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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2321..


MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

In developing this legislation, the desire for uniformity with other jurisdictions has been kept in mind. Very close attention has been paid to a draft Bill which was prepared by the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee, which committee comprises representatives from all Australian jurisdictions. The officers committee's draft Bill was endorsed by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General at its July 1995 meeting. This was subject to the provisions concerning children applying to females under 18 years of age, and not females under 16 years of age as suggested by the officers committee. In relation to the issue of age, the provisions in the proposed ACT legislation concerning children will apply to females under 18 years of age. In developing the legislation, close attention also has been paid to the New South Wales and South Australian legislation. The only substantive difference between this Bill and the model provisions developed by the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee is that this Bill, like the New South Wales legislation, clearly defines which medical procedures have a genuine therapeutic purpose and thus do not constitute an offence.

Mr Speaker, a crucial part of any strategy to address female genital mutilation is community education. Simply imposing criminal sanctions is not enough. It runs the risk of driving the practice underground and of discouraging the very people who are in need of education and support from seeking help. This is particularly important since, in Australia, many women from the relevant countries are refugees; hence they are already members of a very vulnerable group.

The Family Law Council concluded that, for at least one generation, women from countries which practise female genital mutilation will be under considerable pressure to continue this practice. The Queensland Law Reform Commission also found that, as a result of the public debate which developed about female genital mutilation in Australia in 1993, many affected women reported feelings of rejection, humiliation and fear of having their daughters taken from them, which may discourage them from seeking medical treatment. This is the last thing we want to happen.

For these reasons, the legislation does not contain the usual automatic commencement provision. Thus even if the substantive provisions of the legislation have not commenced operation within six months after the legislation is notified in the Gazette, they will not automatically commence operation. Without this usual automatic commencement provision, the Government will be able to ensure that the substantive provisions of the legislation do not commence operation until after an ACT education awareness campaign has started.

The Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health has provided funding for a national education campaign on these practices. Of this, $37,000 is being made available to the Territory for the 1995-96 financial year. The Department of Health and Community Care, in consultation with a reference group which is made up of representatives from relevant women's health and community agencies, is developing an education program. It is envisaged that the education program will target appropriate ethnic communities, health care workers, and workers in the welfare, education and legal sectors. I commend this Bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.


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