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Wednesday, 27 February 2013
Page: 1065

Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (11:04): I want to begin by thanking the senators who have contributed to this important debate on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. Slavery, slavery-like practices and people-trafficking are insidious crimes that fundamentally violate the human rights and indeed the very dignity of victims. Sadly, these crimes are not just past injustices relegated to the history books. Throughout the world exploitative practices, such as slavery, servitude and forced labour, continue to be a daily reality for millions of our fellow human beings. Regrettably, Australia is not immune. While we are fortunate that the number of people identified as victims of slavery and trafficking in Australia remains low, just one person affected by such egregious behaviour is one too many. This bill sends a strong message that Australia will not tolerate any form of slavery, trafficking or related coercive practices.

The purpose of this bill is to clarify and strengthen the operation of existing slavery and people-trafficking related offences in the Commonwealth Criminal Code. The bill will target those who facilitate exploitation by harbouring victims and introduce stand-alone offences of forced labour and organ trafficking to ensure that these practices are comprehensively criminalised. The bill will criminalise the unaccepted practice of forced marriage, ensuring that it is absolutely clear that marriage must be entered into freely, without duress or constraint.

The bill will also amend existing definitions in the Criminal Code to ensure that the broadest range of exploitative conduct is criminalised. It expands the definition of 'servitude' to non-sexual servitude to capture a broader range of exploitative behaviour. I want to make it absolutely clear that the intent of the government is not to in any way lessen the seriousness of sexual servitude by creating this broader offence but rather to ensure that all people in all industries are not subjected to the injustice of servitude.

I will now, if I may, turn to some specific comments that have been raised by senators in their contributions to this debate. First, the additional comments that have been made by the coalition speak of arguing for a distinction between real and apparent consent. The government in the strongest possible terms rejects the proposition that this distinction should exist. This is a proposition from the 1950s. One might very well retort, 'No does mean no and that consent must be full and free as it is found in our bill.' This in our judgement is an antiquated notion and the government firmly sticks to the wording that is proposed in the bill.

We note that Senator Brandis indicated in his remarks that the opposition would not support a strict liability element within the offence of being a party to a forced marriage. But we note that the Liberal Party not only supported a similar strict liability offence but, indeed, introduced it in 2005. Philip Ruddock introduced drug offences involving children in division 309 into the Criminal Code in the Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Drug Offences and Other Measures) Act 2005. Senator Chris Ellison took this bill through the Senate. The application of strict liability to the physical element that a child was involved was part of the original Liberal Party's bill, so we note that Senator Brandis is arguing a point here that is in defiance of his own party's history and previous conduct.

In her remarks, Senator Boyce made the point that a child being coerced into work early in the morning or late at night might be a form of slavery-like conditions. The government is of the view that the Liberal amendments would allow this very egregious act to happen. They will remove the concept of taking advantage of a person's vulnerability from the definition of coercion in the government's bill. They are also removing the concept of psychological oppression from the definition of coercion. The government cannot support this. Senator Boyce's own examples would not even be covered by the Liberal Party's changes and we urge her to look carefully at the amendments she is purporting to support and to reconsider her position.

I would like to thank the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for its report on the bill which was released in September of last year. The government notes the recommendations made in the committee's report. A key recommendation of the committee was for the explanatory memorandum to be amended to better articulate that slavery-like offences may occur within intimate relationships. In line with this recommendation, an addendum to the explanatory memorandum was tabled in the Senate on 9 October 2012. The addendum clarifies that the offences of servitude and forced labour can apply whether the exploitation occurred in the victim's public or private life including in the context of intimate relationships.

The development of this bill has been a collaborative process. On behalf of the government I would like to thank the non-government organisations, industry associations, legal bodies, academics and members of the public, all of whom have provided input into this bill and made a valuable contribution. 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.

The bill is also essential in ensuring that our law enforcement authorities are adequately equipped to investigate and prosecute these heinous crimes. The bill reflects the government's commitment to doing all it can to prevent the reprehensible practices of slavery and people trafficking in all forms. In conclusion, I commend this bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.