Monday, 24 June 2013
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee; Report
I come to this tabling having heard some, not all of the evidence—I had to miss some of the hearings—but it does not in any way detract from the importance of the reference. The committee was asked to look at Australia's efforts to address people trafficking, including: through prosecuting offenders and protecting and supporting victims; the ways to encourage effective international action to address all forms of slavery, slavery-like conditions and people trafficking; and the best international practice to address all forms of slavery, slavery-like conditions and people trafficking.
The committee has brought forward a number of recommendations dealing with each of those issues, primarily looking at the way in which we might deal with those issues that are relevant to us. Amongst our recommendations are recommendations that the Australian government continue to use international mechanisms including and not limited to the United Nations Human Rights Council's universal periodic review to combat trafficking and that the government renegotiate refunding of contracts of non-government organisations earlier than they do at this time.
It is a pity, in a sense, that there is not more focus on the international aspects, but what we can do is constrained. When I was in ministerial positions, I was very much aware of the commitment of the Australian Federal Police and a number of our agencies to working with authorities abroad to focus on these issues, because, quite frankly, the problem is in fact very large in some parts of the world.
I think it is important that that be noted because, while we would not want people trafficking or slavery of individuals here in Australia, the number of investigations here, as mentioned by the chair, has been relatively modest and the number of convictions even less so. That does not mean that we should not in any way diminish our efforts, because I would regard it as being quite inappropriate for there to be one person enslaved. But it is important—and the chair mentioned this in his observations—that we have regard to the way in which we can actually deal with the perpetrators. It seemed to me, having pressed my colleagues on some of the recommendations that we have made, that I should emphasise that what I want to see is the perpetrators prosecuted. It is not unreasonable to ask that those people—regardless of the risks in which they often feel they may be engaging themselves and their families—to assist in relation to investigations and to provide evidence against those people who are organising trafficking. One of the reasons that I was strongly of the view that we should still ensure that there be some element of ongoing cooperation is that I want to see the perpetrators dealt with within our criminal justice system.
As the chair said, inquiries of this type do not occur without a good deal of effort on the part of the committee members, and I congratulate the chair on his continuing engagement with this matter, and our professional staff, whom I thank. This is an important issue internationally. It is important that Australia is seen to be playing its part. It is interesting that the international movement is in fact led by an Australian academic, who has been charged with undertaking that leadership role, and I congratulate her on her efforts collectively, on behalf of all Australians. I commend the report to the House.