Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 September 2017


Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade; Report

6:28 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present an interim report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade on modern slavery and global supply chains. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate the tabling statement in the Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, it is my pleasure to present today the Committee's interim report for the inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. I am pleased to Chair the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee which is undertaking this inquiry and produced this report.

Modern slavery is a heinous crime that devastates millions of people around the world. Slavery is not a crime from the past, but is all around us today. Modern slavery is an umbrella term describing a range of exploitative crimes, including: human trafficking, forced labour, bonded labour, child labour, forced marriage, orphanage trafficking, sexual slavery and other slavery-like practices. About 46 million people are victims of modern slavery around the world, including over 30 million victims in the Asia-Pacific.

The Committee's inquiry is investigating how Australia's laws, policies and practices can be improved to better combat modern slavery here and around the world. The inquiry is, in particular, looking at whether measures similar to or improving upon the United Kingdom's Modern Slavery Act 2015 could be introduced here. This interim report outlines recommendations and statements of in-principle support, focussing on combating modern slavery in the global supply chains of companies, businesses, organisations and governments operating in Australia. The Committee resolved to prepare this report to help inform the Australian Government's contribution the Bali Process Forum in Perth on 24 and 25 August, with the full content of a Modern Slavery Act to be considered in the final report.

Mr Speaker, the Committee has heard about the devastating impact of these appalling crimes around the world. At its recent hearing in Melbourne, we heard the shocking experiences of Ms Sophea Touch, who became a domestic slave in Cambodia when she was just four years old. Through her childhood, Ms Touch was forced to work in appalling conditions as she was passed from one family to another, each more abusive and violent than the next. She was starved, beaten and abused. She could not escape. She was a modern day slave. This human example highlights the importance of this inquiry to ensure Australia is doing all it can to eradicate modern slavery.

To date, the Committee has published over 200 submissions and held public hearings in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, with further hearings planned in regional Australia. Submitters and witnesses have made many recommendations to improve Australia's response to modern slavery including prevention measures, support for victims, improvements to Australia's visa regime and prevention of orphanage tourism. The Committee thanks all submitters and witnesses who have contributed so far.

As noted, this interim report focusses on supply chains. Under the UK Modern Slavery Act, businesses and organisations operating in the UK with a turnover of 36 million pounds, about 60 million dollars, must report annually on measures taken to ensure that their global supply chains are free of modern slavery. Similar reporting requirements have also been introduced in the United States and elsewhere in Europe.

The interim report summarises the evidence heard by the Committee so far.

Overwhelmingly, there has been strong support for the introduction of an Australian Modern Slavery Act, including global supply chain reporting requirements and an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Businesses, unions and NGOs are all largely supportive of introducing supply chain reporting requirements here in Australia to raise awareness of modern slavery risks, to eradicate these crimes where found, to reduce corporate risk, to provide investor confidence and to ensure a fair market, where businesses using modern slavery do not have a competitive advantage.

This interim report also highlights a number of key principles raised at this stage by submitters and witnesses that an Australian supply chain reporting requirement should include. This includes support for consistency with international jurisdictions and best practice, mandated supply chain reporting and the establishment of a central repository of modern slavery statements.

The report makes three recommendations. The first is that the Australian Government consider supporting in-principle the development of a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, including supply chain reporting requirements for companies, businesses, organisations and governments, and an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. This reflects the strong support the Committee heard for these measures.

The second recommendation is that the government consider this recommendation as part of Australia's contribution to the Bali Process Forum next week.

The final recommendation is that the Government consider this interim report as part of its current review of corporate reporting in the UK and around the world, with a view to developing legislation in Australia.

I'm pleased the Australian Government has this week come out in support of mandated business supply chain reporting with a proposed 100 million dollar threshold, agreed to a central repository and opened up consultation on these proposals in conjunction with our inquiry.

Importantly, the report offers in-principle support for, and considerations of, several key principles suggested by submitters and witnesses including: the introduction of an opt-in threshold for companies allowing any companies below the threshold to submit a modern slavery statement; a central repository; and Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner; applying reporting requirements to government procurement (which is a key criticism of the UK Act); publishing a list of companies who need to report and those that don't report; penalties for companies that don't report; looking at prescribing reporting requirements and due diligence; and producing guidance for businesses.

The report also identifies a number of areas for further consideration, including what possible penalties could be, the role of an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and other measures to combat modern slavery. The Committee will continue to investigate these issues in its final report in accordance with our terms of reference, providing further direction to Government on modern slavery legislation

We have a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take the lead on stamping out modern slavery for good, particularly with over 30 million victims in our region. I'm proud of the Turnbull Coalition Government who initiated this inquiry, who took the proverbial bull by the horns, as well as the bipartisan support this issue has now generated. Let us not miss the opportunity to continue taking strong action on this issue. I look forward to working with the Committee for the remainder of this inquiry to recommend then implement strong action to eradicate this appalling crime. Modern slavery must stop.

Mr Speaker, I commend the interim report to the House.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.