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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9267

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (16:01): The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 deals with some of the most unspeakable acts that humans can commit against other people, including slavery, slavery-like conditions and people trafficking. It also deals with organ trafficking, which is an incredibly diabolical crime. Clearly these are crimes that do not occur particularly regularly in Australia, but when they do we want to make sure that the full force of the law would be brought down against perpetrators.

People who would be subject to this type of crime—be it forced labour, forced marriage, organ trafficking or harbouring a victim—would be the most vulnerable people in our society. If you were trafficked into slavery, you would generally come from very disadvantaged conditions, often overseas. The impact on victims of such ordeals would leave them traumatised for life. Clearly in modern-day Australia we have no place for this type of violence, intimidation and deprivation. As a community, we do not accept, under any circumstances, the crimes of slavery, trafficking and forced marriage. These forms of abuse have absolutely no place in Australia.

The coalition will support this bill, which seeks to strengthen and expand the ability of prosecutors and investigators to prevent and fight these crimes by introducing harsher punishment, as well as new offences for forced labour, forced marriage and trafficking of both people and organs. The coalition does not believe it is important to amend this bill. The coalition does, however, believe it is important to amend the bill if it is appropriate to do so, depending on the recommendations that are put forward by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Clearly we agree with the intent, but we just want to make sure it is drafted correctly and does not have any unintended consequences. Given the seriousness of the issues this bill deals with, the government should have waited for the findings of the Senate committee to ensure that the legislation clearly outlines and reflects our society's values on slavery and trafficking.

The amendments proposed by this bill seek to ensure that the slavery offence applies to conduct that renders a person a slave, as well as conduct involving a person who is already a slave. It extends the application of existing offences of deceptive recruiting and sexual servitude to non-sexual servitude and all forms of deceptive recruiting and increases penalties for debt bondage offences. It also amends existing definitions to broaden the range of exploitative conduct that is to be criminalised. The Crimes Act 1914 is to be amended to increase the availability of reparation orders to individual victims of Commonwealth offences. Consequential amendments are proposed to the Migration Act, Proceeds of Crime Act and Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act. Although the offences are described as new, most amount to definitional changes of existing offences in divisions 270 and 271 of the criminal code. The important new offences concern organ trafficking and forced marriage.

The bill will criminalise the conduct of a person who conceals, harbours or receives a victim through trafficking, slavery or a slavery-like offence. This bill will also criminalise the conduct of a person who uses threats, deception or coercion to bring about a marriage or a marriage-like relationship. Importantly, this would also apply to third parties involved who may not be the victim but are party to a forced marriage. The forced marriage offences include strict liability for being party to a forced marriage. If the prosecution establishes that a person was forced into a marriage, the other party is presumed to be guilty of an offence unless he or she can establish a lawful excuse. This is justified on the basis that the elements needed to establish the excuse would usually lie peculiarly within the knowledge of the accused and it would be significantly more difficult for the prosecution to disprove than for the accused to establish. It is possible that the imposition of strict liability could result in injustice in particular cases and it is therefore recommended that the government's justification be closely examined.

Given the nature of forced marriage, it is often difficult to gather reliable statistics. Therefore, one can assume that the cases that we know about are probably only a portion of what might be occurring in private. These new laws will criminalise forced marriage and put in place penalties of up to seven years in jail. It is important to make sure that the appropriate punishment for these inhuman crimes is put in place to act as a sufficient deterrent. It is vital that we legislate to protect young people at risk of forced marriages, as the harmful consequences can include emotional and physical abuse, as was a loss of education and a restriction of freedoms.

This bill will also create a stand-alone offence of forced labour where a reasonable person in the position of the victim would not consider themselves free because of the use of threat, coercion or deception. The existing offences of slavery and forced servitude are to be broadened to include forced labour. This is to capture the apparently increasing incidence of slavery-like conditions outside of the sex industry. The existing definitions, which require the use of force and threats to maintain the condition of servitude, will now include the use of coercion, threat or deception. Coercion will include duress, psychological oppression and abuse of power or taking advantage of a person's vulnerability. The prohibition does not extend to conditions justified or excused by or under a law. It also does not extend to lawful detrimental action under standard relationships between employers and employees. However, the extent to which this is the case needs to be carefully examined. Phrases like 'psychological oppression' and 'taking advantage of a person's vulnerability' have a strong subjective element and it is not inconceivable that they might be alleged in an industrial relations context. Of particular concern are the strict liability offences and the expanded concept of coercion, which is open to abuse in an industrial relations context. Under this bill, the new laws criminalising forced labour will attract criminal penalties of up to 12 years imprisonment.

Importantly, this bill also creates a stand-alone offence criminalising the trafficking of a victim either to or from Australia or within Australia for the removal of his or her organ or organs. This amendment will clarify the circumstances in which an offence of organ trafficking will apply, including situations where a victim's organ is not ultimately removed. These organ-trafficking offences will ensure that Australia meets its international obligations as well as comprehensively criminalise this conduct.

Organ trafficking is currently covered, though not explicitly, by the human-trafficking provisions. The consent of the victim of the procedure will be immaterial. There appears to have been only one discontinued investigation in Australia, although it is estimated that, globally, up to 15,000 kidneys are bought and sold illegally each year. The trade is alleged to exist substantially in China, Pakistan, Egypt, Colombia and the Philippines. It is reported that patients can pay up to $200,000 for a kidney to criminal gangs who harvest these organs from vulnerable people, often for as little as $5,000.

The World Health Organization recently warned of the alarming rise in the illegal trade of human organs, reporting that an estimated 10 per cent of transplant procedures involved black-market organs and that around one new kidney is sold every hour on the black market. That is why it is so important that we legislate against this evil trade that plays on people's vulnerability and weakness. This bill will seek to punish those who exploit victims of the illegal organ-trafficking trade.

It is really difficult to imagine a more horrendous crime than that of organ trafficking, and the fact that it is on the increase should concern all members of this House. I do congratulate the government for taking these measures to make it a separate offence.

This bill will ensure that those who help to enslave or traffic people can be charged, as well as those who keep the slaves. This will broaden the ability of prosecutors and the courts to bring all those involved to justice. This bill will also establish the much-needed stand-alone offence of organ trafficking, and will also improve the availability of reparations to victims of these offences, including people trafficking and slavery. Importantly, this bill will broaden the existing sexual servitude offence to apply to all forms of servitude and deceptive recruiting offences. The penalties to be imposed range from four to 25 years imprisonment, which is broadly within the continuum under the existing provisions. It is important that they be scrutinised to ensure that penalties for trafficking are consonant with people-smuggling provisions.

The Coalition reserves the right to move amendments based on the recommendations of the relevant Senate committee inquiries. Once again, I would have thought it would have been prudent for the government to wait for that Senate committee to report, but in this instance we do not oppose the passage of this bill. Indeed, we highly support its intent, but surely it would make sense that it be properly scrutinised by the parliament through the committee process. I would urge the government to consider that in future when it does set its legislative program so that these committee inquiries can be concluded before we look at it in either chamber.