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Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Page: 8811


Senator PATRICK (South Australia) (12:11): I rise to contribute to the debate on the Modern Slavery Bill 2018. My remarks will be brief, given the Senate's difficulties of late in debating and passing legislation that truly does matter. Although some members of the public may beg to differ, there are times that the parliament can pass legislation that is for the common good. The Modern Slavery Bill represents such legislation. While there have been some speed bumps along the way, Centre Alliance is committed to ensuring that this passes both houses of parliament this sitting fortnight.

This bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 28 June 2018 following the extensive consultation process initiated by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade during its inquiry into establishing a modern slavery act in Australia. The bill was then referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which tabled its report on 24 August 2018. The majority report contains six recommendations centred around reporting requirements imposed by the bill, the appointment of an independent statutory officer, matters to be considered by the legislative three-year review of the act, and references to existing modern slavery offences in Australia. As with many bills that come before the Senate, there's always room for improvement. Just how much the bill should be improved has been the subject of much debate and discussion, especially in the last three months—actually, especially in the last few weeks—in the backrooms of this building.

A range of aphorisms are relevant to the current circumstances: 'Perfect is the enemy of good'; 'Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without'; and—I say in my best Shakespeare voice!—'Striving to be better, oft we mar what's well'. And that may well be the first and last time you'll hear a submariner quoting Shakespeare! It is against this backdrop that I can indicate that Centre Alliance will not be supporting the amendments circulated by the opposition. The message we have been receiving loud and clear from some of the key stakeholders is that we are better off passing something this year, or else we risk delaying this legislation's coming into force for perhaps another 12 months. Centre Alliance has decided to focus on what outcomes can be achieved rather than what can't. Once passed, this bill will ensure that some of the biggest companies operating in Australia will be required by law to examine their supply chains for signs of modern slavery. If modern slavery is found, they must take steps to ensure that it does not continue. The significance of this cannot be underestimated. The lives of millions of people working under cruel and unsafe conditions stand to change for the better because of this legislation.

There have been some exchanges between Minister Reynolds and me in the last few committee stages, where I've called her out for being wrong. I don't resile from that, and I would always do that with any senator in this room. On the flip side, we must always recognise when the minister has done a fantastic job. In this case, I truly believe the minister has done some great work in getting this through not only the Senate and its crossbench but also her own party. I will put it on the record that we took her to the brink and then had to march back a little bit. But I think we've come to a reasonable compromise. Thank you, Minister. I would also like to acknowledge my former Senate colleague Skye Kakoschke-Moore. Skye has remained a special adviser to the International Justice Mission, and I hope she will be back here in July next year. I would also like to acknowledge Heather Moore. Her pragmatic approach helped ensure the best possible outcome could be achieved. I look forward to this bill passing and I commend it to the Senate.