The Committee and the ACC
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime
Commission has a statutory responsibility to examine trends and changes in the
method and practice of criminal activities, and to report to Parliament with
any suggested changes. Accordingly the Committee conducted an inquiry into the
Commission's involvement in assessing trafficking for the purposes of sexual
servitude in Australia,
its relationship with the relevant State and other Commonwealth agencies, and
the adequacy of the current legislative framework.
The Committee's inquiry
stemmed in part from the emergence in the media of allegations of mishandling
of cases of trafficked women by government agencies. Of particular concern was
the allegation that women, who were in effect prisoners of traffickers who
forced them into the sex trade against their will, were simply deported by
government agencies with no regard for their condition as victims of crime.
The major issues which emerged from the inquiry were:
the extent of trafficking in women in Australia;
the effectiveness of the National Action Plan
announced in 2003;
the need for interdepartmental co-ordination of
the response to the National Action Plan;
the protection and treatment of trafficked
the adequacy of the applicable legislation; and
the need for ratification of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish
Trafficking in Persons especially Women and Children.
Extent of the problem
People trafficking is defined under international law by three
movement (across or within borders); through
coercive, deceptive means; for the purpose of
In the case of trafficking in children, the second element is
unnecessary. In other words, the movement of children for purposes of
exploitation is considered trafficking, irrespective of whether or not the
child was coerced, deceived or otherwise lured into the situation.
The Committee acknowledges that people trafficking results
in the exploitation of people in a range of settings beyond just the sex
industry, including the construction, clothing and textiles, domestic service
and hospitality industries. Nevertheless, the evidence of conditions in which
some women in the sex industry are forced to work was deeply disturbing. These
women are required to work six or seven days a week, and see as many as ten
customers per day. They often have little or no freedom of movement, poor food
and accommodation, and no control over which customers they see, or what sexual
acts they are forced to provide. Many women are the victims of sexual and
physical assaults and suffer a range of physical and emotional health problems.
The Committee found that most of the trafficked women in Australia
were recruited from South East Asia and China.
Some of the women are recruited from within the sex industry and are aware of
what they are required to do when they arrive in Australia, while others are
deceived either as to the nature of the work they have contracted to do, or the
conditions they will work under in Australia. In any case, they will typically
incur a debt of $35,000 - $40,000 to be brought into the country.
The traffickers facilitate the women's entry to Australia
by a range of fraudulent means, including providing visas (typically student or
holiday), false passports and funds. Traffickers usually bring the women into Australia
before being farmed out to brothels in Melbourne,
Perth and other areas.
Committee remains concerned at the ease with which traffickers appear able to
obtain entry visas for the hundreds of women they bring into Australia each
year for the purpose of sex work, and accordingly recommends that the Australian Crime Commission focuses its
investigations on the methods by which people traffickers are able to
circumvent Australian immigration barriers through visa fraud.
The extent of trafficking in women for sexual servitude
proved difficult to establish, principally due to differing definitions of the
crime. The Committee was given varying estimates of the number of trafficked
women into Australia
each year, varying from over 1000 to a handful.
While it seems to be generally accepted
that approximately 300 women are trafficked into the country each year for sex
work, the number of these who can be considered to be in servitude is likely to
be relatively small. Whether the figure is as low as Scarlet Alliance's
estimate of ten, or as high as Project Respect's estimate of one thousand, is
impossible to determine accurately. Contract women who have been trafficked
represent a continuum of those who enter with full knowledge and consent; those
who enter with consent but are deceived as to conditions; and those who enter Australia
completely deceived as to their work in the sex industry.
However, the Committee agrees with Ms
Maltzahn of Project Respect that, whatever
the final proportions represented in each category:
It is a significant enough problem that we need to take it
seriously. I do not think it is just a few aberrations that we are finding.
In any case, this uncertainty underlines
the continuing importance of the ACC's intelligence gathering and analysis role
for informing the Australian government's response to the problem.
The National Action Plan and the effectiveness of the government response
During the Committee's inquiry, the government introduced
the National Action Plan to combat Trafficking in Women, which includes a wide
range of measures to be implemented by a variety of agencies.
Key agencies include the Australian Crime Commission, the
Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration, and Multicultural and
Indigenous Affairs, the Attorney General's Department, AusAID and a range of
state agencies. These activities are coordinated through a number of bodies
operating at the Ministerial, police commissioner, interagency and operational
levels. In particular, these include the Australian Police Ministers Conference
(APMC) and an interdepartmental Committee.
During the inquiry, the Committee focused on an assessment
of both the adequacy of the various agencies' strategies for implementation of
the plan and the coordination of their activities.
The Committee found that existing organisational
arrangements do not include any centralised authority or responsibility for
implementing the anti-trafficking measures, and the role of the
interdepartmental committee is not clearly defined. The Committee recommends that this be formalised by
the appointment of a Chairperson and charter. The charter should include:
a statement of the IDC's formal responsibility
for g coordination issues;
a statement setting out its authority to issue
recommendations to any relevant authority to address defects in the system;
a requirement that the IDC issue a response to
matters referred to it within a stipulated timeframe; and
a requirement that the IDC review its functions
after eighteen months in operation and make a recommendation on its future.
Protection and support of trafficked women
The Committee was also concerned at the adequacy of the
arrangements for the protection and support of trafficked women. In general,
the new arrangements are a major improvement on the old. However, of particular
concern is that while the National Action Plan recognises trafficked women as victims
of crime, under the Victim Support Package, women only receive benefits
equivalent to the basic 'Special Benefit' level which is the same as that
received by - among others - asylum seekers.
The Committee does not believe this adequately reflects the
level of danger faced by women who agree to assist Australian law enforcement
agencies, or the vital importance of their cooperation if Australia
is to successfully investigate and prosecute traffickers.
As such, the Committee recommends
an urgent reassessment of the benefits payable to women under the Victim
Support scheme, and that women under the scheme should receive benefits
benchmarked against those available to witnesses under the Witness Protection
A related issue was the Criminal Justice Stay Visa which
enables trafficked women who are witnesses in criminal proceedings to remain
legally in Australia
pending the finalisation of those proceedings. The Committee has received
evidence that in some cases, this will involve women being unable to return to
their countries of origin for many years while awaiting the finalisation of
court proceedings. As such, the Committee recommends
that the current visa provisions be reviewed. In that review, the Committee
suggests that changes be considered to provide the Immigration Minister with a
discretion to allow witnesses to return to their country of origin to enable
contact with their families.
The Committee found that in general, Commonwealth law
provides an effective range of offences covering trafficking. These include a
number of amendments to the Criminal Code
Act 1995 which added sections concerning slavery and sexual servitude.
The Committee also notes that the government's National
Action Plan includes a review of the relevant laws. The review should take
place as soon as possible, and should focus particularly on the measures needed
to ensure Australia's
compliance with the United Nations Protocol. The Committee is aware that the
ratification of the Protocol is contingent upon legislative amendment and as
such, recommends that the review
address the following matters:
the adequacy of existing provisions of the Criminal Code covering recruiting
transportation and transfer of women for the purposes of trafficking be
that consideration be given to amending section
270(7) of the Criminal Code to
broaden the offence of deception to include deception regarding the kind of
services to be provided, whether of a sexual nature or not; and
that consideration also be given to adopting the
use of victim impact statements in sentencing.
The Government's National Action Plan will provide the
framework within which the ratification by Australia
of the UN Protocol can occur. The government has already indicated its
intention to ratify the Protocol and the Committee recommends that this occur as soon as possible.