Senate debates

Monday, 23 August 2021


Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021; Second Reading

10:02 am

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this very important bill, the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021. The purpose of this bill is to ban absolutely the importation of goods that are produced in whole or in part by forced labour—that is, slavery.

Estimates of the number of slaves across the world range from some 38 million to 46 million people. The use of forced labour within global production chains has emerged as a major humanitarian concern. The issue of modern slavery has also been highlighted by the well-documented human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese government against hundreds of thousands of Uighur people in Xinjiang in western China. The massive and systematic oppression of the Uighur people by the Chinese communist regime is undeniable, including the exploitation of detained Uighurs as a captive labour force. Uighur forced labour plays a key role in Xinjiang's massive cotton production and extends across an array of Chinese industries, including the supply chains of global brands.

In 2020 the Australian Strategic Policy Institute estimated at least 80,000 Uighur detainees had been shipped out of Xinjiang and assigned to factories in a range of supply chains—including electronics, textiles and automotive—under a central government policy known as 'Xinjiang aid'. ASPI identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that are using Uighur labour transferred from Xinjiang since 2017. Some 83 foreign and Chinese companies, allegedly, were directly or indirectly benefiting from the exploitation of Uighur workers outside Xinjiang through abusive labour programs. Some of the international brands allegedly involved are very well known, including Apple, Esprit, Fila, Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Amazon, BMW, The Gap, H&M, Marks & Spencer, Nike, North Face, Puma and Samsung.

International action against modern slavery is building. Not only have a growing number of countries enacted laws against modern slavery; there's also increased action to deal with the products of forced labour in China. In January this year, the US government implemented an executive order banning the importation of cotton and other products from Xinjiang. In July, the US Senate passed a bill to ban the import of all products from Xinjiang.

The need for Australia to address this pressing problem caused me to introduce the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 on 8 December last year. The purpose of the bill was to amend the Customs Act 1901 to ban the importation of goods produced or manufactured in Xinjiang or else manufactured in China through the use of forced labour. That bill was referred to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, chaired by Senator Abetz, with Senator Kitching as deputy chair. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Senator Abetz, Senator Kitching and other members of the committee for their work on that important inquiry. I also wish to thank the many people and organisations that made submissions and gave evidence, especially members of the Australian Uighur community, who faced harassment from Chinese government officials here in Australia and grave threats to family members, relatives and friends in Xinjiang.

The committee reported to the Senate on 17 June this year. The committee endorsed, without reservation, the objectives of my bill and went on to observe:

The state-sponsored forced labour to which the Uyghur people are being subjected by the Chinese dictatorship is a grave human rights violation. It is incumbent on the government to take steps to ensure that Australian businesses and consumers are not in any way complicit in these egregious abuses.

The committee took the view that it would be preferable to introduce a global ban on the import to Australia of goods produced by forced labour. However, within the context of a global ban, the committee further highlighted the need for specific action to be taken in relation to Xinjiang's cotton trade.

I have expressed my support for the committee's primary recommendation of a local ban and for other recommendations relating to government-to-government policy, administrative and enforcement matters. My concern has always been that action be taken quickly to ensure that Australia's condemnation of the Chinese government's shameful persecution and exploitation of Uighur people is made absolutely clear. The committee's report is an important step forward, and legislative implementation must not be delayed. There must be an immediate response from the Australian parliament, not the usual protracted process of government review that may lead to legislative and administrative action in two or three years. That is not acceptable.

Accordingly, rather than amend the original bill, this new bill seeks to implement the committee's primary recommendation without delay. The ban that this bill would implement is global in nature and does not specify any geographical origin for its application. The importation into Australia of any goods found to have been produced by forced labour, as already defined by the Criminal Code, will be subject to the penalties that apply to the importation of other imports prohibited by regulation under the Customs Act—for example, asbestos.

The bill is, I acknowledge, something of a blunt instrument, but that's what's needed to thwart modern slavery, especially China's resorting to the massive use of forced labour. If Australia is to be true to the democratic values we hold, we need to leave the Chinese government in no doubt that its conduct is unconscionable and unacceptable. And this action cannot be further delayed. It must happen within the life of this parliament—indeed, within this calendar year. We need to send a very clear political signal to Beijing and to the numerous international brands that have been happy to turn a blind eye to China's massive exploitation of forced labour. We need to send that signal right now, before the Beijing Winter Olympics next February, just six months away, when the Chinese Communist Party intend to bask in a massive international propaganda event.

Passage by this bill will be a step forward in the international campaign against modern slavery and the brutal oppression of the Uighur people in particular. It will send a very clear signal that the CCP's human rights abuses will be called out. I understand that the Labor opposition, the Greens and members of the crossbench are prepared to support this bill. I strongly urge government senators who have been vocal about this issue to do likewise, otherwise their many strong words will be shown to be quite hollow. Passage of this bill through the Senate will hopefully force the hand of the government, which so far has been sluggish and, indeed, most reluctant to move on the issue. It would be a grave failure on the part of the Australian parliament as a whole if we did not call out and take action to limit the massive abuses of human rights by the Chinese communist regime. This bill is part of a growing international campaign against modern slavery and those who profit from such human rights abuses. It seeks to send a very strong message. It seeks to contribute to the worldwide effort to stop this abhorrent trade.

10:11 am

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] Slave labour is a scourge which needs to be booted out. It is a cruelty inflicted by humans against humans in denial of human value and fundamental human rights. So I congratulate Senator Patrick on this initiative and fully understand that which motivates him in putting this bill before the Senate today. I also want to acknowledge the work of the secretariat and other committee members of the Senate's Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee that looked at Senator Patrick's bill, crafted a report and made a list of some 14 recommendations.

For slavery to exist, there must be a procurer of the slaves and a market for them and their work. The genesis of this bill clearly is the disgust held at the behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship's treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang province. One million of their own people are in concentration camps, slave labour camps. So this brutal dictatorship is the procurer of the slaves, and the market for their labour is both the dictatorship and many businesses which are able to supply on the world market at prices cheaper than competitors because of the slave labour savings. Senator Patrick has outlined a number of those businesses, so I won't go through that list again.

This is a real and present issue. It is difficult to believe that large businesses aren't aware of this scandalous supply chain. So often we hear from big business moralising on all manner of things, but they don't seem to have the capacity to do so when it hits their bottom line, their profit. Decency and a moral compass should dictate our corporate citizens in this country would not source product from such human-rights-denying hellholes, but seemingly some do.

To their credit, Wesfarmers have taken a positive, principled, proactive stance. I for one salute them for their position, which stands in contrast to the attitude of the Australia China Business Council, which during a hearing into another matter referred to, I believe quite dismissively, 'the colour and movement' in Xinjiang province. Indeed, in a hearing on 10 June this year, I put to the representative of the Australia China Business Council my concern at his use of the words 'colour and movement' in Xinjiang province. I asked:

Would you agree with me that the events occurring there are a little more serious than just colour and movement, when you've got one million people in concentration camps; and parliaments, like the Canadian parliament, determining that genocide, forced organ harvesting and slave labour are occurring? Would you agree with me that that terminology of 'colour and movement' doesn't really create the full picture of the atrocities that are going on?

Regrettably, we got this very weak answer:

I would agree that it was a poor choice of words, but neither would I necessarily choose the words that you've chosen to use; so I'll meet you somewhere in the middle.

