Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Australia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Australia, 27 June 2011, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis 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 (Tier 1)

Australia is primarily a destination country for women subjected to forced prostitution, and, to a lesser extent, women and men in forced labor and children in sex trafficking. It is also a source country for a small number of child victims of sex trafficking, primarily teenage girls, within the country. Some women from Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, China, and, to a lesser extent, India, Vietnam, Eastern Europe, and Africa, migrate to Australia voluntarily intending to work legally or illegally in a number of employment sectors, including prostitution. Subsequent to their arrival, however, some of these women are coerced into prostitution in both legal and illegal brothels. There were news reports that some brothels are run by Asian organized crime groups that arrange for Asian women to travel, sometimes on student visas, to work in brothels. The women and girls are sometimes held in captivity, subjected to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulated through illegal drugs, and obliged to pay off unexpected or inflated debts to their traffickers. Some victims of sex trafficking have also been exploited in domestic servitude.

Men and women from several Pacific Islands, India, China, South Korea, and the Philippines are recruited to work temporarily in Australia. After their arrival, some are subjected by unscrupulous employers and labor agencies to forced labor in agriculture, horticulture, construction, cleaning, hospitality, manufacturing, and other sectors, such as domestic service. They face confiscation of their travel documents, confinement on the employment site, threats of physical harm, and debt bondage through inflated debts imposed by employers or labor agencies. Most often, traffickers are part of small but highly sophisticated organized crime networks that frequently involve family and business connections between Australians and overseas contacts. Some traffickers attempted to hide their foreign victims from official notice or prevented victims from receiving assistance by abusing the legal system in order to create difficulties for victims who contact authorities for help. An Australian Institute of Criminology report on labor trafficking released by the government during the year, noted instances of unreported and unrecognized labor trafficking, seen through the vulnerability of 457 visa holders, nurses, workers in the meat, manufacturing, and agriculture industries, domestic workers, international students, and seafarers. During the year, there were increased reports by NGOs and other informed observers that individuals on student visas, typically from Asia, became victims of forced labor and forced prostitution in Australia. There are over 450,000 foreign students in Australia, many of whom spend up to tens of thousands of dollars in placement and academic fees, as completion of courses often leads to permanent residency in the country. Some in the housekeeping and restaurant industries are subject to a restriction of working a maximum of 20 hours per week under their visas. When asked to work for more than 20 hours, they face risk of losing their visas, making them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

The Government of Australia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. During the year, the government prosecuted and convicted five trafficking offenders. Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigators in the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams (TSETT) specialized in investigating trafficking offenses as well as child sex tourism and the online sexual exploitation of children. The government reported identifying and assisting 31 suspected victims of trafficking, a notable decrease from 57 suspected victims identified during the previous reporting period. The Australian government's support program offered to foreign victims during the year included an option for long-term residence and care; authorities granted Permanent Witness Protection Visas to 20 such victims and nine of their family members, which allowed them to remain in Australia permanently. Authorities also continued a long-term trafficking research project that resulted in the publication of a number of papers on the trafficking situation in Australia. The government published discussion papers on the criminal justice response to trafficking and forced marriage, and sustained partnerships with NGOs in order to evaluate objectively its own anti-trafficking activities in these areas.

Recommendations for Australia: Conduct a review of the Criminal Code and overall legal framework to ensure that laws enable the government to effectively prohibit and prosecute all forms of trafficking; expand efforts to proactively identify, criminally prosecute, and convict offenders of labor trafficking; improve efforts to coordinate and refer trafficking case information between government agencies; increase efforts to train police, local councils, health inspectors, and other front-line officers to recognize and respond to both sex and labor trafficking cases; increase efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as foreign workers, foreign students in the country, and foreign and Australian women and children in prostitution; make efforts to improve the access of trafficking victims to opportunities to seek financial compensation and civil remedies; consider ways to better streamline and expedite visa processes for trafficking victims; ensure that victims of trafficking and vulnerable populations are informed about their legal rights under Australian immigration and labor law; conduct a campaign to raise public awareness in local communities of trafficking outside of the sex industry, including labor trafficking and internal trafficking; increase efforts to reduce the demand for forced prostitution through campaigns directed at clients of the sex trade; play a more active role in educating countries in the Asia-Pacific region on the important distinction between trafficking and smuggling; and consider appointing an Ambassador dedicated to addressing human trafficking issues worldwide.


The Government of Australia continued anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the last year. Australia prohibits sex and labor trafficking and trafficking-related offenses through Divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code, which prescribe maximum penalties from 12 to 25 years' imprisonment and fines of up to $152,000. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The Migration (Employer Sanctions Amendment) Act of 2007 prohibits exploiting migrant employees through forced labor, sexual servitude, or slavery, and prescribes penalties of up to five years' imprisonment or various fines that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. However, there was widespread concern expressed by civil society, acknowledged in the government's labor trafficking report published during the year, that existing laws focus on the movement of individuals with the use of physical force or threats of physical force, and do not cover non-physical forms of coercion and use of fraud or deceit to exploit persons. In some cases, it was difficult or impossible for prosecutors to prove that the person allegedly engaged in exploitation had the necessary intention to exploit that person during their movement. NGOs also note that existing criminal laws do not adequately prohibit deceptive recruitment for labor services, offenses related to receiving and harboring trafficking victims, and some non-physical forms of coercion in trafficking crimes, and do not comply with Australia's obligations under the UN TIP Protocol.

