The legal community has made a significant contribution to the fight against slavery and trafficking in Australia, but more assistance is needed to fulfill the growing needs of victims in the wake of the GFC.
According to Jennifer Burn, director of the Anti-Slavery Project, and associate professor of law at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia needs to review its response to trafficking and ensure it extends from focusing on trafficking into the sex industry to exploring the issue of forced labour and forced marriage. She adds that Australia must also look beyond the criminal facets of slavery, to improve the avenues that trafficked people can use to seek compensation and exercise their rights under Australian workplace relations laws.
Still, Burn said much progress has been made over the last five years - particularly around immigration. Significant legislative reform came into effect 1 July 2009 to ensure that the process of obtaining bridging visas, trafficking visas and the pitch for permanent residency - via a Permanent Witness Protection (Trafficking) Visa - now centres more on the victim. All up, said Burn, the Australian Government has spent more than $58 million on anti-trafficking measures in Australia and the Pacific region - including the development of the better visa system, establishing victim support programs and developing new positions with the Department of Immigration and Australia Police Force.
And the legal community has also played an essential role. Via a pro bono network that is coordinated out of the Faculty of Law at UTS, Burn said lawyers are assisting around 80 clients - most of whom have been trafficked to and enslaved in Australia.
"Often at the stage that we meet them the primary area that they need advice on is in the area of Visa support, a lot of our time has been spent working with them on an appropriate visa pathway and often that results in a grant of permanent residency," said Burn. "Some of our clients have become Australian citizens and we've gone to the citizenship ceremonies. It's a wonderful thing to see."
Burn is hoping to establish a more formalised national network of pro bono lawyers. She noted that a more extensive network could see more assistance offered to victims in terms of seeking financial compensation, as well as employment law support, family law support and occasionally, criminal law support.
"We are meeting a certain level of need (currently) and we're recruiting people on an as needed basis, mainly by ringing up friends," said Burn.
For more information see www.antislavery.org.au
Holly: Special screening
The legal community has been invited to a special screening of Holly, a film shot on location in Cambodia exploring the growing issue of human trafficking.
Hosted by LexisNexis (publisher of Lawyers Weekly), the industry event - including networking drinks and a welcome address from guest speakers - will take place on Wednesday 14 April at Dendy Circular Quay, Sydney, with all proceeds raised on the night going to the UTS Anti-Slavery Project.
See www.lexisnexis.com.au/holly for tickets and more information