Consider that for a moment: one million citizens in slave labour concentration camps, forced organ harvesting and the abuses go on, and the Australia China Business Council is unable to acknowledge that the word 'atrocity' should or could be used. Later on he sought to dismiss all these human rights abuses as simply reports, and he said that he wasn't going to use the words, because he didn't think it was constructive. Then, when talking about it, he said, 'We could have a very long and torturous discussion about this.' It really is a matter of regret that the former CEO of that same organisation described our great country as 'little Australia' and 'a shag on a rock' and diminished our country.

That said, this is a bill that is important. The government supports the intent of the legislation and acknowledges the importance of the issues. Just in case people are under any misapprehension, in Australia there is already the Modern Slavery Act 2018, of relative recent origin. This act drives business due diligence around supply chains. The government recently also committed $10.6 million to implement Australia's National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25, which delivers initiatives to prevent, disrupt, investigate and prosecute modern slavery crimes. As Senator Patrick indicated, originally his bill was only in relation to the Uighurs. On the strength of our report, he accepts that it should have broad application, and that is what the government has sought. I commend Senator Patrick for that amendment to his bill.

The government has sought on numerous occasions to assist in the disruption of these supply chains, but it is considerably difficult for government and sometimes businesses, especially small businesses, to fully understand the degree of their supply chain and from where product is originally sourced. But can I say to the state governments in Australia that are seeking to source trains from Xinjiang province: you can be in no doubt as to what is occurring in Xinjiang province. The fact that you are pursuing and continuing to pursue contracts for the supply of trains and carriages from Xinjiang province, when you know what is going on, is a matter of, I believe, national scandal and national disgrace which brings a lot of disrepute on you and your state governments. You should be desisting from assisting the supply chains and assisting the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship in circumstances where the depravity of the treatment of these poor individuals who are making these trains is now so well known.

In the committee's report to the Senate, 14 recommendations were made. Time does not permit me to go through all of them. I will simply say that any legislation of this nature should have broad application, such as the Magnitsky legislation—another committee on which I sit has brought before the parliament a report suggesting that we should have Magnitsky type legislation—whose origin was in fact the Russian oligarchs and their corruption. But it doesn't only apply to Russia and its oligarchs; it should apply across the board, across the world. Similarly, slave labour legislation should apply across the board to any potential supply chain of this nature. That the government takes this seriously cannot be in any doubt.

This is a bill worthy of consideration and support, in principle. Until such time as a detailed examination of its various clauses has been undertaken and we have the whole-of-government response to the Senate committee's report, I believe it is premature to deal with this bill on a vote. Senator Patrick himself acknowledged that this was a 'blunt instrument'. I don't seek to misquote him on that. I understand the reason and rationale for his use of those words. But when dealing with a blunt instrument to deal with a horrendous issue—and with that I'm on all fours with Senator Patrick—there needs to be a deep analysis of every single clause to ensure that there are not any unforeseen consequences or circumstances.

I say to Senator Patrick and to the Senate that, if this bill were to go to a vote, my heart would say yes but my head would be saying 'not yet'. Good intentions are always to be applauded, and Senator Patrick should be fully applauded for what he is seeking to do with this bill. But life has also taught me that, too often, on examination, good intentions are exposed as sometimes naive and sometimes counterproductive. I believe that, in this case, there is no naivety in that which is being sought and pursued but there is the possibility of unforeseen consequences or counterproductive outcomes which would not suit the purposes of the originator of this bill.

Senator Patrick, congratulations on bringing this issue forward, but I would suggest to the Senate that we wait until we get the full government response and the analysis of the bill in some detail from the department so that we can move forward in a coherent manner to ensure that the human rights abuses that are occurring 24/7 in Xinjiang province are not simply discussed as colour and movement, as was so appallingly done by the Australia China Business Council, but that the matter is taken seriously, that we deal with the issues and that we ensure that we can wipe out this horrid trade in human misery.

As I said, my heart says yes to this bill but my head says 'not yet'. I trust that the Senate will defer a vote on this bill, and consideration will be deferred until all the evidence is together so we have the best possible product to protect the peoples of the world who are subjected to slave labour. I thank the Senate.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Abetz. Before I call Senator Watt, I want to note that Australia is experiencing very difficult times, but it is very pleasing to see women leading our Senate chamber this week. Senator Watt.

10:24 am

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I could not agree more, Madam Deputy President—including yourself. I rise to contribute to the debate on the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021. I will say, from the outset, that Labor will be supporting Senator Patrick's bill, and I foreshadow that I will move a second reading amendment in the name of Senator Keneally at the end of my contribution.

In 2018, the Global Slavery Index estimated that over 40 million individuals across the world were trapped in some form of modern slavery. For nearly 25 million people, that was forced labour, most prominently in Eritrea, Burundi and North Korea but occurring in nearly every corner of the globe in some way or another. For context, 25 million people is roughly the population of our nation, yet I'm sure that there are many here in Australia who are not aware of this horror. We often speak of slavery in the past tense, as if it were a crime against humanity that we've thoroughly consigned to the history books—a scourge that climaxed with the Emancipation Proclamation and something that, today, can only be found in books and film—yet it is the reality for many millions of people around the world who live their lives in bondage. For every one of us, there is one of them, living a life of cruelty and despair.

It is not that our abhorrence towards slavery has weakened but, rather, that the problem has evolved in a rapidly developing modern world. The current iteration of forced labour and servitude is now hidden and obscured by the complex supply chains of our global trading system. So, noting the enormity and complexity of this issue, it is vital that countries like Australia show leadership, particularly in our region, in combatting modern slavery and forced labour. Modern slavery is not foreign to us here. It happens in the Asia-Pacific, and it even occurs here in Australia. In 2018, it was estimated that roughly two-thirds of the people trapped in forced labour and slavery lived in the Asia-Pacific region. The same report says that there are roughly 4,300 people in Australia today living in these horrific circumstances. This is an issue that isn't relegated to history or far-flung lands. It happens in our own backyard and in our own community. It is something that the Australian Labor Party has always taken a strong stand against. Labor led the push for an Australian modern slavery act and later moved amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill in 2018 to improve its effectiveness, introduce penalties for noncompliance and establish an independent anti-slavery commission. These amendments were not supported by the Liberal-National government at the time.

In the intervening period, the world has witnessed a growing number of horrifying reports of forced labour and human rights violations. Evidently, we, as a global community, need to do more, and that starts at home. Labor has also taken a strong stance against the exploitation of our airports to smuggle people into the country. Over 130,000 people have been brought to Australia through these loopholes, and many have ended up working in slavery-like conditions in our horticulture sector. These people are being trafficked by organised crime and illegitimate labour hire companies, and many have been subjected to wage theft, abuse and sexual assault, while the go-slow Department of Home Affairs processes their applications. This is a significant problem that has been ignored and denied by those opposite. We welcome this private senator's bill today because we recognise that more must be done to combat modern slavery and we fully appreciate how pervasive the problem has become.

We also thank Senator Patrick for engaging with the committee process and adopting recommendations of the Senate inquiry into this bill. Whilst we support the proposed legislation, we recognise that this bill will only go so far in addressing the problems at hand. The Senate inquiry and key stakeholders have highlighted a number of ways that the bill could be improved to ensure that it is more effective in addressing modern slavery. Firstly, the bill does not address what information or what standard of proof is required to ban a product produced by forced labour. Does the bill require a proven crime beyond reasonable doubt before the government can take action?

It is not clear whether this is the standard of proof required or whether some lesser measure would be used. It was the view of the committee as well as key stakeholders that the standard should be where the evidence reasonably but not conclusively indicates that imports were produced in whole or in part by forced labour. This is also the approach taken by the United States government with the Tariff Act. With this standard, the burden would then be shifted back to importers and the producers of the good to demonstrate the absence of forced labour in their supply chain. Without such a standard, the bill may introduce a ban that is unworkable in the real world.

