Monday, 24 June 2013
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee; Report
On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee's report titled Trading Lives: Modern-day Human Trafficking, the report of the inquiry into slavery, slavery-like conditions and people-trafficking.
In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a Parliamentary Paper.
At the outset I thank the secretary, Paul Zinkel, and staff members Julia Searle, James Bunce, Alexander Coward, Lauren McDougall and Kane Moir, and my fellow committee members. I also want to take the unusual step of congratulating some people who drove this inquiry, most particularly the Australian Catholic Religious against Trafficking in Humans, a group of Catholic nuns who have run a very strong campaign on behalf of those people suffering from sexual slavery. That is an area where sometimes people tend to blame the victims as much as the perpetrators, so their work has really been central in getting this on the agenda. If anyone has ever got any doubts about people being victims, I recommend the film Lilya4ever by Lucas Moodysson as a very good indication of the suffering of people in this field.
The practices are egregious violations of individuals' human rights. Trafficking and slavery victims are exploited physically, emotionally and mentally and the effects of this trauma can be long-lasting and destructive. There are an estimated 20 million victims of forced labour globally. The annual profit made from these victims is estimated at $US32 billion. That is a profit of $US13,000 for every woman, man and child trafficked into forced labour. In Australia the Australian Federal Police have undertaken more than 375 investigations and assessments into allegations of trafficking in persons, slavery and slavery-like practices and 17 people have been convicted. Two hundred and nine suspected victims of trafficking in persons and slavery have been provided government support through the Support for Trafficked People program.
The committee acknowledges the steps taken by the government to strengthen Australia's criminal justice framework, establishing additional offences of forced marriage, forced labour, organ trafficking and harbouring a victim in the Criminal Code. I note particularly the upsurge of interest driven by the media in regard to forced marriages, and this very much was a consideration of the committee.
Australia has an opportunity to maximise its effectiveness in this area by implementing a suite of mechanisms and tools to combat these crimes and increase support for its victims at the national and international level. Nationally, Australia can provide greater support for victims of trafficking. The committee recommends that suspected victims of trafficking be provided an initial automatic reflection period of 45 days with two further extensions of 45 days if required and that the Australian government further investigate the establishment of a federal compensation scheme for victims of slavery and trafficking of persons.
I note that the committee is also mindful of the implications to the integrity of Australia's migration system if this was abused. That is why we have come up with this compromise recommendation which I think is sensible given the balance between protecting victims and ensuring that people do not manipulate the system.
Internationally, Australia can increase its engagement on this important issue. The committee recommends that the Australian government continue to participate in international mechanisms focused on eliminating people trafficking such as the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review.
To combat trafficking and global supply chains, the committee recommends that the Australian government investigate any trafficking and any slavery mechanisms appropriate for the Australian context with a view to creating a greater awareness of forced labour in global supply chains. The objective of the review would be to introduce improved transparency in supply chains, a labelling and certification strategy for products and services that have been produced ethically and increasing the prominence of fair trade in Australia.
I sincerely thank the NGOs, civil society groups and individuals who participated in the inquiry. These groups and individuals have generously donated their time, effort and limited resources to make thoughtful submissions and to appear in public hearings and to voice their concern about Australia's efforts to address slavery, slavery-like conditions and trafficking in persons. Their dedication and support for human rights was self-evident, and, without them, the report of the committee presented today would not be possible.
I also thank my colleagues. There was a very sensible air of compromise. We are all people who come to this committee through a deep interest in human rights. It is a thing that has motivated many of us and is a very central part of a political career. It has been a committee that has worked well, and I thank all participants. I commend the report to the House.
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.