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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 10 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 2824 ..


Debate resumed from 23 November 1995, on motion by Mr Humphries:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

MR CONNOLLY (4.03): This Bill implements something that both Mr Humphries and I publicly said last year should be done and so will have the support of the Labor Opposition. In late 1993, through early 1994, public concern was directed at the issue of female genital mutilation. There was concern around Australia about what should be done about this practice, which, it was feared, was growing within certain sections of the Australian community from a background beyond our shores where this was regarded as an acceptable cultural practice. At the time, the advice I received, and this is pretty much confirmed in Mr Humphries's speech, was that in all likelihood the practice of female genital mutilation was currently an offence. It amounted to an assault under the Crimes Act. You cannot consent to an assault. Certainly, a young child cannot consent to the practices involved in genital mutilation in order to prevent it from being an assault.

The view we took in government, which a number of other States took, and this was discussed quite extensively at a meeting of Commonwealth, State and Territory Attorneys-General, was that it would be better to have a specific law relating to this issue. Some States took a different view at the time and said, "No, it is covered by assault, so there is no need for special legislation". As Attorney-General last year, on behalf of the then ACT Government I announced that we would move to introduce special laws in this area but that we would seek to work with other States and Territories that were like-minded as far as possible to have commonality of laws. New South Wales, in fact, moved very quickly. The other States and Territories waited a while and, as is explained in the in-principle speech Mr Humphries has presented, this year some model provisions emerged and were settled upon, I think, at the July meeting of State and Territory Attorneys-General.

As Mr Humphries says, in this Bill there are some minor departures from the model laws. We would not say that this is an area where there must be absolute 100 per cent uniformity, but we would agree that it is sensible that our laws are basically modelled on the national laws. For that reason, they do have our support. Mr Moore had some concerns about this. I hope I am not pre-empting him, but can I just say that we would not have been minded to go down that path because of uniformity, although we acknowledge that the points Mr Moore was making were quite powerful points and that, if this law does not achieve its desired effect and if the sorts of abuses Mr Moore is concerned about occur, he may well find more support. Indeed, he may well find support on both sides of the house.

I hope this law will not need to be used, that it will serve its function as an educative law. For that reason, I would specifically note in the Opposition's response that we would accept what Mr Humphries himself acknowledges is an unusual commencement provision, where this law, quite unusually, will not have the standard ACT commencement provision, which requires automatic commencement if it is not enacted within six months.

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