Human Trafficking & Slavery Laws, Charges & Penalties in Australia

Poppy Morandin.


A new report by the Australian Institute of Criminology has highlighted the low conviction rate of alleged human trafficking and slavery offenders, due to challenges during investigation and prosecution.

Globally, on average, 40% of countries secure fewer than 10 convictions per year.

This includes 15% of countries that secure no convictions.

Across the countries that were analysed, one conviction was secured for every six persons investigated.

Comparatively, in Australia, between 2004 and 30 June 2019, 24 offenders were convicted.

Over the same time period, 462 victims were identified by the Australian Federal Police.

These victims were identified by being referred to the government for support under the ‘Support for Trafficked People Program’.

Despite these relatively low conviction rates, it is notable that there has been an upward trend in the number of convictions globally since 2009.

The report identified that challenges persist within investigating, prosecuting and, ultimately, attempting to secure a conviction.

These challenges included identifying the victims and a lack of co-operation or confidence in the courtroom from victims.

“Once identified, victims are often reluctant to cooperate as a result of not identifying as victims themselves, lacking trust in criminal justice practitioners and processes, and viewing cooperation as inconsistent with their best interests.” the report commented.

It found that the main barriers to effective engagement included: “complex trauma, lack of English language skills, and cultural and institutional issues related to mistrust in police.” 

Those alleged to have been subject to exploitation were less likely to cooperate if the perpetrator was known to them or their family.

This was incredibly common in instances of forced marriage, in which the alleged perpetrator is most often a family member, and the victim is a child.

The lengthy duration of trafficking prosecutions also presented difficulties.

Due to many victims residing overseas, the onerous nature of having to travel to Australia for what could also be a lengthy trial appearance places considerable pressure on them.

In recent years this has sought to be addressed through enabling individuals to give evidence via audio-visual link and providing short-term accommodation and a weekly living and food allowance for those that do travel.

In cases prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (‘CDPP’), over half of defendants were male, with approximately one-quarter female.

The gender of the remaining defendants was not recorded.

Data provided by the CDPP revealed that child sex offences were most likely to be proven, followed by migration/passport offences.

These were the only offence categories to have a greater than 50 percent success rate.

Slavery was found to be proven in 30% of cases, whereas human trafficking was only proved in 15% of cases.

“Successful prosecution requires a variety of measures, including adequate national legislation, appropriate victim protection and support, appropriate training, and effective collaboration between investigators, prosecutors and victim support services.

“To this end, a focus on victim engagement, specialist training and the breadth and quality of evidence may reduce the range of reasons that investigators and prosecutors decide to discontinue a case.” the report summarised.

For more on human trafficking offences, speak to our criminal lawyers Sydney team today.

Human Trafficking & Slavery Laws, Charges and Penalties in Australia

Australia’s laws criminalising human trafficking and slavery are contained within Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

Division 270 criminalises slavery, referring to the conditions of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised.

Division 271 criminalises the trafficking in persons, including trafficking people into, out of, and within Australia, organ trafficking and trafficking in children.

Pursuant to section 271.2(1), a person who organises or facilitates the entry of another person into Australia and uses coercion, threat, or deception to obtain their compliance in respect of that entry, commits an offence of trafficking in persons.

Section 271.2(1A) criminalises persons using coercion, threat, or deception when organising of facilitating the exit or proposed exit of another person from Australia.

Both of the above offences carry a maximum penalty of 12 years imprisonment.

Factors which will make the offence aggravated include where the offender commits the offence intending that the victim will be exploited and where the offender subjects the victim to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Another factor includes where the offender engages in conduct that gives rise to a danger of death or serious harm to the victim or another person and is reckless to this danger.

If the above factors are proven, as well as those giving rise to a trafficking offence, a maximum penalty of 20 years applies, pursuant to section 271.3.

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