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Australian policies on trafficking in persons are a relatively recent development, commencing in about 2003.  The death of a victim of trafficking in persons in a Sydney immigration detention facility in 2001 was seen by many as a clear manifestation of the Australian Government’s failure to address the phenomenon, in particular the protection of victims, effectively.  The coronial inquest that followed this incident further, ‘underscored the lack of understanding of the problem of trafficking and highlighted failure in the Australian legal system to provide justice for the victims of trafficking.’[1]  This incident and its aftermath thus became a catalyst for more comprehensive policy development and law reform in this field.  It also coincided with the adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children in 2000, which Australia signed on December 11, 2002 and ratified several years later. 

This page outlines the development and scope of Australian policies relating to trafficking in persons in the ten years between 2003 and 2013.  For further details and a complete analysis of this topic for the 2003–2013 period, see Andreas Schloenhardt & Jarrod M Jolly, Trafficking in Persons in Australia: Myths and Realities (LexisNexis, 2013) Chapter 4.

Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons

On 13 October 2003, the then Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, first announced ‘a comprehensive strategy to fight this insidious crime’.[2]  In early 2004, the Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons was released.[3]  It articulates four central elements that guide Australia’s policy response to trafficking in persons to this day:

  1. Prevention;
  2. Detection and investigation;
  3. Criminal prosecution; and
  4. Victim support and rehabilitation.[4]

The Action Plan acknowledges Australia’s obligations under the Trafficking in Persons Protocol and specifically states that it will comply with Protocol requirements, inter alia, by

  • Monitoring the extent of people trafficking (a term used by federal agencies to refer to trafficking in persons) in Australia;
  • Responding to emerging domestic and international trends in people trafficking;
  • Providing development aid aimed at alleviating the conditions that foster people trafficking and related transnational crime; and
  • Acting with due consideration for the interests of victims of trafficking.[5]

Policy Developments 2005–2008

In 2005, the Criminal Code Amendment (Trafficking in Persons and Debt Bondage) Act 2005 (Cth) was introduced, adding a set of offences relating to transnational and domestic trafficking in persons and debt bondage into Division 271 of the Criminal Code (Cth).  A Supplementary Report to the Inquiry into the trafficking of women for sexual servitude was issued in August 2005 stating that ‘the undertakings made in the Government’s package of 2003 have [now] been realised’[6] but also recommended that the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) consider undertaking ‘an evaluation of the results of the National Action Plan, after three years of operation.’[7]  This evaluation, conducted in 2008–09, focused on the administrative management and performance of the Action Plan rather than the substance of its policies.

In 2007, the Australian Government announced that a further AUD 38.3 million would be invested in the existing anti-trafficking framework over the next four years.[8] 

2009 Reforms

Pressure from NGOs and academics mounted on the Government to significantly improve the support available to victims of trafficking in persons and change the visas available to them.[9]  This led to a reform of Australia’s anti-trafficking efforts that came into effect on July 1, 2009.  While these reforms left the overall policy objectives articulated in the 2004 Action Plan unchanged, major amendments were made to the support and visas for victims of trafficking.

These reforms mark a shift towards better recognising the need to protect and support victims as an integral part of the Government’s Anti-People Trafficking Strategy.  Around the same time, the Government sought to broaden the domestic understanding of trafficking in persons by placing an ‘increased focus on issues related to trafficking for labour exploitation, including enhanced engagement with peak employer and industry organisations and unions.’[10]

Minor administrative adjustments followed in 2011.  On 1 June 2011, the AFP’s Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams were renamed to Human Trafficking Teams ‘to better reflect the full spectrum of people trafficking offences.’[11]  Similarly, the Australian Policing Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Persons 2011–13 (formerly the National Policing Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Women for Sexual Servitude) was ‘broadened to encompass all forms of people trafficking, including labour and organ harvesting.’[12]  In October 2011, the Australian Government allocated a further AUD 500,000 in funding to five organisations for projects that raise awareness about labour exploitation, and to provide advocacy and outreach to vulnerable industries or groups, such as migrant workers.[13]

Between 2003 and 2012, the Australian Government spent more than AUD 100 million ‘to support a range of domestic, regional and international anti-trafficking initiatives’.  The key initiatives funded under the Anti-People Trafficking Strategy include: specialist AFP investigation teams and the Australian Policing Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Persons; legislation to criminalise trafficking and related activities; the Support for Trafficked People Program; the People Trafficking Visa Framework; immigration compliance officers posted in China, the Philippines, and Thailand; regional initiatives to deter trafficking, train police officers, and assist victims; and research into trafficking conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).[14]

In November 2010, the Attorney-General’s Department released two separate discussion papers on The Criminal Justice Response to Slavery and People Trafficking; Repatriation; and Vulnerable Witness Protections and Forced and Servile Marriage that were followed by a public consultation process and submissions from a great range of government and non-government entities.[15]  These exercises informed the drafting of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill Act 2013 (Cth) which entered into force on 7 March 2013. 

