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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17093

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (10:08 AM) —I thank the member for Sydney for her questions, and the spirit in which they were put. I appreciate it because I think sensible dialogue on these matters is very useful. The trafficking issue is of great concern to me; it has always been of concern. It was of concern to the government and that is why we legislated in this area. There was no legislation before.

Mr RUDDOCK —I am conscious of that. Because there have been some general comments suggesting that as many as 1,500 people are trafficked into Australia, what I have said to people is, `If you have got evidence, come forward and bring it to us.' The only people who seem to be getting evidence are the Australian Federal Police and the department of immigration.

Firstly, I want to talk about the system and how we deal with these issues. We comprehensively interview every woman who is located in compliance operations where they are working in the sex industry. The interview is not just the question, `Were you trafficked?' It is a comprehensive interview to try and ascertain, from the circumstances in which she is found, whether trafficking has occurred.

There is training for officers who are involved in that. I have seen and met with some of the officers who are involved in the compliance operations. Specifically, there are women involved in those operations. We are working with the Australian Federal Police and the state police. As you may know, there were arrests made yesterday and charges brought. These were the first charges to be brought under these arrangements, and that level of cooperation was, I think, appropriate. The Minister for Justice and Customs has referred that matter to the new Australian criminal investigation unit that the states and the Commonwealth are party to—I am not sure of the formal title of it.

I am conscious of the argument posed that in removing people who are unlawful—as we are obliged to under the Migration Act—we are deporting the evidence. There are some people who say, `If you've been a sex worker, this might be a good way in which you can get a migration outcome.' You have got to get a balance. We have to identify people who have been trafficked, and we have to recognise that, where people have been trafficked and have evidence to offer, they ought to be allowed to stay to ensure that. That is why we have the criminal justice visa system. There have been 20 visas issued in relation to sexual offences since 1999, and three of those relate specifically to trafficking. I have said—and I say this very deliberately—that my department should prepare also a new visa class, a witness protection visa class, so that we can actually protect people who have given evidence and helped obtain prosecutions. We should not reward the people who have been prepared to come forward but ensure that they are protected as witnesses, not deported and left in a situation where the traffickers might be able to get at them—which is one of the issues. I am very conscious of that and I want to get it addressed as quickly as possible.

I am very worried about the Sammaki case. I do not like the fact that young children have been left in that situation. If you know something of it, the vulnerability of the children is something that some of our Australians have worked on. Yes, there is a good deal of interest. Some people take the view that the only way you can approach a matter of this sort—as tragic as it is—is to essentially say, `Look, bring the kids to Australia. Give them a refugee decision or something of that nature. Get the minister to intervene personally—and that will resolve it.' I understand that that is the easy way to resolve it.

Ms Plibersek —It's only three people—it's ridiculous.

Mr RUDDOCK —No, what you have also got to weigh up—and this is one of the difficulties that I have in all of these issues—are countervailing circumstances. The countervailing circumstances that you have to look at are what it does to the way people see us in relation to the trafficking issue. This man has been found not to be a refugee. He is in a position to go home. He is probably in a position to go home and have his children with him—that is something I am seeking to establish. I know there are some people arguing that it is not possible. But as far as I am concerned that ought to be looked at. I am also exploring with the Indonesians the possibility of him being reunited with his children in Indonesia, where they are Indonesian citizens.

Mr RUDDOCK —That is being explored as it should be. I will look at any other issues when those matters have been fully explored. (Time expired)