Crimes Legislation (Slavery and People Trafficking) Bill 2012
The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 is a significant piece of legislation that provides much-needed amendments to the Criminal Code, most critically in the areas of slavery-like practices, forced marriage and organ trafficking.
This is important legislation and I am particularly proud to be speaking on this bill today. There are amendments here that are of great consequence. However, I want to talk first about the way this bill addresses the evils of forced organ donations and organ trafficking. The shortage of organ donors in Australia and worldwide has been well documented and this shortage has created an evil black market in organ trafficking. This illegal trade preys on, and exploits, the vulnerable and the poor. Although it is a criminal offence to traffic a person to remove an organ, we know that this abominable trade exists. As a vocal and passionate campaigner for organ and tissue donation, I am pleased that these amendments will make clear the specific circumstances in which an organ related offence will apply.
There are thriving criminal operations trafficking human organs because of the shortage of organ donors worldwide and the increasing demands for organs, given the medical advances in donor replacement. That is why we need more organ donors and to continue the incredible work of those who raise awareness of organ and tissue donation here in Australia. I am the current chair of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Organ and Tissue Donation here in Parliament House. I set up the group when I was elected in 2010, having spent three or four years on the board of the Gift of Life Foundation here in Canberra. The member for Brisbane was deputy chair and we managed to have a few events that were highly successful in terms of raising awareness amongst our parliamentary colleagues of organ and tissue donation and also of the misinformation that exists in the community about what actually happens when people die and what actually happens in the whole process of organ and tissue donation. I think we did a pretty good job of that, and I miss the member for Brisbane being involved in the parliamentary friends group, but now look forward to her colleague, the member for Higgins, following in her footsteps.
In that time on the Gift of Life Foundation board, I was involved in a major transformation and reform of organ and tissue donation here in Australia. The former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, invested $150 million in completely revamping the way that Australia manages organ and tissue donation, and I was involved in those really early days of establishing what it meant and how it was going to work, and most importantly, on the communication and education programs. That $150 million has gone into a range of activities in terms of streamlining the process, providing clinicians on site and boosting the ability of us to conduct transplants. As a former speaker mentioned, Australia is a world leader in organ and tissue donation transplants; we are the world's best practice. Unfortunately, we have significantly low numbers of people donating their organs and tissues, and one of the major elements of that investment in the $150 million, apart from the streamlining of the processes and enhancing the medical teams and abilities, was conducting significant and broad-reaching education and community communication programs.
We have seen two tranches of those programs roll out. One is the It's OK program, but the most recent one is about the fact that you need to have the conversation with your family to let them know your intentions if you do want to become an organ and tissue donor. It is vitally important because, unfortunately, once you have passed on, families can overturn your decision. So it is really important that you let them know that you are very strongly committed to being an organ and tissue donor and that you want those wishes fulfilled once you have passed on. That is vitally important.
I know, as a result of that campaign and also from the work that we have done here in Canberra, that a number of school students throughout Canberra—particularly from schools that have been involved in the Terry Connolly walk we do around the lake every year to celebrate organ and tissue donation week—have been having conversations with their parents about making their intentions clear and also discussing what their parents want to do.
So the students, our young Australians, are in a way actually 'managing up' this conversation on organ and tissue donation. It is vitally important, and it would be nice if it were a two-way conversation—with our children having the conversation with their parents and the parents having the conversation with their children.
Once you have passed on, it is really up to the family to make the decision, so you may need to make your intentions clear that you want to be an organ and tissue donor. I really applaud recent moves by the New South Wales government. There has been a great deal of confusion as a result of what actually constitutes you signifying your intention. Apart from having the conversation, a lot of people have cards that they get from Medicare. In New South Wales they have had for many, many years, I understand, a system whereby when you get your driver's licence you can sign up to be an organ and tissue donor. People were under the impression that they had actually given consent to be an organ and tissue donor through their New South Wales licence, but it had no real force. That is why we keep coming back to the need to have the conversation with members of your family and let your intentions be known.
