ACRATH back in Canberra

Video Diary

ACRATH is back in Canberra, visiting Members of Parliament and policy makers face-to-face, after three years of online advocacy, the result of COVID-19 travel restrictions.  In the first week of September the team of 11 staff and volunteers met with a range of people in a bid to raise awareness and advocate for better outcomes for victims and survivors.

The COVID driven physical absence from Canberra gave ACRATH’s Canberra advocacy team the chance to develop important online connections and networks with MPs and staff, relationships that continue today.

Cindy Bohan, ACRATH’s community development worker, said COVID forced ACRATH to find another way to advocate and influence policy development. But the face-to-face meetings were a welcome return for the team. Team members met with a range of people including Ms Lynn Bell, the Ambassador to Counter Modern Slavery, People Smuggling and Human Trafficking, Tony Burke, Minister for Industrial Relations, Andrew Giles the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs and Philippines Ambassador Ma. Hellen B. De La Vega.

The issues raised with key policy makers included the need for:

  • A National Compensation Scheme for Victims and Survivors of Modern Slavery
  • A National Labour Hire Licensing Scheme
  • An independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

Unusually this year the advocacy team is also thanking the government for its work! The team is acknowledging the Federal Government’s commitment on Budget night to accept as a pilot scheme the model of an additional pathway onto the Support for Trafficked People Program (STPP); this need for an additional pathway has been a lobbying issue for ACRATH, and for several other NGOs, for 17 years! 

The Canberra team this year was ACRATH staff Cindy, Christine Carolan, Sr Taabeia Ibouri sgs and Ange Duthie, national committee member Shane Wood cfc (Vic), and regional representatives Noelene Simmons sm (NSW), Angela Hart (SA), Mary Cameron (Vic) and Rae Cook and Sr Martina sja (WA). In the lead up to the four days (September 4 to 7) of intensive meetings, the team participated in training workshops on the issues, including a workshop on the National Compensation Scheme for Victims and Survivors of Modern Slavery presented by Professor Jen Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia.

“Over many years, and especially during COVID, we developed very strong relationships with Members of Parliament through online meetings and networks that were developed to ensure the issues remained front and centre. But there are new people in Parliament change and ACRATH wants to keep these four important issues on the radar of all Members of Parliament,” Cindy said.

“We go to Canberra hoping to make progress in certain areas, but to also acknowledge the good work that is being done. The Modern Slavery Commissioner is a good example. We applauded the decision made in the last federal budget, but ACRATH maintains that such an office must be independent of government and accountable to Parliament. We believe this office should have wide-ranging responsibility to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute slavery offences. We believe the Commissioner should have the brief to enhance victims’ and survivors’ rights and that was the case we took to Canberra,” Cindy said.

While the meetings with Members of Parliament are over for now, ACRATH team members will follow up and continue pursuing the four issues, often with support from MPs. Cindy said many MPs offered advice on next steps, referred ACRATH to other influential decision makers or requested resources on issues.

“This year’s visit to Canberra built on the last 17 years of advocacy, and some of the issues we discussed were ones we have raised again and again and we will keep doing that because that’s what leads to change for victims and survivors of human trafficking– persistent advocacy,” Cindy said.

Shane Wood cfc echoed Cindy’s comments:

“Long-term advocacy in this space is the lived-experience of ACRATH members.  Some of the measures that are coming into view now have been on the agenda for our visits to Canberra for many years, particularly the licensing of Labour Hire companies.  Changes of government, changes of Ministers, changes in public awareness, are all factors in making progress sometimes quite slow in this space.  However, persistence can sometimes be rewarded.”

For more information about the key issues discussed in Canberra.

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