U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Australia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 February 2000|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Australia , 25 February 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa6920.html [accessed 30 May 2016]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Australia has a federal system of government and a long history as a multiparty parliamentary democracy. The judiciary is independent.
Federal, state, and local police are under the firm control of the civilian authorities and carry out their functions in accordance with the law. There were occasional reports that police committed abuses.
A highly developed economy, which includes manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and services, provides most citizens with a high per capita income. A wide range of government programs offers assistance for disadvantaged citizens.
The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, and the law and judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. There were occasional reports that police beat or otherwise abused persons. The Government administers many programs to improve the socioeconomic conditions of Aborigines and Torres Straits Islanders, who together form about 2 percent of the population, and to address longstanding discrimination against them. Societal violence and discrimination against women are problems that are being addressed actively. Trafficking in women, a growing problem, also is being addressed.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings by government officials. However, 93 persons died in prisons, police custody, or during police attempts to detain them (see Section 1.c.).
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits all such practices; however, police on occasion mistreat suspects in custody. Indigenous groups charge that police harassment of indigenous people is pervasive and that racial discrimination among police and prison custodians persists. Amnesty International reported several incidents that involved such abuses. State and territorial police forces have internal affairs units that investigate allegations of abuse and report to a civilian ombudsman.
In 1998 the total number of deaths in custody fell by 10 to 93. Of these, 24 deaths occurred in police custody or during attempts by police to detain suspects. The remainder occurred in prison custody, including one youth who died in a juvenile detention center. Of the total deaths in custody, 38 persons died from hanging. Twenty persons died of natural causes. Five died as a result of injuries sustained while fleeing police during high-speed pursuit. The police shot and killed six persons; in all cases the use of deadly force was found to be justified. One person died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A record eight prison inmates died during 1998 at the hands of another inmate. Eleven persons died as a result of drug overdoses. Three died of unknown causes. One cause of death is still to be determined by a coroner.
Aboriginal adults represent 1.6 percent of the adult population but constituted approximately 19 percent of the total prison population during 1998. Aborigines accounted for 16 (17 percent) of the 93 deaths in custody. Six died in police custody or during attempts by police to detain them. Of the six, one died from hanging; two died of natural causes; one died from injuries; one died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound during a police siege; and one died from an undetermined cause, possibly smoke inhalation, after setting a fire in his cell. Nine died in prison. Of the nine, five died from hanging; three died of natural causes; and one died from injuries inflicted by another inmate. For the first time since 1988, an indigenous youth died, from hanging, in a correctional setting.
Prison conditions meet minimum international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the Government observes this prohibition.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the executive and legislative branches respect its provisions.
There is a well-developed system of federal and state courts, with the High Court at its apex. Almost all criminal trials are conducted by courts established under state and territorial legislation. The Federal Court and the High Court have very limited roles to play.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary vigorously enforces this right.
When trials are conducted in local courts, the magistrates sit alone. In higher courts, namely the state district or county courts and the state or territorial supreme courts, trials are usually conducted before a judge and jury. The jury decides on the facts and a verdict after a trial conducted by a judge.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such practices; government authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal sanction.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although there is no bill of rights, in two decisions the High Court has indicated that freedom of political discourse is implied in the Constitution. The Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although these rights are not codified in law, citizens exercise them without government restriction.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution prohibits the adoption of a state religion. Minority religions are given equal rights to land, status, and building of places of worship.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice.
The Government encourages immigration by skilled migrants, family members, and refugees.
The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, and relevant laws and regulations are in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Reugees and its 1967 Protocol. There is no provision for first asylum. In April the Government offered temporary safe haven to 4,000 Kosovar refugees. On September 1, 550 East Timorese were given similar temporary protection. In November the Government changed its policy on undocumented migrants and asylum seekers. Previously those who claimed a fear of persecution if returned to their country of origin were either issued or denied protection visas, providing for full residence and employment rights, with no intermediate measures. With the change in policy, undocumented arrivals are issued a temporary protection visa valid for 3 years only. This visa does not provide for application for family reunification and limits access to public benefits to medical assistance only. After 3 years, a case is to be reviewed, at which point a full protection visa would be issued if the person were still unable to return home.
