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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13159

Ms ROXON (GellibrandAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (15:19): Today I am pleased to present to parliament the fourth annual report of the Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee. The report provides comprehensive information about Australia's whole-of-government anti-people-trafficking strategy, covering the period 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012. As Attorney-General, I have oversight of the strategy in collaboration with my colleagues the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Minister for the Status of Women.

People trafficking destroys the lives of too many women and men around the world every year. Australia is not immune from this insidious form of modern-day slavery. It is wrong, it is a gross violation of human rights, and it is incumbent on us as a government, and the wider community, to do all we can to stamp people trafficking out.

In the last financial year, the government has continued to broaden the focus of its anti-people trafficking strategy to better reflect the scope of the problem. While the majority of victims identified in Australia continue to be women trafficked for exploitation in the commercial sex industry, authorities have increasingly identified both men and women exploited in a range of other industry sectors. Some identified victims were brought to Australia to work in restaurants, receiving little or no pay for very long hours and without rest periods or days off. Others were exploited as domestic workers in private residences, again working without adequate remuneration and with limited freedom of movement.

To ensure Australia's anti-people trafficking strategy remains responsive to emerging issues, its focus has continued to shift from combating sexual exploitation to addressing all forms of exploitation, regardless of industry.

To help combat trafficking in all forms and for all kinds of work, in 2011 the government awarded almost $500,000 to two non-government organisations, two union bodies and an industry association to undertake projects focused on labour exploitation. With support from the government, these organisations are currently working to raise awareness of labour exploitation through the development of training programs and materials, community and industry resources, and through outreach to vulnerable workers.

To further equip law enforcement agencies with the best possible tools to investigate and prosecute perpetrators, in May 2012 I introduced into parliament the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill. The bill broadens the existing slavery and trafficking offences in the Commonwealth criminal code to ensure all forms of exploitative conduct are captured and criminalised. For example, the bill introduces a separate offence of forced labour and expands the offences of sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting for sexual services so they apply regardless of industry.

I am also particularly proud that the bill introduces new offences criminalising forced marriage. Forced marriage places young people at risk, and can have harmful consequences including loss of access to education, restriction of movement and autonomy, and emotional and physical abuse.

Marriage in Australia must be entered into freely by consenting adults. Coercion, threat or deception to bring about a marriage has no place in a modern Australia and will not be tolerated.

These reforms send a clear message to those who believe they can commit such abhorrent crimes with impunity: slavery, slavery-like practices and people trafficking are unacceptable in Australia, and perpetrators will face serious penalties.

In introducing this legislation, the Gillard government is carrying on the great Labor tradition of standing up for the most vulnerable in society. We will give a voice to those who cannot always speak up for themselves

Strong laws are important, but they need to be enforced. In the last financial year, the Australian Federal Police undertook 41 new investigations and assessments into trafficking-related offences, and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions secured two convictions during the year. Importantly, one of these convictions represents Australia's first successful prosecution for labour trafficking.

Australia also provides a comprehensive range of support services for suspected victims of people trafficking, including tailored case management support and assistance to access accommodation, income support, legal and migration advice, health services and counselling. In 2011-12, the government's Support for Trafficked People Program, delivered by the Australian Red Cross, provided assistance to 77 clients, including nine new clients.

The case study of a woman I will call 'Ms K' is illustrative of a client's experiences on the Support Program. Ms K was trafficked to Australia for the purpose of sexual exploitation in 2007. On her referral to the Support Program, Ms K was provided with secure accommodation, financial support, trauma counselling and medical treatment. As time went on, Ms K was assisted with accessing English language classes and legal and migration advice, including accessing assistance to apply for victims of crime compensation. With help from her Red Cross case worker and counsellor, Ms K has adjusted well to life in Australia and continues to build a secure and positive future. After assisting police, and due to the danger she faced in returning home because of that assistance, Ms K was granted a Witness Protection (Trafficking) (Permanent) visa.

This is just one example of the support that this Labor government has delivered to people who have faced some of the most terrible violations of their human rights.

In 2011-12, 26 of these visas were granted to victims, many of whom have experienced trauma similar to Ms K, and to their immediate family members. These visas allow trafficking victims to remain in Australia permanently if they have assisted with a trafficking investigation or prosecution and, as a result, would be in danger if they returned home.

Fortunately, due to our strong border controls and geographic isolation, opportunities to traffic people to Australia are limited. However, Australia is a destination country for victims of trafficking, in particular for people trafficked from South-East Asia.

While the number of victims in Australia remains low compared with other countries in our region, it is important to remember the devastating effects these exploitative crimes have on individual victims, like Ms K.

In the fight against these crimes there is always more work to be done. That's why the government is committed to working domestically, regionally and internationally, in partnership with other governments and NGOs, to address the full cycle of trafficking, from recruitment to reintegration.

During 2011-12, Australia's collaborative approach to combating trafficking was recognised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. The Special Rapporteur visited Australia on a fact-finding mission in November 2011, and presented her final report to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2012. In her final report, the Special Rapporteur noted Australia's role as a regional leader in combating trafficking, and commended the robust working relationship between the Australian government and NGOs. The government looks forward to continuing our productive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, and is already progressing work on several of the recommendations made in her final report.

As noted by the Special Rapporteur, Australia takes an active role in efforts to prevent people traffickers from operating in our region. In May 2012, Australia co-hosted with Indonesia a Technical Experts' Meeting on trafficking through the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. A range of experts from member countries participated in the meeting, including from law enforcement, immigration, legal policy and prosecution agencies. Experts from my department, the Attorney-General's Department, the Australian Federal Police, and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship gave presentations at the meeting, and participants shared lessons learned on measures to implement a coordinated approach to combating trafficking.

Australia continues to work with international partners, including ASEAN, to prevent trafficking in our region. Last week, the Prime Minister announced funding of $50 million dollars to support the continuation of the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons Project (ARTIP) for a further five years. ARTIP aims to strengthen the criminal justice response to trafficking and improve cross-border cooperation in South-East Asia. Since its inception in 2006, ARTIP has trained over 7,000 police officers, prosecutors and judges, providing increased regional capacity to combat trafficking and reducing the opportunities for people traffickers to operate in our region.

As part of the government's ongoing dialogue with NGOs on people trafficking, on 28 November I will convene the fifth annual National Roundtable on People Trafficking in conjunction with the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, and the Minister for the Status of Women. Each year, the national roundtable brings together anti-trafficking NGOs, service providers, support organisations and legal, industry and union bodies to implement a whole of community approach to combating trafficking in all its forms. In the fight against slavery, slavery-like conditions and people trafficking, government action is only part of the solution. Members of the national roundtable provide valuable advice to government on emerging issues, including, most recently, on the development of the new legislation.

In tabling the report today, I would like to thank the agencies that make up the interdepartmental committee. This report details the ongoing efforts of Australian government agencies and NGOs in their work to prevent these crimes, to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, and crucially, to support and protect the victims.

Australia is often called the lucky country. And we may be lucky that Australia does not face the same degree of people trafficking as some of our near neighbours do. But, we cannot afford to rely on luck to stop this insidious trade.

That's why our government has dedicated both time and resources to combat people trafficking in all its forms. It's why we have supported strong laws to deter people trafficking and funded support system to help people in need.

As a society, we have relegated the very worst of large-scale slavery to the history books. It is time to see people trafficking relegated to the history books too.