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Tuesday, 21 August 2012
Page: 9490

Ms ROXON (GellibrandAttorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management) (16:38): I would like to thank the member for Fremantle and all of the speakers on this bill. It is an important piece of legislation and I think it is a measure of the interest in the House and in the community generally that across the political spectrum people have welcomed this change.

As part of my summing-up of the debate, might I also provide an addendum to the explanatory memorandum that I understand I should provide to the chamber at this point. By way of summing up, I want to make sure that all members who have spoken are clear that the government's commitment to doing everything it can to combat slavery and people trafficking in all its forms is unwavering. Slavery, slavery-like practices and people trafficking are insidious crimes that fundamentally violate the human rights and, indeed, the very dignity of victims. These practices have no place in Australia, and that is why we have acted to ensure that they cannot continue.

The government is committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society, and, of course, the victims of these unacceptable practices are amongst them. The government introduced the new offences in this bill because we believe it is important to protect those who are not always able to stand up for themselves.

The young woman forced into a marriage she does not want but is too afraid to resist for fear of what might happen to her or her family; the men and women forced to work under inexcusable conditions who have been deceived, threatened or coerced into thinking that they have no other option; the people brought into this country to have their organs removed without their consent—we want these people to know that crimes against them will not go unpunished. This bill is both a statement that these practices are wrong and a tool to ensure that those responsible cannot prey on the vulnerable with impunity.

While we are fortunate that the number of people identified as victims of slavery and trafficking in Australia remains low, just one person affected is too many. It is important to ensure that we have laws in place so that these offences can be investigated and prosecuted. Since the introduction of the existing offences in the Criminal Code, the Commonwealth has prosecuted a range of people-trafficking and slavery offences, but we need to make sure that these offences are relevant and responsive to the changing nature of this sort of criminal conduct. With this bill we are seeking to expand existing definitions to cover a broad spectrum of exploitative conduct and to strengthen the current law to ensure that those who commit these crimes cannot escape prosecution. While current offences focus on sexual servitude, this bill recognises that people are being exploited in a number of industries and it seeks to extend the protection of the law to those people as well.

We also want to, as far as possible, prevent these crimes from happening by putting in place significant penalties that deter offenders and create a hostile environment in this country for these practices. To this end, in addition to the new offences which have substantial penalties attached, and which many members spoke of, we have also increased penalties for existing offences such as debt bondage.

Following the debate yesterday and today, as I said, I was pleased to see that there was broad support for this important bill. I want to address some of the specific comments made by honourable members briefly. The member for Stirling suggested in his speech that the offence of forced labour might be drafted too broadly. This offence, though, has been developed to ensure the widest range of these grave abuses of human rights is effectively criminalised. The forced labour offence does not apply in circumstances that arise from standard relationships between employees and employers, including industrial disputes. The new offence of forced labour targets abhorrent and serious exploitative practices that arise as a result of threatening, deceptive or coercive conduct—something that I am sure this House would want to support.

The members for Fowler, Macquarie, Greenway, Melbourne Ports and, indeed, Fremantle noted the key role played by non-government organisations in combating people-trafficking and assisting victims. I would like to echo these comments, and thank the large number of NGOs that have contributed to the developing of this bill. The comments and assistance provided by NGOs, particularly during the formal consultations on the legislation, have been invaluable. Indeed, some of their work is also reflected in the addendum that I tabled today in this chamber.

The members for Stirling, Hughes and Cowan noted that the government should consider the justification for using strict liability in the offence of being a party to a forced marriage. Strict liability only applies to one element of the offence of being a party to a forced marriage. That element is that the person charged with the offence was not themselves a victim of the forced marriage. This means the prosecution must prove that the person charged was the non-victim party but does not need to prove any fault element for this physical element of the offence. The prosecution would still be required to prove that the person charged intended to be a party to the marriage and was reckless about whether it was a forced marriage. It is a defence if that person charged has a reasonable excuse for being party to the forced marriage.

The government looks forward to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs on this bill and will of course carefully consider any recommendations made by the committee. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 will ensure that our laws criminalising slavery, slavery-like practices and people-trafficking are as robust and effective as possible and in turn ensure that the government is doing all that it can to combat these crimes while protecting the victims.

Again I would like to thank all of the speakers who contributed passionately to this debate. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.