Under the Migration Reform Act of 1994, asylum-seekers, who arrive at the border without prior authorization to enter the country, are automatically detained, but may be released from detention if they meet certain criteria – including age, ill-health, and experiences of torture or other trauma. The majority of asylum seekers are detained for the duration of the often-prolonged asylum process. The detention policy has led to extensive litigation initiated by human rights and refugee advocacy groups, which charge that the sometimes-lengthy detentions violate the human rights of the asylum seekers. The U.N. Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) stated in April 1997 that Australia had violated the rights of a boat person by detaining him for more than 4 years while his applications to remain in the country were being considered. The UNHRC stated that his detention was arbitrary and in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In an April 1997 report to Parliament, the federally funded but independent Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission also condemned the Government's treatment of asylum seekers as breaching international treaty obligations.
In 1998-99 the Government planned to accept 68,000 migrants, with an additional 12,000 admitted under the humanitarian program. This figure includes 2,000 places for those persons already in the country who are granted refugee status. As in 1997-98, the humanitarian program continues to give priority to the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East, and Africa. Persons admitted under the humanitarian program have immediate access to a wide range of government welfare and health benefits, including income support, English education, and translating and interpreting services. In 1997-98 the Government spent approximately $7 million for resettlement services for refugees.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage and mandatory voting. In October 1998, voters elected the Liberal-National Party coalition to a second 3-year term of office. On November 6, voters rejected a referendum to amend the Constitution to become a republic.
No legal impediments exist to prevent women and indigenous people from holding public office. However, historical patterns of bias against women have contributed to their underrepresentation in government and politics. Approximately 25 percent of federal parliamentarians are women, an increase from the 22 percent in the last Parliament. Both the Government and the opposition have declared their intent to increase the numbers of women elected to public office.
The deleterious effects of poor educational achievement and a generally inferior socioeconomic status have contributed significantly to the underrepresentation of Aboriginals among political leaders. One Aboriginal was elected to the Federal Senate in the October 1998 elections; there were no Aboriginals in the previous Parliament.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction (and in some instances with government funding), investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials cooperate and respond to their views. Overall complaints of discrimination dropped from 2,249 in 1996-97 to 1,522 in 1997-98, a 32 percent reduction.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law prohibits discrimination based on these factors, and the Government and an independent judiciary vigorously enforce the prohibition.
From July 1998 to June 1999, 37 cases of assault against gays and lesbians were reported in the state of New South Wales.
Social analysts and commentators estimate that domestic violence may affect as many as one family in three or four. Wife beating is particularly prevalent in certain Aboriginal communities. The Government recognizes that domestic violence and economic discrimination are serious problems and the statutorily independent Sex Discrimination Commissioner actively addresses these and other areas of discrimination. A 1996 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) study found that 111,000 women who were married or in a common-law relationship experienced an incident of violence by their partner in the previous 12 month period. Almost one in four women who have been married or in a common-law relationship have experienced violence by a partner at some time during the relationship, according to the ABS study.
Trafficking in East Asian women for the sex trade is a growing problem (see Section 6.f.).
Women have equal status under the law, and the law provides for pay equity. There are highly organized and effective private and public women's rights organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. There is a federal-level Office of the Status of Women that monitors women's rights. The federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner receives complaints and attempts to resolve those that are deemed valid. According to government statistics, sex discrimination complaints fell by 37 percent from the previous year. In August the Office of the Status of Women estimated the ratio of female to male full-time average hourly earnings was 85 percent. This was termed " the highest on record. "
The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights and welfare through its publicly funded systems of education and medical care. The Government provides rebates of approximately 10 percent of the cost of childcare to all parents and provides additional childcare subsidies to lower income families.
The federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission receives complaints and attempts to resolve those it finds valid. Similarly, the six states and two territories investigate complaints of neglect or child abuse and institute practical measures aimed at protecting the child when such complaints prove founded. The Government has enacted strict legislation aimed at restricting the trade in, and possession of, child pornography, and which further allows suspected pedophiles to be tried in Australia regardless of where the crime was committed. There is no societal pattern of abuse.
The Government and domestic NGO's have responded promptly to the problem of a small number of children who have been smuggled into the country generally for the sex trade. The NGO End Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children (ECPAT) has conducted an aggressive public education campaign to raise awareness of the issue and offer strategies to combat trafficking in children. ECPAT successfully lobbied the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) to conduct police checks of unaccompanied children entering the country to verify that they are not part of a trafficking operation (see Section 6.f.).
People with Disabilities
Legislation prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or other state services. The Disability Discrimination Commissioner promotes compliance with federal laws that prohibit discrimination against disabled persons. The Commissioner also promotes energetic implementation and enforcement of state laws that require equal access and otherwise protect the rights of disabled persons. On July 21, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that a private primary school had violated the federal Disability Discrimination Act when it refused to enroll a 7-year-old girl with spina bifada in its kindergarten program. The school is appealing the ruling through the federal courts.
No federal legislation mandates the uniform provision of accessibility for the disabled. It is lawful to deny employment or services to those with disabilities if there are reasonable grounds for believing that the disabled person would be unable to carry out the work or would require the employer or service provider to furnish services or facilities that could not reasonably be provided.
The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin. The Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs, in conjunction with the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission (ATSIC), has the main responsibility for initiating, coordinating, and monitoring all governmental efforts to improve the quality of life of indigenous people. A wide variety of government initiatives and programs seek to improve all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander life. In 1998 the Federal Government spent approximately $1.13 billion on health, welfare, education, and regional development programs targeted at assisting Aboriginal people. Spending on indigenous-specific programs is now the highest on record in real terms and in 1998 amounted to almost $14,000 annually per Aboriginal household.
However, in practice indigenous Australians continue to experience significantly higher rates of imprisonment, inferior access to medical and educational institutions, greatly reduced life expectancy rates, elevated levels of unemployment, and general discrimination, which contribute to a feeling of powerlessness.
Nationally, indigenous people are imprisoned at 21 times the rate of nonindigenous people. Over 45 percent of Aboriginal men between the ages of 20 and 30 years have been arrested at some time in their lives. The prison incarceration rate for indigenous juvenile offenders is 21 times that of nonindigenous juveniles. Indigenous groups claim that the Government's lack of response to a series of recommendations by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody contributes to these disturbing statistics. Human rights observers claim that socioeconomic conditions give rise to the common precursors of indigenous crime, e.g., unemployment, homelessness, and boredom.
Indigenous groups charge that police harassment of indigenous people including juveniles is pervasive and that racial discrimination among police and prison custodians persists. A human rights delegation that visited in 1996 alleged a pattern of mistreatment and arbitrary arrests occurring against a backdrop of systematic discrimination. Most of the juveniles interviewed complained about violence occurring after apprehension and during questioning about alleged offenses. In November 1998, the Queensland Government launched an inquiry after it was discovered that an 11-year-old Aboriginal boy had been held for 3 days in an adult detention center because no youth facility was available in that remote part of the state. Government statistics confirm the common perception among indigenous people that police systematically mistreat them. Government reports have suggested that the pursuit of economic self-determination for indigenous people would greatly assist in solving the crime problems in indigenous communities and the differences in rates of imprisonment.
