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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8197


Mr HAWKE (7:40 PM) —I rise to commend the member for Bonner for her fine motion that is before us today on the insidious act of human trafficking in Australia. Indeed, human trafficking does occur within Australia. It is something all of us need to be aware of and to be ready to take action on in the most bipartisan fashion. I have spoken recently in the House on sex slavery and the trafficking of people in Australia. At that time we were awaiting a High Court decision. There have only been four successful trafficking prosecutions in the last eight years. There is a real sense that we need to examine and constantly re-examine the adequacy of the laws in relation to people trafficking and whether the laws are working or not. While I cannot comment specifically on the outcome of that case, because it is subject to appeal, with only four trafficking prosecutions in eight years we need to do more in this place to strengthen the laws in Australia and ensure that people who are engaging in this insidious activity are captured.

Recently I was lobbied by groups in my electorate. The Baulkham Hills Baptist Church, which forms part of the Catalyst group, and the Starfish Ministries from St Paul’s Anglican Church at Castle Hill are very committed, caring and compassionate people. They have committed themselves to ensuring that we do the best we can in this country to look after the innocent victims of this terrible industry and ensure that we afford them all the compassion we can give them from the government.

I want to congratulate decision makers in the current government for the establishment of the national roundtable—I think it is a fine initiative—and in the previous government for action on eradicating trafficking. Important action was taken. In 2004 the Australian government’s action plan to eradicate trafficking comprised a number of positive measures, including the appointment of a Federal Police task force, participation in the Bali regional process that combated trafficking and revision of the protection measures for victims. While this was a positive move forward, I am pleased to see the national roundtable. I think there is more that we can all do in this place to see more achieved.

One of the major concerns I have raised previously is that, with the immigration system at the moment, we treat victims of trafficking in this country as people who are only useful to us in the form of witnesses against the perpetrators of these acts. We need to take a more compassionate approach with people who are victims of such horrific crime. There is room for change in the immigration system to cater for people who are victims of horrendous acts such as people trafficking and sex slavery. I recommend we look at that as part of this national roundtable review. Immigration is one intricately linked area that will require improvement if we are to do something positive.

Poverty is one of the major drivers of trafficking and exploitation of human beings. We have a role to play in our region. If you look at the statistics, the Asia-Pacific region has 79 per cent of the forced labour slavery problems in the world. Between 13 million and 27 million people, depending on the estimates, are trapped in slavery in the world. The International Labour Organisation says that a conservative estimate is about 12.3 million people. The other NGOs that work in this field say it could be as high as 27 million. Indeed, in Australia today there are 100 people in such circumstances at any given time, and that is if you take the conservative estimates. Some people suggest that it could be up to 1,000 people trapped in slavery within our own country, within our own borders. That is why I welcome the motion by the member for Bonner. I commend any government that seeks to take further action to ensure that we eradicate this practice.

All members here would be familiar with the movie Amazing Grace. We can take inspiration from legislators in previous parliaments who worked for generations to achieve freedom from slavery. That can inspire us all as modern-day legislators to continue that work and to work in a bipartisan fashion to achieve better outcomes for the unfortunate victims trapped in this horrific industry. Indeed, I feel we can make some big improvements as part of this government’s process, especially in the areas of immigration and the adequacy of the law in prosecuting perpetrators of these acts.