In a bid to crackdown on human trafficking and domestic violence in the country, Australian parliament today passed a legislation giving more power to the police to investigate such cases.

The legislation, cleared by the Senate, will empower the police and help them in investigating cases of forced labour, human trafficking and forced marriage, by making them criminal offences.

It also extends the law to cover all forms of deceptive recruitment and increases penalties for debt bondage.

Labor senator John Faulkner said slavery existed in Australia in sectors such as hospitality, construction and agriculture apart from domestic situations, Australian news agency AAP reported.

Faulkner cited a case in the ‘New South Wales Blue Mountains’ area where a restaurateur was prosecuted after he was accused of exploiting an Indian national, whom he had promised to provide a better life following his arrival in Sydney.

“This individual’s travel documents were seized and he was forced to work hours on end without pay as a kitchen hand, accommodated only in a backyard tin shed,” he said.

Faulkner said the anti-slavery bill recognised that slavery remained a reality in Australia today.

“This bill will ensure more investigations, simpler trials, and swifter convictions for those involved in such appalling exploitation and denial of liberty,” he said.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young expressed that the legislation be expanded to give criminal punishment to those people who intentionally take sexual services from a trafficked woman.

“If it is a crime to put women into these circumstances, which it should be, it should also be a crime to knowingly use that service. Otherwise we’re simply turning a blind eye to why these services are even able to continue,” she said.

Meanwhile, Shadow attorney-general George Brandis raised concerns that the presumption of innocence had been abolished for those accused of forced marriage.

“There is no doubt that forced marriage is akin to slavery,” But, there are many practises against which we as a society set our faces without abolishing the fundamental rights of an accused person,” he added.

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-Like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 passed the Senate without amendments and now awaits royal assent.

(This article was published on February 27, 2013)
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