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Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Page: 8799


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (11:14): I'm very pleased to rise to speak on this very important piece of legislation, the Modern Slavery Bill 2018, and indicate the Greens' support for this bill. Modern slavery as defined by this bill includes slavery, servitude, forced labour, deceptive recruiting, trafficking in persons, debt bondage and organ trafficking. People can, of course—and far too many people, both globally and in Australia, do—find themselves enslaved through threats of violence and bullying or, in some cases, actually through being bought and sold or having their movements restricted. As such, modern slavery can include being forced to work for low wages in sectors like construction, in sweatshops or in food supply chains, including in the agriculture sector.

According to the 2018 Global Slavery Index, there are in excess of 40 million people globally who are subject to some form of modern slavery, and collectively about US$150 billion, which is well over A$200 billion per year, is generated in the global private economy from forced labour alone. There are around 30 million people in the Asia-Pacific region who are enslaved, which is over 65 per cent of all people in that region, and, again, according to that index, there are over 4,000 people who are enslaved in Australia.

In our country, modern slavery is found in the horticulture sector—for example, when backpackers are underpaid, denied visa extensions by their employers or forced to live in substandard accommodation—but it also exists in a range of other sectors, including, arguably, the underpayments of Australian workers employed by companies like 7-Eleven, Domino's and Pizza Hut. Cleaners working in retail chains for contracting or subcontracting cleaning companies are also indicative of oppressive working conditions that may amount to modern slavery. There are, of course, workers in the textile or clothing sector. When we talk about sweatshops, we usually think about things going on overseas, but in this country there are people who are often older migrants to this country, who may not have strong English language skills, who are stitching together clothes or labels onto clothes for as little as $3 or $4 an hour. So this is a serious issue globally but it is also a serious issue in our country.

Australian businesses, in our increasingly globalised markets, often have supply chains that span multiple countries, and for many Australian companies those supply chains are heavily networked into the Asia-Pacific region. And, because of this multinational complexity, many Australian businesses may actually be unaware of the risks of modern slavery being used in their supply chains. Earlier this year, the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply released the results of a slavery survey it conducted which found that 20 per cent of organisations had not taken any measures to ensure a slavery-free supply chain but 80 per cent said that they were motivated to address the issue due to the reputational risk of ignoring it. That survey also found that only 11 per cent of organisations have total transparency across their entire supply chains, whether that be food or any other sector. So, the time for an Australian modern slavery act is well upon us.

This bill follows an inquiry into establishing an Australian modern slavery act undertaken last year by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Its report, Hidden in plain sight, made 48 recommendations. Principal to those recommendations was the establishment of an Australian modern slavery act and, it must be noted, an independent antislavery commissioner to lead and coordinate Australia's response to combating modern slavery. I'll speak a little more about the lack of an independent antislavery commissioner shortly.

Importantly, though, this bill comes on the back of decades of campaigning by antislavery advocates and non-government organisations in Australia. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of them—and some of them are in the gallery today—for their important and selfless contributions to getting us to where we are today, debating an important bill with broad public and political support in this country and in this parliament. The Greens have supported these campaigns and taken these arguments to parliament, and we're very pleased to be part of what I believe has been a genuinely collaborative approach in this place to deliver this legislation.

This bill, once enacted, will require Australian businesses with annual consolidated revenues of more than $100 million to publish annual statements on the steps they are taking to address modern slavery in their supply chains and operations. At this threshold the act will capture about 3,000 companies. These companies will then be required to produce annual slavery statements, signed off at board level, to be published within six months of their annual reports. To educate affected companies on compliance, the government will establish a modern slavery business engagement unit within the Department of Home Affairs. Home Affairs will also produce and publish an annual statement in the Commonwealth parliament on possible modern slavery risks. Importantly, the act will be reviewed in three years, but the Greens have a very strong view that this should be a rolling review rather than a one-off.

It's worth pointing out that this bill regrettably does not include an independent office of oversight. An independent office of oversight was something that was overwhelmingly called for and supported by stakeholders in the sector and, as such, was a recommendation of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into this bill; it was recommendation 3. In their submission to the Senate inquiry, STOP THE TRAFFIK argued:

… the issue of modern slavery is not addressed by one Government department alone … There are at least six government departments whose engagement and action will be required to implement the Act effectively … An Independent Commissioner would be able to work with these departments in a more effective manner than an interdepartmental mechanism led by one department.

The Australian Greens completely agree with the sentiments in that submission. The Human Rights Law Centre mounted a similar argument, noting in their submission:

The UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner Mr Hyland has, according to many UK organisations, been central to raising the profile of these issues within the UK and improving inter-agency cooperation, leading for example to increased numbers of prosecutions and convictions for modern slavery in the UK … Mr Hyland argued that the independence of the Office has been central to its success, enabling him to be a "critical friend" to government agencies, businesses and other stakeholders alike.

It's worth pointing out here that, if you look at Australian political history, particularly recent history, it is people who have statutory independence and the resources and expertise to support them who are best able to drive change. For the Greens, the lack of a genuinely independent office of oversight is the biggest flaw in this legislation, and it is extremely regrettable that the government, having supported the findings of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into the bill and having supported the recommendation for an independent antislavery commissioner, has now crab-walked away from that position. It's very disappointing.