We have a very strong community here that is very active in organ and tissue donation and raising awareness about it. As I mentioned before, Terry Connolly, who was a former judge here and a former Attorney-General in the ACT, unfortunately died riding up Red Hill when he was only 50, and he donated his corneas. It was a significant donation and one that really resonated with the community and raised awareness amongst the legal community as well as other parts of the Public Service and the school community that I just highlighted.
I have seen reports suggesting that up to 10 per cent of kidney transplants are carried out with illegally obtained kidneys. Organs Watch, an organisation that monitors the illegal traffic of organs, has estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 illegally-trafficked-kidney operations occur each year. That is a significant number. Obviously the most effective way to end the unlawful trade in organs is to drastically increase the number of people leaving their organs for donation. However, as we work towards this goal, we must also provide the tools to prevent the trafficking of illegally obtained organs.
The previous speaker's comments on organ and tissue donation are to be applauded. But the reason that Spain is such a world leader in terms of organ and tissue donation is that they have a very different system to ours. So, in a way, it is comparing apples and oranges. That said, compared to other countries that have a similar system to Australia, we are still way behind. So we do need to make significant improvements. We are improving as a result of the reform program we introduced, but we still need to do a lot more.
The measures contained in this bill provide law enforcement agencies with the necessary mechanisms to investigate and prosecute crimes such as organ trafficking and other exploitative actions. We know that as enforcement agencies begin to close loopholes and prosecute criminal behaviour, people engaged in organ trafficking, as well as those involved in barbaric, slavery-like practices, will look for ways to escape detection. After widespread consultation, the government is now introducing amendments that seek to establish new offences and extend the application of existing offences, along with measures designed to amend existing definitions that address other forms of coercion and oppression. The stand-alone offence of organ trafficking will clarify the circumstances in which an organ related offence will apply.
Another very important component of these amendments is the establishment of new offences dealing with forced marriage. We have been made aware that forced marriage does sometimes occur in Australia and we know this is not always reported. That is why specific criminalisation of this practice is necessary. It must be stressed that these amendments in no way target consensual religious or cultural marriages. These amendments talk about 'forced' marriages. For me, as a woman, I think slavery and forced marriages are probably my worst nightmare.
It is one of those things where, if my nieces or my godchildren travel overseas, I am always worried sick about something—more the slavery than anything else—like that happening. I know that is an extreme reaction to one of my nieces or godchildren travelling overseas, but it is one of my worst nightmares. We see those movies where women are corralled into packing cases, ready to be farmed off as sex slaves or slaves of other kinds. It is a woman's worst nightmare; hence my compulsion to speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012 today. As a woman, the thought of that actually happening is my greatest fear. I really fear for it happening to my godchildren and my nieces.
Repression of women and taking away their freedom is the denial of the most basic human right. With respect to the forced marriage issue, so too is the right to choose a partner and the right to marry, free from compulsion and intimidation. So many women throughout the world do not share the same rights that we have in Australia, rights that we take for granted.
In closing, another important amendment contained in this bill provides clarification of issues around the use of consent as a defence. We are talking here about truly despicable and heinous crimes, including suppressing someone's free will and their ability to make their own decisions. The amendments to this bill provide clarification so that defendants cannot escape liability if their actions lead to a victim acquiescing to his or her treatment.
The bill further addresses another and related crime, that of debt bondage. The government recognises that current penalties do not adequately indicate how serious the offence of debt bondage really is. There are measures here that indicate the seriousness of offences related to debt bondage, a practice we know can result in slavery-like practices and the suppression of basic rights and freedoms, particularly for women.
Overall, the amendments contained in this bill are designed to address both the overt and more subtle forms of coercion and exploitation, including psychological oppression and the abuse of power or a person's vulnerability. The amendments in this bill will protect the most vulnerable and will enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies to prosecute those who commit these most serious crimes. I commend the bill to the House.