The Australian government has announced significant changes to its scheme for protecting victims of people trafficking, which has protected 131 people since 2004, but which, advocates say, could have done a lot more for many of those subjected to one of the world's worst trades. Victims will no longer be forced to become police informants in order to get government help and an Australian visa to allow them to stay in the country.
Presenter: Linda Mottram, Canberra correspondent
Speaker: Associate professor Jennifer Burn, law faculty, University of Technology, Sydney, and head of the Anti-Slavery Project; Tanya Pliberseck, Australian minister for the status of women, Canberra
MOTTRAM: Non-government groups have lobbied hard for changes to Australia's support arrangements for victims of trafficking, many of whom have been trafficked for sex. And the lobby groups can't speak highly enough of the Rudd government's response. Associate Professor Jennifer Burn from the Law Faculty at the University of Technology Sydney runs the Anti-Slavery Project.
BURN: This is going to transform lives. It's a very sound response.
MOTTRAM: Professor Burn has been a member of a government-convened round table on the issue of support for victims of trafficking, formed year ago. Advocacy groups had sought changes to the support scheme for years but it was the round table process under a new government that opened up the possibility of change to what the groups saw as a system that didn't support victims well, and left them uncertain about their future under a complex, drawn out, and conditional visa process. Jennifer Burn again.
BURN: One of the major criticisms of the previous regime was that victim support and visa support was linked to a person's willingness to engage in law enforcement. So, unless they were willing and able to assist police, and willing and able to assist in a commonwealth prosecution, there was no recognition of their status as a victim of crime and there was no visa support. So, this left out in the cold people who undoubtedly were trafficked to Australia, people who on any assessment of their evidence, and indeed in the assessment of the AFP (Australian Federal Police), were trafficked to Australia, but for various reasons couldn't participate, couldn't take part in a police investigation and prosecution. A person like that was in the cold.
MOTTRAM: The government's changes to the scheme give victims support regardless of visa status. Access to permanent residency will be more certain in what's intended to be a shorter period of time. The system still offers a criminal justice visa for those who are assisting police. But Jennifer Burn says there will be far less uncertainty about it that in the past.
BURN: There will be a point at which a decision will be made while a person holds that criminal justice visa about their entitlement for Australian permanent residence.
MOTTRAM: So, it removes a huge amount of uncertainty that was lasting a very long time for people?
BURN: Look, previously people held that criminal justice visa for four, five, or even more years. It caused so much stress so much anxiety.
MOTTRAM: Professor Burn says there'll also be positive results for the criminal justice system in Australia, with victims of trafficking more likely to be willing to assist if they're secure in their protected status.
Australia's minister for the status of women, Tanya Pliberseck, says she and her colleagues, the ministers for home affairs and immigration considered the changes to be essential.
PLIBERSEK: We want to make it a little bit easier for people who have been traumatised over and over again through the process of their trafficking to be able to recover. If they're able to help police, that's terrific, but we're not tying their visa status to the information they give to police.
MOTTRAM: And what about protection for families, who may be outside of Australia, is there any change there?
PLIBERSEK: Yes, indeed, the change enables immediate family members who are outside Australia to be included in an application for a witness protection trafficking visa and that's particularly important for women who may be supporting children overseas.
MOTTRAM: You appear to have moved very quickly on this, it was only a year ago that the round table discussing this issue was established, how urgent did you feel it was?
PLIBERSEK: Australia's very fortunate that we don't have a large number of people who are trafficked into Australia when you compare us with many other countries. But for every individual who has been trafficked, we're talking about the most enormously traumatic, often dangerous, often physically abusive experience and we as a government saw it as critical to moving as quickly as possible to improve the areas where we believed improvement needed to be made.
MOTTRAM: There is though a remaining matter of education. Sex industry representatives report numbers of cases, where women from countries where prostitution is highly criminalised, like South Korea, refuse to seek help from authorities in Australia. Despite being enslaved, they assume that they would face the same penalties in Australia as they do in their home countries.
Adapted from: "New laws to protect victims of people trafficking in Australia," Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio Australia, 17 June 2009.
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