BILLS;Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012;Second Reading – 25 Feb 2013

I speak tonight on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012. It is extremely sad that now, in the second decade of the 21st century, we stand to debate a bill regarding one of the most disgusting crimes that people can commit against other people—that is, slavery. It is an archaic crime, one that does not seem to have a relevance to this time or to this place. However, despite how much we may wish to ignore it, slavery is a crime which still takes place in contemporary Australian society. Hidden, out of sight and out of mind, rare cases of forced labour, forced marriage and organ trafficking are believed to be occurring or have occurred in Australia.

Exploitation, sexual and otherwise, is occurring through debt bondage, threats and fraudulent recruiting. These practices are all abhorrent to the Australian people and such injustices must be removed from our society. Article 3(a) of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children defines trafficking as:

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of: force or other forms of coercion; abduction; fraud or deception; the abuse of a position of vulnerability; or of the giving or receiving of payments/ benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person; for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes at a minimum: the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation; forced labour or services; slavery or practices similar to slavery; servitude; or the removal of organs.

We have information compiled from Australian Federal Police statistics, with research by the Australian Institute of Criminology, finding that in 2009-10, of the 95 per cent of people known to have been trafficked to Australia, 62 individuals were females. Of those 62 individuals, 55 were trafficked for sexual exploitation. This figure rose in 2010-11 with 63 of 71 women trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation. In some of the cases involving sexual exploitation, women have had to work under poor conditions to pay off artificial debts, enforced by the offenders, ranging from $18,000 to $53,000. Their passports were confiscated and they were forced to work up to 12 hours per day, seven days a week.

But slavery is not just about sexual exploitation. Criminologist Fiona David has been investigating slavery in Australia and says this about its nature:

In Australia, we have seen labour trafficking situations involving domestic workers, so for example, a family might bring out a domestic worker from another country to work in Australia as effectively unpaid slave labour around their house. We have also seen situations in the construction industry where again people are recruited through very deceptive means to work in what is described as a forced labour or slavery-type situation.

Ms David continues:

Labour trafficking tends to take place in any industry that has elements of, you know, being part of the informal economy, so that could be construction; that could be agriculture, in some countries and some contexts it also includes fishing or manufacturing.

Of 12 men known to have been trafficked between 2009 and 2011, all were trafficked into industry for non-sexual exploitation, including hospitality, agriculture, horticulture and construction. An example of one case of forced labour involved an Indian man who was allegedly offered employment in restaurants owned by an Australian citizen on the condition that he would not be paid for a full year but that the restaurant owner would provide money for the victim’s family each time he returned to India. On arrival, the victim’s passport, tickets and other documents were taken by the restaurant owner and he was forced to work excessive hours, seven days a week. There was no evidence presented during trial that indicated that the man had ever received payment or that money had ever been sent to his family.

Other groups regarded as high risk for exploitation and potential trafficking include migrants working in the agricultural sector, domestic workers, international students and those working in the maritime-seafaring sector. The victims of trafficking and exploitation are some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, with the overwhelming majority of victims in Australia coming from South-East Asia, in particular Thailand, with smaller numbers of victims from Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines.

These cases have not gone unnoticed, and there have been significant police investigations regarding people trafficking, with a number of victims assisted. Between January 2004 and June 2011 a total of 305 investigations and assessments of trafficking-related offences were conducted by the AFP’s transnational sexual exploitation and trafficking teams and 184 victims of trafficking had been provided with assistance through the government funded Office for Women’s Support for Trafficked Persons program, the STP program. As at 30 June 2012 there had been a total of 13 matters resulting in convictions and there were four defendants currently facing charges before the courts and 15 matters had been finalised without resulting in a conviction. However, the number of convictions seems to be disproportionate to the number of known offences, and police need a better set of tools to combat these crimes.

The bill we are debating today, the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012, is the opportunity the Senate has to provide the police with a better set of tools to cover people trafficking and other related offences. The bill will achieve this through changes to the Criminal Code, the Crimes Act 1914, the Migration Act 1958, the Proceeds of Crimes Act 2002 and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.

The bill will amend the Criminal Code to establish new offences of forced labour, forced marriage, harbouring a victim and organ trafficking; broaden the definition of exploitation to include a range of slavery-like practices; extend the application of existing offences of deceptive recruiting and sexual servitude to apply to all forms of servitude and deceptive recruiting; 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; amend existing definitions of exploitation to include a range of slavery-like practices; amend existing definitions to capture more subtle forms of coercion, including psychological oppression and the abuse of power or a person’s vulnerability; increase the penalties applicable to the existing debt bondage offences to ensure they adequately reflect the relative seriousness of the offences; clarify the law regarding acts and omissions following the High Court’s decision in the Commonwealth DPP versus Poniatowska case; and clarify the intended operation of existing provisions in divisions 270 and 271.

These new offences and provisions would create a standalone offence of forced labour, where a reasonable person in the position of the victim would not consider him or herself to be free to cease providing or leave the place where they provide labour or services because of the use of coercion, threat or deception. Forced labour is currently criminalised where it is connected to the offence of people trafficking. The bill would also criminalise the conduct of a person who uses coercion, threat or deception to bring about a marriage or marriage-like relationship. I would like to make it clear that the criminalisation of forced marriage is not intended to target consensual religious or cultural marriages. The bill also creates standalone offences criminalising trafficking a victim either to or from Australia or within Australia for the removal of his or her organs.

As perpetrators become increasingly aware of investigative and prosecution techniques, changing 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. 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 while protecting and supporting victims. Acts of people trafficking, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and exploitation are offences against humanity that need to be stopped at every turn. It is unjust and unacceptable that such offences still occur within this country. This bill seeks to provide law enforcement agencies with a better set of laws to act on these crimes. I commend the bill to the Senate.