The Freedom Partnership is working towards an Australia free of modern slavery, writes David Goodwin.
For most of us, when we think of the social issues facing Australia the word slavery wouldn’t be the first thing that leaps to mind. It seems like something from the history books, or at least for countries far away or much less developed.
It’s probably associated in our minds with images from movies of cramped boats filled with people in chains, or with work gangs labouring under the threat of a whip-cracking overseer. Whatever it is that we think of when it comes slavery, it is unlikely to be here and now—it’s a problem we can feel separated from by time or distance.
But the shocking truth is that slavery is not a problem that has been solved. It’s hard to have an accurate count of a hidden population, but statistics indicate that there are around 45 million slaves across the world, and over half of those are women and children.
And, as hard as it might be to accept, it’s something happening in Australia, with around 4,300 people living in modern slavery right here. Instead of rusty manacles or barbaric whips, it is more likely to be represented by a nice-looking house on a quiet suburban street or by a busload of workers on a farm in a wholesome country town.
The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership program has been at the heart of the fight against modern slavery in Australia. It has done this by helping victims of slavery and by actively working towards influencing legislation to make it harder for human traffickers and those who would exploit the vulnerable. It also works with businesses to raise awareness of practices at every level of the supply chain that might contribute to the problem of modern slavery.
For nine years, The Freedom Partnership has privately operated Australia’s only refuge/shelter for women who have experienced human trafficking, slavery and/or slavery like-conditions. In 2015/2016, the service supported 47 women, men and young people through residential and non-residential case management. The service empowers people to make their own choices about how to address their situation by providing information about their rights and supporting them as they identify and achieve goals for their future.
Eligibility for the service doesn’t depend upon victim cooperation with law enforcement against perpetrators, but key partnerships with legal, community and private service providers ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response to the needs of victims. Since the criminalisation of forced marriage in 2013, more than 30% of the people supported by the Safe House caseload are adult victims of forced marriage or young people who are at risk.
What does modern slavery look like in Australia?
More than 50 Taiwanese nationals were discovered locked in two Brisbane mansions, forced to work seven days a week in a fake call centre with no pay.
A 12-year-old girl was forced into marriage with a 27-year-old man in New South Wales.
ABC’s Four Corners program exposed slavery-like conditions in the Australian agriculture industry.
A Brisbane woman was jailed for nine years for trafficking her nine-year-old daughter from Thailand to work in her Brisbane sex work business. The mother sent for her daughter from Thailand to be brought to Australia for a six-week holiday in 2004, keeping her in slavery.
The Australian Federal Police arrested three Australians for recruiting Filipino boxers to Australia, promising them riches and success. When they arrived in Sydney they had their passports taken and they were used as unpaid domestic workers.
As well as its own work, in 2015 The Freedom Partnership collaborated with the Global Freedom Network to bring together 18 Australian faith leaders to form an Australian Freedom Network (www.afn.org.au) to raise awareness about slavery in Australia among faith communities. The launch in Canberra was endorsed by the Australian Government and supported by representatives from all of the major political parties. Faith leaders are being supported by The Freedom Partnership to take meaningful and measurable actions to end slavery in Australia.
The Freedom Partnership values the contributions of people who have experienced human trafficking and slavery, offering training and support for Freedom Advocates who go on to contribute to submissions and research, lobby our government, conduct media interviews, speak at public events to raise awareness and provide support to other survivors. This is part of The Freedom Partnership’s commitment to empowering victims, as well as mobilising communities to join the fight.
This year there have been some significant steps in the journey towards a slavery-free Australia. The Salvation Army welcomed a Federal Government proposal to introduce new legislation requiring Australian businesses to report annually on steps taken to address slavery in their supply chains. There is also an ongoing inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act for Australia, which has received over 200 submissions from business, individuals, government agencies and civil society in Australia and around the world.
There is still a long way to go before slavery is just another page in the history books. But, programs like The Freedom Partnership are taking the promise of freedom that Jesus proclaimed and using it as a call to action, proclaiming freedom for those who are held captive—whatever form that captivity might take. Together, we can create an Australia that is truly free.
To find out more, visit endslavery.salvos.org.au/
Reporting modern slavery
If you have information about someone who may be experiencing people trafficking or slavery-like practices it is important that they have as much control as possible over how they leave their situation in a way that is safe and gives them choices.
If you or somebody you know is in danger, dial 000 and report to the police.
Report the same information to 131237 (131AFP) AFP Human Trafficking/Slavery Team.
Contact us to help assess your next steps:
The Freedom Partnership (02 9466 3570)
Salvos Legal (02 8212 1500)