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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9272


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (16:43): I rise to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. On a point of principle, this is obviously an issue where there is an agreement between the government and the opposition. Combating and stamping out all forms of slavery and people trafficking has been a bipartisan ideal of this parliament since Federation. It was back in 1953 that Australia first became a signatory to the UN slavery convention under the prime ministership of Sir Robert Menzies. The slavery convention binds signatory countries to prevent forced labour from developing into conditions analogous to slavery and for the overall complete suppression of slavery in all its forms.

I would note, however, that the Crimes Legislation (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 has been referred to the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs. I also note that the bill has also been referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. The chair of the House committee, the member for Moreton, reported to the House in late June that to avoid duplication the House committee would end its inquiry. I agree that there is nothing to be gained from duplication of this inquiry, and that forcing stakeholders to double their submissions will not benefit either committee, or be in the best interests of the stakeholders. This is also true for the public hearings involved in looking into these bills.

It makes good logical sense not to run parallel inquiries in both houses. As such, I fully support allowing the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee to lead the inquiry into these bills. However, I do point out that the member for Moreton suggested on 28 June this year that the House committee could not add 'value to the work of the Senate inquiries'. Sadly, we here in this House will not benefit from the value of the work of the Senate committee. The Senate inquiry has been given a completion date that will not coincide with the consideration of these bills by the House of Representatives. As such, we will not be able to fully benefit from the inquiry that is currently taking place. We must be sure that, if the inquiry is to take place in only one of the two committees, both houses can properly benefit from its findings.

One particular aspect of slavery that is covered in this bill is forced marriage. I believe this form of slavery is worth highlighting as one of the most inhumane forms of slavery of all. Unfortunately, this form of slavery still exists widely across the globe today, even here in Australia. The impact this has on those involved can lead to self-harm and even suicide. A forced marriage is a union where one or both people do not want to marry each other but are forced to, usually by family members, against their wishes. It exists in, and is a blight upon, many countries across the globe. People may be physically threatened or emotionally blackmailed into a marriage with someone they do not want to marry. This may be due to cultural, religious or financial reasons.

Regardless of the reason, the impact on those forced into a marriage remains the same. Forced marriage goes against a person's human rights. It strips people of their right to self-determination and puts them in a situation that is harmful. Many people who are forced into marrying are young, mainly young girls. Girls as young as 10 years of age are reported in countries such as the UK as being forced into marrying against their wishes. The harm that comes from forced marriage can manifest in many ways, from psychological problems such as depression and anxiety to physical abuse at the hands of the partner or the families. Many who are forced into marrying end up harming themselves, and some even take their own lives. They feel they do not have control over their own lives, and often that is worse than having no life at all.

Sadly, we have recently seen forced marriage arrive on our shores. There have been cases, apparently, where Australian girls have been taken overseas to countries where they have no legal protections and are forced to marry against their will. In many cases they are even forced to marry members of their own family. We have seen a recent ABC Four Corners program, titled 'Without consent', which cites several cases of young girls living in Australia who were forced into unwanted marriages back in Pakistan. We have also heard a recent case of a 13-year-old girl who told her teacher at a Melbourne high school that she would not be attending classes anymore because she was due to travel overseas to be married. Fortunately, the teacher contacted the Victorian Department of Human Services, who used our Family Law Act to make an application to the Federal Magistrates Court for that child's name to be placed on an airport watch list so her parents would not be able to remove her from Australia.

Last year we also saw a case, reported in the Australian, of a 16-year-old Australian girl who won the right to be placed on an airport watch list to stop her parents taking her to Lebanon for a forced marriage, only after a federal magistrate ruled that there was a psychological risk to the girl unless the court intervened to stop her from being married to a man she had met only once.

But what was particularly concerning about this case was that the young girl was actually forced to take that court action by herself and in secret from her parents. Equally disturbing was that the court said such applications are now becoming increasingly common. There was another case, also reported in the Australian, back in 2010 where a Sydney family was banned from taking their daughter, 17, to Lebanon for an arranged marriage after she had been forced to call the Australian Federal Police from home while her mother was out, saying she had been booked to fly out of Australia against her will.

This problem is also happening in the UK. We know that last year the British government, which has a special task force on forced marriage, investigated more than 1,400 cases of forced marriage, which were mainly occurring in Islamic communities. However, I do note that the Australian Muslim scholar Tariq Syed is reported as confirming that forced marriage was a cultural practice that is being applied in many different countries across Asia, regardless of their religion.

We in this parliament need to send a very clear and unambiguous statement with this bill. Forced marriage, the forcing of a young girl into a marriage she has not consented to, is not just another multicultural practice. Forced marriages are completely abhorrent to our Australian way of life and must not be accepted. We must also look at education programs to make sure that new migrants are fully informed of our laws here in Australia, which provide that a forced marriage is considered a criminal offence. We must also teach our vulnerable young girls in schools of their rights so that, if they are in a situation where they are being forced into marriage, they know our Australian police forces will support them.

In the short time remaining to me, I would like to quickly comment on the aspect of this bill which clarifies our law with regard to organ trafficking. Unfortunately, here in Australia we often think that we have a world-class organ transplant program. Although we have a very successful rate of organ transplant in Australia, we are rated only 24th in the world. In fact, Australians are only likely to receive half the number of transplants as citizens in the top countries. For example, in 2010 Spain performed 78 transplants per one million citizens, whereas in Australia we performed only 43. There has been a recent improvement, but it comes off a very low base. Because of our poor performance in being unable to match Spain for number of organ transplants, 1,000 people per year in this country miss out on transplants as a result.

We support this bill because we must have a legal framework in place so that the sorts of stories we hear about—forced marriages and organ trafficking—are a thing of the past. There must be protections in place to stop the abuse of rights and to save those who are forced into this living nightmare. The bill we are considering makes a step in this regard, and I welcome that. However, there have been some concerns with the application of strict liability. Once again, this is a case in point where members of the House would have benefited from reviewing the thorough analysis currently being prepared by senators involved in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. On balance, however, I believe the inclusion of these strict liability interpretations are justified on the basis that those authorities prosecuting those parties in a forced marriage will have more difficulty in disproving an excuse under the law than the accused will have in establishing one.

By and large, the amendments contained within the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 will be supported by the coalition. In reviewing a number of the submissions to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, it could be anticipated that a number of amendments will be brought on to correct a number of technical errors and iron out some of the recognised complexities at a later stage in the bill's passage. Perhaps by then we will have the benefit of a completed Senate inquiry into this legislation.