In 2012/13, the Australian Government began a process of addressing a suite of observations and recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, Ms Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, following her visit to Australia in November 2011.  While recognising that Australia had ‘demonstrated strong leadership in combating trafficking in persons regionally and domestically’, her report made 31 recommendations relating to a wide range of anti-trafficking measures. [16]  It is understood that the Australian Government has accepted most of these recommendations and is in process of implementing several of them.[17]

The Attorney-General’s Department also announced in 2012 that it would revisit the 2004 Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons and, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, ‘lead the development of a formal action plan to support Australia’s Strategy to Combat People Trafficking.’[18]  Public consultation occurred throughout 2013.  The changes to Australia’s anti-trafficking strategy have also been influenced by a further Inquiry into Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking undertaken by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in 2012–13. 

National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery, 2015–2019

In December 2014, the Australian Government presented the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery, 2015-2019.[19] The main focus of this new Action Plan is in seven specific areas:

  1. Monitoring of the 2013 legislative reforms in terms of their effect on investigations, prosecutions and support for trafficked people.
  2. Raising awareness of human trafficking and slavery within the general public and relevant target groups.
  3. Refining government responses to forced marriage.
  4. Addressing the issue of exploitation in supply chains.
  5. Operational protocol to ensure that trafficked minors receive appropriate support.
  6. Strengthening links with the States and Territories.
  7. Taking an international and regional leadership role to prevent opportunities for human trafficking. [20]

Several policy initiatives have subsequently been introduced at a national level.  For example, the interagency ‘Taskforce Cadena’ has been established to investigate exploitation in supply chains.[21]  A Forced Marriage Community Pack has been produced, outlining best practices for relevant frontline service providers.[22] Initiatives to combat forced marriage also include the Minister of Justice awarding AUD 500,000 in grants to community groups with the aim of improving outreach and awareness raising capacities.[23]

In a regional context, Australia has entered into the Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AAPTIP).[24]  AAPTIP is designed to promote support for ASEAN nations in preventing human trafficking and enhance cooperation between regional anti-human trafficking bodies and individual partner countries.  This program replaced the ARTIP Program and will remain in effect until 2018.

Footnotes

[1] J Burn et al, ‘Combating Human Trafficking’ (2005) 79 Australian Law Journal 543, 544.
[2] C Ellison, Minister for Justice & Customs, Transcript of Doorstep Interview, (Parliament House, Canberra, 13 Oct 2003).
[3] Australian Government, Australian Government’s Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons (2004); ANAO,Management of the Australian Government’s Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons (2009) 12 [8].
[4] Australian Government, Australian Government’s Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons (2004) 4.
[5] Australian Government, Australian Government’s Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons (2004) 16.
[6] Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission, Parliament of Australia, Supplementary Report to the Inquiry into the trafficking of women for sexual servitude (2005) 1 [1.3], 13 [1.67].
[7] Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission, Parliament of Australia, Supplementary Report to the Inquiry into the trafficking of women for sexual servitude (2005) 12 [1.62].
[8] ANAO, Management of the Australian Government’s Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons (2009) 12 [10].
[9] J Burn & F Simmons, ‘Prioritising protection – A new visa framework for trafficked people’ (2009) 41Immigration Review 3, 3.
[10] Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response January 2004–April 2009 (2009) 47.
[11] Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2010–30 June 2011 (2011) 11.
[12] Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2010–30 June 2011 (2011) 18.
[13] B O’Connor, Minister for Home Affairs & K Ellis, Minister for the Status of Women, 'More funding to fight slavery and labour trafficking' (Media Release, 17 Oct 2011).
[14] Anti-People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee, Trafficking in Persons: The Australian Government’s Response 1 July 2011–30 June 2012 (2012) 3–4.
[15] Attorney-General’s Department, Discussion Paper: The Criminal Justice Response to Slavery and People Trafficking (2010); Attorney-General’s Department, Discussion Paper: Forced and Servile Marriage (2010).
[16] See further, UN General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, on her mission to Australia (17–30 November 2011), UN Doc A/HRC/20/18/Add.1 (18 May 2012) 19–22 [79]–[86].
[17] Attorney-General’s Department, Annual Report 2011–12 (2012) 197.
[18] Attorney-General’s Department, Annual Report 2011–12 (2012) 25; Evidence to Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Parliament of Australia, Canberra, 9 Oct 2012, 6 (R Kilpatrick, Director, People Trafficking Section, Criminal Justice Division, Attorney-General’s Department).
[19] Australian Government, National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery, 2015-2019 (2014).
[20] Ibid., 27-28.
[21] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Taskforce Cadena Commences Work, (3 June 2015).
[22] Commonwealth, Parliamentary Debate, House of Representatives, 19 March 2015, 3005 (Michael Keenan, Minister for Justice).
[23] Attorney-General’s Department, Annual Report 2014-15 (2015) 34.
[24] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia-Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons (AAPTIP), Program Fact Sheet (2015).