Australia Lags On People Trafficking

Australia lags on people trafficking

Erik Jensen
The Sydney Morning Herald
October 2, 2007

VICTIMS of people trafficking are supported if only they assist a prosecution by the Government, which is lagging Europe and the United States in its response to the issue, a report has found.

The Government used witness-protection visas as carrots to encourage people to testify in people-trafficking cases, deporting those who could not help, the report said.

Government figures show 92.5 per cent of people trafficking involves the sex industry. But the Collateral Damage report said the real issue could be in the resources sector, where people on temporary 457 visas may be debt-bonded to employers but ignored by authorities because their visa status was legal.

“I think they're [the Government] scared about the number of cases they would have to deal with if they pursued these cases,” the author of the report's Australian chapter, Elaine Pearson, said.”In order to appease the US State Department, they may just be paying lip service to human rights.”

The report, commissioned by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a human rights organisation in Bangkok, also raised concerns that the welfare of trafficked people in Australia had been sublet to a private organisation that would not provide information on its practices.

Kate Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister, said 68, 30-day bridging visas had been given to people in trafficking cases since 2004 and 14 of those had been given witness protection visas. She was unable to say whether the protection visas had been given before or after a prosecution.

While the Government estimates 100 people are trafficked into Australia each year, Ms Walsh said there was no evidence 457 visas were used in this process.

“We do do compliance visits to businesses that have 457 visas. If [people trafficking] was occurring, then we would be aware of that,” she said. “It is certainly not something that we have come across.”

But the national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, John Sutton, said large numbers of workers on 457 visas had their passports and bank accounts controlled by bosses and feared deportation if they complained.

“There is a complete cloak of secrecy in the [sector],” Mr Sutton said. “There needs to be change and I'm glad this group is exposing something the Government won't respond to.”

The alliance said the Attorney-General's Department had pulled out of a round-table discussion ahead of the report's launch in Canberra today.