Management of the Australian Government's Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons
The objective of the audit was to assess the arrangements for oversighting the Action Plan and whether the Plan's new measures have been administered effectively to deliver the intended results.
People trafficking is generally defined as the movement of people across or within borders, through coercive or deceptive means, for the purpose of exploiting them. People trafficking is sometimes confused with people smuggling which is usually limited to illegally transporting people to another country for a fee, after which the relationship with the smuggler ends.
Globally, over 21 400 victims of trafficking were identified in 2006, although it is considered that many victims are not identified. People trafficking takes place for a variety of reasons including sexual servitude, domestic labour, forced marriage and ‘sweatshop' labour.1 Women, men, and children are victims. While there is limited hard information on the number of persons trafficked and the target industries into which they are trafficked into Australia,2 evidence suggests that the trafficking of women into prostitution is the major, and certainly the most visible, form of trafficking taking place.
Some women who are trafficked into Australia are aware that they will be working in the sex industry, but have been deceived about the conditions and pay associated with that work. Others will be deceived about the nature of the work entirely.
Victims known to have been trafficked into Australia for sexual exploitation come predominantly from South East Asia, with the majority coming from Thailand. Traffickers facilitate the victim's entry into Australia by providing funds, airfares and visas.3
Victims may be controlled through violence and physical confinement, or through more subtle means such as threats to turn them over to the authorities, threats of violence to their family, and social, cultural and physical isolation that results in dependence. As a result, victims may not voluntarily report their experiences to law enforcement agencies. In these circumstances, agencies need to adopt active approaches to identify trafficking victims.
People trafficking is a crime under Australian law. The Criminal Code Act 1995 was amended in 1999 to include slavery and sexual servitude, and in 2005, trafficking offences were included.4
The Action Plan
By 2003, trafficking in persons was considered by both the Australian Parliament and the international community to be a growing form of transnational organised crime that needed to be addressed.5
In October 2003, the then Government announced a $20.5 million package of measures to combat people trafficking. The announcement foreshadowed the development of the Australian Government's Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons. The Action Plan was subsequently developed and published in June 2004.
An Interdepartmental Committee, chaired by the Attorney-General's Department (AGD), was given responsibility for coordinating the Action Plan, with the main implementers being the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Office for Women (OfW).
The measures outlined in the Action Plan were expected to significantly enhance the detection, investigation and prosecution of traffickers; improve the range of support available to victims; and help prevent trafficking of persons. In May 2007, the Australian Government allocated a further $38.3 million over four years to continue and build on the 2003 measures, bringing total funding to some $59 million.
In response to a recommendation of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission, the Auditor-General agreed to carry out a performance audit of the management of the Australian Government's Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons.6
Audit objective and scope
The objective of the audit was to assess the arrangements for oversighting the Action Plan and whether the Plan's new measures have been administered effectively to deliver the intended results. To achieve this, the ANAO examined:
- the whole-of-government arrangements in place to monitor contributions to the achievement of outcomes; and
- whether the new measures have been effectively managed, monitored and assessed for performance.
The audit focused on the actions of DIAC, the AFP, AGD and OfW as the four key agencies responsible for coordinating and implementing the main new anti-trafficking measures set out in the Action Plan. It did not focus on contributions by other Australian Government agencies or state/territory police forces. The audit also did not examine the Community Awareness Strategy which is designed to educate the sex industry and its clients.
The Australian Government's Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons, in part, seeks to enforce Australia's anti-trafficking laws by bringing together police, immigration and victim support services under the lead of the Attorney-General's Department. In implementing the Action Plan, participating agencies have taken steps overseas to interrupt the flow of trafficking victims, whilst in Australia they have established processes to identify potential victims and persons engaged in trafficking; refer victims to investigating authorities; and support victims who are assisting law enforcement agencies. To date, 34 defendants have been charged with people trafficking offences—of the cases finalised, nine defendants have had people trafficking offences proven.
The ANAO concluded that the whole-of-government oversight arrangements are broadly effective in sharing information and making decisions. However, the necessary performance information framework, including baseline measures to monitor contributions to the achievement of outcomes, has not been established. Each agency has implemented their respective new measures, although management effectiveness varies from agency to agency.