In the interests of seeing this important bill pass in some form in this term of the parliament, we're not going to seek to move detailed amendments in the committee stage of this bill, because we do not want to risk the government—which is becoming increasingly chaotic and losing the capacity to manage its own affairs in the House of Representatives—denying this legislation the chance to proceed through the parliament. So we will reluctantly take a collaborative approach to this legislation in the interests of laying a foundation for a legislative program around modern slavery in this country. But we do want to make it very clear that we have a strong view that there needs to be an independent office of oversight. We would urge the government to come back and move amendments to the bill later in this term, and we would urge the Labor Party, in the overwhelmingly likely event that they win government within the next six months or so, to prioritise bringing amendments to this legislation back into parliament to fix up some of the omissions in this bill.

The bill also doesn't provide for penalties. Some stakeholders, in their submissions to the inquiry and in public commentary, have argued for penalties. Others, however, have argued that the first three years should be without penalties and, instead, the focus over those three years should be on developing capacity and buy-in from business. In other words, that argument says we should be focusing more on the carrot than the stick. Many stakeholders that have met with the Greens have expressed a concern that, if organisations are faced with penalties from the day of enactment, not only are they being set up to fail but their efforts will go into avoiding penalties by hiding noncompliance. Although organisations may consider these avoidances as temporary measures until they gain an understanding of what compliance is and what it requires, they will most likely, once initiated, become systemic to their culture and operations, which would, of course, undermine the intent of this legislation.

The Greens hear that argument. We do believe there is a role for penalties to play in this legislation. Whether those penalties are implemented now or later on, once organisations have had time to understand what's required of them, is, in fact, a judgement call. But we argued in our additional comments to the Senate inquiry into this bill that, at the very least, penalties should be considered in the act's first three-year review. And we welcome the government's amendment which, I understand, will require that that occurs. We also believe there's an important leadership role for governments to play in ensuring their own supply chains are as compliant as those in the private sector that will be legislated by this act. For this, there should be a requirement that entities over the reportable threshold comply with the Modern Slavery Act in order to be eligible for government tenders.

Several submitters to the Senate inquiry also called for the act to include a national compensation scheme for victims of modern slavery. There are no greater defenders of human rights in this place than the Australian Greens. I could go through a list of areas where we have consistently stood up for human rights and consistently lost the argument based on the numbers in this place, with the Labor Party and the Liberal Party voting together against fundamental human rights. But we do support the fourth pillar—as we do the other three—of the Australian government's National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery. That fourth pillar, of course, is victim support and protection. But we're not convinced that this act is the most appropriate instrument with which to legislate such a scheme and, as such, it was our recommendation to the Senate inquiry that consideration of a national compensation scheme should be the next priority consideration for the parliament regarding modern slavery. We also recommended that part of this consideration by the Senate or parliament would include whether a victim support scheme would sit under this act or under other Commonwealth legislation such as the Social Security Act, which includes compensation schemes that provide for payments to Australian victims of terrorism overseas.

Another shortcoming that we and many other stakeholders recognised in this bill is its single review of the act in three years. It's worth placing on the record that once this legislation passes—and I genuinely hope it does pass this year; it's ultimately a matter for the government, or the House of Representatives—it'll be a massive learning curve both for businesses and for government. There'll be many elements of this legislation, such as the need for and form of the penalties that I spoke about earlier, that will need to be reviewed after three years. The first three-year review will likely lead to significant changes being made and administered after its conclusion.

These changes will also need reviewing once they've been implemented and bedded down. For this reason, the Greens have a strong view that regular rolling reviews of complex acts like these ought to be standard practice, particularly in areas that exist in changing and evolving environments such as this. But, once again, the government doesn't appear willing to support that, and that's regrettable. Rather than placing the passage of this bill through the parliament at risk, I'll instead move a second reading amendment for a rolling three-year review of the act which would be conducted by an independent statutory antislavery commissioner.

I'd like to make the point that, on a bill this important and life-changing to so many vulnerable and exploited people around the world, it would be extremely regrettable if this bill were not to pass through the parliament. What we have before us is a bill that will bring Australia into line with jurisdictions such as the UK, the European Union and some states in the United States—and some sectors in the US—when it comes to taking strong action against modern slavery in our backyards and beyond. This is a bill that has broad cross-party support in this parliament, and it's something that everyone who supports it should be proud of. I've always regretted, through my political career, that more attention in the media and on social media is not paid to issues where people come together and work collaboratively and are prepared to put aside political differences to progress an important issue. Again, this is a classic example of a really important piece of legislation that's flown very much under the radar in media and public commentary terms, which is regrettable because, as I said, it's come about as a result of a genuinely collaborative approach.

On that basis, I want to thank everyone who's worked so hard to get this legislation up, including stakeholders who are in the gallery today watching this debate. I also want to particularly acknowledge the effort and the constructive work put into this by Senator Reynolds, who I genuinely believe deserves great credit for the collaborative way that she's approached this issue. Although there are, arguably—and in the view of the Greens—ways this legislation could have been made better, we're not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this case. This is a good first step for Australia to take in accepting responsibility and joining global efforts to stamp out modern slavery worldwide. That's why we will support this important bill and all that it seeks to do, but we will continue to work to see the improvements that we believe are necessary made to this legislation in the future. I move the second reading amendment in my name:

At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate is of the opinion that, every three years, the Modern Slavery Act 2018 should be subject to a review conducted by an independent statutory Anti-Slavery Commissioner".