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Speeches

Speeches made in Parliament (June 2005) to the Anti-Sex Work (Trafficking in Persons)

SCARLET ALLIANCE DOES NOT ENDORSE THE CONTENT OF THESE SPEECHES

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updated 28/6/05

Mr Phil Ruddock Member for Berowa (Liberal)

Mr McClelland Member for Barton (Labor) home page In the United Kingdom, even, the Solicitor General — and I assume it is still the same Solicitor General — has stated that an estimated 80 per cent of prostitutes in London are foreign. As she says, the idea that these women have chosen to sell sex is clearly wrong, indicating that there is pressure on them.

Mr Wakelin Member for Grey (Liberal) home page I have watched the unfolding story in the media in recent years of this very ugly trade. I suppose I am left with the impression, perhaps similar to many average Australians, that it is very hard to understand how anyone could think of exploiting anyone else in this way. Perhaps it is a different culture. I hope it is foreign to this nation. It is a reminder that we must always be vigilant.

Mr Kerr Member for Denison (Labor) In the Australian context it is relatively unthinkable that such a practice could occur. Nonetheless, we know, sadly, that there have been instances where people have been trafficked into this country to work in the sex industry. Some of those persons have been abused. They have been held in conditions which amount to imprisonment. They have been exploited.

They have been tricked or mistreated in the way in which they have been recruited. We have not had effective laws in place to deal with those circumstances. It is to the merit of the government that ultimately this legislation has come forward. To put the matter in the larger context, this legislation has required an enormous amount of massaging to reach the form in which it is now brought forward.

Mr Slipper Member for Fisher (Liberal) I think all of us would accept that Australia has an enviable international reputation for looking after our neighbours. We also respect the general concept of caring for those who are in need of our protection. Australians, on the whole, embrace the ideals of safety, freedom and respect for our fellow man—and, I suppose, to be politically correct I should say ‘our fellow woman.’

Ms Jennie George Member for Throsby (Labour) Home Page I really want to focus my comments on the issue of trafficking in women and children for prostitution. I do so because there has been quite a lot of public debate and discourse about this issue, and today I have the opportunity as a woman on the Labor side to outline my views on this very serious infringement of human rights.

In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Sheila Jeffreys, an associate professor from the University of Melbourne, drew attention to the increased use of euphemisms in this debate—euphemisms that are obfuscating the harms that are being done to women who are trafficked and that are deliberately calculated to downplay the seriousness of the issue. In the article, Jeffreys said that the terminology associated with the trafficking of women and children can be downplayed or reinterpreted with detrimental consequences for women who are trafficked. She went on to give some examples. What used to be widely known as prostitution is now referred to by some as ‘sex work'.

Trafficking has become, for some, ‘migration for labour’. Trafficked women are sometimes euphemistically called ‘migrant sex workers’, while traffickers themselves are referred to as ‘agents’, ‘brokers’ or ‘immigration organisers’. Debt bondage, long recognised as a modern form of slavery, has in the words of some become ‘contract work’. Such neutral terms and euphemisms are used in a manner which attempts to make these matters more palatable, but in my view nothing can make human rights violations palatable, in any sense of the word.

Ms Judi Moylan Member for Pearce (Liberals)Home Page The BBC recently produced a program to be broadcast on trafficking. It reminded me of the horrendous case in the UK where Chinese people were taken to the UK and were getting cockles from the sea and, as we know, many of them were killed as the sea rose very fast. This is very typical of some of the kinds of activities going on. They got to the UK, realised of course that they then had to pay a very substantial debt and needed to do anything at any cost. Sadly, in this case they lost their lives. Cultural norms have prepared young women for control and compliance amongst the traffickers. A girl will be told her parents will suffer if she does not cooperate and work hard and how the debt is on her shoulders and must be repaid. Human Rights Watch estimates that between 800,000 and two million women are currently working in Thailand as prostitutes.

Mr Murphy Member for Lowe (Labor) Home Page I put to the House tonight — and to the people of Australia — that this government has hopelessly confused itself again in the drafting of laws. Over and over again, this government introduces bills in such a way that it fails to read other laws in cognate with bills before the House. This government is driven by populism, as in this bill. On the surface this bill appears to do a good thing in clamping down on people trafficking. When we look more closely we see that the objective is to draw moral weight from United Nations instruments, which in turn are baseless.

In reality, this legislation properly belongs to the domain of Australian migration law.

The Criminal Code Amendment (Trafficking in Persons Offences) Bill 2004 and the 2002 act describe the person as a commodity—something that is capable of being bought and sold—because they use the term ‘smuggling’ synonymously in the context of persons. This is a fatal flaw in the legislation and must be corrected, along with the other laws that commit the same mistake. People are not commodities and may never be treated as such.

For the purposes of tonight’s debate, I believe it is very important that the House familiarise itself with the true meaning of human rights. I am all but in despair when I read the direction of certain United Nations instruments and, more disturbingly, how this government interprets them. I am specifically disturbed at how the government has seen fit to ratify its obligations to this United Nations instrument here tonight.

I conclude by saying that this bill is acceptable in itself. However, when read in cognate with other bills already passed by this House, it establishes the reductionist policy direction of this government towards reducing the human being to that of a mere commodity. In doing so, it participates in the very evil that this bill is attempting to stamp out. I urge the minister to seriously consider the concerns I have raised tonight and reassess the government’s direction in setting Commonwealth policy.

Dr Washer Member for Moore (Liberal) Refugee camps for displaced persons provide a ready pool of vulnerable women and children to be recruited into the global sex industry. Some believe that the commercialisation of sex on the internet and satellite television may have increased the demand for women and children from the developing world to be trafficked into these new sexual entertainment industries in the Western world. Certainly in Australia the few figures we have already show a trend of growth. The number of people trafficking matters that have been referred to the Australian Federal Police by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs has risen steadily from one in 1999-2000 to 90 in 2003-04.

Sen Grieg In Committee 1 In Committee 2 WA (Democrat) Within Australia, that exploitation usually means sexual servitude. In fact, last year’s US State Department report on trafficking in persons identified Australia as one of the world’s top destinations for sex-slave trafficking, putting us on a par with countries such as Morocco, Colombia and Lithuania.

Sen Nettle NSW (Greens) The common element of this form of labour is a lack of rights to justice, industrial relations laws, equal pay and industrial arbitration in the country they are illegally working in. However, there is a longstanding human rights campaign to render these illegal workers with rights under an international protocol. The international convention on the protection of rights of all migrant workers addresses these issues but has not come into force because not enough countries have signed it. Australia is not a signatory. If it were, migrant workers in Australia would be afforded the same rights as Australian workers. The Greens urge the government to ratify this convention.

The government should examine permitting migrants to work in the sex industry where it is legal as this measure could reduce the influence of traffickers into Australia.

Sen Santo Qld (Liberal) But, of course, everyone does, because trafficking in persons is effectively a modern version of slavery and it offends every moral principle that decent people anywhere would have.

Sen Macdonald NSW (Nationals)

Sen Ellison WA (Liberals) I have certainly had a good deal to do with the NGOs involved in this area, and I thank them for the good work that they are doing. I thank all senators for their support of this legislation.

Sen Ludwig In Committee 1 In Committee 2 Qld (Labor)