Smart volunteering event

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JULIE BISHOP: Thank you Georgette, Alexander, thank you for welcoming our guests here this evening on behalf of the Australian Government.

I am delighted to be in London in the lead up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting later this week. I am pleased to have had the opportunity already to speak at the Commonwealth Business Forum, to meet with participants in the Youth Forum, to attend the Forum reception with His Royal Highness Prince William and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson this evening, and now to attend this very significant event that is raising awareness about a very important matter involving child protection and this scourge that we see, now called 'orphanage voluntourism'. I particularly want to acknowledge the work of LUMOS and J.K. Rowling for focusing on this issue and the work that you do in rescuing children from situations where they can be abused, where they can be trafficked, where they are vulnerable.

I also acknowledge here this evening, Kevin Hyland, the United Kingdom Independent Commissioner for Anti-Slavery and also Australian Senator Linda Reynolds who has been an extraordinary advocate for the issue of tourism involving orphanages.

Disturbingly, research has shown that the number of orphanages are increasing around the world, yet the number of genuine orphans is decreasing. Orphanages are increasingly dependent upon tourism dollars and they are opening up in popular tourist destinations.

UNICEF, for example, has research that shows that in Cambodia, the number of orphanages in five years has increased by 75 per cent, yet the number of genuine orphans has decreased as dramatically over that time. What is happening is that volunteers, usually students or young people, are unwittingly taking part in a form of trafficking. "Orphanage" voluntourism is when young people are paying money, sometimes up to $2,000 to undertake short-term unskilled volunteer work as part of their holiday overseas, for example. Yet the children that they are supposedly assisting have, in many instances, been taken from their families, or their families have given them up and they become tourist attractions.

When this issue was raised, and it has been raised so very powerfully by my friend Linda Reynolds, when this issue came to our notice the Australian Government launched earlier this year, a Smart Volunteer campaign. We have used every available method to get out a very clear message that discourages volunteers from undertaking short-term unskilled volunteer work in orphanages unless you have undertaken a very detailed due diligence, you have asked the right questions, you have informed yourself and you are a prepared volunteer.

Australians are marvellous volunteers at home and abroad, wonderful and generous with their time and their efforts and their energies. They would be greatly distressed to think that they might be unwittingly contributing to the physical and psychological abuse of children.

Our message is very clear: to warn people and raise awareness about this issue of orphanage voluntourism. What we have done is put on our Smartraveller website, our overseas travel advice, details warning of the risks of orphanage voluntourism. We have contacted the Ministers for Education across Australia and Universities Australia, the higher education peak body, to inform them of the issues so that they can inform their students.

We have worked closely with Australian NGOs and global NGOs in Australia. We have worked with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. We have worked with the Australian Charities Commissioner, they have contacted about 9,000 charitable organisations in Australia who might not be aware of this issue. We have continued to send the message, a very clear message that this is just unacceptable and we have to put an end to it.

We have also worked with APEC countries to ensure that they can raise it throughout their networks, and I must say that they are about to publish a guidebook on best practice when it comes to volunteering overseas. I particularly want to thank Lumos for the work that you have done in spreading the message through your extensive social media network.

Australia has been a long-term advocate for child protection. Indeed, we were one of the first countries in the world to legislate against child sex tourism and recently we have passed more legislation that prevents registered child sex offenders from travelling overseas where they might continue to carry on their illegal activities. Indeed, to the point where I as Foreign Minister, have the power to cancel or suspend passports for registered child sex offenders because we do not want to add to the misery of children in our region in particular.

We have also taken steps to introduce modern slavery legislation, taking a cue from the United Kingdom which introduced modern slavery legislation a couple of years ago. Australia has consulted extensively. We have held a number of roundtables with business, we have had Parliamentary inquiries and the Australian Government is now ready to introduce, very shortly, modern slavery legislation which focuses on the issue of human trafficking, forced labour and other forms of what we now call modern slavery.

I am very pleased that Australia is able to lead the way, particularly in our region, work with partners including the United Kingdom, to ensure that we can stamp out these abhorrent practices and the children, wherever they are in the world, are safe and protected.

Thank you all for being here this evening.

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