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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8200

Mr PERRETT (7:55 PM) —I rise to support the motion put forward by the member for Bonner and I commend her for the initiative. I also thank the member for Pearce for her contribution. As someone married to someone who has worked in child protection for 19 years—and I will celebrate my 13th wedding anniversary tomorrow—I understand her passion in speaking out against these horrible things.

Child exploitation and slavery are things that we all should be concerned about. Human trafficking is today’s slavery. Traffickers use violence, threats and abuse to force people to work against their will and they use people as commodities for another’s gain. Typically, victims are forced into prostitution, domestic service, forced marriage or even forced manual labour. More than half of all people trafficked are children who are forced into manual labour, trained as soldiers or—I am sad to say—sexually exploited.

UNICEF estimates that around 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide every year. Human trafficking denies people their basic human rights and is a sickening crime that represents the absolute worst of humanity. As Abraham Lincoln said way back in 1864:

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel.

That sounds like a logical thing to say now, but we have to understand the context in which it was said in 1864. It was something that ultimately led to Abraham Lincoln being assassinated.

We need more people of courage to speak against this horrendous crime, people like Abraham Lincoln and William Wilberforce. We need our modern-day versions. Thankfully, we have organisations like the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans organisation. I met with representatives from ACRATH here in parliament last week. While as a child it was quite a harrowing experience to be in a room alone with two nuns, I found this to be a wonderful experience. It was great to see their commitment to such a wonderful cause. I admire them for their courage and for what they are trying to do. ACRATH is only a small part of the global struggle to eliminate human trafficking in Australia, the Asia-Pacific and internationally. ACRATH’s cause involves protecting victims of trafficking; amending the visa structure for trafficked persons—protecting the victim, basically; making community education accessible to trafficked people; improving community education for the wider community; and advocating better training for prosecutors and the judiciary.

The Rudd government is committed to eliminating people trafficking at home and abroad. We realise that to do this we need to take up the fight on a number of fronts: prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution and victim support. Australia has ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. We are also party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Australia has tough laws in place to deter traffickers, a victim support program, enhanced visa arrangements for potentially trafficked persons and specialised investigation units in the Australian Federal Police. These measures are helping to keep people trafficking in Australia relatively low. The Australian Federal Police have undertaken 150 investigations into trafficking allegations since 2004. This has led to 34 charges, including eight convictions, with 14 still before the courts.

However, people trafficking is still growing in some parts of Europe and South Asia. That is why Australia needs to work with our neighbours and non-government human rights agencies to help fight people trafficking. That is also why the Minister for Home Affairs convened the first National Roundtable on People Trafficking in June this year. The roundtable brought together non-government organisations, victims-of-crime organisations, religious groups, community legal centres, unions and government agencies. As a result, a working group was established to develop guidelines for NGOs dealing with trafficking victims.

Through AusAID, the Rudd government is also delivering a $21 million program to help combat people trafficking in Asia. AusAID is working with countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Burma and Vietnam to reduce the number of human-trafficking victims, help the recovery of victims and prevent the exploitation of children. I particularly commend the efforts of some of the Thai representatives I met recently. Many people would be shocked to know that, more than 200 years after Lincoln and Wilberforce first led the cause against slavery, human trafficking and human exploitation are still happening throughout the world. This is totally unacceptable and should not be ignored.

I thank the member for Bonner for bringing this matter before the House and acknowledge her efforts to uphold the cause of the oppressed. It is obviously up to us and governments around the world to do more. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.