forces. Towns and cities across Europe have already been liberated and some of history’s most shocking atrocities uncovered across the continent. At the end of the month Adolf Hitler will commit suicide after the Battle of Berlin, his reign of terror at an end, but his crimes left behind, leaving an indelible mark on that period of history.

Now imagine this: You are twenty years old, having just waved your teenage years goodbye the month prior. You are an Australian stationed with No. 462 squadron in Norfolk, England having previously been based in Yorkshire. You have been a long way away from home for a couple of years and overseas for almost one. You have been flying in a combat situation for a very short period of time.

Imagine your parents, at home, across the other side of the world, in relative peace and safety, though not completely at ease as we know. Imagine the ever-present worry they are experiencing, contemplating what every knock at the door might mean for your family. Imagine how difficult it would be for them to focus their family at home, the four other boys now growing into fine young men and looking forward to long and fulfilling careers.

John_M_Tait_-_ready_to_fly_web

Now back to Britain…

The date is the 10th of April. One day ago you returned from a very brief period of leave. You are back into the regimented lifestyle of the air force and likely to have to return to the skies at any time. You are a Mid Upper Gunner and late in the previous year you were promoted to the rank of Flight Sergeant. You have experienced flight in Tiger Moths, Ansons and Wellingtons, but now you are a part of a crew which man a Halifax bomber.

The 10th of April will be the day you find yourself back flying over enemy territory in Germany. You and your Halifax crew have been tasked with flying in a special duties operation over Leipzig. You partake in all the usual pre-flight rituals, tasks and briefings and then you take to the skies from your staging base.

From the beginning of the mission everything is as usual. You make the journey over the seas in the big, menacing flying fortress that is the Halifax, a big gun of the fleet. Your patrol has commenced over enemy territory and then something happens. Your plane is brought down in the dark of the night.

Back in Australia, on the 13th of April, your parents get a knock on the door. They have received a telegram to inform them that you are missing after your mission over Germany. One can only imagine the emotion they are going through. Should they think the worst and presume you were killed in action? Or do they hold out hope that you may have made it out alive?

After a month, your parents receive news: One of the crewmen has survived but he has no news about your whereabouts. This is where the tragedy, the hopelessness of the situation must surely start to sink in for your family, or does it? For months you are still considered missing, along with the rest of the crew of the aircraft.

Your parents finally receive official notification in November of 1945 that your death was presumed to have occurred on the night of the 10th of April. Your parents have been through the horrors of war first-hand, something that so many parents across the globe had to contend with over the period of World War Two. Your mother has not taken it well and has found your passing hard to believe.

This is the true story of my great uncle John Mickle Tait. His is but one tragic story in a war that saw over 39,000 Australians lose their lives. Let us hope that we and those who follow us never again have to experience the tragedy, death, division, conflict and horror that our forebears did.

Lest We Forget.

Pretending Not to Fail at Asylum Seeker Policy

Prime Minister Julia Gillard spent some time with our friends across the Tasman over the weekend. The Prime Minister met with her New Zealand counterpart John Key in Queenstown for the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders’ meeting. Among other things, the meeting triggered a warning to phone companies to bring down roaming charges or face regulations and also a $3 million pledge to try to develop a vaccine for rheumatic fever.

But it is the asylum seeker and refugee conundrum which will always garner the most attention in the media and tend to dominate talks with other nations in our region. And of course this trip was no exception.

Both the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers’ managed to reach a new deal with regard to refugees. It was agreed between the two leaders that New Zealand will accept and resettle 150 refugees from Australia. The agreement, commencing in January 2014 will see the transfer of genuine refugees from the Australian mainland and also the offshore immigration facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.

On the face of it, the deal looks pretty ordinary, but at least like an attempt to deal with the movement of asylum seekers in the region. But it is not even close to a deal that understands the policy problem facing governments in the Asia-Pacific.

The deal fails in two key areas. First, it is an attempt to appear to be trying to do something in terms of the domestic policy situation surrounding refugee policy which is a fraught area for government. Second, it appears to be an attempt to deal with the regional nature of the asylum seeker equation which is a traditionally much more difficult part of the “solution” to reach agreement on.

Australia agreeing to send 150 refugees to New Zealand gives the appearance of acting on the domestic implications of irregular people movements. But in reality the deal will do nothing of the sort. It will not cut down the overcrowding of detention centres in Australia and our offshore facilities. The number, 150, is simply too low for that aim to ever be achieved.

Voters will know that it is the performance of a political illusion. It is an attempt to appeal to the irrational fear of outsiders that a number of our politicians seem all too willing to gently prompt with their often deliberate choice of language when describing maritime arrivals. Politicians care far too much about the votes in being tough on asylum seekers. In fact they should not be tough at all – there is no crime involved, so no punishment is required.

