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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6225

Ms ROXON ( Gellibrand Attorney-General and Minister for Emergency Management ) ( 1 0:32 ): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-Like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 will protect some of the most vulnerable people in Australian society.

With this bill, the Gillard Labor government is protecting vulnerable women and children and, in some cases, men from trafficking and slavery.

For many in our community, the notion of 'slavery' evokes 19th century images of people sold as chattels, shackled and transported between countries. Tragically, 19th century slavery has not been abolished. It has simply taken other forms.

People traffickers recruit, transport, transfer, harbour or receive their victims through force, coercion or other means in order to exploit them. This is the modern-day face of slavery.

A common factor of contemporary slavery and trafficking—from forced labour and forced marriage to organ trafficking—is the misuse and abuse of power. And such an abuse has no place here in Australia.

I want to send that message loud and clear to all Australians and to all young people: duress, violence and intimidation are not acceptable in contemporary Australian society—in any context. Slavery, trafficking and forced marriage are unacceptable and they will now be very serious crimes.

That is why Labor is bringing forward this bill to improve protections for victims of all forms of slavery and trafficking, and to help law enforcement agencies detect, investigate and prosecute perpetrators.

Fortunately, slavery and people trafficking are not common in Australia, but the effect on victims is traumatic and can have lifelong consequences.

The bill will strengthen and expand the capability of investigators and prosecutors to combat these crimes by introducing new offences of forced labour, forced marriage, harbouring a person for the purposes of furthering the offence of trafficking, and organ trafficking into the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

More specifically this bill will:

create a standalone offence of forced labour where a reasonable person in the position of the victim would not consider him or herself to be free to cease providing, or leave the place where they provide, labour or services because of the use of coercion, threat or deception

criminalise the conduct of a person who uses coercion, threats or deception to bring about a marriage or marriage-like relationship. The offence would also apply to a person who is a party to, but not a victim of, a forced marriage

criminalise the conduct of a person who harbours, receives or conceals a victim and in doing so, assists or furthers the purpose of a third person who has committed, or is committing, a trafficking, slavery or slavery-like offence

create standalone offences criminalising trafficking a victim, either to or from Australia or within Australia, for the removal of his or her organ.

The bill will also insert general relevant evidence provisions into both divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code. These provisions set out a list of matters a court or jury may have regard to in determining whether a victim has been coerced, threatened or deceived, whether the victim or the guardian consented to the removal, in the case of the organ offences, of the victim's organs, or whether another person has caused the victim to enter into debt bondage.

It will also insert general consent provisions into divisions 270 and 271 to make it clear that a victim's consent or acquiescence cannot be used as a defence in a proceeding for an offence against those divisions.

Reducing a person to a state of slavery or servitude often involves suppressing the person's free will and their self-respect, as well as their ability to make decisions for themselves. To allow a defendant to escape liability because his or her offending achieved the desired effect in bringing about these changes in a victim so that they appear to consent would be inexcusable. This provision makes that clear.

These measures will establish a continuum of offences criminalising exploitative conduct ranging from slavery to debt bondage. The definition of 'exploitation' in the Criminal Code will be expanded to cover broader forms of exploitation including debt bondage, forced labour, forced marriage, and all forms of servitude including non-sexual servitude.

Forced labour goes against everything that Labor stands for. And that is why we must act to make sure that no-one in this country is subject to such a misuse of power. And that no-one is able to get away with forcing someone to work in that way. The Labor Party has a long history of protecting Australia's most vulnerable—whether through the government's introduction of Medicare, the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act or our current steps to introduce the National Disability Insurance Scheme. And this bill will continue that proud tradition.

It was the Labor Party which repealed Tony Abbott's unfair workplace laws.

And it is the Labor government which is now introducing a new offence of forced labour.

While the majority of identified victims in Australia have been women trafficked for the purposes of exploitation in the sex industry, law enforcement agencies are increasingly identifying both men and women who have been subjected to exploitation in a range of other industry sectors and workplace environments. This bill will introduce a stand-alone offence of forced labour and expand the existing offences of sexual servitude and deceptive recruiting to ensure they apply regardless of industry.

Where a person who does not consider himself or herself to be free to cease providing, or leave the place where they provide, labour or services because of the use of coercion, threat or deception they will be protected.

Penalties for the existing debt bondage offences will also be increased, reflecting the seriousness of these crimes.

I would like to take this opportunity to say something about one particular aspect of this bill and that is forced marriage. As Australia's first female Attorney-General, I am proud to be introducing legislation which makes forcing someone into a marriage illegal. It is a serious matter and should be treated as such. Marriage should be a happy event, entered into freely between consenting adults.

Forced marriage places young people at risk, and can result in many harmful consequences including the loss of education, restriction of movement and autonomy, and emotional and physical abuse.

Some critics have asked: 'Won't this just force this underground?' I say to them that it is already underground and it cannot afford to stay that way. As Attorney-General it is my role to make it completely clear that in Australia, marriage must be entered into freely, without duress or constraint.

In order to strengthen the law's ability to deal with the perpetrators of slavery and trafficking offences, this bill also makes it a crime for another person to assist or further the commission of these offences. The new offence of harbouring will extend criminal responsibility to those who facilitate a slavery or trafficking offence by harbouring, concealing or receiving a victim of a slavery or people-trafficking offence. This is to ensure that there is no way for people to avoid prosecution because they did not themselves transport, recruit or transfer the victim into the country.

The bill also creates stand-alone offences of organ trafficking. Trafficking a person to remove his or her organ is currently criminalised through offences relating to exploitation. This amendment will clarify the circumstances in which an offence of organ trafficking will apply, including situations in which the victim's organ is not ultimately removed.

These organ-trafficking offences will ensure that Australia meets its international obligations and comprehensively criminalises this exploitative conduct.

The bill will increase the capacity of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute perpetrators, and to better support and protect victims. It will assist in addressing the impact of crime by improving the availability of reparation orders to individual victims of Commonwealth offences, including slavery and people trafficking.

In conclusion, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 was prepared following extensive public consultation.

The government released two discussion papers on slavery, people trafficking and forced marriage, and also sought submissions on an exposure draft of the bill.

May I digress for a moment to thank my predecessor the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr O'Connor, who was strongly involved in this, and also the officials from my department and the Federal Police who have had particular carriage of what has been a challenging piece of work. I thank them for their determined efforts.

With this bill, the government will clarify and strengthen the operation of existing slavery and people-trafficking related offences to make sure that the perpetrators of these offences and those who facilitate them cannot escape prosecution.

The bill reflects the government's commitment to doing all it can to prevent slavery and people trafficking. It is easy to say no. It is harder to stand up and do the right thing. And that is what this bill is about. For the Labor Party, it is about protecting the most vulnerable in Australia. It is about us getting things done to make this country a fairer, safer place for all of us.

The Gillard government is carrying on, in introducing this bill, the great Labor tradition of standing up for those who are less powerful against the strong and giving a voice to those who cannot always speak up for themselves. I am very proud to commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.