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2 years ago
Today, leading experts from Australia’s border security, migration, primary industry and workplace rights sectors met in Canberra to discuss the troubling issue of criminal syndicates and labour hire companies using failures in Australia’s migration and asylum system to traffic exploited workers to Australia.    
Roundtable participants discussed that:  
  1. Australia has experienced an explosion in the number of people claiming asylum after arriving into Australia through our nation’s airports, principally on valid tourist or student visas – with more than 81,000 people arriving at airports and applying for asylum since 1 July 2014 to 31 January 2019.  
  2. There’s nothing wrong with claiming asylum – it’s an important right. However, in more than 90 per cent of these particular cases, the individuals are not legitimate refugees and are often being trafficked to Australia for the explicit purpose of being exploited.  
  3. These individuals are often forced to work – most often in horticulture, hospitality, cleaning, hair and beauty or sexual servitude – and exploited through wage theft, assault, and even slavery. 
  4. Australia does not have a sound understanding of the extent to which this wage theft, assault, and slavery is permeating through our society, and through supply chains.
  5. Individuals can spend up to 15 years in Australia on various visas and waiting for their claims to be processed by the Department of Home Affairs and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). 
  6. People smugglers and criminal syndicates have seized on the timeframes it takes for the Department of Home Affairs and the AAT to process these claims, which has led to this explosion in numbers.  
  7. Criminal syndicates and unscrupulous labour hire companies can earn tens of millions of dollars as they smuggle and exploit these individuals while they are in Australia.  
  8. While in Australia, workers are exposed to numerous breaches of industrial law. Often workers know they are being ripped-off but are too afraid of speaking up for fear of retribution by criminal syndicates, unscrupulous labour hire companies and the Department of Home Affairs. 
  9. While Australia has a Modern Slavery Act, the thresholds for convictions for human trafficking and modern slavery are too high. 
  10. It is very common for workers to be paid in cash, leading to a substantial loss of tax revenue to the Commonwealth.  
  11. This explosion in exploitation has developed following failures by the Morrison Government to detect and act on the change in business model by people smugglers – moving from boats to planes.  
  12. The use of planes by people smugglers is not new. People smugglers have tested Australia’s border security by plane for more than twenty years. However, in the past, the former Department of Immigration has been quick to act – often limiting the number of people smuggled into Australia to just a few hundred before the Department worked to shutdown these networks.  
  13. Farmers and the wider horticultural industry feel increasingly vulnerable, powerless, and even at breaking point, and that Australia’s visa system is failing them, yet they are being held ultimately responsible.
  14. Similarly, the reputation of the registered migration agent sector is being tarnished as unregulated and unregistered operators game the visa system, with no substantial response from the Department of Home Affairs. 
  15. Key industry participants have been calling on the Government to act for some time, including the consideration of the introduction of an agricultural visa, given the limitations of the Seasonal Worker Program and an ongoing structural worker shortage for the wider horticultural industry.  
  16. Incrementally and without proper debate, Australia is developing a two-tier society with a growing cohort of undocumented people and temporary migrants who are being exploited, leading to the serious undermining of Australia social cohesion and prosperity. A holistic response from industry, unions, civil society and Government is required to address this issue.  
Participants agreed that these issues are complex and future roundtables are required to further understand the issue of workers being trafficked into Australia and exploited – as well as migration and visa policy response options.  
Immigration and Border Protection