The People Trafficking Interdepartmental Committee (IDC), which is chaired by the Attorney-General's Department, is the principal mechanism for providing whole-of-government oversight of the Action Plan. While the IDC and its sub committee are largely effective in sharing information and making decisions, consideration and resolution of some key issues, such as handling of cases involving particularly vulnerable victims, including mentally impaired victims and potential child trafficking cases, has not occurred. More systematic monitoring and reporting of issues that could affect the overall outcomes of the anti-trafficking measures, such as the effects of: the Trafficking Visa Framework; the allocation of investigative effort; and the support services for victims, would enable the IDC to better fulfil its whole-of-government oversighting role.
The Action Plan identified four key indicators for measuring success. However, no measurement or reporting of these indicators has occurred to date. The establishment of the necessary supporting performance information framework, including baseline measures, would enable much improved systematic reporting to Parliament and other stakeholders of the success on the anti-trafficking measures. This would go some way to addressing the concerns expressed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission as to the effectiveness of the coordination and accountability arrangements for the overall government effort.7
A key baseline measure of the effectiveness of the measures outlined in the Action Plan is the trend in the number of victims trafficked into Australia. Arriving at such estimates is challenging but is considered achievable. Developing a method to produce reasonable estimates of the approximate number of victims trafficked into Australia should be a priority. It would provide Parliament with some assurance that the Action Plan is achieving its intended results, and provide an indication of progress towards eradicating the trafficking in persons.
DIAC administers a People Trafficking Visa Framework that enables suspected victims to remain lawfully in Australia while they assist law enforcement agencies in criminal justice proceedings against their alleged traffickers. Further, DIAC's sex industry compliance teams locate the majority of trafficking cases investigated by the AFP. DIAC also has staff posted overseas, as a preventative measure, to help interrupt the flow of trafficked victims to Australia. While generally effectively administered, improved management information relating to DIAC's activities would provide greater assurance that the expected results are being achieved. The inconsistent application of the law in the granting of trafficking visas,8 where alleged victims already hold substantive visas (for example, a Working Holiday Maker visa or student visa) at the time they are located, requires resolution. Better guidance on the granting of trafficking visas is required to ensure that consistent and equitable decisions are being made.
The AFP's Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams (TSETT) investigate alleged trafficking cases, usually on the basis of a referral from external agencies. Since the introduction of the Action Plan in 2003–04, 131 cases have been investigated. However, a substantial proportion of AFP's people trafficking resources has been directed to non-trafficking crime types. Greater transparency and accountability on the use of Action Plan funds, and the related impact on efforts to combat people trafficking, would have made this apparent. The ANAO considers that the administration of TSETT has been hampered by a lack of planning and meaningful management information, and insufficient guidance for staff on the handling of trafficking cases.
The Office for Women (OfW) manages the outsourced program of support services for victims of trafficking. The victim support program is demand-driven. As at August 2008, 107 victims have been assisted under the various phases of support, which is a substantial shortfall in catered demand of up to 90 victims per year. While victims are receiving support services, there has been a wide range of weaknesses in the administration of the program. For example, the specification of services in the contract and associated documents has been poor, and contract administration, in particular contract monitoring arrangements, had substantial shortcomings that limited OfW's ability to be assured that eligible victims were receiving appropriate services and that claims for payments were adequately supported. OfW responded positively to a number of suggestions made during the audit, and made a number of changes which, if implemented successfully, should improve its contract management.
Overall, measures introduced in the Action Plan to combat trafficking in persons, including associated funding, have provided a focus for the individual agencies concerned. Greater discipline in seeking to measure the effectiveness of strategies employed would enable the agencies to refine their individual approaches, and better inform government and the Parliament as to the success of the overall anti-trafficking strategy. Accordingly, the ANAO has made six recommendations aimed at strengthening whole-of-government arrangements and the management of particular measures by individual agencies.
Key findings by chapter
Oversight of the anti-trafficking measures set out in the Action Plan (Chapter 2)
The People Trafficking IDC is chaired by the AGD, with key IDC agencies being the AFP, OfW and DIAC. The IDC and its working groups, such as the recently created Operational Working Group (OWG), share information and make decisions. Meetings are held regularly and are well attended. Formal minutes of the IDC are kept and provided to members.
