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Gillard announces anti-slavery initiative on Int Women’s Day

Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a new anti-slavery initiative to change the government’s policies to help prevent slavery or the trafficking of persons to Australia for forced labour or forced marriage. It follows legislative changes last month to combat the exploitation of trafficked persons and increase the availability of reparations to victims.

 
 

JULIA GILLARD ANTI GANG
THE GILLARD government today announced an initiative to “ensure that its procurement rules and practices assist in identifying and stamping out slavery”.  Procurement processes will now consider the ethical behaviour of suppliers and there will be training for officers to report breaches of policy.

These measures follow the passage into law last month of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2012.  The government said the new act would “increase the availability of reparations to victims” as well as ensuring that those who help commit trafficking or slavery offences could be charged alongside the primary perpetrators.

Associate Professor Jennifer Burn of Anti-Slavery Australia, a specialist centre based at the University of Technology Sydney, welcomed the legislative changes.

“Australia has a legacy of slavery and slave-like conditions and these amendments recognise the breadth of exploitation through the new slaveries of forced labour and force marriage,” she said.

Forced marriage now carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.  This offence is where a party has not “fully or freely consented” to marriage due to coercion, threat or deception.

Jennifer Burn added: “The new laws recognise that traffickers use subtle forms of coercion, deception and threats to both a victim and their family in order to gain compliance, as well as more severe forms of psychological and physical abuse.”

Last year, Pru Goward, the NSW Commissioner for Women, suggested that there were 1,000 cases of forced marriage or sex slavery a year in Australia.

The act has created a new stand-alone offence of forced labour.  Previously, prosecutions were only connected to the offence of people trafficking.  The new offence will protect those in extreme cases of labour exploitation, poor conditions and underpayment of wages where the worker cannot cease or leave due to threats, coercion or deception.

Australia’s first successful conviction for labour trafficking concerned an Indian chef at a restaurant in Eastwood, NSW.  It was alleged that the restaurant owner facilitated the entry of the victim in to Australia by arranging his travel and necessary documents.  Upon arrival, the victim was made to work twelve hours a day seven days a week and received minimal pay and irregular rest periods.  He was made to sleep in a storeroom at the back of the restaurant and to wash in the kitchen.  He suffered physical and mental abuse and threats were made against him and his family who remained in his small village in Northern India.

The restaurant owner was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 250 hours of community service in 2012.   Forced labour now carries a maximum penalty of nine years in prison following the passage of the new act.

There is now a new stand-alone offence of organ trafficking with a maximum penalty of twelve years in jail.   Australia’s first case of alleged organ trafficking collapsed in 2012.  An elderly Sydney woman was accused of trafficking a Filipina woman for an illegal kidney transplant.  After a year-long investigation by Australian Federal Police, the case collapsed following the death of the accused.

If you are concerned about a trafficked person in Australia, please contact Anti-Slavery Australia at www.antislavery.org.au or call (+61) 2 9514 9662.  You can report suspected trafficking in the UK to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or by using the secure online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.