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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31567

Mr SERCOMBE (4:55 PM) —by leave—I do not think there is any doubt that the great bulk of the credit for recent improvements in the Australian approach in relation to the practice of trafficking women for sexual servitude rests with the Australian, particularly the investigations editor, Natalie O'Brien, who was supported by a number of other people, including Elisabeth Wynhausen. This particular newspaper and the individuals I have referred to carried out quite an extensive public campaign in relation to a number of practices. In many respects, I believe the committee's inquiry reflects the public attention that was drawn to the issues, and also I believe the government's action plan reflects that heightening of public awareness, largely through the campaign of the Australian. All credit to them.

The committee's inquiry slightly predates the government's announcement of an action plan. We may have had some modest impact on the government's decision in that respect too. As the member for Cook indicated, the government's action plan is a significant, in fact, dramatic improvement on the position that existed prior to the introduction of the action plan, and the quite shameful ignoring of the problems, particularly under the administration of the former Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. However, as the committee's inquiry indicates, there are a number of areas of significant improvement needed on what the government's announcement included and the committee has dealt with a number of them.

The member for Cook has outlined the question of providing sufficient incentive for women who are probably under some risk from organised criminals when they cooperate within Australian law enforcement in these matters. It has been quite inadequate. Addressing the benefits to which women would be entitled if they remained in Australia to assist law enforcement investigations was an important matter, as were issues in relation to the type of visa the women are on. The committee has made some recommendations, for example that witnesses be allowed to return to their country of origin for short periods in certain circumstances to enable contact with their families whilst criminal investigation and prosecution matters are afoot. In those respects and in terms of improving the efficacy of law enforcement in this area, I think the committee has made some fairly useful suggestions.

Similarly, the committee has made some recommendations on improvements of the Australian Criminal Code, particularly in broadening the offence of deception that is a characteristic of the practices of traffickers. Also, as the member for Cook has indicated, the committee's recommendations indicated it is anxious for the Australian Crime Commission to focus its efforts in this area on the methods by which people traffickers are able clearly to circumvent Australian immigration barriers through visa fraud. Additionally, as the member for Cook indicated, the committee has come up with some proposals to strengthen the bureaucratic structures with which the Commonwealth will now conduct its welcome activities in this area through the national action plan. These are important areas for Australia's international reputation.

Just the other week on Wednesday, 16 June, the Australian produced an article by Natalie O'Brien, to whom I referred earlier, which was headed `Australia listed for sex slave problem'. So Australia, along with other countries, is going to continue to remain under international scrutiny in relation to its performance in this area. I hope that the committee's work in this area will make a modest contribution to improving the situation.