Advocacy in Canberra works

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ACRATH’s team of staff and volunteers met with many senior Members of Parliament, advisors and departmental officers in Canberra during a week of advocacy to discuss four key human trafficking issues.  ACRATH’s Executive Officer Christine Carolan reflects on the week in this insightful Q & A.

Q. Who were some of the key Members of Parliament the ACRATH advocacy team met during the advocacy week in Canberra?

A. The meeting with Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus stood out for me because it was a lot more than ACRATH ‘delivering’ key asks or issues. In our 30 minutes with the Attorney-General we discussed why Australia needs a federal compensation scheme and the role of states in providing compensation for victims of crime, and the differing situations for victims of federal and state crimes. We shared with Mark the shocking story of a survivor of human trafficking, supported by ACRATH, who was threatened with a costs order against her in a Victorian regional Victims of Crime Tribunal when she was clearly a victim of a federal crime. Together with the Attorney-General we explored ways forward. Along with key organisations like Anti-Slavery Australia we identified follow-up actions from this conversation.

Q. While in Canberra you witnessed Tony Burke Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations introduce legislation into Parliament that will require minimum wages and working conditions for workers without ongoing contracts. Why is this proposed workplace reform significant?

A, ACRATH has worked to prevent the exploitation of seasonal workers. Over the years we have learned of seasonal workers being terribly exploited, underpaid (or not paid) and overcharged for accommodation and other costs. In one instance involving workers from the Pacific our advocacy helped rectify the injustices against these workers and they received some payment. This reform will mean better working conditions for seasonal workers and real consequences for employers who withhold, or refuse, payment.

Q. The ACRATH team in Canberra included some people with many years of advocacy experience and some novices. Did this approach work?

A. All team members participated in training so that there was a high degree of competency. One of the training sessions was a workshop on the National Compensation Scheme for Victims and Survivors of Modern Slavery presented by Professor Jen Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia. 

Yes, the advocacy trip to Canberra was about taking issues about human trafficking to people who can bring about change. But it was also about building our capacity. We now have people who can go back to their regions, knowing they are part of a network, and with skills to influence change.

Q. You went to Canberra with a list of our issues. Did you come away wiser?

A. Yes we did. We came away from robust and productive conversations with a lot of tasks to further the issues we raised. Importantly, we will now do more work on the online sexual exploitation of children. This issue was not one of our four key points, though it was discussed in several meetings. 

Q. Was there a ta-dah moment?

A. There were many, but perhaps one was when the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek recognised our ACRATH group in the gallery watching the introduction of the workplace relations legislation. I felt this was an acknowledgement that we have a relationship with government that means we have a chance to speak for justice and be heard. 

Q. So advocacy works?

A. I am convinced that sustained advocacy on issues can bring about change. The compensation issue is one that ACRATH, and other organisations have worked on for many years. Our meeting with the Attorney-General left an impression with me – he wants to make changes and I believe he will.

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