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Transcript of doorstop: ministerial entrance: Parliament House, Canberra: Monday, 13 October 2003.



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TRANSCRIPT OF DOORSTOP

SENATOR THE HON. CHRIS ELLISON MINISTER FOR JUSTICE AND CUSTOMS

MONDAY, 13 OCTOBER 2003

MINISTERIAL ENTRANCE, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA

E&OE………………………………………………………………….. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

MINISTER: Good morning everyone. The illegal international trade in people has been growing considerably in recent years. Australia will not tolerate this repugnant trade which deals with women and children in a sexually exploitative manner. Today we are announcing a comprehensive strategy to fight this insidious crime.

A $20 million package of measures which will build on efforts we already have in place to fight people trafficking will include a strike team from the Australian Federal Police, comprising of 23 members, a community awareness program which will educate not only those who are victims of this vile trade but also others as well. Visa requirements will also make things more flexible. As well as that, a position of a Migration Officer in Thailand and of course we will also be looking at laws to toughen up areas where we believe we need to catch practices such as deceptive recruiting and also in relation to sexual servitude.

As well as that there will also be measures in the region. Of course we cannot fight this alone and we are working with our neighbours in the region in the fight against the trafficking of people.

This is a comprehensive package of measures which will add to efforts that we have already embarked upon in the fight against the trafficking of people.

REPORTER: The community awareness campaign you mentioned, are we going to be seeing advertisements on our television screens?

MINISTER: Well what we believe is that you have to target the industry and where the problems lie and that’s precisely what our community awareness program will be doing. Can I say that we will also be working in the region for those victims of this vile trade that have gone back to their countries. We will work also in those countries through AusAid and other measures which we have in place already.

REPORTER: What’s the latest estimate of how many people are being trafficked into Australia each year?

MINISTER: Well of course internationally the figures have grown considerably but we have the Australian Crime Commission which is conducting a scoping study in relation to the figures. There have been various estimations but we don’t believe that these are accurate. We believe the Australian Crime Commission

is best placed to give us a forensic analysis of the problem in Australia and we’re looking forward to their report which is due very soon.

REPORTER: Is it possible at all to quantify how big a problem it is?

MINISTER: Well of course to quantify any extent of any illegal activity is difficult but in this particular instance we are determined to fight the trafficking of people, particularly women and children and in this case with the Australian Crime Commission assessing the extent of the problem. These measures provide a whole-of-government approach at the national level in the fight against the trafficking of people for sexual exploitation.

REPORTER: Is this an acknowledgement that perhaps the Government hasn’t done enough on this issue?

MINISTER: Well as I said these arrangements build on what has already been done. We have efforts in the region, we have of course eight prosecutions pending, the Australian Federal Police are investigating a number of cases and we also have Immigration working closely with the Australian Federal Police on a number of initiatives. This is a whole-of-government approach which extends from Foreign Affairs, Immigration, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, Attorney General and of course myself as Minister for Justice. What we’re doing is building on efforts which are in place.

REPORTER: The Government has copped a lot of criticism …inaudible…that the raids that have been done the brothels knew they were going to be done at those particular times that you were very ineffective in looking at the trafficking of women, has this been prompted by The Australian’s investigation?

MINISTER: Well you have to remember that the regulation of brothels is primarily the responsibility of States and Territories and we’re working with the States and Territories in that regard. The Australian Police Ministers Council has said that all States and Territories have to work together in relation to this issue. We can’t regulate the sex industry, that’s a matter for the States and Territories. We believe though at a national level the strategy that we have developed today is a comprehensive one and will provide leadership in that regard.

REPORTER: Isn’t it a federal matter though when you are talking about illegal immigration?

MINISTER: Well immigration is a Commonwealth responsibility and that is what we are addressing. But what we say is that this is an issue which cannot be fought and won by one government alone. We need the States and Territories with us and we also need international assistance because this is also an international problem and we’re working of course with our counterparts in the region.

REPORTER: Would you like to see more efforts from other countries on this issue?

