The criminalisation paradox: The Australian government’s policy response to human trafficking

Peta-Jane Hogg*, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Western Australia

*corresponding author: peta-jane.hogg@research.uwa.edu.au

 

The Australian government’s initial policy on human trafficking, in the form of criminal offences enacted in 1999, was developed exclusively within a criminalisation framework. This choice of framework was inevitable given the government’s conceptualisation of trafficking as a crime and illegal migration problem. Since 1999, the policy has evolved significantly. On the one hand, the government has legislated to substantially increase the scope of the offences and thereby criminalise a much broader range of exploitative conduct. At the same time, the government has introduced and expanded a visa framework and support program for trafficked persons. These ostensibly victim-oriented developments suggest a willingness on the part of the government to conceptualise and respond to trafficking more broadly than it did in 1999. Although this is true in part, the structure of these policies exposes the ongoing prioritisation of criminal justice and border enforcement objectives in trafficking policy. This approach has drawn heavy criticism from criminology scholars, in particular those interested in borders and mobility, yet there is consensus that criminalisation is a necessary component of trafficking policy. Within the context of these policy developments and academic literature, I examine why, despite increased criminalisation at the policy level, there has been a remarkably small number of prosecutions and convictions for trafficking-related offences. Drawing on empirical (interview) data and documentary analysis, I address the challenges to effective implementation of the criminal laws and examine interviewees’ perceptions of the criminalisation framework and their preferred improvements or approaches. I also analyse how the government has acknowledged the challenges in the form of policy change and to what extent challenges remain. I conclude by reflecting on what these findings mean for the future of the government’s response to trafficking and, more broadly, the role of criminalisation in trafficking policy.

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