Secondly, the bill does not outline an open referral mechanism, another feature employed by Washington in their fight against forced labour. An open referral mechanism would allow anyone to petition the Australian Border Force to investigate allegations of forced labour. Further, this open referral mechanism should then necessitate a transparent process by which the reasons for the acceptance or rejection of a petition would be published. This would increase the practicality of the ban and allow for greater transparency and accountability over its implementation.

Thirdly, the bill doesn't provide the Australian Border Force with enough power to investigate in instances where it believes goods produced by forced labour are being imported. Without the ability to issue detention orders for specific goods, companies or regions with a high risk of forced labour, the ABF is significantly hamstrung in the way it can enforce the ban. Without explicitly outlining these powers in the bill, the ABF's ability to investigate and enforce the ban will be hampered.

Fourthly, we must ensure fairness in this system. There should be a process by which importers can challenge a finding or order made by the ABF in the investigation of goods produced by forced labour. It is important that importers who can demonstrate that they have taken every reasonable effort to verify the source and the type of labour used and have provided sufficient evidence that the shipped goods were not produced with forced labour are not unfairly disadvantaged. If they cannot satisfy these requirements, the goods should be seized and detained. This, in turn, would create a commercial imperative for importers to have done their own homework before importing a good. If they can provide their proof, they will be able to secure the swift release of their product.

Finally, the bill would be improved by specifically articulating transparency measures, which should be specifically laid out in the bill, ideally in the way of a publicly available register which outlines the number of investigations, the number of petitions, the number of detention orders and the details of any findings of forced labour. This is what best practice would look like in a bill of this kind. We acknowledge the work of the Senate committee and a number of stakeholders who have engaged with this process to attempt to achieve the most effective and practical ban possible.

Despite what we've outlined above, Labor support any efforts to combat modern slavery. In moving our second reading amendment, we seek to acknowledge the important work of Senator Patrick and we call on the Morrison government to do more than match the effort and resolve from Labor and the crossbench to combat this horrible crime. It's evident what must be done. The Morrison government needs to work with Labor and the crossbench to amend the Modern Slavery Act to introduce penalties for noncompliance and to require mandatory reporting on exposure to specified issues of pressing concern, including Uighur forced labour. Australia is way behind many of our like-minded partners in addressing forced labour and modern slavery. It is vital that we pursue an effective, country-agnostic approach to address these global problems. Without leadership, our region will continue to be exploited by those who profit from the misery of forced labour.

To effectively address the myriad issues presented by modern slavery, the Morrison government needs to do more than amend laws. The government needs to work with consumers and producers alike to boost the transparency of global supply chains. This should include work across the Australian Border Force, the Australian Sanctions Office and AUSTRAC with international partners to increase outreach and information sharing. An independent antislavery commissioner, which Labor has called for, could and should lead this important work.

The Morrison government should also engage in regular dialogues with unions, industry groups and human rights organisations in order to more quickly identify potential issues and address them properly. Additionally, properly funded research into forced labour is vital if we are to identify and combat the issue. Australia should ratify the International Labour Organization's 2014 forced labour protocol. If Australia wants to speak with global credibility on ending forced labour, it must join the 45 other countries, including the UK, New Zealand, Canada, France and Germany, that have ratified the protocol and fully abide by the ILO's forced labour convention.

The Morrison government should consider publishing an annual list of countries, regions, industries and products with a high risk of modern slavery, including forced labour. Companies importing from these places would have the onus placed on them to prove goods are not made with forced labour. It could also consider targeted sanctions on foreign companies, officials and other entities known to be directly profiting from Uighur forced labour and other human rights abuses. The Morrison government should lead by example and conduct a comprehensive review of its procurement procedures and supply chains and disclose this publicly as part of its existing modern slavery report. This should act as a blueprint for state and territory governments to also review their supply chains and ensure they are not importing goods made from forced labour, including in Xinjiang.

None of my comments here should be a shock to anyone. This is the solution that Labor has long called for to properly address this complex issue. Without these changes, we fear that the millions of people who live their lives in forced labour and slavery will never leave it. It is a stain on our humanity that it exists, and we should do everything that we can to stop it, so we move our second reading amendment to this effect and we again reiterate our support for Senator Patrick's bill. We support this legislation and strongly support its intent. Slavery has not been consigned to the history books, but it should be. For the 40 million people around the world living their lives in bondage, including the millions in our region and the thousands in Australia, we owe them all our efforts to outlaw and combat this scourge. Real leadership and resolve is required to make modern slavery a thing of the past, so I commend this bill to the Senate and, at the request of Senator Keneally, I move:

At the end of the motion, add ", and whilst supporting the bill, the Senate:

(a) notes that:

(i) Australia has an important role to play in combatting forced labour and modern slavery, particularly in our region,

(ii) the provisions within this bill are a blunt instrument to address this issue, and will be difficult to enforce without additional reforms, and

(iii) the Government has previously opposed efforts in this place to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act 2018; and

(b) calls on the Government to do more to address forced labour and modern slavery, including supporting Labor's amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill 2018 which sought to improve its effectiveness, introduce penalties for non-compliance, increase transparency of global supply chains, and establish an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, which the Government has previously opposed in this place.

10:37 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I am very pleased to be here today supporting this bill of Senator Patrick's, the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021. It's a very important bill. It's an incredibly important issue—the fact that we have forced labour, that we have slavery continuing today, that slavery is not a thing of the past, that there are 40 million people around the world who are still subject to the appalling conditions of living as bonded labourers, as slaves in forced labour.

I thank Senator Patrick for bringing this bill to us, and I thank him for modifying the bill from the first version that we saw, which was focused on the atrocities and the appalling conditions suffered by the Uighurs in China, because it is important to acknowledge what's going on in China—acknowledge the huge, massive attacks on Uighur people's human rights in China—but it's also important to acknowledge that this is not an issue that is just restricted to China and this is not an issue just restricted to the Uighur population. There are issues of modern slavery, of forced labour, all around the world, so I really do thank Senator Patrick for having broadened the extent of the bill, which was one of the recommendations by many of the people who put in submissions to his previous bill.

As Senator Patrick himself acknowledged in his contribution, this bill isn't perfect, and, as Senator Watt just told us, there are many ways that this bill could be improved. The Greens support most of those critiques of the bill. We'd like to see our legislative framework improve to pick up on many of those issues that Senator Watt just raised. But that does not take away from the importance of this bill and the importance of putting the issue of forced labour around the world and what the Australian government's response should be fairly and squarely on the agenda, on the table for us today.

Yes, this bill should be improved, but so should the rest of our framework for addressing human rights. We need a legislative framework that puts human rights—the rights of people to live decent, unoppressed lives, to have freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of association—at the core of our foreign policy. It needs to be at the core of our foreign policy. Not only that, it needs to be at the core of our trade policy and at the core of our aid policy. This bill is an important contribution towards changing our legislative framework for that to occur. As such, the Greens are very happy to be supporting it as a step forward.

As I said, this bill, as we know, began with the appalling conditions being suffered by a million or more Uighur people in China. We have heard so much in this parliament—and quite rightly—about what the conditions are. It's horrific. Basically, cultural genocide is being undertaken against the Uighur people, with detention of up to a million people, the forced labour this bill is addressing, reports of systematic rape and the widespread destruction or damaging of thousands of mosques. So whatever we can do as Australians to address this is important, and we need to keep the focus on. We cannot just let it be put to the side and say that, because China is a very large country and a very powerful force in the world, there's nothing that we can do. There are things that we can do, and we must do them.

