The report, released yesterday, argues that current statutory victims’ compensation schemes provided by the states and territories allow victims to “fall through the cracks”.
This includes anyone who has experienced servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting for labour services, forced marriage or debt bondage.
LCA president-elect Fiona McLeod SC said it is imperative for the nation to respond to the issue.
“We tend to think of slavery as a relic of the past, when it is very much alive in 21st-century Australia,” Ms McLeod said.
“Every day in Australia there are people being exploited and abused, controlled through intimidation with no ability to seek help or access vital support services. We are consistently seeing examples of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices.
“The legal framework in Australia is robust and our contribution to regional initiatives is important, but our enforcement mechanisms are not working effectively. There were 169 new referrals to the Australian Federal Police in 2015-16 for human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offences, but only one conviction finalised during this reporting period.”
Ms McLeod pointed to the recent example of a magistrate who invited an offender of this type of crime to attend the hearing of the application. The victim was faced with a decision to withdraw her claim or face the probability of having to confront her abuser in court, despite her claim of trafficking being accepted as well-founded by police.
Ms McLeod noted that on a recent mission to Australia, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said there was a significant lack of a comprehensive national framework for victims’ compensation.
Ms McLeod said Ms Ezeilo recommended the government establish a Commonwealth compensation scheme for victims of people-trafficking.
“Ms Ezeilo is absolutely right: existing state and territory schemes are not designed to accommodate victims of federal offences against the person, are technically complicated and vary considerably in their application,” Ms McLeod said.
“Currently, trafficked people who have been moved between jurisdictions can only apply for compensation relating to the harm they suffered whilst in a specific state or territory, meaning victims of crime are required to make multiple applications for statutory compensation.
“This situation should not continue. A harmonised national scheme would send the clear message about Australia’s priorities.”