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'Who would have thought that we are still dealing with human trafficking and slavery in 2017?' Press Conference Transcript, Tuesday 18 July 2017









SUBJECTS: Release of Parliament Joint Committee on Law Enforcement’s report into human trafficking; Home Affairs super department.

SENATOR LISA SINGH, SENATOR FOR TASMANIA: Hello, the Federal Parliament's report into human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices that has been released today by the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement does show how there are a number of inefficiencies in the way the Commonwealth government deals with human trafficking and slavery in Australia.

Who would have thought that we are still dealing with human trafficking and slavery in 2017? That we are still dealing with the exploitation of migrant workers in Australia? That forced marriage for women and girls is still occurring here in Australia? And that victims of human trafficking and slavery are still too scared to come forward and access the support that they need and make their situation known to law enforcement services? These are some of the situations highlighted in the evidence submitted to this inquiry into human trafficking and slavery. 

Alarmingly, there seems to be a number of women and girls that are still in forced marriage situations in Australia. Between 2013 to 2015, out of the 49 reported referrals that the Australian Federal Police looked into, 32 of them were for girls under the age of 18. And since that time, the number of referrals from the AFP into forced marriages has only increased. Indeed, out of all the referrals and investigations the AFP carries out into human trafficking and slavery, 50 per cent of them are in the area of forced marriage.

The Committee has called on the government to ensure that the airport watch list for forced marriage includes not only girls but also women over the age of 18. We have also called for there to be greater awareness and education in relation to forced marriage, particularly in the school curricula here in Australia.

On top of that the Committee looked at the issue of compensation. We all know that human trafficking and slavery comes under the Federal criminal code, and yet there is no national compensation scheme for victims of human trafficking and slavery. Instead, they have to rely on relevant state 'victims of crime' compensation legalisation, which we know is differently capped in the different Australian states and territories. It should not matter whether you are trafficked or suffering in slavery or slavery-like conditions here in Tasmania or in Queensland, the same amount of compensation should apply. But at the moment, if you seek compensation in Tasmania you will receive incredibly less than what you would receive in, say, Queensland. That needs to change through the government establishing a national compensation scheme, which could be funded from money drawn from the proceeds of crime.

Furthermore, we've learnt that often it is our local police services that are the first port-of-call for someone that is being trafficked or suffering in slavery or slavery-like conditions. So while our federal police of course need to be trained, our local police also need to be trained. Trained in those specific divisions in the Criminal Code – 270 and 271– that makes human trafficking and slavery an offence. It is a crime. We want to see the government work with federal police, state police, the Border Force, and the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure there is specialist training provided and an increased number of AFP officers deployed in the areas of human trafficking and slavery. 

We need also need to ensure that those workers who are in forced labour – particularly migrant workers – are given the support that they need pre-departure, before they enter Australia. We know this already is provided for seasonal workers, which is a great thing, but we want to see that extended to a greater number of countries with migrant workers coming to Australia. We heard harrowing reports of migrant workers being exploited in construction, hospitality, in farming work and of course in the sex trade as well. It is really, really important that not only do those workers receive pre-departure briefings but they also receive post-arrival briefings here in Australia as well about what their rights and their obligations are in relation to working here in Australia, so that we don't see these repeated cases of migrant workers being exploited in our country.

JOURNALIST: Where are most of the incidents reported from?

SINGH: There were incidents reported across Australia. We had reports about farm workers in Queensland and some in WA. It really doesn't discriminate to one part of the country; it is something that affects all parts the country – which is why we have asked for extra police training for every state and territory, not just those in the large capital cities.

JOURNALIST: How much oversight is there? Using that example of farm workers in Queensland, there wouldn't really be anyone going around those farms, apart from law enforcement, advising these people or checking on their welfare would there?

SINGH: Therein lays the problem. Whilst a migrant worker may know that they themselves are being exploited, they are often too scared to come forward because unfortunately agencies like Border Force continue to see these workers as "illegals". They fear being sent out of Australia if they dare come forward. Now they may have a breach to their visa situation, but that is not through their own fault, that is through the fault of them being exploited by unscrupulous employers. Now they need those safeguards to come forward, which is why we have asked for protections in the visa system, so that they feel confident in being able to come forward and actually share with law enforcement what they are suffering.

I mean, who would have thought in 2017 there are some 4,300 people in Australia that are suffering slavery and slavery-like conditions? That's also why we've called for the Commonwealth to consider the establishment of an Anti-slavery Commissioner. Now that Commissioner could have the role of collecting the data that we need to know the size of the problem. To be that focal point that is needed for government to really seriously tackle the issues of trafficking and slavery, and that is Labor's policy.

Indeed, Labor has been at the forefront – through our Shadow Minister Clare O'Neil – of dealing with and tackling modern slavery. Now of course this inquiry’s report, the Law Enforcement Committee's report, feeds very well into the Foreign Affairs and Trade committee’s ongoing inquiry into a Modern Slavery Act. Labor has been very forthcoming in our support for a Modern Slavery Act just like is in place in the UK and France, and other parts of the world. A Modern Slavery Act would allow us to deal with the businesses that may not or may be aware of slavery in their supply chains. We know that slavery is an issue here, but it is also a larger issue in the Asia-Pacific region.

If we are going to stamp out slavery we need to be a leader in our region, and having a Modern Slavery Act is a way of doing that – that's what Labor wants to see happen

JOURNALIST: Given you've just backed more collaboration between Border Force, Police, those sorts of agencies, what are your thoughts on the Prime Minister's announcement of a Homeland Security type portfolio?

SINGH: To say I was shocked yesterday when I saw our Prime Minister flanked between our military – masked as they were – is probably an understatement. I was most concerned about what it would have been like last night for families sitting around watching the nightly news to see our Prime Minister using the military for political purposes as he was. Now as far as the idea that he's put forward, I think he still has to take it to cabinet. I have no idea why he would come out in such a grandiose, scary way to honest, announcing something that he doesn't even seem, yet, to have the support for within his own cabinet. Nor have we seen any detail about this. It kind of smells in a way of the Prime Minister trying to distract you the media, and the public, from other issues that he's failing in. And that really goes to the heart of the problems with the Prime Minister and of course the federal coalition government. They are failing on a number of fronts, and this idea of this super agency does nothing but to distract from those failings, and I don't think anyone wants to see Peter Dutton with any more power than he currently has.