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Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Page: 1054

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (10:07): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. As a member of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee I was involved in the inquiry into the bill. I would like to put some time into putting a human face on the reasons this bill is necessary. As the shadow Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, has pointed out, we have some concerns and we will be moving some amendments, but in general we support very strongly the need for this legislation.

I was involved, a number of years ago, in the federal Liberal Women's Council's moves to change the law as it then operated in Australia, where women who had been brought to Australia as sex slaves, to work in prostitution, were being deported back to their home countries before they had the opportunity to give evidence of any sort against the people who had brought them here. As a government we were in fact inadvertently assisting the people committing the crime of turning women into sex slaves in Australia. I must admit that, at the time, I thought that that was probably the extent of the problem—that it was something that happened perhaps at Kings Cross in Sydney but nowhere else, that it involved poor women from Asia being brought to Sydney and Melbourne but not much else. It took some time for me to realise that this was a far bigger problem than we had previously thought. We still have serious problems knowing the extent of not just the sex slave industry but the slavery and human trafficking issues in Australia because it is very difficult to gather statistics.

It was probably about six years ago that I attended a presentation in Brisbane by the Reverend Tim Costello, who made the point while he was talking that right there, in suburban Brisbane, not very far away, there would be people who were living in slavery-like conditions, whether they were sex slaves, being exploited by strangers for their labour or being exploited by family for their labour. It was only then that the far greater extent of this problem really struck me.

One of the problems is that in some cases it can be very hard to identify who is in a slavery-like relationship and who is not. I know there are some small family businesses where children perhaps as young as eight actually have a role in the business and love their role in the business, and that is not something that I believe any government should interfere with. However, if that child is being forced to get up very early and stay up very late to take part in that business, then we do have a situation teetering on the edge of abuse and neglect.

Whilst the whole focus of the slavery and slavery-like conditions bill is around people who have been brought into Australia to be slaves, there are so many nuances within families, such as within forced marriages, as Senator Stephens was pointing out. One of our concerns about forced marriage is that, in many cases, both parties to the marriage can be very young. The suggestion that, if someone has been forced into marriage, the other party must be the guilty party is not necessarily the case. It can be far more nuanced than that. Both parties to the marriage, in fact, may have been forced into the marriage. So these are issues that we need to take into account in the way that we look at this legislation.

I want to go through a number of cases that have been brought to my attention by Anti-Slavery Australia—and it still strikes me as bizarre and awful that we need an organisation called Anti-Slavery Australia. The first case involves a woman—not called Maria but named Maria for the point of the exercise—who was 24 and came here from the Philippines. She had been working in a factory earning $10 a week to support her young son and her mother, and she was told that she could come to Australia to live with a friend's relatives and take English classes in her spare time, and that they would give her some money for a visa and an airfare. When she got here, she found that she was in fact supposed to be the fiancee of an Australian man. He took her passport and she was required to work in the fiance's family business seven days a week. She was never paid any wages. She felt that she could not leave, that she had to do what she was told by her so-called fiance or he and his family would hit her. She felt absolutely trapped, because there was no way that she could seek help from her elderly mother. She had been trafficked and enslaved—hardly the promise she had been brought here on—but perhaps from the outside it did not look like a case of slavery.

The next case involves a woman called Sun, who is 22 and came from South Korea and had come to Australia on a 12-month working holiday visa. She was actually someone who was doing sex work at home, in South Korea, to pay her way through uni. She heard from another sex worker that life was much easier both for study and to finance herself in Australia. She took out the 12-month working holiday visa thinking that she would study, and finance herself through sex work in Australia. But of course the agent who organised all this immediately had her collected from the airport and taken to a Sydney brothel, and the owner said she had to pay off her flight and her visa. She was working up to 20 hours a day, and she very rarely received any money at all because she was paying off this alleged debt to the brothel owner in Sydney.

A third person, a man called Prishen, who was 43 and came from India on a three-month holiday visa was going to work with the family's restaurant in Melbourne during his three months. They had paid for him to come, and in return he would help out in the restaurant. However, when he got here he was working all night and every night, and being paid about $50 per week. He could do what he wanted to do in his hours off during the day, but he was clearly being very heavily exploited by his family. The only way that this person could currently seek remedy would be through civil action and, of course, that is not a very satisfactory way for an impoverished person, whose primary language is Indian, to function in Australia.

The fourth person is an Indonesian called Abdul, who is 35. He came here on a 457 visa. He had an interview with an employment firm that linked him up with a subcontractor in Australia. He was sponsored to come out here to work on, 'large building sites in Canberra'. He was told his pay would be in line with Australian award wages.

When he got here, he was not able to read any of the signs or understand any of the safety briefings that he was given and he was told that he would be working a six-day week for $250. He thought that was a fairly low wage. He lived 30 minutes out of Canberra and he was taken to work by his boss in a van every day and taken back again. He was then told that there would $100 per week donated from his $250 to send home to his family. You might not be surprised to hear that his family never received any of that money.

It can be a very broad field when we are looking at slavery and slavery-like conditions. But it is, despite those balanced examples I have given, generally, a quite gendered crime. It is in the main women who are the victims of slavery and slavery-like trafficking. I am delighted that we now have this legislation before us. I would hope that we can follow it up with perhaps some more real action in the field of child marriage and in the field of female genital mutilation which, in my view, are part of the same power control that goes on over women, particularly those from cultures where it is more normal for the men to exercise the power.

The coalition members of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee have put in some additional comments to this report. We agreed with the comments of the government members of the committee but we would like to see a few areas of this bill clarified, because it does finally bring us to the stage where there is an understanding, at least from the legislatures, of what is happening in some parts of Australia right now—right under the noses of everybody.

I think there is probably still more room for this information to be promoted, not just to the people who might be the victims of it but also to the general public so that they recognise slavery situations when they see them. Fifty years ago, domestic violence victims would certainly have passed under the radar, or just politely not be talked about; that is no longer the case. We need to get to the situation where everybody in the community is concerned and looking at whether what they are looking at is an equal relationship that both people want to continue, or if what they are looking at is, in fact, a form of slavery.

I commend the bill, and hope that the government will accept the amendments that we will be proposing.