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Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Page: 1059


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (10:31): I rise to speak in favour of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. I think it is really important to reflect in this place that often we have differing views about things yet it has been very humbling experience to listen to the passion and dedication of people on all sides of this debate today. It is obviously something that cuts across political borders. As fellow human beings we understand there can be no justification for forcing another person into that type of slavery or sexual abuse and assault.

It might surprise many people listening today that this type of activity even happens here in Australia because we are the lucky country. We do have the rule of law. We do ensure that we look after those who are vulnerable in our community and do what we can to ensure people are not exploited. Many people are shocked at the idea that sexual slavery, the slavery of individuals, even happens here on Australian soil. But the sad fact is it does. The inquiry into this legislation brought out that it is often occurring to those who are so vulnerable that it is kept silent.

One of the key problems in this issue is that we just do not know how many people are actually affected. There are NGOs and community based organisations that try and keep their finger on how many people access their services. Project Respect, for example, based out of Melbourne, helped over 900 victims of sexual slavery in the 2011-12 year alone. But there is no hard data as to how many people, and women in particular, are trafficked into Australia for the purpose of sexual slavery.

One of the recommendations made during the inquiry into this legislation was that we actually fund proper research into the demand for trafficked persons so we can keep a closer eye on just how many individuals and human lives are being destroyed and exploited through these means. To do that we would need adequate funding and partnerships resourced between academic institutions and other groups as well as, of course, government agencies managed by both state and federal government for policing and border patrol so that we can keep check on how many women are being affected by this awful hideous crime, which, I would argue, is a crime against humanity.

This bill goes a long way to ensuring that we put very clearly in the law the seriousness of these crimes against individuals. It ensures that there are tougher penalties for those who engage in putting women into these types of slavery conditions. Those types of penalties are welcome. They go a long way to sending the signal that this is a very serious crime. The bill includes penalties in relation to debt bondage, which we know is how many of these women, particularly young women, are caught in this hideous crime. They are often tricked into coming to Australia to study. A number of victims have study visas. They think they are coming here to learn English or to expand on their other skills they were learning at home only to find themselves bonded into debt by those who then force them to participate in prostitution and other types of slavery.

We need to have these types of penalties but we also need to do what we can to expand the support for victims. That is not what this bill goes to but I think it is very important that we use the motivation from around the chamber today, across the political divide, to advocate stronger support for the victims involved. One of the key recommendations from the inquiry was the setting up of a proper federal compensation scheme. One of the biggest problems in this issue is that victims' compensation is managed by the states but the people who are involved in trafficking individuals, particularly women, move their victims from state to state to avoid being caught. If a crime was committed in Victoria and the person has been moved to a brothel in New South Wales, it is unclear which victims of crime compensation the individual is actually entitled to. This is a federal issue. Many of the people are coming to Australia under the misunderstanding of their visa requirements. It is a crime now in the federal legislation and we should establish a federal compensation scheme to help those victims.

One of the other issues that are particularly pertinent in this area is that as part of the support for victims—whether that be through accessibility to a longer stay visa once somebody has been rescued, if you will, from these hideous circumstances—there should be an ability for that person to access a proper, valid visa that is in their interest, that is going to be supporting them as a victim of these hideous crimes and that is not just directly linked to whether their case is helpful for particular prosecutions. This is really, really important because we need to be able to allow the victims in this area to feel free, comfortable and able to come forward, tell their stories and ask for help and assistance. Because many of them have been flown to Australia under the guise of a different type of visa, once they have been found to be working in a brothel and it is found that they are not in Australia on a valid visa, of course we need to do something to ensure that they can stay here safely and with all the support necessary. That support and compassion offered to those individuals should not simply be linked to whether the prosecution team believe that their case is going to be helpful enough to any legal case.

We need to make sure that there is proper support through the visa system, and that includes de-linking those visas and supports from the criminal justice process. I believe it is really important that we have victims being able to speak out against how they have been treated so that we can keep the individuals who are responsible for these hideous crimes locked up—I absolutely believe that—but we also have to ensure that we look after the victims through that process. I have often called for some type of special humanitarian visa, which would be available for those women victims who have been trafficked. I think that would be a very simple way of being able to acknowledge that we owe these women all the care and support that they deserve. A special humanitarian visa for those who have been victims of trafficking and slavery would be one thing that I urge both the government and the opposition to consider in coming months.

I also believe that we need to do more in terms of educating our communities about these issues. As I said at the outset, many people are surprised that this even happens here in Australia, and yet many people who find themselves in these circumstances, because they are being brought to Australia under a false pretence, find it very difficult to explain to individual members in our communities. Whether they are at university or at TAFE, or at other learning institutions where often many of these young women attend, there is a disbelief about the fact that this is going on. When they ask for help, when they put their hand out for assistance, there is an unawareness amongst our community that this is going on. We need to ensure that we invest significant resources into community education campaigns, letting those victims of these hideous crimes know that they have rights in Australia, that this is not allowed to happen to them, that it is a crime and that the people doing this to them are criminals. We also need to let them know that they deserve help, support and assistance. We need to ensure that we have proper education campaigns targeting high schools, universities, TAFEs and the professions which these women come into contact with, so that anyone who may need assistance is able to be offered that and action can be taken.

As I said, we also need adequate funding for the research to ensure that we know exactly what is going on: how many women in particular are a subject of this awful, hideous crime. The other recommendation that has not been picked up in this piece of legislation, but that I think is worth considering in future debates, is the responsibility that must be taken by individuals who intentionally use these services. It should be a criminal offence to intentionally, knowingly or recklessly obtain sexual services from a trafficked woman. If it is a crime to put women into this circumstance—which it should be—it should also be a crime to knowingly use that service; otherwise we are simply turning a blind eye to why these services are even able to continue. It is absolutely paramount that we send a very strong message to both the criminals in these syndicates and the people who knowingly use their services that the Australian government does not accept this, that this is a standard that is unacceptable in Australia and that we do stand by the human rights as outlined under the various international conventions that stamp out slavery and that say that treating another human being like this is a hideous crime and will not be accepted. An individual who knowingly uses these services must also take responsibility for their continuation of the abuse of these individuals.

Further support for victims, as I have mentioned in terms of a special visa category, would go a long way to helping these women. Ensuring that we have a federal compensation scheme and these other legislative reforms, as I have outlined, are all things that we now need to move on to. This bill has been a very, very important step and I commend it to the Senate. But our work is not yet over. We have got goodwill around this place; let's try and see how we can work together over coming months to make sure that the victims caught up in these awful circumstances are actually looked after. I commend the bill to the Senate.