Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Australia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Australia, 19 June 2012, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
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 is primarily a destination country for women subjected to forced prostitution and to a lesser extent, women and men subjected to forced labor. Child sex trafficking also occurs with a small number of Australian citizens, primarily teenage girls, exploited within the country, as well as some foreign victims. 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 sectors, including the sex trade. 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 Asian organized crime groups recruit Asian women to migrate to Australia, sometimes on student visas, and then subsequently coerce them into the sex trade. 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. During the year, one such syndicate relied on the established informal remittance system hawala as a means to launder its profits offshore. 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. Foreign workers in the nursing, meat processing, manufacturing, agricultural, domestic and seafaring industries, as well as international students, may be vulnerable to trafficking. During the year, NGOs and other informed observers reported that some 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 the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in placement and academic fees, as completion of courses often leads to permanent residency in the country. Some of these foreign students work in the housekeeping and restaurant industries and are subject to a restriction of working a maximum of 20 hours per week under their visas. When some were pushed by employers to exceed the terms of their visas, they faced the risk of deportation, making them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers; during the year there were reports of such exploitation in restaurants and grocery stores near Melbourne.

The Government of Australia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. During the year, the government continued to prosecute trafficking cases and obtained a conviction in one case of labor trafficking. Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigators in Human Trafficking Teams (HTT) specialized in investigating trafficking offenses as well as the online sexual exploitation of children. The government increased funding for its victim support program, and continued to provide services to victims identified in previous years; however, it identified 11 victims – six of whom had been subjected to forced labor – during the year, a decrease from 31 victims identified in the previous reporting period. The government granted 48 Permanent Witness Protection Visas to victims and their family members, which allowed them to remain in Australia permanently, and it continued to undertake robust efforts to prevent trafficking in Australia and throughout the region.

Recommendations for Australia: Finalize draft amendments to Australia's criminal code to ensure that trafficking crimes are defined so as to effectively prohibit and punish all forms of trafficking as per the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; continue to expand efforts to proactively identify, criminally prosecute, convict, and stringently sentence offenders of labor trafficking; improve efforts to coordinate and refer trafficking case information between government agencies; continue efforts to train police, local councils, health inspectors, and other front-line officers to recognize indicators of trafficking and respond to suspected cases of both sex and labor trafficking; develop and implement a formal mechanism for government agencies to refer identified cases to law enforcement officials to pursue criminal prosecutions; further strengthen efforts to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups proactively, including foreign workers, foreign students in the country, and foreign and Australian women and children in prostitution; make efforts to further improve the access of trafficking victims to opportunities to seek financial compensation and civil remedies; consider additional ways to 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; continue campaigns to raise public awareness of all forms of trafficking, including labor trafficking and internal trafficking; develop a national plan of action for combating trafficking and include indicators for measuring progress; increase efforts to reduce the demand for forced prostitution through campaigns directed at clients of the sex trade; and continue to play an active role in educating countries in the Asia-Pacific region on the important distinction between trafficking and smuggling.


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 of 12 to 25 years' imprisonment and fines of up to the equivalent of $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 and various fines; these also are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. Existing criminal laws do not adequately prohibit deceptive recruitment for labor services and offenses related to receiving and harboring trafficking victims. Current law focuses on the movement of individuals with the use of physical force or threats of physical force, and does not cover non-physical forms of coercion or the use of fraud or deceit to exploit others. In some cases, it was difficult for prosecutors to prove that the defendant who allegedly engaged in exploitation had the necessary intent to exploit the victims during their movement. In 2011, the government drafted an amendment to its criminal code to address this deficiency. This draft amendment is available for public comment and the Australian government is currently reviewing stakeholder submissions.

