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Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Page: 1057

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (10:21): I also rise to speak to the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. I am proud to do so as I believe it is my duty—in fact, it is the duty of us all as elected members of parliament—to make certain we implement the very best possible safeguards for the protection of vulnerable individuals. I would like to thank Senator Boyce for her support of this bill and for highlighting some of the real-life examples of people who have fallen victim to slavery and human trafficking here in Australia.

The need for legal and cultural reform to ensure that all people are free from bondage is as pressing now as it was when Abraham Lincoln resolved, through the 13th Amendment of 1865, to hold together the American union on a foundation of liberty and basic human dignity. And we are all reminded now of the singular importance of that fight against slavery as we seek to protect and extend these freedoms today.

This bill is about the Gillard Labor government striving to make sure Australia remains a just society, where the rights of individuals are upheld, and those who aim to exploit individuals and remove their rights are brought to justice. We are a part of an ever-changing world, a global society where trends move fast and people, sadly, can be treated as a commodity. Human trafficking and slavery is tragically becoming a growing concern in the 21st of century, internationally and here in Australia. Research suggests that globally between 500,000 and four million people are trafficked internally and across state borders, and of those people being trafficked 80 per cent are women and girls. Australia is not immune to this terrible trade. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, 305 investigations and assessments of people-trafficking related offences were conducted by the Australian Federal Police's Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team. One hundred and eighty-four victims of trafficking were provided with assistance through the Australian government's Support For Trafficked People Program and 13 people were convicted for people-trafficking related offences here in Australia.

The majority of cases were of women being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Many of these tragic cases follow the pattern outlined in case study from Anti-Slavery Australia:

When she got to the Sydney parlour, the owner told her she had to repay a 'debt' of $25,000 that she'd 'incurred' by having her flight and visa organised. In order to pay off this 'debt' she worked 14 hours a day, 6 days a week and her boss pressured her to work on her day off as well. She wasn't paid any money until her 'debt' had been paid off. Sometimes, her boss pressured her to perform sexual services without a condom. She lived in an apartment adjoining the parlour and was not permitted to leave the premises unsupervised. The boss threatened Sun with deportation if she complained too much, refused a customer or tried to go to the authorities for help.

Women typically find themselves in this situation having come to Australia under the pretence of undertaking a course of study or sometimes with the expectation of reasonable work in the sex industry or in other fields. The emotional cost and enduring pain each person experiences through this degrading trade is a price that one should never have to pay. This bill, which was developed with the support of non-government organisations and subject to two discussion papers with broad consultation, strengthens the protection of those who may fall prey to this unforgiving trade of slavery. One life involved and subjected to this trade, I believe, is one life too many. I welcome the changes being made through this bill being debated today, such as the definition of exploitation which will be broadened to include a range of slavery-like practices and increase the penalties applicable to the existing debt bondage offences to ensure they adequately reflect the seriousness of this offence.

Slavery is not acceptable and the bill loudly proclaims the government will not allow it to take root in our society. Slavery in any part of the world should never be acceptable and it is rightly prohibited under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Australia strongly condemns the practice and in 2005 ratified the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. However, in our society, which is not immune to international trends, it is imperative we continue to provide strong leadership in this area. It is the Gillard Labor government which is taking this action and standing up for people of all ages and ethnicities who may unwillingly become subject to slavery offences and or human trafficking. In the 21st century, no individual should be forced or threatened to take part in work or physical labour without their consent. No individual should be coerced into a marriage through any form of pressure. No individual should be involved in the illegal trade of body parts and no individual should be subjected to sexual or non-sexual servitude.

Labor has implemented a strong whole-of-government strategy to target human trafficking, including sexual trafficking and forced labour. This bill reflects this strategy and helps further administer its four central pillars: prevention; detection and investigation; prosecution; and victim support and protection. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 brings Australia's laws on trafficking and slavery into line with Australia's human rights obligations. It ensures the Commonwealth can meet its human rights obligations and adequately deal with the criminal conduct taking place in the area of people trafficking and slavery offences. I strongly welcome, through this bill, the introduction of new offences of forced labour, forced marriage, harbouring a person for the purpose of further offence of trafficking and organ trafficking into the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

The changing nature of this trade, and its global sophistication, can make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to detect and prosecute its range of exploitive behaviours. That is why it is important that the bill enhances the power required by law enforcement agencies to adequately deal with this sort of criminal conduct in the 21st century. The bill strongly condemns the trade and its practice, clearly stating to offenders or those intending to take part in the trade, that it is a crime—a serious crime, one that our society will not stand for.

I am sure I am not the only senator here who has come face-to-face with a woman who is desperately seeking help and guidance because she is sadly facing the prospect of being forced into a marriage she has not chosen. Women in our society should not be facing this crisis. I call it a crisis because that is exactly what it is. When threats, deception and coercion are used to bring about a marriage or a marriage like relationship, it is a clear human rights abuse. Whilst forced marriage like slavery and human trafficking is not clearly evident in all areas of our society, it does still exist. I am concerned that, if we do not take action and introduce new measures through this bill such as the criminalisation of forced marriage, then these issues may become rooted in all other areas of our society.

To feel powerless, unheard and invaluable is not a life a woman should live. It is not a life anyone should live. We need to empower women. Women who are supported and empowered both economically and socially create a flourishing, productive, rich and diverse society. This bill will continue that proud Labor tradition of empowering women and protecting the vulnerable in our community. Through the support of this bill, we have a real opportunity to show global leadership in the area of slavery and human trafficking. By putting in place good policy, we can work towards the eradication as well as the prevention of this degrading trade in Australia and beyond. I commend this bill to the Senate.