Some key issues, such as handling of cases involving particularly vulnerable victims, including mentally impaired victims and potential child trafficking cases, either had not been considered by the IDC or its working groups, or if they had, arrangements were inadequate to ensure that they remained on the agenda and were subject to periodic review until an appropriate resolution was identified. The IDC does not currently monitor some issues that could affect the overall outcomes of the anti-trafficking measures such as effects of: the Trafficking Visa Framework; the allocation of investigative effort; and the support services for victims.
The Action Plan identified four key indicators for measuring success which articulated the broad outcomes intended for the anti-trafficking program. However, from a management perspective, the indicators lack sufficient definition or preciseness to stand alone. To date, the necessary supporting framework that establishes a range of lower level outcome/output indicators, together with associated targets, benchmarks or activity levels has not been established at the whole-of-government level. No method to produce reasonable estimates of the approximate number of victims of trafficking, or a range that could be revised in light of better information over time, has been developed. Arriving at such estimates is challenging, but achievable, and is important for assessing the success of the anti-trafficking measures.
In the absence of a performance reporting framework for the anti-trafficking strategy, there has been no consolidated reporting of the strategy's success in meeting its intended outcomes. To date, performance reporting has been ad-hoc and piecemeal. The focus of such reporting has been agency specific and outputs-oriented, rather than addressing the intended outcomes of the anti-trafficking strategy as a whole.
The Action Plan has not been formally updated since it was published in June 2004. There would be merit in updating the Plan in light of experience to date.
Administration of the People Trafficking Visa Framework (Chapter 3)
The People Trafficking Visa Framework, implemented in January 2004, enables victims to remain lawfully in Australia to assist law enforcement agencies in criminal justice proceedings against their alleged traffickers.
DIAC has developed a range of guidance material to assist staff in administering the Trafficking Visa Framework. However, the absence of adequate guidance in a number of important areas has resulted in inconsistent application of the law in the granting of trafficking visas where alleged victims already held substantive visas—one DIAC office would routinely cancel a lawful non-citizen's substantive visa when granting a certain temporary trafficking visa, whereas another office would not. This has resulted in inconsistent outcomes for alleged victims. Those who had their substantive visa cancelled may have their future immigration options—that is, to apply for other types of visas—jeopardised; and those who had work rights, lost those rights.
Some trafficking visas have conditions to which holders must comply, for example, holders must not engage in work. However, DIAC's guidance does not address whether, and how, compliance with these conditions should be monitored.
DIAC is often the first agency to encounter potentially trafficked women through its compliance team raids of brothels and other work places. The ANAO observed two DIAC teams conducting sex industry compliance operations. The teams implemented DIAC's compliance procedures and the DIAC officers were sensitive to the circumstances of the women subjected to ‘screening' for trafficking indicators. However, DIAC does not collect and analyse performance information on its referrals of potential victims to the AFP. Periodic review of relevant performance information would provide assurance that agreed standards for referrals from DIAC to the AFP are being met.
The establishment of a Senior Migration Officer Compliance Trafficking (SMO CT) position in Thailand was one of the key initiatives of the 2004 Action Plan. A 2006 review of the Action Plan, which was used to support an increase in SMO CT funding, concluded that the position has been effective in lessening the impact of people trafficking in Australia. The basis on which this conclusion was made is not clear. DIAC advised that it now has put in place a range of reporting measures for its SMO CT positions.
Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams (Chapter 4)
As part of the 2003 initiative to combat people trafficking, the AFP received additional funds to establish member mobile strike teams—the Transnational Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking Teams (TSETT).
TSETT investigations are generally triggered by a ‘referral', that is, an allegation that a trafficking offence has been committed where the circumstances warrant an investigation by the AFP. Since the announcement of the anti-trafficking measures, the AFP has received a total of 131 referrals. Most referrals (83 per cent) have been from external sources, with DIAC making 61 per cent of the external referrals.
Over the period 2003–04 to 2007–08, DIAC made 256 trafficking ‘referrals' to the AFP. However, most DIAC ‘referrals' have been treated by the AFP as ‘information reports' (which are recorded but not subject to an investigation) generally because of the quality of the information provided. The AFP has not formally provided feedback to DIAC on this process.
