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This is an example of some of my writing in articles that have been published on the web.

Hung Parliament

For those of you living under a rock for the last four days (or living in the US, which can, on occasion, mean the same thing) Australia’s Federal election yielded a stunning and history-making ‘no result’. The buzzards are circling, there are a few rats deserting various sinking ships and sub-editors the country over have completely run out of headlines that successfully pun on the word ‘hung’ without saying exactly how well.

And yet, the end of the world is not yet quite nigh.

It’s a little hard to tell just exactly what the people of Australia said when they spoke on Saturday – but whatever it was, it came across loud and clear. To everybody but the politicians, that is.

Throughout the entire campaign, everybody – bar none – was saying it was boring, that there wasn’t a policy to be seen (or rather, not one we could take seriously) and the level of differentiation between the parties appeared to lie in gender alone – a card neither had played (the only – sadly, yes only – wise move on both their parts).

And that, in a nutshell, is the core of the problem. Not so much the boredom (although that doesn’t help) but more the fact that there really wasn’t much to choose between the parties. Okay, Labor has a serious National Broadband Network policy. But that’s about it. The election result exactly reflects the campaign – or in the language of computer advocates the world over: if you put garbage in, you get garbage out.

The pundits are all out now, dancing around the three independents who are to be the king-makers. It’s at times like these that clichés run amok (and you can see how I’ve cleverly stepped into line with that policy). Everybody wants to be the one to break the news as to which party they will support, and what price that party will pay for the privilege of winning the crown. Every journalist or political commentator worth his salt (and plenty who aren’t) is vying for the attention of the public in picking the eventual winner.

Strangely however, the Australian people don’t appear to be that concerned either way. We do have a wonderful, ‘she’ll be right’ attitude that’s done us well for a couple of centuries – and I can see it clearly in the faces queued at the supermarket. Until things are resolved, budgetary supply can’t be blocked – so the country can keep jogging along as is, even though no new legislation can be passed or even introduced to parliament.

My question is – who’d notice?

Oh, yes, I know that if this went on long enough it would become a problem. But that ignores the underlying, very real and much more important problem: politics has become the bland exercise of risk minimization and of harm reduction. Politicians are terrified to let themselves be real because the back room guys don’t want to have to clear up the mess if there’s a slip-up. Julia Gillard made this observation when she publicly stated she would stop doing that – and to give her credit, she did loosen up a little. But we were expecting too much after a career spent curbing her natural manner and carefully schooling her thoughts. And we all jumped up and down when Tony Abbott admitted he said things he didn’t really mean.

But even so, it’s like they’ve been laid out on the ironing board and pressed flat using the same mould. The reason we can see any difference between the parties is because there isn’t really a difference any more.

Back in the good old days (yes, I used that phrase – get over it) it was possible to know what a party would do in a given situation by looking at the underlying platform published by the party. Such a platform would talk about the philosophy and beliefs members of the party would share, the overall vision they had for the country.

Now days the very thought of articulating an underlying party philosophy scares the crap out of political leaders. This is how the party of the elite, the Liberals, somehow positioned themselves to appeal to “Howard’s battlers”, where the battlers were actually the poor working class normally protected by the Labor party.

There’s no philosophy because that would require consistency. If there’s consistency, then it’s harder to backflip or be suddenly reactionary – the way both parties suddenly are on the issue of ‘boat people’.

Just as an aside, Tony Abbott – if you’re reading this – can you please explain to me, precisely what the danger is? You’re trying to make us terrified – but of what? You’ve never actually said. Just explain it and I’ll shut up, okay?

An election is often referred to as a politician’s report card, marked by the people. On Saturday, the Australian people spoke, and what they said was, “Must try harder.”

No Taste of Justice

In 1984, the world was stunned by pictures of ordinary people lying dead in the streets of the town of Bhopal, in India. The Union Carbide factory had released a deadly gas that killed 3,800 people outright and caused devastating health problems for many thousands more – including birth defects in children whose mothers were only babies at the time. It took just five years for the financial settlement to be finalised in the courts – during which time some emergency support had been provided by the company and the government , together with other charitable and medical organisations. And now, finally, 26 years later, the criminal proceedings have at last produced a guilty verdict. No sentences mind – just a verdict.