The average life expectancy of an indigenous person is 20 years less than that of a nonindigenous person. The infant mortality rate for indigenous children is 3 times that of nonindigenous children. The maternal mortality rate for indigenous women is 5 times that of nonindigenous women. The incidence of illnesses such as tuberculosis, leprosy, hepatitis, and of sexually transmitted diseases is 10 times greater among indigenous people than nonindigenous people. Data indicate that 22.5 percent of indigenous children complete secondary education compared with 76.2 percent of nonindigenous children. Government statistics for 1995 show that the participation rate in university education for Aboriginals is 2.4 percent (up from 1.8 percent in 1991) compared with 2.7 percent for non-Aboriginals.
Government programs, including a $750 million indigenous land fund and a " Federal Social Justice Package, " aim at ameliorating the challenges faced by indigenous Australians. In July 1998, after a compromise with its opponents, the Government was able to pass amendments to the 1993 Native Title Act. The ATSIC stated that the amended act contains gains for Aboriginal people but still contains " substantial pain " for native title claimants. Aboriginal leaders were pleased by the removal of the time limit for lodging native title claims but expressed deep concern about the weakening of Aboriginal rights to negotiate with non-Aboriginal leaseholders over the development of rural property. Aboriginal groups continue to express concern that the amended act limits the future ability of Aboriginal people to fully protect their property rights. At present 15 percent of Australian land is owned or controlled by Aboriginal people. In March the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed serious concern about the Government's Native Title amendments and asked the Government to explain why the amendments were not racially discriminatory. In August then-ASTIC Chairman Gatjil Djerrkura asked the CERD to maintain scrutiny on the Howard Government. He claimed that the Howard Government had continued to ignore concerns raised by the CERD.
On August 26, the Government, in identical motions passed by both Houses of the Federal Parliament, expressed public regret for past mistreatment of the Aboriginal minority; however, the government-sponsored motion of reconciliation was criticized by many aboriginal leaders as not going far enough. Prime Minister Howard acknowledged the " most blemished chapter in our national history " and submitted a seven-point motion to Parliament. Howard proposed that Parliament express " its deep and sincere regret " that Aborigines had " suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel. " However, both Aboriginal and opposition leaders stated that only a full apology would be sufficient. The Government also continues to oppose an official apology in the specific case of the " Stolen Generation " of Aboriginal children, who were taken from their parents by the Government from 1910 to the early 1970's and raised by foster parents and orphanages. The Government's position remains that the present generation has no responsibility to apologize for the wrongs of a previous generation.
As of October, the Federal Government had allocated an additional $7 million over 4 years to the Link Up Program, which was created to reunite members of the Stolen Generation with their families. The ASTIC spent over $630,000 during the financial year ending June 30 on location, reunion, and counseling support for members of the Stolen Generation. Across the nation, Link Up counselors are assisting over 2,500 Aboriginal clients. The ASTIC reports that during the financial year ending June 30, it assisted the reunion of slightly more than 100 clients with their families.
Following the October 1998 reelection of the Government, Prime Minister Howard gave Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Minister Philip Ruddock additional duties with regard to Aboriginal Australians. In his victory speech following reelection, Howard said that he would make reconciliation with Aboriginals one of his second term priorities. In June the Council on Aboriginal Reconciliation released its draft document of reconciliation for public comment and discussion. Created by Parliament in 1991, the Council is to hold its culminating national event in May 2000, at which time it is to release a document of reconciliation, which is intended to serve as a national blueprint for healing between indigenous citizens and the wider community.
Although Asians make up less than 5 percent of the population, they account for 40 percent of recent immigrants. Public opinion surveys indicate growing criticism of immigration. In a survey published in 1996 by the Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao, more than half the respondents said that they had been abused verbally or physically in the previous 2 months. Leaders in the ethnic and immigrant communities expressed concern throughout the year that the nativist One Nation Party had contributed to the increasing sense of isolation and atmosphere of vilification of immigrants and minorities. However, according to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, during the financial year ending June 30, the number of racial discrimination complaints fell 37 percent from the previous year.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law and practice provide workers, including public servants, freedom of association domestically and internationally. Approximately 32 percent of the work force is unionized.
