Australia is primarily a destination country for women subjected to forced prostitution and, to an increasing extent, for women and men subjected to forced labor. Child sex trafficking occurs with a small number of Australian citizens, primarily teenage girls, exploited within the country, as well as foreign victims. Some women from Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, China, and to a lesser extent India, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, and Africa migrate to Australia voluntarily intending to work legally or illegally in a number of sectors, including the sex trade. Subsequent to their arrival, some of these women are coerced into prostitution in both legal and illegal brothels. These foreign women and girls are sometimes held in captivity, subjected to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulated through illegal drugs, and obliged to pay off unexpected or inflated debts to their traffickers. There were reports of some victims of sex trafficking and some women who migrated to Australia for arranged marriages being subsequently subjected to domestic servitude.
Men and women from several Pacific Islands, India, China, the Republic of Korea, and the Philippines are recruited to work temporarily in Australia. After their arrival, some are subjected by unscrupulous employers and labor agencies to forced labor in agriculture, horticulture, construction, cleaning, nursing, hospitality, manufacturing, meat processing, seafaring, and domestic service. They face confiscation of their travel documents, confinement on the employment site, threats of physical harm, and debt bondage through inflated debts imposed by employers or labor agencies. Most often, traffickers are part of small but highly sophisticated organized crime networks that frequently involve family and business connections between Australians and overseas contacts. Some traffickers attempted to hide foreign victims from official notice or prevented victims from receiving assistance by abusing the legal system to create difficulties for victims who contact authorities for help. Individuals on student visas, particularly those from Asia, were vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. There are over 450,000 foreign students in Australia, many of whom spend up to the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in placement and academic fees, as completion of courses often leads to permanent residency in the country. Some of these foreign students work in housekeeping, restaurant, and other service industries and are subject to a restriction of working a maximum of 20 hours per week under their visas. When employers coerced them to work for more than 20 hours, exceeding the terms of their visas, they faced the risk of being deported, making them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers; there have previously been reports of such exploitation near Melbourne.
The Government of Australia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. During the year, the government continued to prosecute a modest number of trafficking cases and improved its legal framework for combating trafficking—particularly labor trafficking—through the enactment of amendments to the criminal code. The government funded its victim support program and made efforts to proactively identify victims among many vulnerable groups; however, it did not increase the overall number of victims identified, nor did it enhance efforts to identify potential victims among immigrants arriving to the country without documentation. The government continued efforts to combat child sex tourism and announced plans to develop a procurement policy to ensure the government’s supply chains are free from trafficking.
Recommendations for Australia: Vigorously prosecute, convict, and stringently sentence trafficking offenders, with increased focus on labor trafficking; continue to increase efforts to train police, local councils, health inspectors, diplomats, and other front-line officers to recognize indicators of trafficking, and respond to suspected cases of both sex and labor trafficking; develop and implement a formal mechanism for government agencies to refer cases with elements of trafficking to law enforcement officials to consider criminal prosecutions; continue to strengthen efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants arriving in the country without documentation, through methods other than immigration compliance actions; utilize standardized procedures to employ multidisciplinary groups of law enforcement officers and social service providers when planning to interview potential victims; further improve the access of trafficking victims to opportunities to seek financial compensation and civil remedies; consider additional ways to streamline and expedite visa processes for trafficking victims; increase availability of shelter services for victims, perhaps through additional funding to NGOs; continue funding NGOs to conduct campaigns to raise public awareness of all forms of trafficking, particularly among rural communities and migrant populations that are not easily accessed through mainstream media; consider appointing an ambassador dedicated to addressing human trafficking issues worldwide; and continue to play an active role educating countries in the Asia-Pacific region on the important distinction between trafficking and smuggling, highlighting the need for a victim-centered approach to combating trafficking.