While there were increased concerns and reports regarding forced labor in Australia, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) reported 38 investigations related to human trafficking during the year, 70 percent of which were for forced prostitution. Five sex trafficking offenders were convicted of trafficking-related offenses in Divisions 270 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act of 1995, and sentenced to between two and 12 years' imprisonment; one of these convictions is currently under appeal. There were seven additional trafficking-related matters before Australian courts at the end of the reporting period involving eight defendants. Three of these cases were appeals of previous convictions and one is an ongoing prosecution for labor trafficking. During the year, the government did not convict any offenders of labor trafficking. To date, there have only been three prosecutions of slavery outside the sex industry. Remedies for many labor trafficking cases were achieved through industrial or civil mechanisms, but authorities failed to file criminal prosecutions in these cases. The government has never identified or prosecuted a trafficking offense committed against an Australian citizen or resident and occurring within the country. AFP investigators in the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams specialized in investigating trafficking offenses as well as child sex tourism and the online sexual exploitation of children. Many front-line agencies, including state and territory police, and in some jurisdictions, labor inspectors and unions, do not have adequate awareness of the relevance of the federal anti-trafficking response to their daily work.


The Government of Australia continued efforts to provide protection and care to victims of trafficking over the last year. The Government provided $885,000 to its Victim Support Program in 2010, through which it identified and assisted a total of 31 people, 20 of whom were suspected victims of sex trafficking, and  11 of whom were suspected victims of forced labor. Eight of the 31 suspected victims were men, and all identified victims were foreigners. This was a decrease from the 57 suspected victims assisted during the previous year. The government's victim support program provided eligible victims of trafficking with access to accommodation, financial assistance, legal advice, training, and social support. Authorities reported identifying an increasing number of victims in sectors outside of the sex industry, including in agriculture, construction, hospitality, domestic service, and recreation. Since 2004, approximately 15 percent of the victims who received services under the Program were victims of human trafficking that did not involve the sex trade; 11 of the 15 were identified during the reporting period.

There are numerous structural difficulties that prevent people from seeking or accessing help or assistance; in many cases, individuals only seek help once their situation deteriorates to such an extent that they literally could not remain in that situation either because of serious injury or fear about their personal safety. Identified victims were provided with accommodation, living expenses, legal aid, health services, and counseling. Most victims identified were from Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, and China. The government granted 20 victims, plus nine of their immediate family members, Permanent Witness Protection (Trafficking) visas, which required the victims' contribution to an investigation or prosecution of an alleged trafficking offense. NGOs and service providers expressed concerns that victims of trafficking who were involved in cases that would not likely result in the prosecution of a trafficking offender did not have adequate access to victim support services, and that services designed to support victims and provide them with visas were in practice often linked closely to the ability of prosecutors to pursue cases against their traffickers.

Officials followed formal procedures for proactively identifying victims involved in the legal sex trade, and referred them for services, though efforts to identify and assist victims of forced labor could be improved. The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations, and granted selected victims visas to enable them to remain in Australia and support the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses. Victims identified by authorities were not incarcerated, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. To date, there have been few claims for compensation made on behalf of trafficking victims, and victims are not always informed about visa options available to individuals who wish to remain in Australia to pursue compensation or civil remedies, and what those options are.


The Government of Australia continued to demonstrate efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. In November 2010, the government convened the third annual National Roundtable on People Trafficking, a mechanism for coordinating among its agencies, NGOs, unions, and industry bodies. The government continued to fund the Australian Institute of Criminology $600,000 a year to analyze trends in human trafficking in Australia and the region. During the year, the government announced that it would fund a total of $1.4 million to four NGOs to provide pro bono legal services to trafficking victims, direct support for victims, and raise community awareness of trafficking. The government also reported that $200,000 from confiscated criminal assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act of 2002 would be put towards labor trafficking protection and prevention efforts. The Fair Work Ombudsman continued to pursue efforts through the courts for workplace violations such as underpayment of wages; however, it was unknown whether any of its investigations led to criminal investigations for forced labor. During the year, the government published factsheets on identifying and acting on labor trafficking cases for its employees and employers. In 2007-2008, the government committed $38.3 million over four years for anti-trafficking activities. The government also published papers on forced and servile marriage and the criminal justice response to trafficking, and undertook public consultations with the goal of improving government efforts in these areas. Officials continued to include the "Travel Smart: Hints for Australian Travelers," brochure with all passport issuances, which highlights Australian trafficking and child sex crime laws and details for reporting a possible violation of the child sex laws to the AFP.

Australia is a regional leader in combating trafficking in persons. During the year, some observers believed that the Australian government's engagement with governments in the region seemed to emphasize people smuggling at the expense of trafficking in persons. At times, this impression was deleterious to efforts to improve anti-trafficking responses in the region. Australian diplomats and consular personnel received training on their obligations to report extraterritorial offenses of serious crimes, including child sex crimes and trafficking in persons. The government provided substantial funding for law enforcement training, victim assistance programs, and prevention activities throughout Southeast Asia. The Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), continued to fund anti-trafficking activities in the Asia-Pacific Region, including efforts to improve criminal justice systems to address trafficking, conduct child protection workshops for hotel staff overseas, and anti-trafficking public awareness programs. In 2010, five Australian offenders of child sex tourism in Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, and Singapore were convicted and sentenced to between one and four years' imprisonment. The government did not take significant steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts aimed at clients of the sex trade during the reporting period. The Australian government educated troops and police officers on human trafficking prior to their deployments on international peacekeeping missions.

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