The pact reached at the weekend also fails the regional test. The deal, involving the transfer of genuine refugees from Australia to New Zealand is given the veneer of a regional solution, but it is nothing of the sort. In fact, the only thing remotely regional about the policy is that it involves more than one country in our region.

With the deal there will be no increase in the number of genuine refugees that New Zealand takes in on an annual basis. The 150 refugees that New Zealand will accept from 2014 will be a part of their annual intake of 750. That adds nothing to the regional quota and will still see a large number of boats arriving in Australia.

A significant addition to the refugee intake in the region is what is needed. And with a number of countries in Asia not signatories to the Refugee Convention, it is discussion to get those countries onboard, and a deal with New Zealand on a quota increase which is required to do anything significant about people movement in the region. Of course Australia has recently decided to increase its humanitarian quota, but the election result will likely see it return to the previous number.

But the regional part of the policy discussion is not the only important and meaningful part of the puzzle. Even those politicians with a keen interest in the regional dynamics of the discussion are missing the point. Far too often the regional options are discussed at the expense of the international. Refugee policy is an international problem because conflict is an international problem across all regions of the world.

The agreement contains two false attempts at pursuing refugee policy in a meaningful way, both domestically and regionally. Couple that with an international failure to acknowledge and deal with the movement of people in the early stages and you can be sure we will continue to see large numbers of asylum seekers making the dangerous journey to Australia by sea.

Britain’s Moving on Marriage, Why Can’t We?

A draft bill which aims to establish marriage equality in England and Wales  has passed through the House of Commons – their equivalent of our House of Representatives. The vote was won by a handsome margin – 400 votes to 175 in the lower house in Britain. The Conservative Party, governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, allowed a conscience vote on the same-sex marriage bill put before the House. And a majority of Labor MP’s and Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the bill.

Unsurprisingly, given the recent history of the marriage debate in Australia, after the proposition was voted down by a wide margin in the Australian parliament and how strong support for gay marriage still is in Australia – the discussion of the successful vote in the United Kingdom quickly led to a discussion of the consequences of the move for the Australian cause.

As it has been from the start, the big issue was the comparison between the stance of the Conservative Party in the UK and that of the Liberal Party in Australia. The former, David Cameron’s Conservative Party, gave their MP’s a conscience vote in the parliament. Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party, with a history of granting conscience votes, opted not to go down the route of a conscience vote, using the excuse of going to the 2010 promising to keep the marriage act unamended.

Many will say that it is the Coalition held back the cause of equal marriage with their decision not to hold a conscience vote. The Liberal Party should certainly have allowed a conscience vote, hoping to at least appear more liberal than they have been. It is however far from certain, even with a conscience vote, that the bill would have passed the Lower House. At the very least it would have been a close-run thing.

It has also been said that today’s win in the UK will put pressure on the Liberal Party when it comes to marriage equality. Will it? Not necessarily. In fact, probably not. The Liberal Party will likely decide, at least for the foreseeable future – not to take their cues from outside and foreign influences. The move toward marriage equality in the UK should, even though it will not – prove that legislating for same-sex marriage is not a scary thing and not a step too far for conservatives.

Perhaps the best thing for the cause of gay marriage, as far as the Liberal Party is concerned, would be for the remaining liberal forces in the party, though they are rapidly dwindling, to continue to try to muster the political strength to call on the party to adopt a conscience vote. This in itself will not be an easy task. But there have been branch wins reported and if these continued, then the pressure will continue to mount on the parliamentary Liberal Party to change their stance.

Where the argument will not be won is through trying to claim that the issue would be a vote-winner for the Liberal Party. There is no doubt that marriage equality is at its most popular as a concept and a future reality in Australia. Polls continuously show that a majority of respondents favour amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. And that cuts across all political parties, even the Liberal Party.

But that does not translate into votes. On the face of it, it may seem like overwhelming support for an issue would equal votes if that policy direction was pursued. But contrary to what some appear to believe, most people do not vote on one single issue or even two or three. They might vote on the economy as a single issue, but very few would vote for marriage equality as a single issue. People voting for marriage equality are likely overwhelmingly vote for a political entity hoping to pursue a whole suite of progressive measures.

Really, what needs to be continually pointed out is that the demise of the sanctity of marriage will not come from gay marriage, but outside forces, more related to the way in which we live our lives.

The UK example should serve as a reminder to the Liberal Party that gay marriage is not an evil concept which conservatives must avoid at all costs. But minds will not be dramatically shifted because of what has happened in Britain.

The Liberal Party will however have to realise that a change to the Marriage Act is inevitable, even if they do not wish to go along with it.

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.

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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