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ABC News Breakfast -

View in ParlView

Topics: Slavery in Australia; Migration Amendments

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Now, earlier this month the ABC's Four Corners program revealed how criminal gangs
are luring women to Australia and forcing them to work as sex slaves. Those who refuse are beaten
and their families are threatened.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now, the program pressed for authorities to stop the criminal trade. This morning
in Melbourne the Federal Home Affairs and Justice Minister, Brendan O'Connor, will announce further
funding to combat slavery and human trafficking generally. He joins us in the studio. Brendan
O'Connor, good morning. Thanks for joining us.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Good to be here.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: What exactly can the Federal Government do?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well we provide support to the industry. What we need to do is have a whole of
Government approach. So we have had a focus on the way we get evidence from victims. And we provide
greater support for victims to ensure they can give evidence without feeling persecuted.

We can ensure we strengthen the laws so it is harder for people to commit such offences. And, of
course, we can reach out to industry. And today's announcement is providing support to industry,
construction, agriculture, hospitality - those industries where we see trafficking occurring beyond
the sex industry.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: How rife is labour trafficking?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Look, it's relatively low in Australia. But one person trafficked in Australia is
one too many. And therefore we need to do more. There's no doubt, the more resources we dedicate to
this issue, the more we uncover. So whilst I'm not trying to overstate the concern, there's no
doubt that there is a concern, there is a challenge, and we need to deal with it working with
employers, working with unions, working with non-Government organisations and, of course, making
sure that the law enforcement agencies have sufficient powers.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: But this isn't also a border security issue? I mean if these people are actually
getting into the country and are being flown here under false pretences or, perhaps, under duress,
isn't that something that any Australian Government should be able to pick up at the border?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: That's why we have such a low level, comparatively. We don't have the problems of
the United States where, of course, we see people coming across the Rio Grande in thousands a week.
We don't have those issues. We don't have the issues of a lot of countries or land locked countries
have. We have the advantage of being an island.

And we have very strong border protection, so we are talking very low numbers. But it's still an
issue. We have people being brought within the region, particularly from south-east Asia, into
Australia, working in hospitality, construction.

There's a lot said about the sex trade. And that is a challenge. And we need to work more there,
but I just want to make clear to people - this is not just about people coming in for sexual
services being exploited. This is also in other sectors of our economy.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: As you say, sex slavery is a very serious issue. We did a fair bit on that on the
program last week. But we also found that it's an issue trying to track down the so-called sex
slaves. The dodgy operators are able to move them from potentially legal brothel to legal brothel;
thereby escaping authorities.

So, obviously, there's some co-operation involved here between federal and state authorities, or
more co-operation needed to crack down on this practice.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well that's right. Firstly, in terms of regulating that industry, and enforcing
what exists, it's not just about introducing new laws, but enforcing what actually exists.

In terms of the federal level, the Australian Federal Police have special task forces. They work
with law enforcement agencies not only within Australia, but beyond our borders. And, indeed,
they've had 13 prosecutions. But I make that point - 13 out of 300 assessments or investigations -
a low number because it was very hard to get the evidence.

So we've introduced a new set of reforms, including providing protection not only to victims who
will then give evidence, but also to their families, so they will give evidence freely so we can
prosecute those people who wish to exploit them.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Just quickly moving to a couple of other topics before we let you go this morning,
Brendan O'Connor. The change in the way that Australia will now be processing asylum seekers
potentially has some consequence for your portfolio for Home Affairs and Justice. Do you have any
particular concerns yourself when it comes to quickly and expeditiously moving people through that
initial security check before they are then moved into community detention?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well look - yes, certainly. The Minister for Immigration has already indicated
there will still be the security, identity and health checks that have to be made. And that's a
threshold point. That has to happen before anyone's released into the community.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And as they are at the moment is that enough to satisfy you?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Provided that occurs in that manner. And I can assure you the Government will
have that as a threshold point - that there must be proper security assessments, health and
identity matters determined.

It's also looking at what else we can do beyond our borders. And what's important to note is there
have been very significant disruptions in the region. And, indeed, only a few days ago we had our
first prosecution in Indonesia under the new people smuggling laws - a five year jail sentence for
a people smuggler.

And this is the first time this has happened in Indonesia, remembering they've just criminalised
people smuggling. And we're going to work with Indonesia and Malaysia to make sure we prosecute
more people smugglers, who are the organisers of these ventures - the big fish, if you like.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What's your message to your colleague or colleagues who leaked details of that
Cabinet discussion on asylum seekers to the weekend media?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, clearly, any disclosure of Cabinet discussions is an issue, and it
shouldn't happen. Of course, every minister is aware that that should not happen. The most
important thing for people to understand is the Government explored every possible practical and
effective option to put in place an offshore processing arrangement which would deter people
getting on leaky boats. Tony Abbott only looked at options that will not work. And he did so in his
interests, not in the interests of this country.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Chris Bowen, according to those leaks, was prepared to embrace Nauru.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well as I made clear, we have considered a number of options. The Nauru option
alone is not an option, as advised by experts, that would work. We've been advised by the same
people that advised the Howard Government.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Those experts say that, but according to the leaks the very minister responsible
for immigration was prepared to go there.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well I'm not going to respond to those disclosures; whether they're right or
wrong. I can assure you of this though - that we took the advice of the experts. Tony Abbott won't
listen to the experts - whether it's an economist, whether it's a scientist, whether it's a
national security expert. Tony Abbott does not listen. He is a national wrecker.

What he's done here with national security is quite extraordinary. He's actually opposing
legislation that not only will stymie the Government's initiative or the Government's proposal, it
will actually prevent his own proposal from getting up in the future, if he was ever elected. That
is not, to me, a responsible act by an Opposition leader. That is an act of vandalism, if you like,
and it's something that I think people are concerned about.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: And, Brendan O'Connor, when it comes to those Cabinet leaks that you say shouldn't
happen and that Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle that should be abided by, does
the very fact of those taking place signal to you the beginning of the end of someone's leadership
- as they so often have in the political past?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: I think that you're...

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: [Interrupts]. We know how history has played out.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: You'll see unfortunate leaks that occur, and they occurred under the Howard
Government. And they've occurred under all governments from time to time. But they're something
that should never happen. And therefore, I think it's a warning that that should be resisted.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Would you like the Prime Minister to indeed read the riot act to Cabinet today, to
prevent this sort of thing happening again?

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well I don't think the Prime Minister needs to read any act. I think all
ministers know what Cabinet solidarity means and ministerial responsibility means.

The most important thing here is though the Government will continue to do what's in the interests
of this country. And, of course, Tony Abbott will continue to wreck any proposal that will protect
our interests, particularly protect our national security interests, and that is a crying shame.

VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Brendan O'Connor, good to talk to you. Thank you.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Thank you very much.