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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9269

Mr HAYES (Fowler) (16:11): I too rise to support the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 and I think it is a bit of an indictment of a modern society that we need to even contemplate this. People trafficking is something that would seem very foreign to most of us in this place. The bill before us will amend the Crimes Act 1914 to establish new offences listed under the concept of slavery and people trafficking and extend the existing definition to include forms of exploitation that have emerged, or become increasingly common, over recent years.

The new offences that will be included under the concept of exploitation within the Australian criminal legislation include forced labour, forced marriage, harbouring a victim of organ trafficking and a number of slavery-like offences. Broadening the legal definition of slavery and people trafficking and criminalising a wide range of offences that fall under these two categories will ensure a more thorough approach, particularly in respect of the prevention, but also the detection, of these activities, as well as looking at the protection of victims within our legal system itself. It also expands the traditional understanding of the term 'capture' to involve non-physical forms of domination, including psychological oppression and misuse of a person's vulnerability. Importantly, the bill will also increase the penalties to reflect the seriousness of offences relating to enslaving and trafficking of people.

There were, as I understand it, 45 allegations of trafficking of persons reported to the Australian authorities last year. Almost all of these were adult Asian females that had come into the country for the purpose of commercial or sexual exploitation. Regrettably for those of us in New South Wales, 65 per cent of those cases related to Sydney issues. Many victims are brought to this country under false pretences or feel trapped, whether it be due to debt or debt-related issues, fear or threat. They often have difficulties in reporting their situation, given the fact of their language barriers. That does make it certainly a concern, particularly in an electorate like mine, which is the most multicultural electorate in the whole of Australia. In addition to that, 30 per cent of my electorate is Asian.

Project Respect, an Australian trafficking in persons advocacy group, has suggested for several years that around 1,000 women are trafficked for prostitution alone each year in this country.

According to the United Nations, in terms of a global position in the vicinity of 27 million men, women and children are either owned or denied their freedom by working in slavery-like conditions. In addition to that, 40 million people are also cited by the United Nations as being refugees. That shows the dimension of the issue. Of these 27 million, 800,000 people are trafficked across borders for the purpose of sex work, migrant workers, debt slaves, child soldiers or any other degrading purpose. Of the people trafficked across borders, not unexpectedly, 80 per cent are women and girls.

From my participation as chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, I am aware that human trafficking is identified as one of the fast-growing transnational crimes and one of the three most profitable transnational crimes, along with drugs and arms trafficking. The people involved in this do not do it simply because they wish to be people traffickers; they do it because there is money to be made in this business. They are prepared to sell people. People trafficking is a sad reflection on any modern society and demonstrates that many in this world do not value human life and freedom.

I commend Commissioner Tony Negus and his Australian Federal Police. I think they are doing a fantastic job in this regard. As I said, from my involvement in the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Law Enforcement, I am certainly aware of the work that they are doing. They are certainly making a difference in this respect through applied intelligence and detection methods. Whilst Australia is not immune to the evil of this crime, certainly when looking at many other parts of the world we remain relatively unscathed—although, as I indicated a little earlier, the number of Asian women being brought into this country for sexual exploitation certainly makes you wonder. The only reason they are coming here is that there is a market. The bill will further strengthen our ability to fight predators in this area and also protect the victims. It will ensure that we are far more efficient in monitoring and detecting illegal transaction activity and all that associated with people trafficking.

One of the new offences created in the bill includes the definition of 'forced labour', where a person does not feel the freedom to leave a place of employment due to threat, compulsion or deception. I have spoken many times in this place about the vulnerable position of migrant workers—and outworkers often find themselves in this situation. One thing that is within the Australian psyche is the issue of sweatshops. People engaged in exploitation in this area of employment are generally migrant workers. They are very, very vulnerable to exploitation due to significant language difficulties and a lack of understanding of the Australian legal system and their rights at work. This bill criminalises forced labour and establishes the punishment for predators to be as high as 12 years of incarceration.

