LEGAL SERVICES have come up as a key priority at an anti-slavery forum in Sydney, with a number of government agencies, NGOs and community advocates coming together to push for action on trafficking and slavery.
At the inaugural Australian Trafficking Forum organised by the Anti-Slavery Project, participants moved to craft a collaborative approach to slavery that incorporates the work of non-profits, the commercial sector and agencies such as the Crime Commission, the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Already the Anti-Slavery Project has an active legal service, but it’s something that Jennifer Burn, director of the project is looking to further build on through relationships with the private sector. “What we’re trying to do is expand our service, to include advice about civil liability remedies at civil law. We’re looking at compensation for victims of trafficking through civil law avenues,” she said.
With the right support, such avenues could see the slavery project venture into breaches of tort law, breaches of duty of care and breaches of occupational health and safety standards, “We’re looking to expand in those areas, and potentially partner with the private profession to expand our legal service,” said Burn.
But Burn believes that rather than one-off pro bono work, the project would need fulltime employees, or potentially a law firm willing to send staff on secondments.
Prosecuting the perpetrators of slavery can be a difficult and onerous task, especially given the complexity of the crimes. Since 1999, the AFP has referred 34 defendants to the DPP on cases of slavery. 13 matters were discontinued due to lack of evidence, 11 are still pending and 10 matters have been completed, with the DPP claiming 7 convictions in the first instance.
Kathryn Haigh, the national people trafficking co-ordinator from the DPP, said: “There’s a common perception that it can be difficult to persuade a jury — that’s true. But the anecdotal evidence shows that is changing.
Haigh puts such changes down to the fact that she believes the prosecution is getting better at communicating complex crimes. “If we can get the evidence, have victim support, and recognise cultural issues, then the prosecution is in a good place to recognise trafficking offences,” she said.
But there are still difficulties in getting witness support for trial. “A witness may be happy to make a statement to police but feel completely different about making a submission in court,” said Haigh.
Collaboration across politics, the not-for-profit and the commercial sector should see further change and is a goal sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick is particularly keen to see occur. “As a sex discrimination minister I’m increasingly reminded that while we can achieve things alone, we’re never as effective as when we work together,” she said.
Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Housing and the Status of Women, told the forum her department has investigated opportunities to enhance a support program for “a more compassionate and responsible approach to support victims.’
Announcing the release of a report from the Australian Institutes of Criminology, Plibersek said it’s difficult to know how many trafficking victims are in Australia at any one time. But figures from the Support Program from Plibersek’s office show that 107 people have received support since 2004, 65 per cent of whom have been Thai nationals.