But, as I have said, it's also important that we acknowledge that this isn't just an issue focused on China. We need to broaden it out. One reason why we need to broaden it out is that we need to make sure that, when we are talking about the appalling human rights abuses being meted out by the Chinese government—by that totalitarian regime—we don't get ourselves into a frame of thinking that it's only China that's doing that, because it's not. There are other appalling human rights abuses all around the world, as we know.

I have just spent the weekend focused on the tragic circumstances that are currently unfolding in Afghanistan, as I'm sure many of us have. We're going to be hearing a lot more this week about the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan—the massacres, the deaths that they are imposing and are likely to be imposing upon people. We have seen the coup in Myanmar. We have seen regimes such as Saudi Arabia's. There are issues all around the world, and we need to make sure that they are being addressed.

So it's not a focus just on China. We have to be very careful that we take whatever action we can to make sure that, by having a focus on the actions of the Chinese government, we don't flame anti-Chinese racism here in Australia. We've got to put all of the work that we are doing in a framework of respect for human rights everywhere, including in Australia, and respect for the human rights of people of Chinese heritage here in Australia. We know that, with the focus on China over the last year or so, there has been a huge increase in racism directed at people of Chinese heritage in Australia. It is very important that this bill has been modified so it's not focused just on China; it is focused on slavery and on forced labour wherever it occurs in the world.

There are other places in the world where it does occur. As I said, 40 million people around the world are subject to slavery or conditions of forced labour. For example, state sanctioned forced labour is particularly common in the cotton sector in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. Each year, during the harvest season, citizens are forced out of regular jobs to spend weeks picking cotton at work. In Saudi Arabia, millions of migrant workers fill mostly manual, clerical and service jobs in Saudi Arabia, constituting more than 80 per cent of the private sector workforce, governed by an abusive kafala system that gives their employers excessive power over their mobility and legal status in the country. Human Rights Watch tells us that the system underpins migrant workers' vulnerability to a wide range of abuses, from passport confiscation to delayed wages and forced labour. There is little that's being done to dismantle the kafala system, which is leaving migrant workers in Saudi Arabia at high risk of abuse. Then, in fact, there are other elements of forced labour, such as prison labour and the situation in prisons. Exporting prison produced goods is illegal under domestic and international trade law, but in the United States prison labour is a billion-dollar industry, and 37 states allow the use of prison labour by private companies. In eight states, prisoners are not paid for their work in state-run facilities. The country-wide average for inmates receiving the least for their work is US14c per hour, and the average for those earning the most is US63c per hour, so it's important that Australia focuses on where forced labour and modern slavery are occurring, no matter where it is around the world.

As I said, we need to be putting human rights at the forefront, at the core, of our foreign policy and of our trade policy. There is lots more that we can be doing, as well as supporting the bill before us today, and I'm hoping the Senate is indeed going to be supporting this bill today. We need to be increasing the powers in our Modern Slavery Act. Our Modern Slavery Act is up for review, and I am hoping that it will be strengthened so it can really address broader issues of modern slavery wherever they're occurring around the world, and particularly requiring it to have mandatory reporting so that that bill actually has some teeth. We must ratify the International Labour Organization forced labour protocol. I don't understand why Australia has not ratified that protocol yet. More broadly, we need to be changing our framework so that we can have a powerful focus on human rights abuses wherever they occur in the world as that would clearly enable us to have targeted sanctions on human rights abusers wherever they are in the world. Across parties and across the Senate we have had a focus on the need for Magnitsky legislation. As we know we have had a government response to this legislation which is frankly lukewarm. I am not convinced that we are going to be toughening our sanctions regime, as we need to, to give us the powers to be taking powerful action against human rights abusers wherever they are in the world. As Greens, we will be continuing our pressure to be getting really strong Magnitsky legislation to enable us to be effectively imposing targeted sanctions on human rights abusers no matter where they are from: whether they are Chinese officials, who are responsible for the appalling conditions that the Uighur are living under; whether they are the generals, who are responsible for the coup in Myanmar; whether they are people in Russia, in Saudi Arabia or in other parts of the world who are responsible for appalling attacks on human rights abuses.

I want to conclude by saying that this is a very important bill. But what is more important is to see it in the context of needing to have a legislative framework, which the Greens have been proposing and will continue to advocate for, that puts human rights at the core of our interactions with other countries, whether that's through our foreign policy, through our trade arrangements or through our aid arrangements, so that we can feel that we are doing our utmost to be supporting the rights of people around the world. This is important because while human rights are being abused, while people are suffering and not being able to live their best lives, anywhere in the world, we suffer too as part of that common humanity. We need to be taking action and we need to be taking whatever action we can. In that context, the Greens are very happy to be supporting Senator Patrick's bill this morning.

10:49 am

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] As a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021. The purpose of the original bill was to ban the importation of goods from Xinjiang, in the People's Republic of China, as well as goods from other parts of the PRC that are produced in whole or part by forced labour. I, like other speakers, am pleased that Senator Patrick has expanded the scope of the bill with the insertion of section 50A, 'Prohibition of the importation of goods—goods produced by forced labour', within the meaning of the Criminal Code.

I associate myself with the comments that have been made by Senator Abetz but I focus my comments this morning on the work of the report and the work that the committee did on this report, particularly in relation to the massive and systemic oppression of the Uighur people by the Chinese government. The explanatory memorandum to the bill states that the use of forced labour is defined in the bill by reference to the Criminal Code. The explanatory memorandum states:

The importation into Australia of any goods found to have been produced by forced labour, will be subject to the penalties that apply to the importation of other goods designated as prohibited imports by regulations made under the Customs Act.

The Bill supports Australia's longstanding commitment to internationally recognised human rights to freedom from slavery and forced labour such as in Article 8 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and related international conventions against slavery and forced labour.

I acknowledge and thank Senator Patrick for the work that he has done and thank him for bringing forward this bill.

This is a critical time in the world's dealings with the communist regime in Beijing and, accordingly, this bill is very timely. Apart from the evidence given by the usual apologists for Beijing, the remainder of the evidence to the committee was very compelling. This is an issue of concern to many Australians, especially given the evidence provided by the president of the Australian Uyghur Tangritagh Women's Association that every single Uighur in Australia has family members and/or friends in the concentration and/or labour camps.

Many respondents pointed to the research of Dr Adrian Zenz, including his work indicating that there are as many as 1.8 million Uighurs and other ethnic groups currently subjected to forced labour in the PRC. Dr Darren Byler, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, told the committee about his research based on interviews with former Xinjiang workers and immediate family members of workers. He states:

… what I've learned from them through those interviews and through comparison to open-and-closed access Chinese government documents, such as internal police documents, is that a system of unfree labour is now widespread in Xinjiang and, to a certain extent, across China. In factories and other institutions, the workers are taught to speak Mandarin and embrace state political ideology, all while learning to work on an assembly line or as maintenance workers, cleaners, nannies and cooks in state-directed labour programs. Though some of these new workers referred to as 'surplus' labourers were simply farmers from nearby villages, many of them are also relatives of detainees or former detainees themselves. All of them know that overt refusal of these job assignments could result in their internment in camps or imprisonment.

The World Uyghur Congress noted that forced labour tended to take place in or around internment camps, prisons and workplaces inside East Turkestan as well as across China. Various submitters to our committee referred to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report of March 2020 Uyghurs for sale: Re-education, forced labour and surveillance beyond Xinjiang by Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, Danielle Cave, Dr James Leibold, Kelsey Munro and Nathan Ruser. Other speakers have referred to some of the contents of that report, which identified 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces using Uighur forced labour, transferred from Xinjiang, since 2017.

