Senate debates

Thursday, 30 November 2023


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee; Report

4:09 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the report of the committee on its inquiry into the rights of women and children and I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

As the Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee's report The pursuit of equality: inquiry into the rights of women and children.

The inquiry was referred to the committee by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in September 2022, with broad-ranging terms of reference that enabled the committee to explore various issues affecting women and children globally today. We particularly focused on emerging issues since COVID and the advent of war and conflict in many parts of the world.

During the process, the committee received 49 submissions and conducted nine public hearings. Input came from an incredibly diverse range of stakeholders, including government bodies, humanitarian organisations and representatives from women and children's rights groups, both nationally and internationally.

Sadly, but very consistently, almost every participant in the inquiry conveyed the same message to the committee over and over again: the rights of women and children worldwide are in steady decline.

This decline is evident across so many different metrics, encompassing rates of violence, exploitation and abuse directed at women and children. As we know, we are not immune from those statistics here in Australia. A convergence of factors, including the reverberations of COVID-19, the impact of climate change and persistent conflicts, has contributed to this sad regression in the human rights of women and children, which have been fought so hard for by so many, including Australia, for so long.

Additionally, elements such as escalating inequality and opposition from nation-states unfriendly to the international rights agenda have further complicated the situation and made a bad situation worse.

Despite decades of endeavours to improve the rights of women and children, the international community continues to grapple with these challenges. Sadly, we're not seeing much evidence of any significant progress as yet. Without decisive and prompt action, numerous women and children are at risk of enduring lives marked by greater abuse, neglect, violence, forced labour, slavery and trafficking.

I believe, and the committee believes, that it is imperative for Australia to take a leadership role globally to start countering these negative trends.

This report puts forward 10 very sensible recommendations which the committee hopes will assist the Australian government, and our community more widely, to address the broader situation of women and children and the issues that impact them and to further heighten these things in terms of focus and action in Australia's foreign policy.

The key recommendations include:

        A particular long-term passion and engagement of mine is the issue of child trafficking, particularly the issue of the eight million children who are trafficked into so-called orphanages. Most of these children are not orphans. They have been trafficked into these facilities for kind-hearted Australians and people from many other nations to support.

        I'm very pleased that in this report the committee has made a series of recommendations to combat this increasing phenomenon. These recommendations include adopting a whole-of-government stance, condemning orphanage trafficking, creating stronger travel guidance materials and collaborating with multinational partners to eliminate this issue. The recommendations also stress the need for regulation by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to monitor institutions involved in orphan trafficking, and they propose the creation of a specific criminal offence, targeting such activities.

        Throughout the inquiry, the committee heard harrowing evidence from victims of gender-specific violence, many of whom will live with lifelong scars and receive little or no support to recover as much as they can from this trauma. On behalf of the committee, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all of these brave individuals from all over the world who have shared their stories not only of great suffering but also of great resilience. I thank all of the stakeholders who put so much thought and effort and evidence into this inquiry.

        I thank all of the committee staff who have worked on this inquiry over the last 12 months. It has not always been an easy committee to participate in and to support, from a secretariat perspective, having to listen time and time again to such trauma and to the unbelievable amount of suffering of so many women and children globally. Finally, I also thank the subcommittee chair, the member for Calwell, Ms Maria Vamvakinou, for her leadership, passion and commitment in this area.

        I commend this report to the Senate, and I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

        Leave granted; debate adjourned.