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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7230


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (16:14): It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity today to speak to the report following the recent inquiry conducted by the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, entitled Trading lives: modern day human trafficking. The inquiry gave the committee an opportunity to look at some very serious issues pertaining to the trafficking of human beings on a global level.

This report comes at a time when the movement of people around the world has never been greater and the need to do more in eliminating forced labour, slavery and trafficking from global supply chains has never been more pressing. The report's findings are timely and very, very important. The report has delivered eight recommendations, and those recommendations are indeed a fair reflection of the submissions that were made to the inquiry. There were some 82 submissions made to the inquiry, and the recommendations are a genuine response to the issues raised in those 82 submissions and, of course, the subsequent 10 public hearings that were conducted.

All the recommendations were supported by members of the committee. I support all the recommendations, and today I want to speak particularly to recommendation 7, under the heading 'Exploitation in the supply chain'. This recommendation recommends that the Australian government investigate antitrafficking and antislavery mechanisms appropriate for Australia, with a view to creating a greater awareness of forced labour in the global supply chains. It is the one, as I said, that I want to speak to today, because in many ways it reflects the efforts made by people in the community, including those in my own local community, and the lobbying I received from them on this issue.

There are an estimated 20 million victims of forced labour globally, and the annual profit made from these victims is estimated to be some $32 million. So it is quite clear that more needs to be done in our community both at home and abroad to raise awareness of this issue, because this issue of forced labour is one that can be best and only described as a stain on humanity. It has been due to the efforts of long-serving community members in my electorate and in the broader NGO community who have lobbied government endlessly and relentlessly to ensure that a call for action on human trafficking remains at the centre of the political debate. Many of these advocates are in my home state of Victoria and I am very pleased, as I am sure they will be pleased, with the committee's overall findings and, in particular, with recommendation 7.

Recommendation 7, as I said, recommends that the Australian government, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, undertake a review to establish antitrafficking and antislavery mechanisms appropriate for the Australian context. The review should be conducted with a view to introducing legislation to improve transparency in the supply chains, the development of a labelling and certification strategy for products and services that have been produced ethically, and increasing the prominence of fair trade in Australia.

Recently, I met with members of 11 churches from my local community, and I want to name them because this was a very important meeting. They were members from the Broadmeadows Uniting Church, the Broadmeadows/Dallas Anglican Church, St Mary's Anglican Church in Sunbury, Hume Anglican parish, the Sunbury Baptist Church, the Salvation Army Craigieburn Corps, the Providence Road Uniting Church, the Gladstone Uniting Church, the Holy Child Catholic Church, the Sunbury Uniting Church, the Craigieburn Uniting Church. Reverend Peter Weeks and Dr Mark Zirnsak, who is the Director of the Justice and International Mission Unit Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, were present as well.

The group met in my office to present me with postcards that are part of a campaign aimed at stopping the slave labour that is going on in the world at the moment. The campaign is urging action, particularly action that requires companies to ensure that goods imported into Australia are free from slavery and human trafficking. The group has been advocating government to ensure that the government commission its own research to identify goods being imported into Australia where there are significant risks of slavery, forced labour, trafficked labour or, worst of all, child labour. All of this should be identified, isolated and targeted in the global supply chain. The group's campaign calls for the establishment of a working group, with representatives from government, law enforcement, businesses, NGOs and academics, to identify measures for businesses to take to ensure that their supply chains are clean of slavery, forced labour, trafficked labour and child labour.

The campaign also calls for the introduction of legislation requiring companies to report on what steps they are taking to mitigate the risks of slavery, forced labour, trafficked labour and child labour. The campaign also seeks the amendment of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines to require suppliers to government to have to provide a written assurance that they have taken all reasonable steps to ensure their supply chain is free of slavery, forced labour, trafficked labour and child labour.

My meeting with the local churches showed overwhelming support for federal government action requiring both the private and public sectors to make sure that products imported into Australia do not make profit from slavery and human trafficking. The group presented me with a postcard campaign. It is called 'Stop the Traffik: Slavery Free Guarantee'. Their aim is to get as many of these postcards as they can to us here in the parliament and the government.

