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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9286

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (17:42): I rise in support of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. I do so after thorough consultation with a number of my constituents who have outlined to me their views on the issues of people trafficking and slavery. From the outset, I would also like to recognise the very important work of a number of organisations, including that of the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, ACRATH; and Catalyst, which is a faith based organisation which operates in my electorate. Both of these groups have led the way on addressing the issues of human trafficking and slavery, particularly in raising awareness at a local level.

In speaking on this bill I would like to specifically address three aspects: the broadening of the definition of 'exploitation', strengthening the capability of prosecutors to combat people trafficking, and improving the availability of reparations to victims of people-trafficking. The bill will amend divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code and section 21B of the Crimes Act to reflect the ever-changing nature of these issues and expand the definition of 'exploitation'.

As outlined in the explanatory memorandum, this bill will also strengthen and expand the capability of investigators and prosecutors to combat people-trafficking and slavery, in particular for the purpose of labour exploitation, and to facilitate the prosecution of these offences. Finally, this bill will also improve the availability of reparations to individual victims of people smuggling, including people-trafficking.

I would now like to turn to the rationale for this bill. It is estimated that there are up to 27 million slaves in the world today. It is a shocking statistic in the year 2012. This is an issue that, contrary to what some may think, is not an ancient evil but a contemporary problem with very real and tragic consequences, both overseas and in our own backyard, as exposed, for example, in the case of the Queen and Tang, 2008.

The Australian Federal Police have also conducted 300 investigations into human trafficking and slavery offences between 2004 and 2011, resulting in 13 convictions. The US State Department estimates that some 800,000 victims are trafficked across international borders every year, with millions more enslaved in their own countries.

So this is a vital piece of legislation that recognises that these issues do not exist in a vacuum but rather are dynamic and ever-changing. Consequently, the legislation must reflect this.

I would like to turn to the broadening of the definition of exploitation to include a range of slavery-like practices. This legislation ensures a more comprehensive response to these crimes. As outlined by Fiona David from the Australian Institute of Criminology, key debates still coalesce around issues including the realities of transnational migration for work, the difficulties of defining and proving key concepts such as exploitation and sexual violence, and the challenges of giving due respect to the agency of individuals in situations where choice is heavily constrained.

If the United States Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000, which was designed to achieve similar outcomes to this bill, tells us anything, it is that a narrow understanding of trafficking and exploitation makes for ineffective and oversimplified legislative solutions. It is therefore crucial that we do not make the mistake of narrowly interpreting this complex set of issues.

It is also essential that we recognise that trafficking is not only a matter of sexual exploitation but also of labour exploitation. As outlined by the Australian Human Rights Commission, while Australia has so far focused on trafficking for sexual exploitation, a key issue at the recent national roundtable on people trafficking was how Australia could improve its response to the emerging issue of labour trafficking. This is becoming increasingly important in a time of labour shortage. Migrant workers may find themselves in debt bondage arrangements in a range of different industries, with little or no control over their conditions of work. Their passports may be withheld. They may be subjected to physical or psychological abuse. This is not just happening in the sex industry, it is happening in other industries too. So, by broadening the definition of exploitation and inserting new offences and provisions in the Criminal Code, we will ensure a more thorough and comprehensive response to what is a dynamic and complex set of issues.

I would like to turn to strengthening the capacity to prosecute. The bill also strengthens the mechanisms available to prosecute people and organisations who commit these prescribed crimes. As highlighted by Bernadette McSherry from Monash University:

Those who are victims of labour-trafficking and slavery are largely invisible, tend to work in isolation, often have limited proficiency in English and limited interaction with the general populace and are thus usually voiceless and vulnerable. If the purpose of the criminal law is taken to be not only to punish moral wrongs; but also to preserve and encourage social welfare, then forced labour, slavery and debt bondage for both sexual as well as other services should be subject to investigation and prosecution.

By amending the existing provisions in divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code, this bill will increase the penalties for the base and aggravated offences of debt bondage from 12 months and two years imprisonment respectively to four years and seven years imprisonment. These appropriate changes reflect the serious nature of these crimes and will also have the effect of making them indictable offences capable of being included as alternative counts on indictment. As outlined by the Attorney-General in her second reading speech, this bill will protect our society's most vulnerable people: the women and children—and, at times, men—who fall victim to this abhorrent trade.

My recent joy at becoming a mother has particularly led me to focus on the welfare of young girls and children generally who are victims of slavery and slavery-like conditions. Children are often employed and exploited because, compared to adults, they are obviously more vulnerable, are cheaper to hire and are less likely to demand higher wages or better working conditions. We see the worst of this around the world—for example, in some cases, in West African cocoa production; in Central European cotton farms; and in the Middle East and in our own region. This government is committed to helping developing countries address the main causes of unfair child labour practices through its work with UNICEF. By reducing the debt burden of poor families and providing better access to primary education for children throughout the world, we are helping to limit the reasons why children are exploited.

