October 2014

Religious lobby politicians about human trafficking

Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) members converged on Parliament House in Canberra recently for an advocacy operation that saw them meet 79 members of parliament, senators and advisors to raise key issues on behalf of trafficked women.

Good Samaritan Sister Sarah Puls was part of the advocacy team and said that while no quick solutions were promised, there were many positive outcomes.

“There are no quick answers often in this area, but relationship building is important,” Sarah said.

“Basically we invited everyone, all the MPs and senators, to meet with us and then we also targeted the people we particularly wanted to meet, the people who have particular responsibility in these areas.

“I think we had a good response rate because, over the years, ACRATH has developed a reputation for having good advocacy skills. We are clear about the things we are asking for, we are respectful, and many of us actually have first-hand experience of working with people who have been trafficked.”

Among the issues the ACRATH group raised with the politicians they met was the question of financial support for people who have experienced trafficking. At the moment, financial support is linked to participation in the criminal justice system. However, some people who have been trafficked find that because of a range of issues, including their safety or the safety of their families, they feel unable to give evidence against traffickers, and subsequently find themselves cut off from financial support.

Other issues discussed included access to quality English classes for victims of trafficking at all stages of their journey; review of the schemes for provision of financial compensation for victims of human trafficking crimes (people trafficking is a federal crime, but compensation schemes are state-based); changes to the names of visas available for people who have experienced trafficking to avoid unjust discrimination or labelling; and ensuring that the 457 visa scheme is not undermined by people traffickers holding vulnerable people to ransom.

The ACRATH advocates also requested action from the government on the issue of slavery in the supply chain of goods being imported into Australia.

In one positive outcome, Senator Chris Ketter (QLD, ALP) rose to speak in the Senate on the ACRATH visit and the issues raised during debate on changes to the social security system.

Sarah said the politicians and advisors they met with were generous with their time and supportive of the ACRATH agenda.

“Let’s face it, nobody is in favour of human trafficking,” she said. “Everyone wants to do something about this issue, but they don’t know how. So to have a group turn up in Canberra and say ‘this is what you can do’ is very powerful.

“It’s also very powerful to have some of us who actually work in the area of supporting these people be able to tell the politicians we meet that ‘I know this person and this is how current policy affects a real person’.”

Sarah said political advocacy is a challenge, but also a reminder of how hard members of parliament work.

“I’m always really struck by how committed they are. They’re very dedicated servants of the people and part of what we do is about being open to what they can teach us as well.”

The wider community is also being encouraged to get involved in advocacy through an upcoming project.

Now is the time when supermarket chains are making decisions about the Easter eggs they will stock for 2015 and ACRATH are inviting people to write to their local supermarkets to ask for slavery-free options, Sarah said.

Anyone who wishes to get involved can find information and sample letters here.

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