Making a Difference: At Home and Abroad

It’s not often you’ll find me celebrating government advertising. Of course, I am not referring to the political advertisements used to promote the achievements of respective governments. All sides of politics get animated about those campaigns; particularly when conducted by the other team!

The advertising to which I refer are the campaigns which are actually for the benefit of the public. One such ad recently caught my eye.

Under the banner of the Attorney-General’s Department, large advertisements were placed in our national press detailing that child sexual abuse is an Australian crime, even if committed overseas.

This basically means that Australians travelling to sexually exploit children overseas can be prosecuted in Australia even if the offence wasn’t committed here.

It’s a sensitive issue but required a change in the law to ensure that Australian legislation kept up with the fight to stop the exploitation of children by Australians regardless of where it occurs. Such matters generally have the support of both sides of the political debate.

The reason for my interest though is more personal. In 2008 I introduced a Private Senator’s Bill to enact legislation to deal with precisely this problem. While supported by independent Senator Nick Xenophon, I was surprised and disappointed when Family First and the Labor Party refused to allow it to be debated and drawn to a conclusion in the Senate. Of course, the Greens opposed it too but nothing they do surprises me any more!

For months following this setback I wrote to the government and spoke in the parliament about the need to have such protections introduced into our legislative agenda.

I tried many different forms of encouraging the government to act, including reason, logic and embarrassment. The various approaches were met with a great deal of sympathetic words but little action.

Finally, after nearly twelve months, the government conceded that they would draft a Bill of their own. While the final product they produced looked remarkably similar to what I had presented twelve months previously, I was pleased just to see it gain bi-partisan support.

The Bill passed the parliament without controversy earlier in this session and is already making it easier for our law enforcement officers to protect the interests of children from sexual exploitation by Australians.

The processes and frustrations I experienced in trying to have these changes adopted happen all the time in politics. Often the wheels of government turn slowly and it can seem like an impossible task to actually make a difference.

Many of my predecessors and contemporaries have valiantly struggled to draw attention and get action for innumerable worthy causes. Sometimes these efforts meet with spectacular success, on other occasions with palpable frustration.

That’s why this particular government advertising caught my eye. It confirmed to me that the changes we made are being taken seriously by our law enforcement officers.

It also reminded me that politics, whether directly or indirectly, is a forum where you really can make a difference.

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