The AFP initiated 45 investigations during the year. As in past years, the majority of police investigations, 69 percent, were for suspected transnational sex trafficking. Labor trafficking cases were usually addressed through civil mechanisms. During the year, however, the government criminally prosecuted one case and obtained its first conviction under Division 271 of the criminal code for a forced labor offense. The convicted offender received a minimal sentence of community service and a fine. The government did not initiate any additional prosecutions during the year, a notable decrease from 13 prosecutions and five convictions during the previous year. Six cases initiated in a previous year remained pending at the close of the reporting period. The government's anti-trafficking efforts remained primarily focused on transnational sex trafficking; it has never identified or prosecuted a domestic sex trafficking offense committed against an Australian citizen or resident. AFP investigators in the HTTs specialized in investigating trafficking offenses and the online sexual exploitation of children. The government provided two weeks of human trafficking investigations training to 20 police officers from across the country in May and June 2011. No government officials were investigated, prosecuted, or convicted for trafficking or trafficking-related criminal activities during the reporting period.


The Government of Australia sustained efforts to provide protection and care to victims of trafficking over the last year, though the number of victims identified decreased from the previous reporting period. Most of the 77 victims in government care during the year were identified in a previous year. The government and NGOs identified 11 trafficking victims in 2011: five victims of sex trafficking and six victims of forced labor. In 2011, the government increased funding for its victim support program by 26 percent – to the equivalent of approximately $1.1 million – to meet increased needs among identified trafficking victims. All victims who received services during the year were foreigners; most were from Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The government's victim support program provided eligible victims of trafficking with access to accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, and counseling. For the first time, more victims of labor trafficking were identified than victims of sex trafficking. The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations; 89 percent of identified victims participated in an investigation or prosecution during the reporting period. In 2011, the government granted 48 Permanent Witness Protection (Trafficking) visas to victims and their immediate family members; permanent visas required the victims' contribution to an investigation or prosecution of an alleged trafficking offense. Victims identified by authorities were not incarcerated, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. 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. To date, there have been few claims for compensation made on behalf of trafficking victims, and there are reports that victims are not always informed about visa options available to individuals who wish to remain in Australia to pursue compensation or civil remedies.


The Government of Australia continued to demonstrate notable efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. Government anti-trafficking efforts were coordinated by the Interdepartmental Committee, chaired by the Attorney General's Department, which produced an annual report on its efforts for Parliament. In May 2011, police endorsed the Australian Policing Strategy to Combat Trafficking in Persons 2011-2013. In September 2011, the government appointed a Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, whose formal duties include efforts to end the trafficking of women and girls. The government hosted a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons in November 2011; the Special Rapporteur stated that Australia has demonstrated strong leadership in combating trafficking in persons, but needs to increase victim support as well as efforts to combat labor trafficking. In May 2011, the government convened the first Senior Officials' Meeting, to supplement the National Roundtable on People Trafficking, a mechanism for coordinating among its agencies, NGOs, unions, and industry bodies. Human trafficking units within the Australian Federal Police hosted a training seminar in April 2011 for 50 governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, which resulted in the formation of local human trafficking community groups that held stakeholder meetings in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. The government continued to provide the equivalent of $600,000 a year to fund the Australian Institute of Criminology to analyze human trafficking trends in Australia and the region, as well as four NGOs to provide pro bono legal services to trafficking victims, direct support for victims, and raise community awareness of trafficking. The Ministry for Home Affairs and Justice awarded the equivalent of more than $500,000 from confiscated criminal assets to fund five NGOs to implement projects to raise awareness of labor trafficking among vulnerable groups; these programs are scheduled to be implemented in future years. The Fair Work Ombudsman continued to conduct awareness campaigns and pursue efforts through the courts for workplace violations such as underpayment of wages; however, none of the cases it investigated were referred to the AFP or the Department of Immigration and Citizenship for criminal investigation of potential forced labor. 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. The Australian Institute of Criminology released several reports throughout the year on trafficking in persons, including reports focused on the trafficking of children in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia's Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme, and vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons in the Pacific islands.

Australia is a regional leader in combating trafficking in persons. 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 continued to fund anti-trafficking activities in the Asia-Pacific region, including efforts to improve criminal justice systems to address trafficking, enhance efforts to identify and protect child soldiers, and implement anti-trafficking public awareness programs. In 2011, the government provided assistance to Cambodian authorities to prosecute and convict an Australian child sex offender; officials in Australia prosecuted two cases of alleged child sex tourism offenses, but did not obtain any convictions of such cases during the year. The government did not take significant steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor 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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