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Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Page: 3311


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (17:37): I'm pleased that the government is getting on with implementing the Modern Slavery Expert Advisory Group and, indeed, implementing the legislation, but it will only be the world-leading initiative that we want it to be if it brings the right experts together—those with the practical knowledge and expertise in combating slavery. It's laudable and terrific that so many big Australian companies want to step up and nail their colours to the mast to combat modern slavery in Australia, but I tell you: they can't do it alone and they can't do it without the right people around the table.

This group could be a great and wonderful resource for taking steps towards crushing modern slavery in our nation and, indeed, making a contribution around the world. However, the appointments to this group don't include anyone who has ever worked with people at risk of modern slavery. I tell you that there are places where modern slavery exists in our nation. You can see it. I understand that there are experts in those companies who work on it in their global supply chains, and I see that there are some academics on the group, but I want to tell you that we need a broader base than that. It needs to be people who can work with small business, because we've seen modern slavery in our nation in the agricultural sector. We can see it in people's homes, in domestic service. We can see it in so many locations around our nation. As the Prime Minister proved last week, in his ignorance of and blindness to Australian history, it can be right under our noses and we can still not see it, because of our cultural prejudices and our blindness. When you see, for example, a domestic servant in someone's house, you're going to assume that they're there of their own free will and that they're being paid properly. You have to take your blinkers off and look for exploitation in many places. In our colonial history, we saw incarcerated First Nations people as prisoners, when in fact they were slaves. You might have seen Pacific Islanders as immigrants here for employment, as they are today, when in fact they very much were slaves.

I want to put the onus on the government and say that you need to have people on this advisory group who work directly with people who are in exploited labour situations today: people who are in these situations in our nation today but also people who work at the coalface of exploited labour, slavery-like conditions and slavery conditions right around the world. People who produce goods and exercise modern slavery are pretty good at hiding what they do from their supply chains. I know that there are experts from corporations who have been appointed to this panel that well know that and will be quite good at what they do; I don't deny that. But you must also have representatives from people who understand the kind of economic and cultural leverage that people have over other people that puts them in these slavery conditions.

I'm really pleased that Minister Wood has acknowledged that he would like to meet with Senator Keneally on the basis that so many groups have critiqued the appointments to this body. I can see my good senatorial colleagues opposite saying that what Labor is saying is incorrect. I have to tell you that I deeply respect the academics and the civil society groups that have written to Minister Wood, raising their concerns. I don't negate the credentials of those that have been appointed, but I say to you that it is blatantly one-sided and we've got an opportunity to fix that, to bring in the diversity that will be required to combat modern slavery in our nation and globally.