These factories are part of the supply chain for 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sector. Of note, the report estimated the transfer of more than 80,000 Uighurs and other ethnic minorities from Xinjiang to factories across the country, between 2017 and 2019, through labour transfer programs under a central government policy known as Xinjiang Aid. ASPI also maintains the Xinjiang Data Project website, which brings together research on the human rights situation of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. Furthermore—and I note that this has also been referred to—one of those companies, Chinese rail manufacturer KTK, works with a number of governments in Australia, including the New South Wales government and the Victorian government, and is being investigated for its links to forced labour.

Witnesses provided troubling evidence of PRC government intimidation in response to the publication of research in this area. Professor Leibold and Ms Munro said that the report had been repeatedly criticised by the Chinese government, seeking to besmirch ASPI as an organisation and its researchers, who have been repeatedly doxxed and threatened, and ignoring the substance of the report and the specifics of the evidence. Doxxing, I understand, is the practice of releasing a person's private information on the internet. Ms Xu informed the committee that the PRC had threatened to sue ASPI for libel, following the publication of the report. We also know that there have been incentives offered to companies to incorporate Uighur workers into their business. They reported that the government subsidies include free land, lower electricity costs, low-cost loans, transportation subsidies and even subsidised labour.

Evidence by Professor James Leibold should sound a salutatory warning. The two-way trade between Xinjiang and Australia is increasingly significant and should be of serious concern to our parliament. The customs bureau of the Xinjiang regional government releases monthly statistics on the import and export of products between Xinjiang and other countries. According to Professor Leibold's evidence, Australia is—much to my surprise—one of the regime's top trading partners. Over the four years of the brutal crackdown in Xinjiang, Australia's two-way trade with Xinjiang increased by 150 per cent. The vast majority of that trade, about 73 per cent, is the import of goods from Xinjiang into Australia, with imports increasing by 150 per cent in 2009 and amounting to $37 million. By comparison, in 2019, neither Canada nor the UK was among Xinjiang's top 30 trading partners. Germany and Japan imported far less. In fact, in 2019 Australia's imports from Xinjiang actually exceeded that of the United States and comprised about two per cent of Xinjiang's total exports.

Our report canvassed legislative responses by other governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. On the private-sector front, Be Slavery Free noted that the Better Cotton Initiative, a global not-for-profit organisation and the largest cotton sustainability program in the world, has suspended its activities in Xinjiang on the back of concerns over the prevalence of labour abuses in the area. BSF also noted actions taken by Woolworths, Kathmandu and PDH brands, as outlined in their modern slavery statements. Indeed, Woolworths commenced tracing its garment supply chain, and Kathmandu noted that the risk of exposure to forced labour was potentially present at all levels of the supply chain.

In relation to the issue with Beijing, the report indicated that there is widespread support for this bill. I think that is not surprising given the change in sentiment that is fast becoming the norm—that it can no longer the business as usual with the communist regime in China. The ongoing threats by Beijing are symptomatic of the predicament that we find ourselves in, noting that years of questionable and, if I may say so, defective foreign and trade policy have made us vulnerable to economic coercion. Those who have responsibility for our 'fellow traveller' foreign policy were prepared to ignore communist China's skulduggery so long as the rivers of gold continued to flow. Businesses also engaged in extensive trade because the rivers of gold were flowing. This has proved to be a flawed business model, and if we profess to have a values based foreign policy then that includes standing up on issues such as abuse of human rights.

Whilst China's bully tactics on different fronts were clear, there was a reluctance to offend China on the part of those leading our foreign and trade policy, and my criticisms in January 2018, though valid, were not welcome. We were never clear what strategy we were adopting with China. Therefore, when you are dealing with a bully, it is important that you have the political fortitude to stand up to them. As I've said, I think that the Australian public will now expect that. Australians will no longer tolerate business as usual with the communist regime. China is not a democracy. It is a totalitarian regime, and we need to treat it as such. I won't go into the statistics in relation to our mounting trade. Suffice it to say that having put a third of our trade eggs in the China basket has opened us up to criticism on a range of fronts, especially now that we are seeing the emerging evidence about some of those goods potentially being linked to forced labour in Xinjiang, and potentially in other places.

I am pleased the committee endorses without reservation the objectives of the bill, as I've indicated, in relation to state-sponsored forced labour in relation to Uighurs and, of course, in other parts the world. I agree that it is incumbent upon the government to take steps to ensure that Australian businesses and consumers are not in any way complicit in these egregious abuses. Our report made it clear that it is important that we prohibit the import of any goods made wholly or in part with forced labour, regardless of geographic origin. It is important, as part of any process in relation to forced labour, that we audit supply chains and ensure that the exposure of Australian businesses to these practices is fully audited and also that Australian businesses and importers are given clarity in relation to the procedures.

In conclusion, I note that the government supports the intent of this bill and acknowledges the importance of this issue, including the need for transparency and appropriate action in response to the instances of modern slavery and human rights abuses. Senator Patrick indicated that this bill is a blunt instrument, but I would urge the government to accept all the recommendations of the report. I note that there are deficiencies in the Modern Slavery Act, and some of those have been discussed this morning. In its efforts to combat modern slavery, the government has taken a country-agnostic, victim centred approach that focuses on supporting the best outcomes for victims in addressing modern slavery in supply chains, and I think that those changes do need to be made. The evidence of widespread use of forced labour for particular classes of product from different parts of the world, and most especially from Xinjiang, necessitates action on this complex issue as a matter of priority.

11:04 am

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021. I thank Senator Patrick for introducing this private member's bill. It is a bill that Labor supports.

It should not be controversial to stamp out the use of slavery and forced labour in Australia and around the world. Slavery has not been relegated to the history books. It is a blight that countries around the world too often see to this very day. As we speak, there are more than 40 million people around the world who have been coerced and forced into slavery-like conditions.

Some have promoted the lie that slavery is not part of our own history in Australia: 'There was no slavery in Australia.' The person I'm quoting, of course, is the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, on ABC Radio just one year ago. When Morrison said slavery had not existed in Australia, he was covering up the exploitation of more than 62,000 South Sea islanders—people from Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu, Kiribati and Fiji. More than 62,000 South Sea islanders were forcibly brought to Australia. More than 62,000 South Sea islanders were kidnapped, tricked, coerced or threatened into coming to Australia, where they were forced to work as slaves on cane fields in Northern Queensland. That shameful practice is known as blackbirding. While it started in the 1840s, it continued until it became illegal in the early 1900s. That's almost 40 years after the Thirteenth Amendment made slavery illegal in the United States. When it was finally made illegal, there were no repatriations. In fact, thousands were deported, often to the wrong islands, where they had no family and no connections and may not have spoken the local language. The fact that the Prime Minister of Australia was unaware of this practice is a national embarrassment.

There is also the well-documented practice of Indigenous workers being bought and sold as chattels, particularly in the northern Australian pastoral industry. The purchase and sale of Indigenous workers and forced labour without pay reportedly continued as recently as the 1950s. Again, the fact the Prime Minister of Australia was unaware of this practice is incomprehensible.

While the open and flagrant use of slavery and forced labour has, thankfully, been stamped out, it is something that continues in Australia in the shadows. Make no mistake: there is slavery and forced labour in Australia today. The 2018 Global Slavery Index estimates there are at least 15,000 slaves in Australia. The use of slavery in Australia today is particularly high in the agricultural sector, and it's also present in construction, domestic work, meat processing, cleaning, hospitality and food services. These are all essential industries, and they are being driven in part by slavery. Many of those 15,000 slaves in Australia today are migrants on temporary visas who were forced into slavery by the threat of deportation by their employer.

