UQ’s Trafficking in Persons Working Group brings together a team of experts, students, PhD candidates, and staff from The University of Queensland’s TC Beirne School of Law and the School of Political Science & International Studies. 

The Working Group is supported by a network of research assistants and students who identify and disseminate laws, court decisions, academic literature, and other reports on smuggling of migrants.  The project is coordinated by Professor Dr Andreas Schloenhardt and Dr Melissa Curley.

The Working Group exposes and analyses the reality of, and responses to, trafficking in persons in Australia and a range of other jurisdictions and continuously monitors national and international developments.


The UQ Trafficking in Persons Working Group aims to:

  • provide accurate, complete, up-to-date and in-depth information on trafficking in persons in all its forms
  • examine domestic policy, legislative, and administrative frameworks designed to prevent and combat trafficking in persons
  • collate, disseminate, and analyse judicial decisions and other reports on individual cases of trafficking in persons and related offences
  • assess domestic measures in a range of countries against international law and best practice guidelines
  • raise awareness and inform the public about the causes, conditions and consequences of trafficking in persons
  • develop recommendations to prevent and suppress the trafficking in persons more effectively
  • provide an ongoing research capacity to monitor and analyse national and international developments in this field.

The Trafficking in Persons Working Group was established in 2008. It complements the research conducted by the Migrant Smuggling Working Group, established in 2011.

The UQ Trafficking in Persons Working Group comprehensively and systematically analyses the levels and characteristics of trafficking in persons in Australia in all its forms.  A starting point for much of the research are the reported cases of trafficking in persons in Australia, including criminal prosecutions, immigration matters, Migration and Refugee Tribunal decisions, and Federal Court cases.  These cases provide the most reliable and most detailed account of the modi operandi of trafficking, the background, experience, and exploitation of victims, and the motivation of offenders.  They also provide invaluable insight into the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons in Australia, the work of relevant government agencies, the application and interpretation of relevant laws, and the shortcomings of Australia’s anti-trafficking framework.

The Working Group’s research further involves a comprehensive study of the policy documents, criminal offences, immigration and administrative systems, including victim support programs, which, in combination, constitute the Australian Government’s response to trafficking in persons.  The legislative, judicial, administrative, and policy responses of successive Australian governments in preventing trafficking in persons, protecting victims, and prosecuting those responsible are critically evaluated and assessed against international law and best practice guidelines. 

In international law, the contemporary framework to combat trafficking is set out in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which came into existence in December 2000, supplementing the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.  The Protocol consolidates over one hundred years of international anti-trafficking efforts and has set a benchmark for domestic laws and administrative measures worldwide.  The Protocol and Convention are supplemented by a great range of best practice guidelines, ‘toolkits’, and model laws that are frequently used, and critically assessed in Working Group’s research.

The research and analysis conducted by the Working Group includes extensive consultation of the existing academic scholarship on trafficking in persons.  Wherever possible, literature pertaining to the specific problem in Australia is prioritised, though international and more generalist material is also used to assess and inform the domestic responses to trafficking in persons.  Where possible, the research also involves consultation with a range of government officials, international organisations, advocacy groups, and other experts.  

An examination of trafficking in persons in Australia, as well as government responses to and public perceptions of this phenomenon would be incomplete—and indeed would not be possible—without including news media, which has reported extensively on this topic.  Media coverage of the issue in Australia includes reporting of trafficking cases, criminal proceedings, and the stories of victims of trafficking in a variety of publications, tabloid broadsheet, and online, and in a smaller number of television and radio programs.

Research conducted by the Working Group is based exclusively on open-source material and does not involve the use any classified information.

Students are central to the learning and discovery that takes place in the Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling Working Groups with a focus on academic research and the development of communication skills.

Professor Schloenhardt and Dr Curley have developed a pedagogical method for the Working Group which aligns with the teaching-research nexus, where students operate as scholars engaged in research and inquiry.  It is widely recognized that there are more positive student learning outcomes when the “students participate in research and inquiry, where students become producers, not just consumers of knowledge” - and this is what the students of the Working Groups do.  Students in this course undertake independent research to prepare and deliver an oral presentation and a written research paper, supported by the academic team who conduct research training with them and deliver content background briefings.

The research the students conduct in this course, with the allure of the opportunity to create a publishable work, offers the student a ‘taster’ of academia within a supportive environment. 

Since 2014, the teaching component of the Working Group is offered annually in conjunction with the University of Vienna Faculty of law, bringing together up to 17 students from both institutions.  Since 2016, it is also offered in cooperation with the University of Zurich.

Find out more about the teaching method and philosophy of the working group.