The government increased efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 75 potential victims, including 35 for sex trafficking and forced labor, and 40 for which the form of exploitation was unclear (38 in 2017, 36 in 2016). Authorities referred all 75 potential victims to the Australian government’s Support for Trafficked People Program (support program). The government also assisted 25 potential Australian trafficking victims abroad, 16 of whom were returned to Australia (15 individuals abroad, four of whom returned to Australia in 2017); however, it was not clear how many of the individuals were victims of trafficking compared to victims of forced marriage or individuals vulnerable to forced marriage. Authorities identified most victims through the efforts of joint agencies, task forces, and cooperative action with foreign governments. Authorities utilized a list of indicators to identify trafficking victims and refer them to services; however, authorities did not routinely screen for indicators of trafficking among vulnerable groups, and authorities often linked trafficking to migration. The government did not report screening for trafficking indicators among individuals smuggled via sea before forcing intercepted boats back outside of Australian territorial waters, or among refugees and asylum seekers held in offshore detention centers. Immigration authorities forcibly deported some asylum seekers who may have been vulnerable to trafficking after returning to their home countries. Civil society continued to report that some victims may have been reluctant to communicate with law enforcement officers due to fear of detainment and deportation.
Authorities provided formally identified trafficking victims with accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, vocational training, and counseling through the support program. The government allocated 2.22 million Australian dollars ($1.57 million) to the support program in the 2018-2019 funding year (1.71 million Australian dollars [$1.21 million] during the 2017-2018 funding year). However, the increased funding was made available to support victims of forced marriage who may or may not have been victims of trafficking. Only AFP had the legal authority to refer victims to the support program. The support program included four support streams. The assessment and intensive support stream refers victims for up to 45 days irrespective of whether they are willing or able to assist with the investigation or prosecution of a human trafficking or slavery related offense. The extended intensive support stream allows for an additional 45 days of access to the program on a case by case basis for victims willing to assist with investigation or prosecution but not yet able to do so due to age, ill health, trauma or a practical impediment. Minors are automatically entitled to the extended support program. The justice support program provides victims with support until the investigation and/or prosecution of their case is finalized. The temporary trial support program provides intensive support to victims giving evidence pertaining to a human trafficking related prosecution. NGOs previously reported the government denied access to or ceased provision of services to some victims who were unable or unwilling to participate in law enforcement investigations, or when investigation of their case ended. The government did not report on how it provides services to adults unable or unwilling to participate in law enforcement investigations. In 2018, the government provided temporary stay visas to 12 foreign trafficking victims (13 in 2017, 33 in 2016), and granted permanent “referred stay” visas to five individuals (eight in 2017, six in 2016), including victims and their immediate family members, although some of these cases may have been forced marriage rather than trafficking. The government increased the staffing levels within the Commonwealth director of Public Prosecutions’ (CDPP) Witness Assistance Service, which provides support to victims of human trafficking during the court process. Authorities provided witness assistance services to 18 victims while they participated in prosecutions (nine in 2017). The government did not have a centralized victim compensation system and victims relied on civil proceedings to access compensation.