In 2013, the Fair Work Ombudsman launched its Harvest Trail investigation. Of the 638 horticulture businesses and labour hire companies it investigated, more than half were breaking labour laws, including workers being placed into piecework arrangements which resulted in them being paid substantially below the Australian minimum wage. A few years later, the Ombudsman went back and re-investigated 245 of those businesses. Of the 245, 162 had disappeared and may now be phoenixing. Of those that were still operating, almost half were still breaking labour laws. So, even after getting caught the first time, they were reoffending. At budget estimates, we asked the Fair Work Ombudsman if they were going to check on those repeat offenders a third time; they said no. This isn't a criticism of the Fair Work Ombudsman; they just do not have the resources to enforce labour laws around this country. They do not have the resources to stamp out modern slavery in Australia.

The only organisations that do have the scale and expertise required are trade unions. But the Morrison government is so ideologically opposed to the trade union movement that it will never in a million years give a qualified union representative the power to check that people are being paid what they are legally entitled to.

Instead, we had another inquiry in 2019, the Migrant Workers Taskforce, which also found slavery-like conditions in Australia, particularly at shonky labour-hire companies. One of the key recommendations was to establish a national labour-hire registration scheme. It would focus on four high-risk sectors: horticulture, meat processing, cleaning and security—sectors where the 15,000 slaves in Australia today are most likely to be working. That report was over two years ago, and the Morrison government has still not introduced this scheme. We can be sure Mr Morrison has no intention of introducing that scheme before the end of this parliament's term.

Then there is the gig economy, which the Morrison government has still done nothing to regulate, when Uber workers are dying on the roads for as little as $6.67 an hour, with no paid leave, no workers compensation and no alternative options in Mr Morrison's economy—and, if you die at work, Uber will not even contact your family. Uber is now the second-largest employer in Australia. This is the future of work that Mr Morrison envisages for all Australians—a return to slave-like conditions.

Just today, Uber announced a new partnership with the largest employer in Australia, Woolworths, to begin same-hour grocery deliveries. We now have the two largest employers in Australia teaming up to exploit workers. My question for Woolworths is this: What steps are you taking to ensure the Uber workers you're using aren't being paid $6.67 an hour? What steps are you taking, Woolworths, to ensure that Uber riders delivering your goods have a safe working environment? Just last week, it was revealed that Uber failed to report 500 incidents, including sexual assault and serious accidents. And this is the company that you, Woolworths, are now working with. As the economic employer of those Uber drivers now delivering your products, Woolworths—the people at the top of the supply chain—you owe those riders in the supply chain a duty of care.

The Senate Select Committee on Job Security has heard about forced labour taking place on mine sites in Western Australia. Electricians have provided evidence that they are lured to a remote mine site at one rate of pay and, once they arrive, they are told they can either take the work for a lower rate of pay or they can wait for a week, without pay, until the next flight. That fits the very definition of forced labour. So slavery and forced labour continue on farms, at Uber, at mine sites and in other workplaces around Australia because Mr Morrison doesn't think that slavery ever existed in Australia, let alone that it exists today under his own prime ministership.

I want to commend the Australian Workers Union and Unions NSW for leading the charge in exposing modern slavery on Australian farms. Unions NSW recently released a report with the Migrant Workers Centre entitled Working for $9 a day. It found workers on farms earning less than $1 an hour on piece rates, with some working 20 hours per day. Earlier this year, I met one of those workers, a Taiwanese woman called Kate. Kate was receiving $4 an hour to pick oranges on a farm in southern Australia and was eating out of a bin to survive. At one farm, Kate was sexually harassed and told she would have to put up with it if she wanted to keep her job.

The Australian Workers Union is seeking to introduce through the Fair Work Commission a minimum wage for fruit pickers to bring an end to slavery on Australian farms. If Mr Morrison had any interest in addressing slavery on his watch, he would support the Australian Workers Union in that case. In fact, if Mr Morrison was interested in fighting slavery, there is a long list of things he could do. The only progress that has been made on modern slavery in the last eight years of this government has been the result of massive pressure by the Labor Party, the trade union movement and civil rights groups.

In 2017, Labor announced it would introduce modern slavery legislation if it won the next election. Twelve months later, the Morrison government introduced the Modern Slavery Bill 2018. It was a pale imitation of the legislation proposed by Labor. As we've seen so often with Mr Morrison, he takes a Labor idea and waters it down just enough to prevent it from being good policy, just as we saw with JobKeeper, with rorts by the likes of Gerry Harvey—no action. Labor moved amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill to improve its effectiveness, introduce penalties for noncompliance and establish an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Unfortunately the Liberal government rejected those amendments.

Labor again calls on the Morrison government to work with Labor and the crossbench to amend the Modern Slavery Act to introduce penalties for noncompliance and to require mandatory reporting on exposure to specific issues of pressing concern such as Uighur forced labour. Until then, Australia remains well behind many of the global partners in addressing slavery and forced labour. Australia still has not ratified the International Labour Organization's 2014 forced labour protocol. If the Morrison government wants to speak with any global credibility on ending forced labour, it should join the other 45 countries, including New Zealand, the UK, Canada and Germany, and fully ratify the ILO Forced Labour Convention. Instead, we have a modern slavery reporting system that has been treated as a joke by big businesses in Australia.

Research from the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors in June found that a majority of the ASX 200 companies were treating it as a tick-the-box exercise and were only disclosing the absolute bare minimum about slavery in their supply chain. A third of ASX 200 companies were potentially noncompliant. In fact, not a single company in the first year of the scheme has reported a single modern slavery incident, even when they have identified red flags such as passports being seized, wage theft, forced overtime or recruitment fees being charged to workers. The fact is that Mr Morrison's watered-down slavery laws have turned this into a box-ticking exercise.

In the meantime, the world is witnessing a growing number of horrifying reports of forced slavery and human rights violations in China. According to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute 2020 report titled Uyghurs for sale, more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of Xinjiang to work in factories across China between 2017 and 2019. Those workers typically live in segregated dormitories, undergo organised Mandarin ideological training, are subject to constant surveillance and of course are forbidden from participating in religious observances. The Uyghurs for sale report identified 27 factories across nine Chinese provinces that are using Uighur labour transferred from Xinjiang. These factories claim to be part of the supply chain of 82 high-profile brands.

If your company is profiting from forced labour or slavery, it is your responsibility to stamp it out, so I call on the following companies identified by the Strategic Policy Institute to implement the appropriate slavery policies so that they are transparently avoiding human exploitation and misery at their advantage. They are companies like Amazon, Google, Huawei, Calvin Klein, Skechers, Zara, H&M, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Levi's, Walmart, Costco, Adidas and Nike. Martin Luther King once said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' If those companies continue to profit from gross injustice, and the Morrison government continues to allow them to do so, it is not just the Uighurs who suffer; it brings down rights and conditions for workers around the world, including here in Australia.

So Labor supports this bill. We call on the Morrison government to ratify the ILO Forced Labour Convention. We call on the Morrison government to publish an annual list of countries, regions, industries and products with a high risk of modern slavery and forced labour. We call for an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. We call for penalties for companies who are noncompliant. We call for targeted sanctions on foreign companies, officials and other entities known to be directly profiteering from forced labour. And we call on the Morrison government to lead by example and conduct a comprehensive review of its own procurement and supply chains.

