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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6339

Ms LEY (4:05 PM) —It gives me pleasure to respond to the ministerial statement from the Minister for Home Affairs. I thank him and the government and his predecessor for the opportunity. Broadly, the coalition welcomes what this statement contains. It certainly builds on strong work that started under the previous government, particularly, I think, in 2003, when the then coalition government announced a $20 million package of measures to combat trafficking in persons. An important part of that package was a thorough legislative review.

The review carefully analysed Australia’s anti-trafficking laws to identify what changes were needed to fully and comprehensively criminalise trafficking in persons. That package included a new AFP unit, the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Team; new visa arrangements for trafficking victims—I note in the minister’s statement today that there will be further expansion of those visa arrangements—victim support measures, including counselling and legal and medical support to be administered by the Office for Women; proposed improvements to legislation making people trafficking punishable by up to 20 years jail; and a promise to ratify the UN protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, which was completed in 2004.

Since these initiatives—five years on—we are looking at a report that covers those five years. We are undertaking to make annual reports and we also have an Audit Office inquiry into the management of the Australian government’s action plan to eradicate trafficking in persons. So we are really starting to see how the initiatives that were put in place a few years ago are hitting the ground and how we can make changes for the better. Globally, over 21,400 victims of trafficking were identified in 2006, although it is considered that many victims are not identified.

People trafficking takes place for a variety of reasons, including sexual servitude, domestic labour, forced marriage and sweat shop labour. Women, men and children are victims. While there is limited hard information on the number of persons trafficked and the target industries into which they are trafficked, evidence suggests that the trafficking of women into prostitution is the major and certainly the most visible form of trafficking taking place.

As a citizen of this country you cannot help but be profoundly affected and insulted by the examples of trafficking into sexual servitude that we have seen. We have had good results in the courts—noticeably, the 2008 High Court decision in R v Tang. I want to quote women, through Project Respect, who have been trafficked into prostitution and who spoke out after that decision:

What happened to us was a nightmare. We can never forget. It comes back to us in dreams. This will affect us til we die. It has changed us.

We were treated very badly. We worked from 11 am to 3 or 4 am. We slept only three or four hours a night. Sometimes some of us worked for 24 hours. For four or five months, all we did was prostitution. Even when we had our period, we had to work. Sometimes we worked until we couldn’t walk. We had to work until we were very very sick and the customers refused to take us. Only then were we allowed to rest, for one day.

Some owners were not so cruel, but even when they were friendly, they still treated us as slaves.

We were made to feel like animals. Customers were violent. Some of the customers were crazy. They treated us like animals. We were sexually abused, we were dragged, we were hit. Some of us were given drugs so we could work all the time. Some of the women we know have become drug addicts and now they have to keep doing prostitution to pay for drugs.

…            …            …

I felt like we survived and died at the same time. We had to keep doing what the traffickers said, for ourselves, and for the people we loved. The traffickers threatened us—we were scared they would hurt us and our families. Some of us thought we could be killed. We blamed ourselves for what happened, because we had wanted to come to Australia.

This changed our lives.

When we have so many people talking, consulting, legislating through roundtables and conferences, we do need to hear from the victims who are affected. We must keep in mind the victims when deciding what help we need to offer. I read with interest the Auditor-General’s report into the action plan and noted some of the recommendations that the Audit Office has made. I want to just run through a couple of those because they are important, and I know they have been accepted.

This is a whole-of-government approach, and when that happens sometimes there is a little bit of silo operation between the agencies, but the ANAO did conclude:

… the whole-of-government oversight arrangements are broadly effective in sharing information and making decisions. However, the necessary performance information framework, including baseline measures to monitor contributions … has not been established. Each agency has implemented their respective new measures, although management effectiveness varies from agency to agency.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission expressed concerns as to the effectiveness of the coordination and accountability arrangements for the overall government effort. One thing that concerned me was that the key baseline measure of the effectiveness of the measures outlined in the action plan—that is, the trend in the numbers of victims being trafficked—is not being measured. Arriving at such estimates is clearly a challenge, but we have to do that. We have to find out whether our measures are being successful and if not how we can improve on them.

The AFP’s transnational sexual exploitation and trafficking teams are at the frontline of combating this problem and I want to pay tribute to them and to the men and women of those teams who work so hard in such difficult circumstances investigating trafficking cases, bringing them to court and sometimes being terribly disappointed when some brothel owners, as we saw in Sydney not that long ago, get let off with a slap on the wrist.

The AFP was mentioned in the Audit Office report and comments made were that some of the people-trafficking resources had been directed to non-trafficking crime types. I want to very strenuously say that the AFP has probably suffered a cut of about $13 million in its budget recently. It is continually being expected to stretch that thin blue line further and further. Even a couple of days ago we heard through the media that the AFP will be carbon cops, having to police the forthcoming carbon regime with no additional resources. It makes no sense at all.

We must remember that where you find this type of crime you find other types of crime, so if the AFP is combating crime it may well be incorporating people trafficking. I ask the government to resource the AFP properly to do its job, because we can have roundtables, meetings and Bali conferences—all of these are good and are conducted by both sides of politics—but when you hear from the victims of trafficking you realise that you want people on the front line: state police, the AFP and the Australian Crime Commission, which has also had cuts of at least seven per cent to its budget. Those are the people who can take action against these dreadful individuals that are involved in the trafficking. That is so important.

The ANAO made six recommendations aimed at strengthening whole-of-government arrangements and they are being picked up on. I want to speak briefly about the Office for Women’s management of the victim support services post trafficking and say that I was not convinced by figures I heard from the Audit Office that, I think, $9 million was taken up in the administration of the program—the contract management function by OFW and then the contract management by the person who provides those services. I know that the service provider has recently changed to the Red Cross, and I have the highest opinion of them, but I would ask the Minister for the Status of Women to maintain a watching brief on the dollars that it costs to administer this and to recognise that a small allocation of money to support the victims has not really gone very far.

When you consider that, as of August 2008, 107 victims had been assisted under the various phases of support—a substantial shortfall in the catered-for demand of up to 90 victims a year, which would now be a total of 450 victims—something is not right there. We must not forget that after a court case the victims who testified may need particular assistance. My colleague the shadow minister for immigration will shortly, I am sure, discuss the possible changed visa arrangements, and we look forward to working with the government on getting the balance right. But I recognise the courage of a woman who has been trafficked into sexual servitude in coming forward to testify, not knowing what the outcome of the court case will be and possibly not knowing what her own fate will be should the case not be successful. We must remember that cases fail for a number of reasons, and victims continue to need support. But we must balance any possible mischief related to applying for visas in particular instances with the need to protect victims. As I said, my colleagues will have more to say on that.

Broadly, I welcome the statement. I look forward to the ongoing annual reports. I applaud and thank the previous coalition government for the work that they kicked off in this area in 2003, added to in 2004 and allocated further funds to in early 2007. We have made this recognised and appreciated. (Time expired)