Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 - Country Narratives - Australia


The Government of Australia fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore, Australia remained on Tier 1. The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by increasing investigations of suspected trafficking cases, identifying and referring more victims to the government-funded support program, and implementing changes to its visa policies intended to better address the needs of foreign trafficking victims. Although the government meets the minimum standards, screening procedures for indicators of labor trafficking among vulnerable groups remained insufficient. Authorities did not obtain any convictions under the trafficking provisions of the criminal code for the third consecutive year; courts convicted only one trafficker for dealing in proceeds of a crime under Division 400 of the criminal code, but fully suspended his sentence.


Further strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, with increased focus on labor trafficking, and convict and stringently sentence sex and labor traffickers; increase efforts to train police and other front-line officers to recognize indicators of trafficking and respond to suspected cases of both sex and labor trafficking; increase training for prosecutors and judges on Australian trafficking laws; continue to strengthen efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as undocumented migrants or workers filing civil grievances; ensure initial screening interviews with potential victims are conducted in a safe and neutral location, and in the presence of a social service professional; increase funding to NGOs for robust victim protection services; consider establishing a national compensation scheme for trafficking victims; continue to implement or fund awareness campaigns, particularly among rural communities and migrant populations; strengthen efforts to prosecute and convict Australian child sex tourists; increase efforts to investigate and hold accountable foreign diplomats posted in Australia suspected of complicity in trafficking; and develop a targeted campaign to raise awareness among clients of the legal commercial sex industry about the links between prostitution and trafficking.


The government increased investigations, but convicted only one trafficker. Divisions 270 and 271 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code prohibit sex and labor trafficking and trafficking-related offenses and prescribe maximum penalties of 12 to 25 years imprisonment and fines of up to 197,000 Australian dollars ($142,238). These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The criminal code also prohibits forced labor and prescribes penalties of nine years imprisonment, and the Migration Act of 2007 prohibits exploitation of migrant workers through forced labor, sexual servitude, or slavery, and prescribes penalties of up to five years imprisonment and various fines. Under the law, prosecutors cannot recommend prison sentences—a factor that may contribute to insufficient penalties for traffickers prosecuted under lesser criminal charges.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigated 105 cases of alleged trafficking and related offenses, an increase from 61 cases investigated in 2015; roughly a third were suspected forced marriage cases, and the government did not report how many involved sex or labor trafficking. The government initiated prosecutions of four defendants for suspected labor trafficking offenses and one defendant for suspected sex trafficking offenses, compared to four prosecutions in 2015 and nine in 2014. Authorities continued prosecutions from previous reporting periods against three individuals suspected of forced labor offenses. One individual allegedly subjected 23 foreign nationals to forced labor and was charged with “causing a person to remain in servitude.” In a separate case, authorities initiated the prosecution of two individuals for the alleged long-term exploitation of a foreign national brought to Melbourne in 2007 to perform domestic labor. The government opened one investigation into alleged labor trafficking in the household of a foreign diplomat, but reported being unable to pursue prosecution due to diplomatic immunity provisions.

For the third consecutive year, the government did not convict any sex or labor traffickers under the trafficking provisions in the criminal code. In 2016, authorities convicted one sex trafficker on the lesser offense of dealing in proceeds of a crime under division 400 of the criminal code and fully suspended the prescribed prison sentence; this was a decrease from six convictions in 2015, also under lesser charges, culminating in prison sentences for five offenders. The courts also convicted three defendants for traveling overseas to engage in child sex tourism, compared to one in 2015. Authorities often opted to pursue labor or employment violations in lieu of trafficking charges due to a perception that it could increase the success rate of prosecutions; however, offenders often faced only civil penalties. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government-funded and facilitated training on trafficking investigations, legal provisions, and victim support for 26 police and immigration officers.