Due to its illicit nature, the number of people trafficked is difficult to quantify. Consequently, in seeking funds to implement the Action Plan, the AFP was unable to accurately estimate the impact that TSETT would have on trafficking in persons. However, the ensuing Action Plan noted that TSETT would make a substantial impact on combating sexual servitude in Australia.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Action Plan has been underway for five years, and the considerable Parliamentary interest in this area, baseline data has not been established or used by TSETT, nor have performance indicators been established for its activities.
The AFP did not develop a strategic implementation plan for TSETT until 2008, five years after receiving initial funding, when additional funding for the expansion of the initiative was received. Furthermore, the first operational plan for TSETT was prepared in 2007 setting out annual objectives, strategies and performance indicators for TSETT. However, these are broadly defined and generic in nature and have application to a broad range of crime types. Consequently, internal performance reporting has focused on activity based reporting such as the number of investigations undertaken and number of prosecutions achieved, rather than the impact of the strategies on the objectives.
In addition to trafficking offences, TSETT staff also investigate other offences such as child sex crime offences. Investigating child sex crime offences has absorbed a substantial proportion of TSETT's investigative resources. For example, for the period 2003–04 to 2007–08, 55 per cent of hours attributed to TSETT crime types were used for the investigation of people trafficking/slavery crimes—the balance has been directed towards the investigation of child sex crime matters.
While Child Sex Tourism was incorporated into TSETT in 2003 and was explicitly noted as a component of TSETT at the time of the provision of additional resources for TSETT in the 2007–08 Budget, it is not clear whether the Government envisaged that such a large component of TSETT resources would ultimately be used for this purpose. It is also not clear that information on the use of TSETT resources has been provided to the People Trafficking IDC or to government.
The AFP has developed a range of agency-wide guidance that is applicable to all crime types. However, there is no formal TSETT-specific guidance or standard operating procedures to support TSETT officers. For example, there is no formal guidance on how to make a decision on whether to sponsor an alleged victim for a trafficking visa. There is also limited recording of reasons for decisions to withdraw support from some victims.
Support for Victims of People Trafficking Program (Chapter 5)
The Office for Women (OfW) is responsible for the Support for Victims of Trafficking in Persons Program (the Program) which is intended to provide support to victims of people trafficking who are both willing and able to assist with the criminal investigation and prosecution of people trafficking offences within Australia. The Program assists victims of trafficking in three Phases.
The Program is demand-driven—victim support workload is driven by case referrals from the Australian Federal Police (AFP). The Program was funded to cater for up to 90 victims a year. Uptake of available support has fallen substantially short of the planned numbers. There was no evidence that victims referred to the Service Provider were not receiving services. In this, OfW are meeting the basic aims of the program.
Delivery of the Program has been outsourced. During the audit, the service delivery contract was re-tendered and a new service provider was engaged. At the same time, OfW made many changes aimed at improving the contract and its contract management arrangements. Realisation of these improvements are contingent on the introduction of revised monitoring and reporting arrangements.
The contract documentation prepared by OfW provided a basic outline of services and requirements. However, there were a number of weaknesses with the contract and associated documents in terms of specifying: eligibility for the Program; ‘Phase 3' services; and service quality. In response to the initial audit findings, OfW advised that they have made improvements to the contract documentation. The ANAO found that whilst many improvements have been made, some problems remain, particularly in terms of clearly specifying eligibility for services.
OfW does not have a documented process for managing the contract. The ANAO observed weaknesses in risk management, guidance for staff, management of relationship with the service provider, and the reporting framework. In response to the audit, OfW advised that it had made changes to: processes to ensure compliance with reporting requirements; complaints handling; expenditure reporting; and validation of expenditure claims. Data quality and ensuring the eligibility of clients remain areas for improvement.
Unlike other agencies responsible for implementing anti-trafficking measures under the Action Plan, OfW has sought to measure its performance as part of its particular Department's Outcomes/Outputs framework, and report results in the Department's Annual Report.9 OfW recognised weaknesses in previous performance reporting indicators and introduced new measures for 2009–10 that align with the Department's objectives. These new measures are an improvement, however, the quality standards are not easily measured in a quantifiable way.
Agency summary responses
Summary responses to the proposed audit report and its recommendations were provided by the Attorney-General's Department, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. These responses are set out below.
