Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 June 2013


Victoria: Community Engagement

11:51 pm

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a few brief observations and acknowledge the tremendous work of some committed Victorians who seek to make a positive difference to the lives of others, both here within our nation but also on the international stage.

Yesterday, the report from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade entitled Trading lives: modern day human trafficking was tabled in the Senate. For many students of history, the subject of human trafficking is a reminder of the insidious influence that slavery has had across many continents, not least of all in the American Civil War. It would be fair to say that many people would be unaware of the scale of modern-day human trafficking, and this report makes recommendations to ensure that Australia strengthens its engagement on the issue and its processes to ensure that human trafficking to and in Australia is eradicated.

The report notes that the International Labour Organization estimates that, between 2002 and 2011, over 20 million people were victims of forced labour worldwide. Anti-Slavery Australia, known as ASA, reported that fewer than 400 people have been identified as trafficked in Australia between 2005 and 2011. The majority of these have been identified as sex workers; however, there have been reported cases of forced marriages, a concern that also arose during an inquiry that I participated in with the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee into marriage visa classes.

Concerns about the lack of accurate or even complete empirical data were raised when I recently met with representatives from the NewHope Baptist Church in Blackburn, Victoria, with the Liberal candidate for Deakin, Michael Sukkar, and Senator Michaelia Cash. The church runs many programs, with one of them coordinated by Jess Sanders, a very impressive woman, along with Di Buchanan, who passionately seeks to make a difference. The program is called Unshackled and is supported by many at the NewHope Baptist Church. It is a program that Michael and I strongly commend, as it seeks to firstly raise awareness of the incidence of the sex tourism trade, ethical shopping and women trafficking, to mention just a few issues. It also seeks to help women with its advocacy for Project Respect and Streets of Freedom, causes that assist women exiting the sex industry.

The work that members of the NewHope Baptist Church undertake is but one example of the tremendous community engagement in the electorate of Deakin. I am excited by the many programs and activities that are run that seek to nurture, encourage and develop opportunities for women, providing a vehicle for them to develop their strengths and, in so doing, building a stronger community.

I am reminded of a meeting that Ms Julie Bishop MP, Michael and I had with the President of the Melbourne East Netball Association, MENA, Kylie Spears, and with John Ampt, the Vice-President of the Victorian Churches Netball Association, known as the Ariels, at the HE Parker Reserve in Heathmont. MENA has over 1,600 netball players and a parent group of over 3,000. The Ariels have more than 250 member families. Kylie, John and their committees are all volunteers who coordinate impressive associations and provide a terrific service for young women in the area to get involved in a sport and be part of a broader community. The time, effort and commitment that goes into organising such groups is impressive, and the convenors deserve public applause.

Another group, which caters for a different demographic, is Chicks with Sticks, coordinated by Angela Leung and based at the Urbanlife church in Ringwood. Given the prominence that knitting has been given today, I thought it appropriate to recognise the volunteering they do for distribution in the Maroondah area. The group meets every Wednesday to share friendship and companionship whilst knitting scarves, beanies, rugs, baby clothes and other items, which are highly sought after, particularly by local migrant services. At the invitation of the pastor, Anthea Smits, Michael Sukkar has formed a strong bond with this Christian based group, singing their praises at every opportunity. It is such groups that ensure that the spirit and strength of the local community remain strong, bringing people together whilst supporting those who need it. The Urbanlife church operates a sensational program, helping the unemployed to learn skills that aid them in getting into the workforce. While they receive small grants, they are largely self-funded and deserve government support. Their programs are all about breaking the poverty cycle and giving people a hand up so that they can take responsibility for their own lives, a sentiment that I strongly applaud.

The admiration I have for such selfless volunteers has no limit. They provide an enormous service not only to the local community but also to the greater economic good of all. By helping individuals to reach their potential, they provide an enormous good. This is a sentiment shared by Michael Sukkar, the Liberal candidate in Deakin, and is a value that is held deeply within his DNA. It is a quality that is prized and, should he be given the honour to represent the people of Deakin, it will hold him in good stead. Government should be about respecting the obligation to serve all. I have absolutely no doubt that, should he be given the opportunity, he will not disappoint.