11:19 am

Photo of David VanDavid Van (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No-one in this place would be surprised to know that we on the government benches believe that slavery in any form is an abhorrent practice that must be eliminated. No-one, no matter their race, age, sex, gender, nationality or ethnicity should be subject to having their basic freedoms being taken away from them. The Morrison government believes in freedom of the individual and the importance of this in a good society. The government does support the intent and acknowledges the importance of this issue in this bill, including the need for transparency and appropriate action in response to instances of modern slavery and human rights abuses.

However, the government does not support all aspects of the proposed Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021 and, instead, recommends that the departments continue working with domestic stakeholders and international counterparts to address modern slavery wherever it is identified and to collectively respond to reduce and eliminate its practice, including through a review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018. This act creates a robust transparency framework to drive business action and to identify and address modern slavery in global supply chains.

There is no doubt that business has a large job ahead of it. With 3,000 companies in Australia due to report, it is absolutely amazing the work that our companies are doing. There are an estimated 40 million men, women and children in modern slavery today and it can be found in almost every country in the world, according to the International Labour Organization and the Walk Free foundation, who I will come back to later. With increasing globalised trade, it affects almost every business through those interconnected supply chains. This is not just limited to one region; this is a whole-of-world problem, and the interconnectedness of those supply chains is an incredibly difficult thing to unwind and to get transparency of, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be doing it.

I thank the resources industry for the work they are doing in this space. Given the global nature of supply chains for minerals and resources companies, they are leading some of the best transparency work on this. I call out and thank Mr Andrew Forrest for the work he is doing, not only through his mining company but also through the Walk Free Foundation that he founded and funds, and the important work that they are doing in bringing transparency to supply chains, not just in the mining industry but right across the globe with their anti-slavery index.

The government, however, goes further. We take a country-agnostic, victim-centric approach that focuses on supporting the best outcomes for victims in addressing modern slavery in supply chains. This reflects the reality that modern slavery can take many forms and exist in any sector, supply chain or country. However, Senator Patrick's explanatory memorandum highlights a concern over which the government has held deep concerns—that is, the widely reported state-mandated enforced labour occurring in Xinjiang. The government made a submission to the parliamentary inquiry into this bill on 15 March this year, which outlines our response to combatting modern slavery. In addition to administering the act which drives business due diligence around supply chains, the government has recently also committed $10.6 million to implement Australia's national action plan, which delivers initiatives to prevent, disrupt, investigate and prosecute modern slavery crimes.

The Department of Home Affairs and, with them, one of its agencies, Australian Border Force, as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were all participants in the whole-of-government submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee's inquiry into this bill. The Australian government, through that submission, notes that the intention of the bill, as expressed in its explanatory memorandum, is to take a strong stand against the well-documented human rights abuses of hundreds of thousands of Uighur people in the Xinjiang province. The Australian government acknowledges the intent and importance of the issue, including the need for transparency and appropriate actions in response to all instances of modern slavery and human rights abuse. However, the government does not support all aspects of the bill. The government is working with domestic stakeholders and international counterparts to bring to light modern slavery, wherever it is identified, and respond collectively to reduce and eliminate its practice. The government consistently raises concerns about the treatment of Uighurs and other minorities in China and other countries, including at ministerial level directly with China and in multilateral forums. Reports of forced labour are a key element of Australia's international advocacy, and the government, jointly with other countries, continues to urge China to allow meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang by independent international observers. The government is committed to tackling modern slavery, including forced labour.

The landmark Modern Slavery Act 2018 established a robust transparency framework to drive business action to identify and address modern slavery risks in supply chains. Supply chains are incredibly complex. They are interconnected and criss-cross the world, and, until everyone is being transparent, it's hard for everyone to be completely transparent, but those actions must continue.

The government notes the recent report by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade of its inquiry into the use of sanctions to address human rights abuse, and is considering its response to the report and its recommendations. The government is committed to monitoring, evaluating and reviewing its actions to combat modern slavery to ensure it is delivering a targeted, effective response. In particular, the government will continue to monitor reports of forced labour globally, including in Xinjiang, to assess Australia's policy settings and to engage with stakeholders and partners with a view to supporting international efforts to reduce the risk of modern slavery, including forced labour in Australia's supply chains.

The Modern Slavery Act, which entered into force on 1 January 2019, aims to combat modern slavery in global supply chains of Australian goods and services by increasing supply chain transparency and holding large businesses publicly accountable for their actions to combat modern slavery. It does this by providing public visibility to businesses, civil society, NGOs and consumers about modern slavery risks that have been identified and the actions taken by reporting entities to address those risks. The act requires large entities operating in Australia—that is, companies with a turnover of over $100 million annually—to prepare an annual modern slavery statement. Those statements set out their actions to identify and address modern slavery risks in their global operations and supply chains. The government estimates that approximately 3,000 entities will be required to report under the act, including globally recognised brands and the Commonwealth. Many of these entities are likely to have supply-chain links with China, including entities in the textiles, electronics and vehicle manufacturing sectors. Under the act, the government has established an online register of modern slavery statements. The register is a government-run central depository of all statements submitted under the act. The government published the first tranche of those statements on 27 November 2020 and continues to regularly publish tranches of statements as they are received. To date, approximately 400 statements have been published on the register.

In implementing the act, the government has engaged proactively with business and civil society to provide detailed, comprehensive and practical guidance to support entities to understand the modern slavery risks in supply chains and operations and to take actions to address these risks and report on their actions in compliance with the act. To support an understanding of the modern slavery risk in compliance with the act, the government actively undertakes outreach to Australian entities on risks related to modern slavery in supply chains. Agencies, including the Border Force and DFAT, engage closely with peak bodies and individual businesses, both in Australia and overseas, as well as with officials from state and territory governments, to raise awareness of relevant supply chain risks.

The government encourages Australian companies and institutions to conduct appropriate due diligence specific to their industries to satisfy themselves at board level that their commercial and other arrangements are consistent with legislation and international standards. Australia's approach to combating modern slavery is grounded in the United Nations' guiding principles on business and human rights—the UNGPs, as they're called. In line with those principles, the government encourages entities to work collaboratively with suppliers to address modern slavery risks and ensure responses prioritise the best interests of victims, no matter where they are.

The government takes a country-agnostic approach in its efforts to address modern slavery. In this way, the government recognises that all instances of modern slavery—whether forced labour, servitude or forced marriage—in any country or region are egregious and necessary to address.

The government is committed to ensuring the act provides a strong and effective mechanism for addressing modern slavery risks, and the government reports annually to the parliament on the implementation of and compliance with the act. The government is required to review the act in 2022, next year, including whether it is necessary to amend the act to improve its operation. This will include consideration of compliance, penalties and other complementary measures. The government will consider bringing forward, if required, further legislation.

Modern slavery can affect any country. The United Nations estimates that there are more than 40 million victims of modern slavery worldwide. Over half of these are exploited in the Asia-Pacific region, where the supply chains of a significant number of large businesses operating in Australia are based. Modern slavery in supply chains also distorts global markets, undercuts responsible businesses and imposes significant legal and reputational risks for companies.

Like Senator Patrick, the government is concerned that there may be parts of Australian businesses relying on supply chains that have links to slavery. This government is committed to ensuring that, no matter where the practice of slavery or forced labour occurs, Australian businesses are not linked to it in any manner. While this government believes in and appreciates the intent of this bill put forward by Senator Patrick, the bill as it currently stands cannot be supported.