The recent amendments to the fair work bill, which was carried in this place—although I know it was opposed by those opposite—were aimed at protecting the rights of contract workers in the textile, clothing and footwear industry. The bill was a very significant step towards ensuring that vulnerable people in this country are not exploited. Last Saturday I, along with Bich Thuy Pham, from Asian Women At Work, addressed a forum on the exploitation of workers. Particularly in south-west Sydney, people of migrant background are being forced to work in sweatshops—people who did not understand their legal rights, did not understand what is available to them and did not understand their rights at work.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 16:20 to 16:37

Mr HAYES: Before we attended to the division, I was indicating that, when members of the opposition voted against the provisions of the Fair Work bill, with respect to outworkers they should be conscious of the fact that those amendments, like these amendments, were not done just because they could be done; they were done because there was a market in exploiting migrant workers. Regrettably, much of that exploitation occurs in my electorate. To line up and take a political position to oppose industrial relations legislation that seeks to protect these people is tantamount to closing your eyes to the issue of exploitation itself. It is a lack of options that forces desperate people, looking for their own survival and that of their family, into working and living conditions that would deny them essential basic human rights. We should take all measures to ensure that we are not as a nation inadvertently party to the exploitation or ill treatment of individuals.

This bill broadens the definition of 'servitude' from the existing 'sexual servitude' to cover industries other than just the sex industry. People are being exploited and subjected to slavery and trafficking in a number of environments. The bill ensures tough consequences for those who assist in violating victims, even if they are not involved in enslaving them.

The need to establish a tough regime in respect of combating organ trafficking is unbelievable but necessary. Although Australia is lucky enough not to have a large number of issues of organ trafficking, this is a serious global issue and requires urgent attention. The AFP are investigating their very first case of alleged organ trafficking now as a result of the trade that is occurring in human body parts. As I said, it is a very sad reflection on modern society. Unfortunately, there are many individuals who are desperate to survive and are forced to risk their health and their lives and resort to selling organs on the black market. Many are unwilling participants in this very sad and chilling trade.

The criminals in many of these countries use people's vulnerability, with respect to deception, violence or coercion, to obtain organs from the poor, mainly in underdeveloped countries, and sell them at astronomical prices to critically ill patients in more affluent countries. According to the World Health Organisation there are about 10,000 operations annually.

The bill criminalises the use of threat or coercion with respect to forced marriage or marriage-like relationships. Being a party to such an offence would bring a new punishment exceeding seven years imprisonment. Regrettably, there are increasing reports in this country that Australian-born girls as young as 14 or 15 are being forced into unwanted marriages overseas. These girls should be entitled to the same degree of protection as any other girl—daughters or, in my case, granddaughters. It is very regrettable that we now find ourselves in a situation where we need to make laws about that, but it is necessary. Forced marriages, forced labour, the trafficking of people for sexual purposes and organ trade do not have a place in modern society. We need to accept that these are certainly realities around the globe and we should be doing everything humanly possible to prevent their occurrence in this country and to co-operate with international law enforcement to attack those who perpetrate that trade elsewhere. This bill encourages greater protection of the vulnerable and those who are exploited and increases the punishment for those who participate in taking advantage of the victims.

I would also like to use this opportunity to commend the very good work of the Josephite Counter-Trafficking Project and the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans. These two organisations do a tremendous job in assisting the victims of people-trafficking. The Josephite Counter-Trafficking Project was established by the Sisters of St Joseph in 2005 to provide spiritual and emotional support to victims of trafficking. I know because I have actually met the sisters as they have been operating in my electorate doing precisely that, particularly with young Asian women who have been trafficked in this country for sexual exploitation. The sisters closely collaborate with government agencies and non-government organisations, including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, to establish a healing process for those who have undergone the trauma of people-trafficking. The Sisters of St Joseph have demonstrated the importance of government departments, the Australian Federal Police, NGOs and members of the wider community working together to effectively address the issue of people trafficking.

As I said from the outset, it is sad that we need to make laws in this respect. However, the crimes are certainly occurring to fulfil a market. As we know in terms of prostitution, there is a market for forced labour in this country. I commend this bill and the efforts of the government to eradicate this vile form of trade occurring within our boundaries.