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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9280

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (17:17): I, like the previous speaker, am very pleased to rise to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. Australia first put together its national strategy on slavery and slavery-like conditions in 2003, so this bill has been a while coming. But it is a very, very important bill—since 2003 the ways that some very evil people in this world have found to exploit others has no doubt changed. Today the great majority of victims of people trafficking identified in Australia have been trafficked for exploitation within the commercial sex industry. That is probably, for many of us, the way we think of slavery. However, over the past two years Australian authorities have identified a number of men and women who have been trafficked for exploitation in other industry sectors. At the same time, investigations have indicated changes in the techniques used by traffickers to adapt to law enforcement activity and changes in migration regulations.

The nature of people trafficking varies from region to region and from country to country. In its most visible form, it usually involves women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation. But around the world we can find other examples of people being trafficked for other purposes, including forced labour in a range of industries—construction, forestry, mining, domestic and sweatshop labour and hospitality—illicit adoption, street begging, forced recruitment into the military or armed forces, the harvesting of body organs and, as we have heard, forced marriage.

People trafficking occurs across international borders but it also occurs within nations. A range of people may be involved in the trafficking process. The stories that we as Australians have seen far too often on various current affairs programs which show us the plight of some of the people who have been traded into the sex industry are appalling. But long before it gets to that stage, there are many people involved in the trafficking process, including those engaged in the initial recruitment, those that arrange transportation and those that arrange false documentation. There may also be a broker, a brothel owner, a factory supervisor or a household head—somebody who directly exploits trafficked people.

Traffickers commonly recruit their victims by appealing to their hopes, or that of their families, for a better life or escape from economic or social distress. Often there are threats used; force or abduction can be used. Trafficking can occur whether people move by legal or illegal means. Victims of trafficking are not always physically detained. The level of control and the nature of the control may vary. They may employ a number of ways of preventing their victims from escaping, including debt bondage, intimidation, physical or sexual violence against the victim themselves or against family members, detention, threat of denunciation to migration authorities and withholding of personal identity documents, including passports.

Since Australia's whole-of-government anti-people-trafficking strategy was established in 2003, the majority of identified victims have been found to be in the legal and illegal sex industry. But we are seeing significant changes to that in Australia and around the world, and it is appropriate that we have now moved to update our laws, expand the range of definitions and broaden the scope of the laws to people who assist in setting up this appalling trade.

This bill will amend the Criminal Code to establish new offences of forced labour, forced marriage, harbouring a victim and organ trafficking. It will broaden the definition of exploitation to include a range of slavery-like practices. It will extend the application of existing offences of deceptive recruiting and sexual servitude to apply to all forms of servitude and deceptive recruiting. It will ensure that the slavery offence applies to conduct which reduces a person to slavery as well as conduct involving a person who is already a slave.

It will amend the existing definitions of exploitation to include a range of slavery-like practices and to capture more subtle forms of coercion, including psychological oppression and the abuse of power and a person's vulnerability. It will increase the penalties applicable to the existing debt bondage offences to ensure they adequately reflect the relative seriousness of the offences.

At the community cabinet in Parramatta around Easter time, the Prime Minister was asked a question about this policy by one of the women in the audience who is heavily involved in her community—a woman I know quite well. It was interesting that, of all the issues that could have been raised at that community cabinet, this was the one that that particular community wanted to raise, particularly the issue of forced marriage. When you have community leaders in one community or another choosing that topic to raise, you know there are stories going on in our communities that most of us are not aware of.

She talked to me later. She talked of the difficulty we would find in so many of the grey cultural areas in her community and in others. There is no doubt—from talking to that woman and a number of others—about the commitment of the women in that community to protect vulnerable girls and women from forced marriage. I am pleased that we are making these changes to the law in support of that community. I know, as they do—and as the government knows—that this is not an easy task. The legislation has to cover a range of offences, and applying it will cause us to find more grey areas. There is no doubt that this legislation will be amended over time, as our communities get more familiar with their protections and the ways they can protect themselves and other members of their community from this appalling conduct.