Trafficking in persons is a complex form of transnational crime. Effective cooperation between government and civil society, and between government agencies is essential to combating this crime. Australia's whole-of-government response to trafficking in persons has provided support to victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation and for other forms of exploitative labour. It has also seen the successful prosecution and conviction of a number of people traffickers. AGD welcomes the ANAO's performance audit of the Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking in Persons; and considers that the audit's findings will contribute to more effective and transparent implementation of the anti-trafficking strategy. AGD has accepted the ANAO's recommendations regarding monitoring, data and performance indicators, while noting the UNODC's observations that “accurate statistics on the magnitude of the human trafficking problem at any level are elusive and unreliable” (Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns 2006).
The IDC, which was established to develop Australia's anti people trafficking strategy, has a continuing responsibility to monitor and report on its implementation and to report to Government on its effectiveness. AGD agrees there is benefit in formalising procedures for referring emerging policy issues for IDC consideration. While individualised case management remains the most appropriate way to provide assistance to victims, AGD agrees it is appropriate to consider whether there is a need to develop standard procedures for particularly vulnerable victims of trafficking. AGD notes that while there has been extensive and regular reporting under the broad outcome statements contained in the Action Plan, there would be benefit in developing more precise performance indicators and producing a single, consolidated annual report. AGD will work with the IDC to this end.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) welcomes the findings of the audit report. Enhanced guidelines have been provided to DIAC's Service Delivery Network on the granting of visas under the People Trafficking Visa Framework where a person holds a substantive visa. DIAC notes that access to the Support for Victims of Trafficking Program is currently tied to a person holding a Bridging F Visa. The Government is currently considering a range of enhancements to the Anti-trafficking strategy.
The report suggests improving management information on its people trafficking referrals to the Australian Federal Police by periodically reviewing relevant performance information. This is being considered as part of DIAC's ongoing quality assurance processes.
Australian Federal Police
The AFP has welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the ANAO performance audit of the management of the Action Plan and broadly agrees with the recommendations of this report. While individual agency activity has been occurring with respect to this crime type this audit has identified further measures to increase the effectiveness of the coordination and made recommendations to improve transparency and accountability from a whole of government perspective.
The recommended AFP initiatives highlighted within this audit report have been adopted and the AFP has either implemented or is in the process of implementing strategies to address the issues raised. The remedial strategies will provide greater levels of transparency and accountability with respect to funding arrangements and will provide regular activity reporting towards the identified deliverables and benchmarks within a whole of government context.
Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
The Office for Women acknowledges that while the Support for Victims of People Trafficking Program, as reflected in the Report, has met its requirements in providing services to eligible victims of people trafficking, the audit process has unveiled further administrative improvements that can be made. The Office for Women introduced a number of these improvements during the audit process and is currently implementing further improvements through a new contract with the successful tenderer for case management services under the Program.
1 It is estimated that, globally, around 79 per cent of victims are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, with 18 per cent trafficked for forced labour purposes (for example, labour in industries such as manufacturing, agriculture, hospitality and construction). Seventy nine per cent of identified victims were female (66 per cent adult, 13 per cent children). See United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), February 2009, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons,
2 pp. 6, 10-11.
3 The number of people trafficked into Australia has been estimated to be well below 100 a year, although a number of other estimates are on the public record.
4 Victims may or may not hold legitimate visas. Typically, student or holiday visas are obtained.
In this report, ‘people trafficking' crime types are to be distinguished from ‘people-trafficking-related offences', which may include offences against the Migration Act 1958 and other offences under the Criminal Code, such as money laundering and perverting the course of justice.
5 Australia is a signatory to both the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The 2003 US Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report stated that ‘human trafficking not only continues but appears to be on the rise worldwide', p. 5.
6 Government Response to the Report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission “Inquiry into the trafficking of women for sexual servitude”, tabled 9 November 2006, p. 3.
7 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission, Supplementary report to the Inquiry into the trafficking of women for sexual servitude, August 2005, p. 11.
8 A substantive visa includes all permanent visas, protection visas and temporary visas (with the exception of the criminal justice visa or enforcement visa). Bridging visas are not substantive visas.
9 OfW is part of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.