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Lawyers weigh in on federal inquiry into slavery

Lawyers weigh in on federal inquiry into slavery

A legal professional body has told a federal inquiry that victims of trafficking and slavery within Australia need better assistance under Australian law.

Australian Lawyers Alliance victim compensation lawyer, Jemima Brewer, advocated for an extension of Australian migration frameworks to better facilitate healing for victims caught up in such crimes as part of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 Inquiry, today.

She said any commonwealth scheme needed careful designing particularly in light of the NSW experience, where the law was amended in early 2011 to restrict legal costs, but in doing so reduced victims’ access to justice forcing them to wait in line for representation from backlogged community legal centres.

“If we are committed to assisting victims to heal from their experiences, secure visa status is a fundamental pre-requisite as specialised health and social services are often unavailable in the victim’s country of origin,” Brewer said.

“Slavery and people trafficking are amongst the most heinous of crimes and often result in traumatic lifelong consequences, yet there is no comprehensive framework for compensating trafficking victims in Australia,” she said.

Brewer said the current migration framework required victims to contribute to the criminal justice process whether or not they were still in the country, but this did not facilitate the necessary treatment for trauma experienced.

She said perpetrators were also often unable to pay compensation to victims who then received nothing to assist with treatment for pain and suffering.

“The ALA believes compensation is a very important part of rehabilitation and the trafficking protocol requires that each state or territory contains measures offering compensation opportunities to victims, but in practice this rarely happens because of differing laws,” Brewer said.

Another problem in NSW was the requirement for a victim to prove subjection to violence before compensation can be considered.

“State compensation tribunals tend to be unfamiliar with coercive threats to harm family members, commonly adopted employment deceptions, exploitation, identity document confiscation, debt and sexual service bondage,” Brewer said.

“People sometimes agree to bizarre things when under psychological pressure like donating an organ to clear a family debt.

Experience and understanding of these complex situations and human responses to stresses of all kinds needs to be properly investigated and understood so that the federal government doesn’t make the same mistakes as NSW in attempting to establish a law to protect vulnerable people, but, in doing so, end up undermining the healing process instead,” she said.


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