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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26181

Mr PYNE (6:22 PM) —The growth crime of the new century is the insidious practice of people-smuggling. According to Interpol, people-smuggling is now the third-largest moneymaker for organised crime syndicates, after drug and gun trafficking. A recent United Nations report estimates that global profits from people-trafficking have grown to $US9 billion and will soon exceed international drug profits. As we debate the Crimes Amendment (Age Determination) Bill 2001, there are approximately four million people being smuggled around the world. Like most developed countries, Australia is experiencing a boom in the number of illegal migrants penetrating our borders. People in countries with fewer opportunities than Australia are motivated to immigrate here because of our prosperity and our economic and political stability.

Last month an international people-smuggling syndicate alleged to be responsible for the flow of $12 million from Australia to Hong Kong was smashed following the arrest of 20 people in three countries. In Sydney, six Chinese people were detained by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Four were illegal immigrants and two had their visas cancelled. In Britain, two were arrested as part of the same ring, with officials seizing $300,000 in cash and a quantity of illegal drugs. More than 120 false travel documents were seized in the operation.

There are some sections of the Australian community under the impression, perhaps misled by Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party, that Australia is the only country that has a border management problem. The business of illegal migration and people-smuggling is not a problem confined to Australia. The deputy director of the United Kingdom Immigration Service claims that the European Union had up to 800,000 illegal arrivals in 1999-2000. This is a 20-fold increase on the 1993 estimate of 40,000. There is a mounting body of evidence that suggests the cause of this dramatic increase can be attributed to the proliferation of sweatshops throughout Europe and the activities of transnational organised crime syndicates.

In 1999, a distressed Chinese man appeared at a military police headquarters in the Italian city of Milan begging for help. His wife, an illegal immigrant, had attempted to escape slave-like working conditions in a garment sweatshop near Milan. But the Chinese gangsters who had arranged her illegal passage to Italy captured her at gunpoint. Her husband's complaint led to raids on sweatshops in 28 cities, from Milan to Rome, and broke up a criminal network of about 200 gangsters in China, Russia and Italy.

The biggest wave of illegal immigrants is by far and away from China. Conservative estimates say that the number of illegal immigrants from China is around 100,000 per year. In the United Kingdom, it is believed that tens of thousands of asylum seekers have disappeared into the community. In 1998, it is understood that 19,000 applicants vanished in the United Kingdom, with this figure projected to rise to 115,000 in 2002.

The US Immigration Service estimates there are over five million illegal immigrants living in the United States. This figure of five million would be closer to eight million if it were not for the 1986 legislation that legalised two classes of undocumented migrants in the United States. The Immigration Service estimates that approximately 275,000 illegal immigrants enter the United States every year. The flow of illegal immigrants across the United States-Mexico border is a continuing problem for the United States government. Despite the enormous financial and technological resources at the disposal of the United States, and the comparatively small border with Mexico, illegal migrants from Mexico account for about 60 per cent of the total illegal migrants in the United States. Cuba is another border management problem for the United States. The United States grants asylum to 20,000 Cubans every year, and yet the number of illegal migrants from Cuba is presently on the rise. In the nine months from January to October 1998, just 615 Cubans reached Florida to seek asylum; in the nine months following, this figure almost tripled, to 1,690.

Transnational people-smuggling syndicates are using the hope of a better life to induce people to illegally immigrate to more prosperous countries. They harness the hopes of their victims with false promises; assurances of instant employment upon arrival are common, as well as the promise that they will earn above average wages. They allay their fears of being caught by falsely assuring them that authorities are powerless to extradite them and that it is easy to qualify for permanent residency. With no contradictory information available, those desperate for a better life submit themselves to the terms and conditions imposed on them by organised crime smugglers. In effect, they are unwittingly committing themselves to a life of slavery.

For the organised people smugglers, it is all about debt bondage—the practice of smuggling people into a country such as Australia and making them pay off that debt when they arrive in the country. It is not a debt that can be realistically settled. In real terms, the debt can be the equivalent of $50,000. In practice, repayments can be made only by slowly working off the debt, usually through illegal activities such as prostitution and drug smuggling on behalf of the transnational crime syndicates that organised their illegal entry to Australia. Their servitude can also take other forms, such as loan sharking, protection rackets, money laundering operations, importation and distribution of narcotics, kidnapping, fraud, vice, extortion, contract killing, slave trading and the tragic practice of child prostitution. The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that hundreds of new brothels have opened across Sydney. Estimates put forward by federal government departments suggest there are up to 300 sex slaves in Australia, the majority of whom are illegal immigrants who have originally come from the South-East Asian region.

Clearly, transnational organised crime has become a major international epidemic, continually evolving and keeping abreast of technological advancements. As new business and economic opportunities surface, the tentacles of organised crime are never far away. Organised crime gangs have an incredible ability not only to adapt to change but to expand through the most recent and superior technology. For instance, people smugglers based in Florida are now using powerful speedboats which are capable of reaching high speeds to either reach American shores without detection or, if detected during their journey, outrun coastguard boats.

