15 Good Years Around the Table

Roundtable 2022

ACRATH’s important role in combating human trafficking was recognised from its early days when it was invited to be part of the Federal Government’s National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery. This new entity was established in 2008 as a mechanism for government to consult with civil society about issues relating to human trafficking.

2023 is the 15th Roundtable anniversary and ACRATH member, Noelene Simmons sm will participate, as she has over many years. ACRATH Community Development Worker Cindy Bohan will assist Noelene at the celebration.

ACRATH Executive Officer Christine Carolan has been part of the Roundtable since it began and believes it has achieved a great deal. In light of the 16 Days of Activism focusing on women migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation, she reflected on the importance of work done by the Roundtable’s Labour Exploitation Working Group. The group’s recommendations relate to women and men migrant workers; these are significant recommendations to establish strong migrant worker-focused policies.

The Roundtable is attended by up to five federal Ministers, Departmental officers from about seven or sometimes eight Federal Government Departments, representatives from various groups including the Law Institute, Industry groups and the Australian Institute of Criminology, the Australian Federal Police, a representative from about ten civil society groups including ACRATH, and, since 2022, people with lived experience of human trafficking. Each year there are two meetings – the Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) and the Ministerial Roundtable.

“Since a discussion at the August 2023 Roundtable, ACRATH has been invited to work with the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) on overseas capacity building activities and regional responses including in the Pacific. Five ACRATH representatives met with five AGD officers to discuss issues arising from our ACRATH work in the Pacific and with people from Timor Leste,” Christine said.

“One example is the need for women seasonal workers when they come to Australia to have health insurance that includes pregnancy and maternity cover. In the past this has on occasion not happened and women workers have been asked to go home once they know they are pregnant.”

Christine believes the Roundtable has achieved more than it set out to do 15 years ago. It has established working groups that made concrete proposals for policy change that will definitely change people’s lives. Policy change may sound dry, but these examples will make such a difference:

  • There is now a publication from a working group, called Guidelines for NGOs Working with Trafficked People.
  • The former Criminal Justice Stay Visa has been replaced by an extended Bridging Visa F and the Witness Protection Trafficking Visa has been replaced by a Referred Stay Visa. The new visas enable people who have been trafficked to access services specific to their needs.
  • Developing resources on Forced Marriage.
  • A working group considered Labour Exploitation and came up with similar recommendations to those of Prof Alan Fels, including the licensing of labour hire companies.
  • The Modern Slavery Act slowly emerged from working group proposals.
  • Piloting of an additional pathway onto the Support for Trafficked People Program. The final proposal was developed by a strong, focused working group of civil society Roundtable members.
  • Two National Action Plans have been developed following on from consultation with Roundtable members.

Noelene believes the exchange of ideas and experience has contributed greatly to the Roundtable’s achievements.

“The Roundtable provides a forum for policy makers to dialogue with those working at the coal face. Meeting days are opportunities to network during the sessions and informally over morning tea and lunch. The sharing of wisdom that takes place energises participants and promotes collaboration and planning between meetings,” she said.

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