But it’s not much of a verdict, given the decades victims had to wait. Charges of culpable homicide were downgraded to ‘negligence’. Only 8 men were convicted of the original 9 – one had died in the intervening years. More importantly for the survivors, none of the American senior management ever responded to summons and appeared to answer charges levelled against them. The downgraded charges mean the convicted men will only spend a few years in prison – for killing almost 4,000 people!

When the British withdrew from India, they left behind the infrastructure of empire: an essential railway system, schools, commerce, bureaucracy – and a legal system that had essentially been set up to provide for British business interests rather than the local people. Nevertheless, India was provided a legacy of the rule of law and a justice system that was considerably better than some former colonial outposts.

Today, India is the second most populous country in the world, with economic growth sitting only behind the giant of China. The Indian middle class has never been so well off, so well-educated and so determined to bring success back home.  So why does it take 26 years to get a guilty verdict on downgraded charges?

The victims of Bhopal aren’t part of the wealthy middle-class enjoying new-found Western luxuries, and this isn’t just about poverty and providing food and work for people, or clean water or health. It’s about providing one of the most important structures of civilization. How are these people ever to achieve any sense of justice when it takes 26 years for a verdict to be reached? Why would these people ever put their trust in the law when this is what happens? Why would anyone?

And I’m not just talking about India, here. Just this week in Australia, we’re hearing about a boy who was wrongly charged with rape and the awful mistakes made by the police to put him in that position in the first place. It took the boy and his family more than twelve months to free themselves from the nightmare – but not before all were permanently scarred by their brush with a system of law that should work a hell of a lot better than it does. Then, to top off a week filled with reports of one rape after another, the nephew of a Somalian dictator convicted of raping a 14 year-old girl, managed to avoid jail in Melbourne. He confessed to the crime and yet doesn’t serve any time. How does that work?

I don’t want to do away with the law. I just want it to work the way it’s supposed to, so that people can have confidence in it consistently providing them with the protection it claims to. If there is no protection under the law, then what is it for? The law – or the legal system, itself – shouldn’t ever need to be defended. No matter what country we’re in, the legal system is supposed to be defending us.

Ritual Cruelty

After similar, astonishing reports in the USA, it appears that The Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) is about to discuss allowing doctors to perform a ‘ritual nick’ on a young girl’s genitals in order to satisfy some cultures’ needs – in place of ritual genital mutilation.

Former sex discrimination commissioner, Pru Goward has slammed the proposed option as “child abuse”.  I find the very idea that RANZCOG is even discussing the option as inconceivable. There are voices within the organisation suggesting that it might be a useful compromise that would avert secret – and in Australia, illegal – female circumcision. These voices believe that by giving people the option of a ‘ritul nick’ they could do away with the more mutlitating practices performed in their home cultures. But would it? If culture and/or religion demanded circumcision, how would a little nick suffice?

There’s something of appeasement in this whole debate. Given that any form of genital mutilation is illegal in Australia (except circumcision for boys is still legal, although not so common these days) I’m at a loss as to understand why we should be discussing going back on that.

I do understand how important to immigrants retaining their culture might be. I’ve done enough travelling around the world and through Third World countries to fully grasp how Westernisation has driven a steam-roller over so much that was rich and diverse in the world. But if the West stands for anything (and there’s a whole discussion in that statement alone!) it would be that we do not go about harming children as a matter of ritual.

There is no medical reason for a nick. People who wish to perform this ritual need to be educated that it is not done here, in their new home. There is no room for discussion on this matter. The moment we allow doctors to perform a ‘ritual nick’, the door would be open to perform more extensive ritual surgery – and then where would we be?

If a surgeon is not allowed to perform a castration on a self-confessed peodophile with multiple convictions for child abuse – why should we consider allowing surgeons to become the abusers themselves? Surely they have better things to do with their time?