Senate debates

Thursday, 10 May 2018


Crimes Legislation Amendment (International Crime Cooperation and Other Measures) Bill 2018; Second Reading

1:04 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (International Crime Cooperation and Other Measures) Bill 2018 on behalf of the opposition. I'm glad to be able to inform the chamber that the opposition will be supporting this bill. This is an omnibus criminal justice bill designed to address a number of inconsistencies and issues in our federal criminal law. The key focus of the bill is international crime cooperation—the way that we work with and assist other nations and international organisations to tackle crime and human rights abuses. This bill will expand the assistance we provide to the International Criminal Court and international war crimes tribunals.

The International Criminal Court brings some of the worst people in the world to justice—those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. International war crimes tribunals perform a similarly important role, trying those accused of committing atrocities and crimes against humanity during war, such as genocide, torture and rape. These bodies perform important work, protecting human rights and enforcing international criminal law. However, Australia's capacity to provide assistance to these bodies with their investigations and prosecutions is currently more limited than our capacity to assist foreign countries. The bill will improve Australia's work in this space by providing additional assistance to international war crimes tribunals and the International Criminal Court, further aligning the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act and the Proceeds of Crime Act and implementing necessary changes relating to extradition and foreign evidence.

These changes will ensure that Australia can provide the International Criminal Court and international war crimes tribunals with the same level of formal and informal assistance that we can currently provide to foreign countries. Importantly, the safeguards which currently apply to the assistance we provide to foreign countries will also apply to any assistance we provide to the International Criminal Court and international war crimes tribunals. Labor welcomes these changes.

Another key area of reform in this bill relates to slavery. Most people think that slavery is a 19th century crime—a relic of the past. Unfortunately, slavery is alive and well in the 21st century. The Walk Free Foundation estimates that there are more than 40 million people trapped in slavery today. Although we live in a rich, free and democratic nation, an extraordinary 4,300 people are estimated to be trapped in slavery right here in Australia. It shocks me, it shocks the Australian Labor Party and it should shock every single person in this parliament. This bill will build on reforms bills that were enacted under Labor, including the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act of 2013 and the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Law Enforcement Integrity, Vulnerable Witness Protection and Other Measures) Act of 2013. These bills were targeted at protecting victims of slavery and prosecuting the offenders of these awful crimes. They introduced new offences into the Criminal Code of forced labour, forced marriage, harbouring a person for the purposes of furthering the offence of trafficking and organ trafficking. They also introduced a range of protections for vulnerable witnesses.

Schedule 5 of this bill will amend the vulnerable witness act to clarify the offence of publishing any material that identifies or is likely to identify vulnerable witnesses or complainants without the leave of the court. This is an appropriate and sensible reform to protect victims who have often been subjected to violence or intimidation and who are reluctant to give evidence.

Schedule 6 of this bill will clarify and expand the operation of existing slavery offences and slavery-like offences in divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code. Debt bondage is the most common yet the least well-known form of modern slavery. It occurs when a person is forced to work in order to pay off a debt. Often they're tricked into working for little pay or, in some cases, even no pay, and then they're forced to put all their wages towards the repayment of their loan. People trapped in situations of debt bondage face intimidation, coercion and violence, if they try to leave.

Schedule 6 will expand the definition of 'debt bondage' to specifically cover the condition of a person whose personal services are pledged by another person. This often happens when a family member pledges the service of another family member to repay a debt. Schedule 6 will also move the debt bondage offence from division 271 of the Criminal Code to division 270. This will recognise debt bondage as one of the most significant forms of modern slavery. Anti-Slavery Australia, in their submission to the Senate inquiry on this bill, noted:

Women and children are particularly vulnerable to this form of exploitation, as they may be bonded as a result of the debt of an authoritative member of the family.

They further argued:

The extension of the definition of debt bondage in the Criminal Code will ensure that Australia has the tools to combat this grave abuse of human rights.

This bill will also address evidentiary issues relating to forced marriage. Forced marriage is absolutely an abuse of human rights. Often, the victims are young women or children directed into marriages against their will by their parents or family members. This bill will enable a trier of fact to take into account personal circumstances when determining whether a person was incapable of understanding the nature and effect of a marriage ceremony.

Labor welcomes these changes to our Criminal Code to strengthen our laws against slavery and slavery-like offences. However, strong laws alone will not stop slavery. Labor believes that we must work to prevent these crimes from occurring, we must work to identify victims already suffering in slavery or slavery-like conditions and we must prosecute the perpetrators of these horrific crimes. Australia's track record on slavery is disappointing. Although there are an estimated 4,300 people trapped in slavery in Australia, we only had three successful prosecutions for human-trafficking and slavery-related offences in 2016-17. Clearly, our enforcement approach is not working. We need more than just strong laws in our Criminal Code.

Last year, Labor committed to an Australian modern slavery act, which would require major Australian businesses to report on the steps they are taking to identify and respond to slavery in their supply chains. Unlike the government, Labor believes there should be penalties for companies who breach the act. There's no excuse for turning a blind eye to slavery. Labor has also committed to establishing an Australian independent anti-slavery commissioner. The commissioner would assist victims right here in Australia and work with authorities to improve our responses to these horrific crimes.

Finally, Labor believes we must adequately resource the Australian Federal Police to tackle these crimes. The Turnbull government has provided no guarantee that its enormous cuts to the Australian Federal Police will not affect our investigation and prosecution of slavery and slavery-like offences. The AFP are a critical element in our efforts in this space, and Labor believes that the AFP must be supported in the work that they do. This piece of legislation before us is a detailed bill which contains a large number of important changes to improve our criminal law. Labor has a strong track record on the issues dealt with in this bill. We believe it's important that our laws stay up to date to ensure that we tackle crime both in Australia and abroad. Labor supports this bill, and the many measures it contains, to improve our federal criminal laws.

1:15 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank senators for their contribution, and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.