Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Forced Adoptions, and Abolitionist Sunday

Firstly today I acknowledge the apology made by the Queensland parliament to women who had their children stolen from them. Members of the Senate would remember the Senate inquiry that we did a number of months ago, brought down early in this year, where we recommended that apologies be made to these women. A number of states have done so, and we lead into a federal apology early next year. I want to congratulate Premier Newman and also opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk. It was a particularly moving apology and I know that many women and people who had been caught up in the process were affected deeply by it.

This evening I want to talk about 25 November, which is Abolitionist Sunday across churches in Australia. This particular process is led by World Vision. It focuses churches and communities on the fight to end human trafficking and slavery. On this day around Australia we advocate for change in the lives of those around the world who are suffering from the deep injustice of exploitation. Slavery was considered to abolished over 200 years ago, and in this place we have talked many times about the wonderful work of Wilberforce-former Senator Guy Barnett from Tasmania had a particular passion in this area and on many nights talked about that issue in this place.

We thought that slavery had been abolished over 200 years ago, and I think people have the concept that it is still true today. But we know that it is not. Human trafficking and labour exploitation takes place all over the world today in many industries-fishing, construction sites, farms, factories, brothels and private homes. The victims can be men, women or children, and we all think particularly of the case of children when their childhood has been stolen from them by labour, by slavery and by enforced work. They are not free; they are exploited, and they are exploited over and over again. Once you are caught up in this process there seems to be no escape because you are trapped deeply. In our world we exploit people for profit rather than valuing them as people.

On this Abolitionist Sunday we have the opportunity to think about these issues, to learn more about them, to have education and then, most particularly, to take action. Abolitionist Sunday is calling for an end to trafficking, slavery and labour exploitation. We can do this by the sustained growth of Australia's overseas aid budget, which can be focused to tackle global poverty and to protect the most vulnerable from trafficking and exploitation. We can continue to support international anti-trafficking initiatives, and we can also learn and take action locally in our own communities.

The movement is a growing movement, and we can see that. In 2012, over 150 churches will be taking part in Abolitionist Sunday, and we hope that that number will grow. What we need is local action. What World Vision has done, and they do it well, is provide information education tools. They have a church guide to ethical purchasing, which is being made available to communities across the country, where we can learn how to make decisions locally about what we purchase, because so much about the trafficking and slavery trade is based on profit, on products and on things that we buy daily in our lives in Australia. If we asked where the products have come from, if we asked what labour was used to produce them, then we could learn more and make decisions about our own purchases which not only could impact on people being caught up in this slavery but also could then enable us to make change ourselves.

The educational tools tell us how to use the internet to learn more about ethical consumerism, which is making intentional purchasing decisions that not only reduce demand for trafficked and exploited labour but also increase demand for ethical, sustainable and more humane business practices. We can develop our own checklists and look at the pre-existing assessments of fair trade, such as the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certified products which are already in the system. We can check the products we buy, that our families buy, that our organisations and businesses buy, and we can make change.

We have already seen that there has been real value done through the work around chocolate. I have talked about this matter in this place before, because the use of chocolate seems to be a bit of a unifying aspect. We all seem to enjoy chocolate. The World Vision organisation has been able to re-educate Australians to ask questions about the chocolate they are buying, to insist there are fair trade arrangements in place, and we see those products available now. It did not seem that we could make change; it was too big, too hard and too difficult. But through enforced and sustained community pressure large chocolate manufacturers are now working to produce certification on their product so that we can feel strong when we choose a brand that has that certification. If we can do it with chocolate, we can do it with a range of other things. Abolitionist Sunday provides that awareness to give us the opportunity to look up what is available now, to look at what we are doing and to see how we can make change. That can make a real difference.

The other way we can learn is through another process where World Vision provides the life stories of people who have been caught up in slavery and trafficking. We can read lots of words, and we can study processes and read speeches; but when you actually hear stories of real people who have been caught up in this process and see that lives can be changed, it makes the whole process much more real. One of the case studies that World Vision provides is that of Pattinathar, a young man who is now 31 and who, 15 years ago, was rescued from bonded labour. He retells for us his experiences of torture, his lack of hope and then his excitement at seeing his community completely transformed and free of child labour. It is all too sad a story. This young man's father got into debt, because of a medical condition, and effectively sold his son's labour to repay that debt. The debt kept growing, so the young man was never able to be free. He tells of being chained and not able to move, and having to work long days on sugarcane plantations. But World Vision came into the community, saw what was going on and was able to intervene. Fifteen years ago this young man was able to make choices and become more free. Now he is able to work himself, to be involved in his own community and to be open to tell his own story to give us hope.

Another story is that of the young boy Salay, who was working long days of enforced labour in a brick factory, again through debt. He was not able to have education or family, freedom or life. A World Vision staff member visited the factory, saw what was going on and was then able, with the support of other members of the organisation, to intervene and ensure that this young boy would be freed from the debt and be able to move out of that process.

There are things we can do, and Abolitionist Sunday is a way that we can focus. We know that the issues of slavery and human trafficking continue. The Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is currently conducting an inquiry into the issues around slavery and trafficking. I think that sometimes people get absolutely focused on the overseas nature of this and think that it does not impact on Australia. We know that there are elements of forced labour in our country through immigration and through false use of passports and visas. Those things need to be discussed, and we as a committee need to look at that closely and see what a difference we can make. These things are a blight on our society and on our world. I congratulate the church communities who took part in Abolitionist Sunday last week, and I think that we can do better into the future. I congratulate World Vision as always.

The promise and the challenge for all of us is that we can all make a choice to be involved, and we can actually help to free people from slavery.