Thursday, 30 November 2023
Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner) Bill 2023; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
Modern slavery is an egregious form of human rights abuse which deprives victims of their dignity, fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner) Bill is a landmark reform in Australia's response to modern slavery.
The bill delivers on the Albanese government's election commitment to establish the first Commonwealth Anti-Slavery Commissioner to tackle modern slavery in Australia and abroad.
Modern slavery encompasses a range of serious exploitative practices, including trafficking in persons and slavery-like practices such as forced marriage, forced labour, deceptive recruiting and debt bondage.
We know modern slavery is present today in Australia. We've heard the horrific story of a Melbourne couple who secretly enslaved an elderly woman in their suburban home for close to a decade. The case exposed the unacceptable conditions the woman was forced to endure—working extremely long hours seven days a week, with every aspect of her life controlled. Due to relentless efforts from law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, the perpetrators were jailed for six and eight years respectively. For the first time, the government granted an application for a victim of slavery to receive a payment of almost $500,000 in recognition of unpaid wages and other entitlements owed to her.
We've also heard the horrific story of a Brisbane couple convicted of forced labour in relation to a woman who worked as their domestic servant for eight years. The victim worked six days a week, from 6 am to 10 pm, and was paid on average $200 per fortnight.
We know these are not the only instances of modern slavery in Australia which have become public in recent times. Other cases include individuals trafficked into sex work, and a young girl at risk of being sent overseas for a forced marriage. We must continue to tackle these crimes.
The Albanese government is therefore strengthening Australia's response to modern slavery, ensuring we work to prevent, disrupt, and prosecute these crimes, and protect victims and survivors as well as individuals at risk.
There are several pillars to Australia's response to combat modern slavery underpinned by Australia's National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25.
We have comprehensive criminal offences, specialist Australian Federal Police investigative teams, and a dedicated support program for victims and survivors. We have a dedicated human-trafficking visa framework and a human-trafficking and modern slavery research program and associated network. The Modern Slavery Act established a transparency regime to shine a light on modern slavery risks in the supply chains and operations of certain entities carrying out business in Australia.
We also have strong international and regional engagement on modern slavery.
However, the Albanese government recognises more can be done. We know measuring the true extent of modern slavery crimes is significantly challenging and changing. Crimes are often clandestine, sophisticated and underreported.
The new independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner will complement Australia's response to modern slavery by working with others to raise the national profile of the issue of modern slavery. The commissioner will work across government, business and civil society to support compliance with the Modern Slavery Act, improve transparency in supply chains, and combat modern slavery in Australia and abroad. Importantly, the establishment of the commissioner provides an independent mechanism for victims and survivors, business and civil society to engage on issues and design strategies to address modern slavery.
Functions of the commissioner
The bill confers a number of important functions on the commissioner.
The commissioner will play a key role in educating and raising awareness of modern slavery in Australia. This includes delivering education and community-awareness-raising initiatives to highlight modern slavery risks and how those risks may be addressed across all sectors.
The commissioner will support victims of modern slavery by providing information about government and non-government resources, programs and services. Importantly, the commissioner will engage with victims and survivors of modern slavery to ensure their voices inform the design of measures to address modern slavery.
The commissioner will work to support business to address risks of modern slavery practices in their operations and supply chains.
The commissioner will also have an important role in promoting and harnessing research capabilities, to support evidence based responses.
It is important that the government continues to lead by example in tackling modern slavery. The commissioner will therefore advocate for continuous improvement in policy and practice. Commonwealth agencies will also work cooperatively with the commissioner to assist with their important work.
While the commissioner will not investigate or deal directly with individual matters of modern slavery, they will be able to make observations regarding systemic issues based on their engagement with victims and survivors and the broader community.
Governance and other issues
The bill provides the commissioner will be appointed through a merit based and transparent selection process, on a full-time basis for a term of up to five years.
To be effective in their role, it is vital that the commissioner be independent. The bill provides that the commissioner will have discretion in performing or exercising their functions, and will not be subject to direction.
To support transparency, accountability and the effectiveness of the independent commissioner's functions, the commissioner will be required to develop a strategic plan as soon as possible after their commencement that sets out what and how they intend to deliver and monitor the effectiveness of their functions. They will be required to develop an annual report, to be tabled in parliament, outlining their key progress and milestones.
The government has committed $8 million over four years, from 2023-24, to support the commissioner's establishment and operations.
Review of the Modern Slavery Act
The government is committed to strengthening the Modern Slavery Act and is carefully considering the recommendations of the review of the Modern Slavery Act finalised earlier this year. Once appointed, the commissioner will play a key role in shaping implementation of future reforms.
The establishment of the Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner is a pioneering reform and a new, independent pillar in Australia's comprehensive response to countering modern slavery.
The commissioner will make a tangible, positive impact.
I am proud to introduce this bill, which marks a necessary and critical next step in our fight against modern slavery.
This bill follows the extraordinary efforts and tireless work of victims and survivors, civil society and industry stakeholders who campaigned for this important milestone.
I thank each and every one of those individuals who have partnered with the government over many years to strengthen Australia's response. It is your voices and experiences that inspire us every day to fight against modern slavery both here in Australia and abroad.
I commend the bill to the House.