Salvation Army says Canberra should expel diplomats with slaves

The Salvation Army wants the Australian government to expel foreign diplomats implicated in cases of slavery in Canberra.

This week the Australian Senate committee will hear evidence from industry and human rights bodies about the government’s draft Modern Slavery Bill.

Despite media reports on the issue over the past year, the draft bill does not address a loophole that allows alleged criminal exploitation to continue within Canberra embassies, the Salvation Army says.

The Salvation Army’s submission tells the Senate that over the past 11 years it had helped almost a dozen domestic workers kept in slave-like conditions by foreign diplomats in their Canberra homes.

In one case, a woman was told she would be paid A$2150 (NZ$2359) per month for 40 hours per week as a live-in housekeeper. Instead, she was kept as a virtual prisoner, forced to sign false documents and work seven days a week for minimal pay.

The Salvation Army submission, compiled last year for an earlier inquiry that led to the current bill, says workers had their identity documents confiscated and were subject to physical and sexual abuse, threats and intimidation.

At least four cases involved the relevant embassy’s head of mission. This is the highest-ranking diplomatic post, with titles like ambassador, high commissioner, charge d’affaires and consul-general.

The Salvation Army said the Australian government was not doing enough to stop diplomats from criminally exploiting workers, who were kept in “degrading and humiliating conditions, including deprivation of food, privacy and appropriate living conditions.”

Heather Moore, national policy and advocacy co-ordinator at the Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership, said human trafficking should be grounds for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to take decisive action against a diplomat.

“Human trafficking is a serious crime, and the government should be treating it with the appropriate severity,” she said.

The Salvation Army submission argued that diplomatic immunity was “not iron-clad,”and notes the government could request the diplomat’s home country to waive immunity (thus allowing them to be prosecuted under Australian law) or declare them persona non grata – meaning the diplomat “is no longer welcome in Australia.”

Assistant Minister for Home Affairs Alex Hawke said the Australian government had taken steps to address the exploitation of foreign domestic workers, distributing information leaflets and implementing a pre-departure interview for those planning to come to Australia.

He also said foreign domestic workers who were unfairly treated could access the Government’s Support for Trafficked People Program, which enabled victims to remain lawfully in Australia and access support while their claims were being evaluated.


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