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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9296

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (18:25): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important legislation, which strengthens Australia's position and contribution when it comes to the terrible scourge of trafficking in human beings which flows from and into conditions that amount to modern day slavery. I commend the minister for bringing forward this necessary update to our domestic legal framework, as it will put our law enforcement agencies in a better position to investigate and prosecute exploitative criminal conduct through all its evil, evolving twists and turns.

This legislation is aimed at ensuring the broadest range of exploitative behaviour is captured and criminalised, including by introducing new offences of forced labour, of harbouring or receiving a victim of trafficking or slavery and of forced marriage. The bill extends the existing offences of deceptive recruiting and sexual servitude and increases penalties for existing debt bondage offences, as well as improving the availability of reparations to victims. I note too that, in keeping with this government's commitment to thorough process, this legislation has been formed after the release and consideration of two discussion papers on slavery, people trafficking and forced marriage.

I have some direct professional experience of witnessing and combating the practice of trafficking. While in Kosovo I chaired a working group on trafficking in persons, primarily women and girls, who were being trafficked for the purposes of prostitution. The absence of law enforcement that followed the withdrawal of Serbian forces in June 1999, coupled with the slow build-up of effective interim police services, enabled organised crime, and with it the trade in human beings, to flourish. Women and girls were being trafficked from Eastern Europe to Kosovo as a transit point to Albania and Italy and as a final destination, because of the large international military and civilian police presence. Compared to drug trafficking, this was a crime involving large financial rewards and little risk for those involved. Drug traffickers were relatively easy to convict if caught with drugs and there were serious penalties; people traffickers were more difficult to convict due to the intimidation experienced by victims, who could be afraid to testify. Even if convicted, people traffickers would rarely be subject to serious penalties. Further, whereas drugs cannot be resold once used, a person can be sold and resold many times. This is what had happened to many of the young women that we met in Kosovo. They reported feeling an overwhelming sense of helplessness and degradation from being in a foreign country, a long way from home, where they did not speak the language and were forced to provide sexual services for men for up to 15 hours a day. They were under the control of organised criminal gangs who had their passports, who regarded them as being in debt to them and who threatened harm to their families back home if they tried to run away.

We drafted world-first legislation that implemented in Kosovo the protocol to the UN convention on transnational organised crime relating to the trafficking of women and children, with an emphasis on the rights of the victim to protection, shelter, health services, assistance with repatriation, legal advice, interpreters and compensation. The legislation also criminalised the users of trafficked women, not just the criminal organisations carrying out the trafficking. It criminalised the intentional withholding of identification documents and it provided for the non-criminalisation of the trafficked person, whereby a trafficked person would not be held criminally responsible for prostitution or for illegal entry, presence or work if the person was a victim of trafficking.

Educating the international civilian presence about the issues was a particular challenge I was involved in. The UN could and did instruct its civilian staff and police not to patronise particular bars that were known to use or were suspected of using trafficked women and girls, but it was very difficult to deal with the military contingents, as the UN did not have jurisdiction over them.

It was a matter of visiting the different commanders for each national contingent and asking them to put in place measures and training for their soldiers. Trafficking in persons is a complex phenomenon encompassing such issues as gender discrimination, economic exploitation and globalisation.

Debate interrupted.