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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13162


Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (15:30): I am very pleased to respond on behalf of the coalition to the statement from the Attorney-General on the government's response to people trafficking. The coalition welcomes moves to strengthen the law in relation to the people-trafficking offences which were introduced in May. These moves build upon the strong work started under the previous Howard government and continued since the change of government in 2007. We must, however, be careful to ensure that the government gets the balance right and that the people-trafficking net does not unintentionally capture those who do the right thing.

As this is a government whose record on delivery is littered with failure, blunder and error, this must be one area where the government finally gets it right. We should be careful to ensure that those who operate lawfully and do the right thing are not penalised or discouraged from pursuing lawful options. That is why it is vitally important to get this area of law correct. Trafficking and exploitation are completely unacceptable in any circumstance and would never be condoned by any government or political party. But it is crucial for us to get these policy settings right and not to allow measures implemented to be viewed as a means to pursue other unrelated ends.

The opposition is well known for its strong stance on all matters relating to border protection. Equally, we have a longstanding interest and record in combating cross-border crime. We therefore welcome opportunities to support any measures to further this aim and to further the important fight against trafficking which has resulted from the roundtable process on people trafficking. The coalition believe that we must not only make laws which criminalise and punish this behaviour but that we must also ensure that we enforce those laws—and that our police, immigration and border protection agencies have the resources to enable them to do that job. We are particularly concerned about sustained and deep cuts to enforcement agencies, including the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, which has been savaged by this Labor government, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Crime Commission—agencies which are integral to the fight against people trafficking and agencies which are going to find it harder to do that job with less money and fewer personnel.

People trafficking is a complex crime and a major violation of human rights. It takes place for a variety of reasons, including sexual servitude, domestic labour, forced marriage and sweatshop labour. Women, men and children can be victims. While there is limited hard information on the number of people trafficked or on the target industries to which they are trafficked, evidence suggests that the trafficking of women into prostitution is the major, and certainly the most visible, form of trafficking taking place.

It is widely recognised that people trafficking has become a well-established and, sadly, enormously lucrative business throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Australia, unfortunately, is viewed as a destination country for persons trafficked out of South-East Asia. There are several reports of immigrants, particularly from India, the People's Republic of China and South Korea, who voluntarily migrate to work in Australia but who are later coerced into exploitative conditions.

I acknowledge the work of the former Howard government in this area. The former coalition government's response to people trafficking in the Asia-Pacific region included developing antitrafficking initiatives between governments and providing aid aimed at alleviating the economic and social conditions in the region which allow trafficking to flourish. In particular, the Howard government and Indonesia co-chaired two regional ministerial conferences on trafficking and smuggling in the years 2000 and 2003—now commonly referred to as the Bali Process. In October 2003, the then coalition government announced additional antitrafficking measures, including a $20 million package to target sex trafficking in particular. The package included a new Australian Federal Police unit, the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams; new visa arrangements for victims of trafficking; victim support measures, including counselling and legal and medical support to be administered by the Office for Women; improvements to legislation to make people trafficking punishable by up to 20 years in jail; and a promise to ratify the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. Notably, Australia was already a signatory and the treaty was subsequently ratified in 2005. In 2004, the then coalition government produced, in support of the 2003 announcement, an action plan to eradicate trafficking in persons. In the last budget of the coalition government, a further $38.3 million over four years was allocated, including $26.3 million for new initiatives.

Since then, the coalition has continued to consider the issue a serious one and has supported a range of anti-people-trafficking measures, most of which have a sex-trafficking focus. The AFP's newly renamed Human Trafficking Team remains at the front line in tackling this problem. On behalf of the opposition, I pay tribute to the team—the men and women who work so hard, in very difficult circumstances, investigating trafficking cases and bringing them to court.

We must remember that, where you find this type of crime, you will find other types of crime. It is vitally important that the Australian Federal Police are properly resourced to do the job we ask of them. I am sure that all members in this place will acknowledge that it is completely unacceptable for even one person to fall victim to the heinous crime of people trafficking. The coalition broadly supports the Attorney-General's statement and believes that Australia has a very important regional leadership role to play in this area. We will continue to support any moves this parliament adopts to combat what is a hideous crime.