In my electorate of Greenway there has been very strong support for the strengthening of these laws regarding people-trafficking from community organisations, religious groups and individuals. On 19 July I had the pleasure of spending some time with three of my constituents from the faith based organisation Catalyst, Jed Evans, Daniel Tuckwell and Greg Wood, who outlined to me the stark reality of what is a tragic trade.

They detailed for me the heinous situations experienced in Uzbekistan, for example, where children are often forced from school to pick cotton and the crops use some of the very highest levels of pesticide, which permeate and poison the children at such a vulnerable age, and in West Africa, where children experience extreme abuse while working on some cocoa farms. These are the realities of the slave trade today. I would like to acknowledge the great work of Catalyst on shedding light on these issues and thank them for their endeavours to end slavery.

On 12 June and as recently as this afternoon, I spent some time with Sister Noelene Simmons from the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans to specifically discuss this legislation. I note that ACRATH participated in the extensive public consultations undertaken in developing this bill and was recognised by the Attorney-General as providing valuable input in shaping and refining the reforms. ACRATH is committed to the wellbeing of people trafficked into Australia, whether for sex work or for work in other industries, for organ trafficking or for forced marriage. I would like to put on record the support of ACRATH for this legislation. In particular, they are pleased to see the forced and servile marriage aspects included in this bill. I also note that ACRATH believes more needs to be done with respect to the availability of reparations to victims of these offences, and this is something I will continue to advocate for in this place.

I would particularly like to note that ACRATH gave some very practical examples of antislavery provisions and, in particular, brought forced marriages to the fore. They highlighted to me that this does continue to occur in a number of countries, including a number of African nations where it is not necessarily religiously based but, rather, culturally based. It is a growing concern. They highlighted to me this afternoon the very practical issue that government departments need to move quickly where there is a suspicion of forced marriage. They gave me an example of a 16-year-old girl who was quite articulate but was taken overseas. Her passport was withheld from her and the struggle was about how to get her back into this country. As they pointed out, this is unfortunately an issue which is so new on the radar for many institutions that it is insufficiently understood. Although they highlighted the cooperation that they received in this particular case from the Attorney-General's Department, the big practical issue is the money to bring these girls back to Australia. They highlighted to me how the AFP is very alive to the issue but that there needs to be a better understanding generally by government agencies about these specific circumstances. They further highlighted to me how it is important when these legislative changes go through for the law to be backed with resources to increase the awareness of forced marriage. An example they gave was prospective couples being interviewed separately as a way of unearthing problems through the immigration system. Another practical step forward may be for GPs to have leaflets in their surgery providing the educational imperative that is necessary for people who need to understand that they have support and specific rights.

I commend the Attorney-General, to whom I made representations some months ago on the issue of country of origin and ensuring that slavery practices are monitored for goods that are imported into Australia—that there is some sort of certification process. A number of organisations have been at the forefront of ensuring that our retailers and manufacturers in Australia that use inputs from overseas product are encouraged to have some form of certification that their product is slavery-free. As recently as this afternoon I noted that Nestle is apparently going to have their product certified by the end of the year. Australia is one of the first countries in which this is being done. They have specifically said it is due to pressure from organisations such as Stop the Traffik in Australia that this is able to be done.

Both ACRATH and Catalyst have asked that the government ensure that the supply chain of goods brought into Australia is slave-free. As I have mentioned, it is something I have raised with the Attorney-General and the foreign minister, but I also plan to raise the issue of the procurement of goods with the finance minister. I believe the community I represent and the wider Australian community want to know where goods are sourced and they want to understand the conditions in which the sourcing takes place, so I thank organisations like ACRATH for all their hard work in this area.

Australia is party to a number of international treaties which are aimed at eradicating labour exploitation and protecting children's rights, including the Slavery Convention and the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery. Australia has also ratified a number of International Labour Organisation conventions. These instruments, together with this legislation, highlight Australia's very strong commitment to ending human trafficking and exploitation.

This government understands that factors such as poverty, lack of employment and income generating opportunities and, often, a lack of education make people vulnerable to exploitation. That is why Australia's aid program directly addresses these factors through the Millennium Development Goals. Our aid program also funds specific programs aimed at combating trafficking and slavery, including the Tripartite Action to Protect Migrant Workers within and from the Greater Mekong Sub-region from Labour Exploitation, which is a five-year program being implemented by the ILO to reduce the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers and their families in the Greater Mekong subregion.

I note again that labour exploitation is an issue of serious importance to many decent local people living in my electorate. It may not be the most glamorous topic or receive the most coverage in our mainstream media, but it is certainly very important, and it has been highlighted by the large number of representations I have received. I thank the Attorney-General in particular for her work on the issue and commend the bill to the House.