As perpetrators become increasingly aware of investigative and prosecutorial techniques, they change their modes of operation accordingly. It is essential that we regularly review the offences against slavery and people trafficking to ensure they are responsive to emerging trends. As I said, I have no doubt that, as our communities start to use these laws more fully, we will find a whole range of things in our communities that we will wish to respond to. The measures in this bill are intended to ensure our law enforcement agencies have the appropriate tools to investigate and prosecute the broadest range of exploitative behaviour.

The bill is a result of really widespread public consultation. We released two discussion papers on slavery, people-trafficking and forced marriage and also sought submissions on an exposure draft of the bill. Responses to those consultations revealed broad support for the measures proposed by the bill.

Forced labour is currently criminalised where it is connected to the offence of people-trafficking, but it is not criminalised where it is not connected to the events of people-trafficking. This bill changes that to create a stand-alone offence that would ensure that, in addition to the prosecution of a trafficker, labour exploitation at the place of destination could also be prosecuted.

Forced marriage is, again, a very important area. Following reports that forced marriage is occurring in Australia but is underreported, specific criminalisation of this practice is warranted. The forced marriage offences would criminalise the actions of a person who uses coercion, threat or deception to cause another person to enter a marriage against his or her will or a person who is a party to but not a victim of a forced marriage. The criminalisation of forced marriage is not intended to target consensual religious or cultural marriages. It is intended, absolutely, to target cases where one party or the other does not feel they have a choice, that they do not feel that they are entering into a marriage of their own free will.

Harbouring a victim is also dealt with by this bill. The definition of trafficking in persons under the trafficking protocol encompasses the criminal conduct of individuals who are involved in the harbouring or receipt of persons. The proposed harbouring offences would fulfil our obligations under the trafficking protocol by targeting the conduct of persons who assist another person in their slavery and trafficking activities. Regarding the many people who are involved in setting up and managing the trafficking of human beings, this section specifically targets people who assist a third party—again, a very important improvement.

We have also noted that there is a rise in the number of individuals identified as being exploited in industries other than the sex industry—for example, domestic or hospitality industries. It is important that these provisions are recast so that they apply broadly to situations of exploitation in all industries. We can see examples in my community and others that I have been made aware of—and in some cases I have tried to assist—where people feel that they must work under incredibly poor conditions. They have had their passports seized and in many cases feel that if they complained to me or anyone else they would be instantly deported. In our community now we have people who are working for either no money or very little money under appalling conditions and under fear of dramatic repercussions if they complain. I have been at mobile offices in my electorate where people have told me of their circumstances but were not game to tell me the name of their employer or their own name. So I am well aware that we have people in our communities who are well and truly being exploited in this way.

The existing penalties for debt bondage are not sufficient to reflect the relative seriousness of debt bondage offences. Enforcement of a debt is one of the most significant factors pointing to the exercise of ownership over another person—that is, slavery. The proposed higher penalties would reflect the seriousness of the offences and have the effect of making them capable of being included as alternative counts on indictment—again, a very important improvement. We know now that in the people-trafficking crime syndicates, for example, there are many people who are effectively moved from one country to another and they or their families remain in debt bondage until the debts are paid off. They are appalling circumstances for a person to be in—not circumstances that any of us should accept. I am really pleased to see that the existing penalties have been raised.

The situation of many victims in Australia does not conform to the popular image of people-trafficking and slavery-like practices involving abduction, violence and physical restraint. In a lot of cases they tend to involve more subtle forms of coercion. The amended definition of a threat in this bill includes threat of coercion.

Coercion would be defined to include physical and non-physical elements, including psychological oppression, abuse of power or taking advantage of a person's vulnerability.

This is an important bill. It has been on its way since 2003. Since then, there have been many new ways for people to be exploited around the world, and we are seeing changes in the way that people are exploited in Australia. Again, I am incredibly pleased to be speaking to the bill. I commend it to the House, and I am very pleased to see that there is genuine bipartisan support for this action.