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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8196

Ms NEAL (7:36 PM) —I rise to support the motion by the member for Bonner and also join in congratulating her in taking up this very important initiative. Human trafficking is the sanitised term for slavery. In the modern world often women and children are bought or stolen into slavery. The type of trafficking that has the greatest visibility is the trafficking of women for the purposes of prostitution. There are also incidences of trafficking for forced labour, for domestic servitude and, most offensively in my mind, for the removal of organs. This obviously is a demand of the Western world.

The scope of the problem is difficult to measure due to the nature of the crime. These people, largely women, are in positions of powerlessness, often having crossed borders illegally, and there is great difficulty with, firstly, detection and then successful prosecution due to the clandestine nature of the operations and, often, links with underground criminal activity. The level of human trafficking is therefore uncertain, but the US Department of State estimates that in 2006 between 600,000 and 800,000 people were trafficked world wide.

The greatest concern for us in the Australian parliament is that this is not just happening in some remote part of the world; this is happening here in Australia. The estimates of the number of Australians involved vary between 100 and 1,000. Obviously because of the nature of the crime, it is difficult to be certain. But there certainly are many women and children—and, in some cases, men—who are affected by human trafficking. In Australia there have been 117 investigations into human trafficking since January 2004 and only four convictions. In fact, of these four convictions, three are under appeal.

At this stage I wish to acknowledge the Erina Community Baptist Church from my home on the Central Coast, part of the Catalyst Social Justice Committee, for raising this issue with me earlier in the year. Their concern for those suffering in these circumstances is recognised and applauded. I also wish to acknowledge the contribution to this issue of ACRATH, the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, who visited me last week. The Rudd government takes the crime of human trafficking extremely seriously.

The two areas that I believe need particular attention are, firstly, improving the success of prosecutions for trafficking; and, secondly, the transformation of the visa system for those who are trafficked, from a largely criminal investigation basis to a more humanitarian basis. Presently, Australia’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons are focused on prevention, detection and investigation, criminal prosecution, and victim support and rehabilitation.

The government has a $38.3 million anti people-trafficking strategy which provides for a range of measures, including additional trafficking prosecutions and training; the victim support program in its third phase, with victim witnesses returning to Australia to assist with prosecutions, organised through the Office for Women; two additional senior migration officer compliance (trafficking) positions in the Asian region; and research into trafficking trends in our region at the moment to try to ascertain the scope of the problem.

The government has established a National Roundtable on People Trafficking comprising government, anti-people-trafficking NGOs, service providers and victims of crime support organisations, as well as the legal, employer and union sectors. The government values the views of stakeholders and has conducted a review of the people-trafficking visa framework, which includes discussions with a range of non-government organisations. The outcomes are currently being considered.

This is an important issue. I take great heart in the bipartisan approach in the Main Committee today. I feel that, with the enthusiasm and support from all sectors of the parliament and the community, we can make great strides. I look forward to working with everyone to achieve that.