We all know that globalisation has rationalised, centralised and modernised national economies, but it is also true that globalisation has rationalised, centralised and modernised organised crime groups. As competition between international organised crime syndicates increases, power struggles are likely to be replaced by mergers between syndicates to efficiently use resources, maximise profit and profit-making opportunities and improve risk management practices by pooling intelligence to counter surveillance and investigation.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.

Mr PYNE —Before the suspension I was in the process of talking about the big business that is now organised crime around the world. If it all sounds like big business, that is because it is big business. That is why illegal immigration and the debt bondage it brings are so important to organised crime gangs. They are able to use the people they smuggle into a country as dispensable foot soldiers. It is an effective way of putting another barrier between the organised crime bosses and law enforcement agencies.

Organised transnational crime can be effectively tackled only through an integrated global approach. Australia has been an active participant in a coordinated international attack on transnational crime. Australia joined more than 140 countries at the World Ministerial Conference on Organised Transnational Crime, which was held in Naples over five years ago. The outcome of the conference was an action plan to develop a holistic approach to combat transnational organised crime by the harmonisation of national legislation. Central to the action plan is the understanding that all countries must work together in responding to this threat.

Illegal immigration presents other problems for Australia beyond transnational organised crime syndicates. Unlike legal immigrants, who undergo extensive medical tests, illegal immigrants do not necessarily come into Australia with a clean bill of health. Some illegal immigrants arrive with life threatening diseases such as cancer and motor neurone disorder. This situation has enormous potential to create serious problems for our health system. In Canada, for instance, 1,500 refugee claimants with tuberculosis are living in the community, with 500 refusing treatment. In Britain, the incidence of tuberculosis rose by 12 per cent in 2000, illegal immigrants and refugees accounting for half the cases.

There are also concerns that illegal immigration may threaten Australia's refugee program, a humanitarian contribution of which we can all be proud. Every illegal arrival costs the Australian taxpayer around $50,000. Australia has resettled 600,000 refugees in the last 50 years. We resettle more refugees on a per capita basis than any other country except Canada. We resettle twice the number per capita than the United States. As the number of illegal immigrants being caught and detained increases, it places a strain on our financial and logistical capacity to service our refugee program that presently assists about 12,000 genuine cases every year.

The coalition government has also introduced a number of legislative measures and initiatives to complement our coordinated international strategy. The border protection legislation, which we debated in this House over 12 months ago and upon which I spoke, gave Customs officials extra power in policing our coastal border. That legislation complemented the commissioning of new antismuggling vessels that have the latest technology to protect our borders. These vessels can sail in extreme conditions and can be at sea for up to 23 days. The new vessels will also make our border protection efforts more cost effective and allow officials to redirect resources to other areas in the fight against people-smuggling.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Slavery and Sexual Servitude) Act 1999 is another measure introduced by this government that fights one of the symptoms of people-smuggling: debt bondage. The bill prescribes penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for those convicted of intentionally owning a slave or exercising power over somebody that is equivalent to slavery. That includes debt bondage and associated practices. Other legislative measures now impose penalties involving 20 years jail and fines up to a maximum of $220,000 for those convicted of smuggling five or more people into Australia. It is the professional people-smugglers and the organised crime gangs behind them that our strategy is attacking.

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, has also embarked on an ambitious international campaign aimed at disseminating information to increase overseas awareness that illegal immigration will not be tolerated by the Australian government. The coalition government has invested $16 million in the Australian Federal Police to combat the growing trade in human cargo. We are now seeing major syndicates smashed as a result of their efforts. Seven arrest warrants have been issued by the Australian Federal Police's people-smuggling task force since its inception last July. Cooperative efforts have also been established with authorities from other countries to control the problem at its source. Jakarta police broke a passport forgery ring and seized 180 passports, 55 visa stamps and other material used in the people-smuggling process. Thai authorities have also seized over 1,000 counterfeit passports as well as document-producing equipment.

The provisions of this bill presently before the House complement these initiatives. This bill provides for a person to be tested with prescribed equipment, usually an X-ray, to determine their age for identification, investigation, custody, trial, sentencing and related purposes where it is not practicable to determine age by other means. Determining the age of a suspect is particularly important in relation to people-smuggling offences where people under investigation refuse to provide details of their age, make the false claim that they are under the age of 18 years or have no reliable documentation to support their age. The proposed bill will send a strong message to those engaged in people-smuggling that they cannot circumvent or abuse the Australian legal system by deceptively claiming they are under the age of 18 years. It will also avoid the undesirable situation of placing adult suspects in juvenile detention facilities or vice versa.

But the most effective long-term means of controlling illegal people-smuggling is to assist, where possible, in ensuring the economic and political stability of our region. A paper produced by the Institute for the Study of International Migration, which is based in Georgetown University in Washington, noted that `stabilising economic growth and democracy may be the most effective long-term means of reducing migration pressures'. This confirms the sensible approach of the Australian government's commitment to assisting our neighbours in various capacities. As the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have often indicated, a stable Asian region is in the national interest of Australia. These initiatives and this bill deserve the full support of the opposition. I am grateful for the member for Denison's contribution and his indication of support for the bill. I, too, commend the bill to the House.