Modern Slavery Bill for Australia Not Tough Enough - Hope 103.2

Modern Slavery Bill for Australia Not Tough Enough

The federal government is moving closer to getting a Modern Slavery Act. A welcome move as that is. the Australian Law Council is concerned that there are key provisions missing in the draft laws. President of the Law Council explained the shortcomings to Stephen O'Doherty on Open House.

By Anne RinaudoThursday 5 Jul 2018Open House InterviewsNewsReading Time: 3 minutes

Listen: Morry Bailes in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty. 

In Canberra last week, parliament introduced Australia’s first federal Modern Slavery Bill. If passed, the laws will mean around 3,000 businesses in Australia with an annual turnover of $100 million or more will need to identity any modern slavery in their supply chain, and report it to authorities. Latest estimates suggest that over 40 million people around the world, including 4 300 in Australia, are victims of some form of modern slavery

Welcome move

The move is being welcomed by anti-slavery campaigners, including the Law Council of Australia who emphasised that the issue of modern slavery was not confined to remote, impoverished nations.

“It is estimated that millions of people worldwide are held in slavery or in slavery-like conditions.  Modern slavery is not an issue in the third world. There are people living in slavery-like conditions in Australia today. This may include forced labour, wage exploitation, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, human trafficking, forced marriage and other slavery-like exploitation.” says Morry Bailes, the President of the Law Council of Australia.

The government said the legislation was not a response to recommendations in a report by a 2017 parliamentary inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. The report, Hidden in Plain Sight, was tabled last December. It makes 49 recommendations to improve Australia’s efforts to combat modern slavery here and around the world. The government say they are still considering the recommendations of the Hidden in Plain Sight report.

Law Council made submissions to the 2017 parliamentary inquiry. The submissions were about the need for Australia to have anti-slavery legislation and the requirement that any law include supply chain reporting.

Law Council want more 

While welcoming the the introduction of the first federal Modern Slavery Bill, the Law Council  would like it to go further. In particular, says Mr Bailes,  the revenue threshold for supply chain reporting should be lowered from $100 million to $60 million and there should be penalties if companies don’t comply.  He also believes there should be an Anti-Slavery Commissioner appointed and a redress scheme for victims.

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The Walk Free Foundation has some useful resources here and here on the very complex question of supply chain reporting. Earlier this year they welcomed the decision by the Federal Government to give funding of $3.6 million, over four years, for an new Unit to manage Modern Slavery Reporting Requirements by large businesses.

Victims need help

“Victims of modern slavery are often vulnerable and without appropriate support. They tend to be found in domestic work, hospitality, agriculture, construction and sadly include a number of women trafficked from Asia for sex work. A national redress scheme would provide effective remedy for victims of modern slavery and compensation for the harm they have suffered.” says Mr Bailes.

An Anti-Slavery Commissioner

The inclusion of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner in Australia would also be a useful point of contact for all matters relevant to Modern Slavery in Australia. A Commissioner could provide community outreach and education to stakeholders involved in Australia’s response to modern slavery, including law enforcement, civil society and the private sector.” he added.

Penalties an incentive for compliance

Mr Bailes believes the lack of enforceable penalties for non-compliance in the planned law are counter-productive. “There ought to be some guarantee, in the Law Council’s view, that companies will comply with this legislation and take the steps necessary to stamp-out modern slavery in their supply chains. The most effective way to ensure that, is to include substantial penalties for non-compliance,” he says.

Law Council submissions to Establishing A Modern Slavery Act in Australia and Modern Slavery in Supply Chains Reporting Requirement are available online.