The government slightly increased efforts to protect trafficking victims. Authorities identified 36 potential victims, including 22 for sex trafficking and forced labor, and 14 for which the form of exploitation was unclear, compared with 35 in 2015. Authorities provided accommodation, living expenses, legal advice, health services, vocational training, and counseling to 83 victims—including some identified in previous years—through the support program, for which the government continued to allocate approximately one million Australian dollars ($722,021). Only AFP had the legal authority to refer victims to the support program; NGOs provided services for additional victims who were either not formally recognized by AFP or who chose not to communicate with law enforcement. The government also repatriated six potential Australian trafficking victims from abroad, three of whom were returned to Australia to receive protective services through this program, compared to one in 2015. There were no government-run shelters for trafficking victims; one known trafficking-specific shelter run by an NGO received funding from an NGO operating partially on government funding to accommodate participants in the Support Program. In 2016, the government reported providing temporary stay visas to 33 foreign trafficking victims, compared to 29 the previous year, although it did not report how many of these constituted cases of forced marriage. The government began implementing visa policy reforms enacted in 2015 intended to address the needs of foreign trafficking victims, such as by extending access to its adult migrant English programs, which in prior years were only available to permanent visa holders. These services were provided to 11 trafficking victims in Australia on temporary stay visas during the reporting period. It also granted to six victims and their immediate family members referred stay (permanent) visas, compared to four in 2015, which required victims to assist with an investigation or prosecution of a trafficking offense. Victims identified by authorities were not detained, fined, or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, given underdeveloped screening efforts among vulnerable populations, some unidentified victims may have been arrested, prosecuted, or deported.

The government made limited efforts to identify and refer victims of forced labor to services; authorities did not routinely screen for indicators of labor trafficking among vulnerable groups, but established new mechanisms for doing so. Authorities identified most victims through the efforts of joint agencies, taskforces, and cooperative action with foreign governments. Some victims may have been reluctant to communicate with law enforcement officers due to fear of detainment and deportation. The government did not ensure social service professionals were present during initial screening interviews, although procedures were in place for law enforcement officials to bring them in at their discretion. Although the government expanded certain benefit schemes for trafficking victims, it did not have a centralized victim compensation system.


The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. It continued implementation of its five-year national action plan to combat trafficking, launched in 2014, and created new interagency and regional taskforces, working groups, and other mechanisms for the purpose of expanding the scope of its research on, and strengthening its ability to respond to, trafficking offenses. In furtherance of the national action plan, the Australian Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery delivered its annual report on government anti-trafficking efforts to Parliament in December 2016. The government continued to fund anti-trafficking initiatives and deliver trainings in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. In May 2016, the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) established the Migrant Worker Strategy and Engagement Branch to coordinate and develop strategies for engagement, education, and compliance activities focusing on workplace rights and entitlements in migrant worker communities. In April 2016, the FWO introduced an online platform to facilitate the anonymous reporting of labor law violations. It continued to conduct awareness-raising campaigns on migrant workers’ rights and pursued and concluded long-term inquiries into potential labor abuses committed against migrant workers in the retail and hospitality industries, although none of these appeared to culminate in trafficking victim referrals or investigations. The government also facilitated training on trafficking in persons for 535 immigration officials during the reporting period. The government continued to publish materials for passport applicants outlining the application of Australian child sexual exploitation and child sex tourism laws to Australians overseas. In 2016, authorities convicted three defendants for traveling to other countries to engage in child sex tourism, compared to one in 2015, with sentences ranging from six months imprisonment to five years and three months imprisonment. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, but it created a ministerial labor exploitation working group and migrant workers taskforce aimed at reducing the demand for forced labor. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade conditioned the departure of diplomatic personnel to overseas posts on compliance with Australia’s anti-trafficking legislation, and the government provided anti-trafficking training to military and law enforcement personnel prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions.


As reported over the last five years, Australia is primarily a destination country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking and for women and men subjected to forced labor. A small number of children, primarily teenage Australian and foreign girls, are subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Some women from Asia and—to a lesser extent—Eastern Europe and Africa migrate to Australia to work legally or illegally in a number of sectors, including commercial sex. After their arrival, some of these women are coerced to enter or remain in prostitution. Some foreign women—and sometimes girls—are held in captivity, subjected to physical and sexual violence and intimidation, manipulated through illegal drugs, obliged to pay off unexpected or inflated debts to traffickers, or otherwise deceived about working arrangements. Some victims of sex trafficking and some women who migrate to Australia for arranged marriages are subjected to domestic servitude. Unscrupulous employers and labor agencies subject some men and women from Asia and several Pacific Islands recruited to work temporarily in Australia to forced labor in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic service. Some identified victims are foreign citizens on student visas who pay significant placement and academic fees. Unscrupulous employers coerce students to work in excess of the terms of their visas, making them vulnerable to trafficking due to fears of deportation for immigration violations. Some foreign diplomats allegedly subject domestic workers to forced labor in Australia.