MINISTER: Certainly we’re pursuing areas of assistance with other countries and co-operation. We have excellent relationships with respect to foreign law enforcement in the region and we’re using that as a conduit to make our fight against people trafficking even more effective.

REPORTER: Are places like Thailand doing enough though?

MINISTER: Well Thailand is an area of deep concern and that is why we are placing an immigration official there as part of the package but of course there are other emerging countries of interest, places such as Cambodia, Vietnam and China and we can’t be complacent. This is an international problem and we’re treating it as such.

REPORTER: What …inaudible…

MINISTER: Well we’ve seen the growing trade of people. We’ve seen it in relation to people smuggling, sex trafficking of women and children this is something the Australian Government won’t tolerate and we’ve seen an increase in a very short space of time. Interpol has assessed this as one of the three major criminal activities in the world today. Now we need to build on what we are doing. In 1999 we introduced strong laws - up to 25 years imprisonment involved in some of the offences that we introduced. We’ll be reviewing laws to make ensure that we’ve covered all angles in relation to this illegal trade but of course there is always more that can be done and that’s what this package does.

REPORTER: Where ….inaudible…and to what extent will it be targeting illegal immigrants …inaudible..

MINISTER: Well the Australian Federal Police strike team, a 23 member team, will be based in our Transnational Crime Centre in Canberra but of course that does not stop them engaging in international, interstate or cross domestic border investigations but they will be based in our Transnational Crime Centre and of course they will be focused on the trafficking of people, particularly women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

REPORTER: What about people smuggling and asylum seekers also, is that one of the …inaudible..

MINISTER: Well what we are looking at is the trafficking of people for sexual exploitation. This is a very different issue to people smuggling, although it was covered in the two conferences that we had in Bali last year and this year and of course it was a great opportunity for Australia to talk to our regional partners in relation to this issue and I’ve raised it on many occasions with my counterparts in the region.

REPORTER: And what is the Australian Government doing to help SIEV X survivors get to the trial of Abu Quassey in Egypt?

MINISTER: Well Australian Federal Police officers travelled to Egypt with the evidence that we have and have offered assistance. We’ll be guided by the prosecutor in Egypt as to what assistance they would require. We can’t run the case for them, it’s in the Egyptian jurisdiction and it’s of course not up to Australia to decide how another country runs its prosecution.

REPORTER: …inaudible…anticipate survivors in Australia going to …inaudible…to give evidence?

MINISTER: Well we’ve certainly provided the Egyptians with assistance, with information - it really is up to them now to say how we can help them further.

REPORTER: So if they ask will you be sending people…inaudible…

MINISTER: Well we’ll consider that request when it’s made. I mean it depends on where the people are and if they’re in our jurisdiction or if they are not. I mean certainly that’s a question we’ll deal with when and if it arises.

REPORTER: What about the victims of people trafficking they have complained that they don’t get much help and they are often sent back to their countries. Is there anything in this package for them?

MINISTER: Well there are some key features in this package which deal with victim support and also with the reintegration of victims who return home. This is part of the overall package, it’s a very important one and certainly we will be looking at measures to assist victims, variations to visas - a bridging visa in particular - in relation to assisting with enquiries. Also help with medical and other social benefits and also in relation to when they return home, because that is also a very important aspect of this package.

REPORTER: Minister, why do you see this as a growing problem, where is the evidence coming from to suggest that this is a growing problem and if you can’t put figures on that, can you say by how much it is growing?

MINISTER: Well of course the United States’ State Department has carried out a study of this and said that internationally the trade of people in this area runs into hundreds of thousands and of course extends across the world. We’ve seen it in Eastern Europe, we’ve seen it in Southeast Asia and of course we’ve got cases here which we are prosecuting. Unfortunately it is a problem from which Australia is not immune and this package today recognises that. It sends a very clear message that the Australian Government is deadly serious in the fight against people trafficking, particularly the sexual exploitation of women and children and we will not let up on that fight.

ends