Eliminating slavery and human rights abuses is a global necessity as a society, and we must ensure that we are not inadvertently supporting it. This is why we're conducting a review of the Modern Slavery Act next year. As I've said, the Modern Slavery Act creates a framework for businesses to drive them to act in ways that eliminate slavery from their supply chains and their operations. When this was introduced, it was a world-first step which demonstrated the government's commitment to taking real and serious action to combat modern slavery. As it currently stands, large businesses are already required under the Modern Slavery Act to identify how their operations and supply chains may contribute to modern slavery and explain what they are doing to address those risks, no matter where that risk occurs. This increased transparency creates a level playing field for large businesses to disclose their modern slavery risks. I believe that, if we're going to do something, especially on an issue as important as this, it must be done right.

I note the intention of the bill is to take a strong stand against the documented human rights abuses of hundreds of thousands of Uighur people in Xinjiang province in China. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne, has said, Australia is deeply concerned by the reports of human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang. However, modern slavery risks are not limited to any single region or country, and business action to assess and address these risks should not be limited to any geographical region. I don't think there would be anyone here in the chamber today or in this parliament who would not support the intention of this bill, that being ensuring we are not supporting slavery anywhere in the world. However, as I said earlier, I believe if we're going to act against this issue it must be done right to ensure that it properly addresses the issue globally.

11:34 am

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I rise to speak on the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021, and in doing so I wish to thank Senator Patrick for the consideration he has given to the feedback provided by Labor senators and others through the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee in its inquiry into the previous iteration of this bill. Certainly, the narrow focus of the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Uyghur Forced Labour) Bill 2020 responded to a very real and concerning matter—namely, the servitude forced on the Uighur people and others by the Communist Party of China. Nonetheless, as abhorrent as that example is, sadly, the Uighur are not the only people throughout the world subject to such practices by oppressive governments, and it is right that any legislation which comes from this parliament should address this as well.

This new bill implements the committee's recommendation by amending the Customs Act to impose an absolute ban on the importation of goods produced in whole or in part by forced labour. It is general in nature and does not specify any geographic origin for its application. Should this bill become law—as I hope it will, along with the amendments that will be proposed by Senator Keneally—it will ensure that goods which are produced by those who are subject to servitude will be subject to penalties akin to those applied to the importation of other goods designated as prohibited imports under the Customs Act.

As a regional power, Australia has an important role to play in combating the scourge of modern slavery globally but also, most particularly, in our region, the Asia-Pacific. Labor has always been committed to showing leadership on this issue, which is why we on this side campaigned for an Australian modern slavery act; moved amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill in 2018 to improve its effectiveness and introduce penalties for noncompliance; and sought to establish an independent antislavery commissioner. Unfortunately, those on the treasury bench have shirked our nation's responsibility on this very important issue. The government have not supported our amendments and, as the facts on the conditions facing the Uighur people and others throughout the world have become known, they have failed to act.

As mentioned by Senator Watt, it was estimated by the Global Slavery Index in 2018 that there were approximately 40 million people living in modern slavery conditions, with over half of these being in forced labour specifically. We would never accept workers in our country being subject to such conditions in the manufacturing of Australian goods, and thankfully, with the presence of strong unions, we can safeguard against such conditions developing. It is why I support the need for a free and democratic trade union movement not just here in Australia but right around the world.

However, whilst we may set this standard for ourselves, it is important that we apply the same standard to those goods which, whilst produced abroad, nonetheless make their way into many Australian homes and businesses. No Australian home should have whitegoods that have been made by forced labour. No Australian businesses should be supplied by manufacturers who engage in forced labour practices. For that matter, no state government of this country should continue, simply because it would cost too much to find another contractor, with the purchase of train parts from Chinese suppliers that are linked to the exploited Uighur workers.

There is no denying that it can sometimes be difficult to call out the behaviour of others. To do so often requires great courage and, for some who lack this courage, the task may appear too great. When former Prime Minister Bob Hawke called out the massacre of democracy protesters by the Communist Party of China in Tiananmen Square and offered sanctuary to Chinese visa holders in Australia, this took courage. Australia should never be a country that lacks courage. We have a very proud history of leadership. We should be true to this legacy in how we govern our actions today.

The conditions of Uighur people in Xinjiang province, in the People's Republic of China, are unacceptable. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other Muslim groups are subjected to extensive state-sponsored repression and human rights abuses, including mass arbitrary detention, rape, sterilisation, political indoctrination, cultural destruction and mass surveillance. This is not a contention. This is not an assertion. This is a simple fact.

A 2020 report released by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that there were 27 factories in nine Chinese provinces that had Uighur labour forcibly transferred from Xinjiang since 2017. And, according to the ASPI, these factories form part of the supply chains of 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors. As Dr Michael Clarke, an associate professor at the Australian National University focused on the history and politics of Xinjiang, told a committee inquiry into an earlier iteration of this bill, Xinjiang is the site of the largest mass-repressing of an ethnic and/or religious minority in the world today.

I'm pleased to see that international condemnation of this behaviour has been growing. In July 2020 the United Kingdom delivered a cross-regional statement on Hong Kong and Xinjiang on behalf of 27 countries that, among others, mattered. It called for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to be allowed meaningful access to Xinjiang to assess the circumstances of the Uighur people. In October 2020, at the United Nations committee on social, humanitarian and cultural issues, Germany delivered a statement on behalf of 39 countries criticising the treatment of Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Later, in March 2021, the European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States of America launched coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

We must also do our bit. This is an issue that cannot be ignored and, again, I reiterate: the case of Xinjiang's particularly egregious forced labour is not just limited to this part of the world; it is found in many others—Eritrea, North Korea, Burundi. It is in parts of the world, near and far, and, wherever it is, it must not be tolerated. Wherever it is, we must stand up. That is why I support this bill. Whilst it is not, in itself, a total solution, as Senator Watt has articulated, and whilst Labor will seek to make amendments to improve its operation, it is a positive first step, which is why I commend this bill to the Senate.

11:42 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Watt be agreed to. Is a division required? Senator Smith?

11:43 am

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

I draw to the attention of the Senate that, because of the pandemic context in which we're operating, there has been discussion between whips about how to manage divisions in the chamber. It's the President's desire to manage them as best we can, avoiding the physical participation of senators as far as possible. If I might share with you, it's the government's position to oppose the second reading amendment. I understand, and have it in written form, that it's Senator Hanson's and Senator Roberts' position to oppose the second reading amendment as well. It may well be, at this point, an opportune time to identify what other senators may be opposing the amendment and what senators might be supporting the second reading amendment.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's news to me. Could you hold for a moment? I'll take some advice from the Clerk.

I'll ask the Opposition Whip to indicate if you are willing to proceed in the way that has been outlined by Senator Smith or if, in the first instance, we proceed with a division and give the whip sufficient time to clarify the position.

11:45 am

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—On the basis of what's just been indicated to the chamber, it was clear that this division would be lost by the opposition. So long as our position in terms of the motion is recorded, I think it would be acceptable to proceed without a formal division on this particular question.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I indicate that the Greens support this second reading amendment.

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I indicate I'm supporting Labor's second reading amendment.

11:46 am

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

With those positions now known to the chamber, consistent with the pairing arrangements, the second reading amendment will have been negatived.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for that assertion. In this instance, I might actually take confirmation from the whip for the Labor Party that that is your view at this point in time.

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That would be correct, on the basis of what has been indicated on the floor of the chamber.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In that case, in this extraordinary situation, I declare the amendment lost.

Question negatived.

The question is that the bill be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

11:47 am

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

by leave—I just want it recorded that the government opposes the second reading.

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—Just to be clear, I am supporting my own bill.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—Although I did shout 'aye', I want to make sure that the Greens are recorded as supporting this bill.

Bill read a second time.