The Government of Australia continued efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses during the year and strengthened its legal framework for combating trafficking. Australia prohibits sex and labor trafficking and trafficking-related offenses through divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth criminal code, which prescribe maximum penalties of 12 to 25 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to the equivalent of $152,000. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The Migration (Employer Sanctions Amendment) Act of 2007 prohibits exploiting migrant employees through forced labor, sexual servitude, or slavery and prescribes penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment and various fines; these also are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. In March 2013, the government enacted the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act, which amended the criminal code and addressed gaps in previous legislation, most notably by including specific prohibitions of forced labor and prescribing sufficiently stringent penalties of nine years’ imprisonment for this offense. The legislation also expanded the definition of coercion to include non-physical forms such as psychological oppression, abuse of power, and taking advantage of a person’s vulnerability. This is an improvement over previous legislation, which had focused primarily on the use of physical force or threats of physical force. Australia’s laws continued, however, to require the movement of an individual as an element of human trafficking, which is inconsistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) received 44 case referrals and, among these, initiated 29 investigations during 2012. The government reported that approximately 38 percent of the new investigations were related to suspected transnational sex trafficking, with the remainder relating to labor trafficking. The majority of labor trafficking cases were addressed through civil mechanisms. The government has never identified or prosecuted a domestic sex trafficking offense committed against an Australian citizen or resident, whether adult or child. During the year, a Thai woman who transported a victim from Thailand and subjected her to debt bondage and sex trafficking was convicted of possessing a slave and sentenced to eight years and 10 months’ imprisonment. The convicted offender is currently appealing the length of her sentence and remains in custody. The government initiated one prosecution for sex trafficking during the reporting year; two cases pending from the previous reporting period did not reach trial, and the government dismissed charges against a Chinese woman accused of fraudulently recruiting two women from China and subjecting them to debt bondage and sex trafficking. AFP investigators in Human Trafficking Teams (HTT) specialized in investigating trafficking offenses and the online sexual exploitation of children; their efforts have typically focused on transnational sex trafficking, although labor trafficking investigations are becoming more common. The government continued to provide specialized training on human trafficking investigation procedures to some AFP and state and territory police investigators; 37 immigration officials received anti-trafficking training. No Australian government officials were investigated, prosecuted, or convicted for trafficking or trafficking-related criminal activities during the reporting period.
The Government of Australia sustained efforts to provide protection to identified victims of trafficking, though the number of identified victims remained low. In 2012, the government and NGOs identified 16 trafficking victims—including 11 subjected to sex trafficking and five subjected to labor trafficking—and referred them to the government’s victim support program, which provided access to accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, and counseling. The government provided the equivalent of approximately $1.2 million to fund its victim support program. All victims who received services during the year were foreigners. Most victims were placed in hotels, as there were no government-run shelter facilities and few NGO shelters specifically for trafficking victims. The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations; 68 percent of identified victims participated in an investigation or prosecution during the reporting period. In 2012, the government granted 11 Permanent Witness Protection (Trafficking) visas to victims and their immediate family members, which required contribution to an investigation or prosecution of a trafficking offense. Victims identified by authorities were not incarcerated, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Officials follow formal procedures for proactively identifying victims involved in the legal sex trade and referred them for services; however, efforts to identify victims of forced labor could be improved. International observers expressed concern that Australia’s vigorous efforts to identify and criminally prosecute cases of human smuggling could potentially lead to unidentified trafficking victims, including children, being treated as criminals and detained or jailed. Additionally, the majority of trafficking victims were identified through immigration compliance actions, an environment in which the fear of detainment and deportation could potentially make victims reluctant to communicate with law enforcement officers. The government did not ensure social service professionals were present during initial screening interviews, which may have hampered the success of victim identification efforts and caused further distress to victims. Trafficking victims whose cases resulted in convictions were eligible to receive compensation, but few victims have had access to this form of redress. There were some allegations that victims were not always informed about visa options available to individuals who wish to remain in Australia to pursue compensation or civil remedies.
In March 2012, the AFP conducted forums in five cities to train state police and other community stakeholders on identifying indicators of trafficking and referring suspected victims to government and NGO support networks, and in October 2012, an international organization conducted 59 government-funded training workshops on victim identification and protection reaching 1,055 community service providers throughout the country. However, many front-line officers, particularly at the sub-national level, would benefit from additional training to identify indicators of trafficking, particularly labor trafficking.
The Government of Australia continued to demonstrate notable efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. Government anti-trafficking efforts were coordinated by the interdepartmental committee, chaired by the Attorney General’s Department, which produced an annual report on its efforts for parliament. The government funded four NGOs’ awareness-raising projects and five organizations’ awareness projects that focused specifically on labor trafficking. The Fair Work Ombudsman conducted awareness campaigns and pursued civil efforts through the courts for workplace violations such as underpayment of wages; however, none of the cases it investigated were referred to the AFP or the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for criminal investigation potential forced labor.
The Australian Agency for International Development continued to fund anti-trafficking activities in the Asia-Pacific region, and the prime minister announced the equivalent of approximately $52.5 million in new funding for the third phase of a criminal justice assistance project in the ASEAN region. Projects to combat child sex tourism continued to operate at the same level as the previous year. In April 2012, the AFP hosted a symposium in Bangkok aimed at enhancing relationships between law enforcement and NGOs involved in combating child sex tourism, and during the year the government provided information to the Government of Burma that led to the denial of entry to two Australian nationals suspected of being child sex tourists. The Australian government refused passports to two convicted child sex offenders, and the government obtained one conviction in a case of child sex tourism initiated in the previous year. In March 2013, the prime minister announced plans to revise the government procurement strategy to ensure the government does not purchase goods whose supply chains use slavery. The government did not take significant steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts within its legal sex trade. The Australian government educated troops and police officers on human trafficking prior to their deployments on international peacekeeping missions.