If sweatshops can exist in Australia, underpaying workers and keeping them in substandard conditions, it is not difficult to imagine people in the world's poorest countries being most inhumanely cheated and exploited, used as child labour and, worst of all, held in bondage. The Uniting Church's Justice and International Mission Unit director, Dr Mark Zirnsak, told us at that meeting that he had received research which was conducted by the US Department of Labor and United Nations agencies that had identified goods coming into Australia from countries where slavery and human trafficking was involved. Dr Zirnsak has indicated:

What we do know is that the production of agricultural goods is where slavery is most strong.

He has said:

Cotton production, palm oil, also bricks and pavers, quarrying out of India, coltrane from the Congo that goes into mobile phones - all use bonded labour …

Dr Zirnsak has also indicated:

With Uzbekistan cotton, between one and two million people are forced into labour …

That is an occurrence on a mass scale and one that we need to be very concerned about.

Dr Zirnsak and the group that met with me were deeply concerned that, at this stage, no government efforts were being made to identify Australian companies importing goods or services that involve bonded labour or slavery. He also suggested that Australia was lagging behind other developed nations, most notably the United States, in applying pressure on companies to ensure that goods they import or sell are free from slavery and human trafficking. The group has called, quite strongly, for a slavery-free guarantee system that is similar to Fairtrade. This report addresses a lot of the concerns that were raised with me. I have received many of those postcards, and I will be endeavouring to present them to the Attorney-General, the Hon. Mark Dreyfus.

In conclusion, there is another group that I want to pay tribute to. It is a group that I have had a longstanding association with. It is ACRATH, Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans. This group is endorsed by Catholic Religious Australia, which is the peak body of 190 religious orders in Australia, representing 800 religious sisters, brothers and priests. For the past I do not know how many years that I have been up in this place, I have—

An honourable member: You know!

Ms VAMVAKINOU: I know. I have been visited by a wonderful group of women, predominantly nuns from ACRATH. These women are absolutely, totally dedicated to advocating on behalf of those women and children, in particular, who are victims of slavery and child labour.

I would like to name them individually because every year they are up here and they deserve to be commended for the efforts that they make. I would like to commend the work of Ann Tormey, Brianna Lee, Carol Hogan, Carole McDonald, Denise Mulcahy, Genny Ryan, Janine Bliss, Jennifer Bird, Diane Kennedy, Marie Marsh, Margaret Ng, Therese Power, Christine Carolan and Louise Cleary, who is the National Chair of ACRATH. I want to commend them because they come up here each year to convey their anti-human-trafficking messages to members of parliament and also to ministers and shadow ministers.

The women, who are the Catholic sisters and their colleagues, are all members of this organisation and they come up here to ever-so-gently lobby for government to act in righting the terrible and inhumane wrongs committed against vulnerable people—women and children in particular. They met with ministers and policymakers and, over the years of their advocacy, they have managed to achieve many changes. It is to their credit that they have been able to make significant changes.

They were involved in a public hearing in Melbourne in May this year, and it is quite apt that I quote the chair of the foreign affairs subcommittee, the Hon. Laurie Ferguson, who congratulated ACRATH on its activities, saying that he thought that ACRATH was 'the main group' of this inquiry that led the committee to holding this inquiry, based, as he said, on ACRATH's activities and he noted 'your appearance before the committee at various stages and your lobbying'. So the chair of the human rights subcommittee commended them and also referred to them as being the essence that inspired this inquiry.

I would like to thank them and also thank members of my own community who are lobbying me, and I would also like to thank Dr Mark Zirnsak for the work that he does in making sure that we never forget that we live in a world where profits are made on the back of slavery, especially that of young children and women, and it is our responsibility as policymakers to do whatever we can, through legislation if necessary, to protect the vulnerable both here in this country and also internationally. I commend the report to the House.

Debate adjourned.