Unions carry out their functions free from government or political control, but most local affiliates belong to state branches of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Union members must make up at least 50 percent of the delegates to ALP congresses, but unions do not participate or vote as a bloc.
The 1996 Workplace Relations Act significantly restricted the right of workers to take industrial action by confining it to the period of bargaining, where it remains a protected action. In April this provision was sucessfully challenged by a union in federal court. In its decision, the court refused to grant an injunction against the union for taking industrial action outside of a bargaining period because it was in support of maintaining existing wages and conditions. The International Labor Organization (ILO) is examining whether several provisions of the Workplace Relations Act violate ILO conventions. Legislation that went into force in 1994 for the first time legalized what had always been a de facto right to strike.
Laws and regulations prohibit retribution against strikers and labor leaders, and they are effectively enforced. In practice employers tend to avoid legal remedies, e.g., secondary boycott injunctions, available to them in order to preserve a long-term relationship with their unions.
During the year, the most notable industrial action was taken by the coal miners of the Construction, Forestry and Mining Union, who struck twice, once to protest the threat to job security cased by reductions in coal prices, and a second time to protest nonpayment of entitlements following the closure of a mine. In the first action the Industrial Relations Commission ordered the strikers back to work. In the second, the Government was pressured into passing legislation to compensate workers.
Unions freely may form and join federations or confederations, and they actively participate in international bodies.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law and practice provide workers with the right to organize and bargain collectively, and the law protects them from antiunion discrimination.
The Workplace Relations Act contains curbs on union power, restrictions on strikes, and a new unfair-dismissal system. Several unions are considering challenging the law on the grounds that it violates the right to assembly provided for in several International Labor Organization conventions that Australia has signed. The primary curb on union power is the abolition of closed shops and union demarcations. Although unions are weakened, this provision could create many small and competing unions at individual worksites. The restrictions on strikes include heavy fines for labor unrest during the life of an agreement and tougher secondary-boycott provisions. The new unfair-dismissal system further limits redress and compensation claims.
The negotiation of contracts covering wages and working conditions is gradually shifting from the centralized system of the past. Previously legislation provided for the negotiation of simpler " enterprise agreements, " which were negotiated by individual companies with their workers or with the relevant union(s). The federal and state governments administered centralized minimum-wage awards and provided quasi-judicial arbitration, supplemented by industrywide or company-by-company collective bargaining. The Workplace Relations Act also provides for the negotiation of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA's) between employers and individual workers. These agreements are subject to far fewer government regulations than the awards. At present the AWA's are required to be roughly equivalent to basic working conditions in the award that would apply to the sector to which the firm belongs.
There are no export processing zones. The Darwin Trade Development Zone, Northern Territory, attempts to increase exports via a geographically defined free trade zone. In practice the Darwin initiative is focused almost exclusively on its Asian neighbors to the north and west.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Although there are no laws prohibiting it, forced labor, including forced and bonded labor by children, generally is not practiced. However, as a result of the discovery in April of children in several clothing sweatshops in Sydney and Melbourne, the Attorney General's Department is studying the existing laws and considering whether new legislation would strengthen the Government's ability to combat the problem. Most cases of abuses in the past few years have involved members of ethnic communities from nations where child labor is not uncommon.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
There is no federally mandated minimum age of employment, but state-imposed compulsory educational requirements, monitored and enforced by state educational authorities, effectively prevent most children from joining the work force until they are 15 or 16 years of age. Federal and state governments monitor and enforce a network of laws, which vary from state to state, governing the minimum school-leaving age, the minimum age to claim unemployment benefits, and the minimum age to engage in specified occupations.
The law does not explicitly prohibit forced and bonded labor by children, but such practices generally are not known to occur, although there were isolated instances of such abuses (see Section 6.c.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Although a formal minimum wage exists, it has not been relevant in wage agreements since the 1960's. Instead, 80 percent of workers are covered by differing minimum wage rates for individual trades and professions, all of which are sufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
Most workers are employees of incorporated organizations. For them, a complex body of government regulations, as well as decisions of applicable federal or state industrial relations commissions, prescribe a 40-hour or shorter workweek, paid vacations, sick leave, and other benefits. The minimum standards for wages, working hours, and conditions are set by a series of " awards " (basic contracts for individual industries). Some awards specify that workers must have a 24 or 48 hour rest break each week while others specify only the number of days off per number of days worked.
Federal or state safety laws apply to every workplace.
The Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act of 1991 provides federal employees with the legal right to cease work if they believe that particular work activities pose an immediate threat to individual health or safety. Most states and territories have laws that grant similar rights to their employees. At a minimum, private sector employees have recourse to state health and safety commissions, which will investigate complaints and demand remedial action.
f. Trafficking in Persons
Trafficking in persons is a growing problem. Each of the country's states and territories has a comprehensive set of laws designed to combat exploitative acts such as slavery, bonded labor, and prostitution (immigration and hence trafficking is a federal responsibility). In August the Federal Parliament passed the Criminal Code Amendment (Slavery and Sexual Servitude) Act 1999 to improve investigative effectiveness and ensure more uniform legal action. It contains new definitions of offenses involved in slavery, sexual servitude, and deceptive recruiting and is part of a comprehensive effort directed at eliminating these practices. The act also provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction over citizens and persons of other nationalities in certain circumstances. It includes penalties of up to 25 years' imprisonment.
Another government initiative was the Child Sex Tourism Act of 1994, which provides for the investigation and prosecution of citizens who travel overseas and engage in illegal sexual conduct with children.
Trafficking in East Asian women for the sex trade is a growing problem. Immigration and federal police have developed profiles and identified trends in the industry, but lax laws – including legalized prostitution in parts of the country – make enforcement difficult at the working level.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) have determined that women and children from Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, and South Korea are trafficked into the country for purposes of prostitution. Some of the brothels that employ these prostitutes are owned and operated by prominent organized crime figures, and connections have been made to triad societies (ethnic Chinese gangs historically headquartered in Hong Kong) such as the 14k. (These groups also are suspected of involvement in international heroin trafficking and money laundering.) The high profit potential, combined with the difficulty of detection and previously low penalties when prosecuted, has resulted in the spread of groups engaged in these activities.
While the numbers of women being brought into the country are relatively small (in the hundreds per year), they are subjected to what is essentially indentured sexual servitude. Recent investigations by DIMA found women locked in safe houses with barred windows, with no access to medical care or the outside world. These women have been lured either by the idea that they would be waitresses in restaurants or, in some cases, coerced to come by criminal elements operating in their home countries. Their movements often are controlled strictly. Some women are escorted to the various brothels and later collected and taken back to their residences until their next shift. To reduce the likelihood of all their workers being apprehended in one raid (as occurred in Sydney in 1992, with the mass arrest of 16 Asian women living at one address) organizers sometimes house the prostitutes in separate residential premises. Women have been charged up to approximately $25,000 (A$40,000) to come to the country and pay off the cost of their smuggling by performing sexual " services. " Some women also are obliged to pay off additional hidden assessments for clothing and lodging fees, and thereby are forced into continued indentured sex work. There are unconfirmed reports of punishments for women who try to escape, including executions, beatings, and transfers to more secure brothels.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that an increasing number of children, mainly from Asia, are entering the country as sex workers. The numbers of children involved and whether their entry into the sex industry is coerced is unknown. Under the laws of the various states it is illegal for an adult to have sex with a minor.
There also is evidence of a growing problem of trafficking in women to work in sweatshops in textile, clothing, and footwear industries as well as in service industries, sometimes as bonded labor.