Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee

CAROLAN, Ms Christine, Executive Officer, Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans

McDONALD, Mrs Lisa, Group Mission Leader, St Vincent's Health Australia

Committee met at 09:03

CHAIR ( Senator Ian Macdonald ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the government's Modern Slavery Bill 2018. The bill has been referred to this committee for investigation. We thank all the witnesses who provided written submissions and those of you who are here today. Hansard will record today's proceedings and a transcript will be made. All witnesses giving evidence to the committee are protected by parliamentary privilege. That means it is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of the evidence given to the committee. If that happens, that is treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence. We prefer to take evidence in public. However, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in camera—that is, in secret. If anyone wants to do that, they should let the committee know and we can make some decisions on that. The committee has agreed that answers to questions on notice, if there are any, should be returned by close of business on Tuesday, 14 August.

I now welcome Ms Christine Carolan, from Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, and Mrs Lisa McDonald, from St Vincent's Health Australia. I understand that the secretariat has given you information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Ms Carolan : We are very pleased that we were invited to speak, and we thank you for the invitation. We want to acknowledge the hard work of the Senate committee. We have worked with Senate committees before, and we lament that it is not the work of the committee that is on the nightly news. We feel that the hurly-burly of question time is not a real representation of the sort of work that you are doing, and we acknowledge that.

Senator PRATT: Flattery will get you everywhere!

Ms Carolan : We mean it sincerely! We were talking about it in the lunchroom yesterday. On Monday, Pope Francis appealed to all men and women of goodwill to take responsibility, denounce injustice and stand firm against the shameful crime of human trafficking. I think that is a good call for us this morning to stand firm against this crime. I want to make a case for an independent anti-slavery commissioner. I think that is ACRATH's main position this morning. We are happy to answer other questions about our written submission. I want to make a couple of other points and then I will hand over to my colleague in our joint project, Lisa McDonald.

We at ACRATH are very keen to say to you, as this Senate inquiry: do not be too cautious about the new bill. We're pleased that the new bill is happening but we really believe that we need an independent commissioner to carry this bill forward. I've given some postcards to Ophelia, and I wanted to explain to you that ACRATH started in on slavery-free procurement in around 2009. The postcard with 'Ferrero' written on it is one of the chocolate campaign postcards that we were involved with. We decided in 2009 that we really needed to engage with the general public about slavery-free procurement of cocoa. We discovered that 75 per cent of the world's cocoa was coming from West Africa and that there were little boys enslaved on those cocoa farms.

We engaged with the big chocolate companies here in Australia, with four other NGOs. The big companies were Cadbury, Nestle and Mars, and then Ferrero after that. We were asking those big companies to assure the general public that there was no slavery in the supply chains of the cocoa that was being consumed here in Australia. Why I'm mentioning that this morning is that we found that the general public was horrified that there was potentially slavery. I think that that horror is reflected back to you to say: 'Let's, as an Australian community, call on our government to make a really robust law that ensures that we don't have to go to a supermarket and wonder whether or not there's slavery in a product. We want you to recommend that the Australian government legislate something that's robust and strong.'

The second postcard I wanted to refer to is the Rana Plaza collapse, which we were all absolutely horrified to see. It meant that ACRATH and the other NGOs working on slavery-free supply chains added the garment industry to their focus. I mention that because Baptist World Aid and Oxfam—I see you're hearing from them this morning—have picked those up as a real focus. I've given you all the Ethical Fashion Guide from the Baptist World Aid group. We distribute these. What we found was that, again, there was a huge community concern in the general public and people were looking to the Australian government for certainty. They wanted to know that their clothing was ethically sourced. But what we've also found, when we've worked with the Baptist World Aid group, is that there is a strong move within business—this is like a number of years ago. We believe that an independent commissioner is going to be able to deliver that certainty to the Australian public, and also to business.

Yesterday ACRATH was invited to speak with Bob Stewart, who is a big school uniform provider. We were expecting to engage in a whole conversation about slavery-free production, and that company was already right across this issue. Our sense is that the caution, that meant that an independent commissioner was not going to be included in the bill, is not warranted; that business in Australia is already ahead of that.

CHAIR: Some?

Ms Carolan : Yes, that's right. I think that leadership is already there. I think it's not just an ethical underpinning to business commitment on that. It's bad for business to have this collapse of the Rana Plaza and the deaths of workers who are producing clothing for people to wear in Australia. That's our case for an independent commissioner.

We at ACRATH also wanted to say that we believe the bill at the moment is a good bill. We are very pleased to see there's a public repository included and that mandatory reporting criteria are included. We've actually seen an example in another jurisdiction where those were not included and it wasn't useful. And we're delighted that government procurement was included in the bill.

We want to flag the fact that there is need for more legislation. The wonderful report from Mr Chris Crewther's committee was recommending a national compensation scheme. We believe that that's really needed in Australia. In fact, ACRATH have called for that since 2005. We're patient, but we'll keep calling for it. We also know from our working experience in Victoria and Queensland that the licensing of labour-hire firms is really important. So we want to see that in future legislation. I think that's enough for my opening remarks. I'd like to hand over to my colleague in our joint project, Lisa.

Mrs McDonald : I am representing St Vincent's Health Australia and it's great to be in partnership with ACRATH. Thank you very much for the opportunity for St Vincent's Health Australia to be able to present today to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into this Modern Slavery Bill 2018. We're really grateful and glad that parliament is leading on this issue and is giving it its rightful attention. St Vincent's is the nation's largest not-for-profit health and aged-care provider. St Vincent's manages two major public hospitals in Australia's biggest two cities, so we get to support the health needs of many. It's a large organisation. We have over 18,000 staff. We operate over 2,600 hospital beds and 1,100 residential aged-care places and our hospitals provide over a million occasions of care for people each year. We've been providing health care in Australia for over 160 years, since our first hospital was established in Sydney by the Sisters of Charity and, as you might know, our foundress, Mary Aikenhead. Our continuing mission really does have a focus on care for those who are impoverished, vulnerable and marginalised. This is one of the reasons—and, in fact, it's the core reason—why St Vincent's sees that this is a really important issue.

Why are we here? We're here because, first of all, the goals of health care are compassion, healing and hope. Health care at its very best seeks to eliminate harm to the wellbeing and dignity of people. Our research tells us that healthcare workers are in fact amongst the most likely in the community to encounter trafficked people. So we see that health care has a real window into this and an opportunity to support the health needs of individuals, to take a stance as an organisation and to be a leader across the healthcare sector and to others in the community to stamp out modern slavery. It's a violation of human rights but particularly presents complex health challenges to services. But I guess foremost on this bill St Vincent's Health Australia and the health sector are large purchasers. We have a corporate responsibility to do the right thing and to ensure our business practices, via our supply chains and suppliers, are not supporting modern slavery or the exploitation of humans.

We're realistic about this. We're learning as much as the Australian community is learning. We know that we can't do it alone. We haven't had the expertise internally, so we've brought in others. That's exactly why we've partnered with ACRATH. They've been doing this for many, many years and have built expertise based upon a commitment to seeking change. Arising from our partnership, we've invested in a multi-year project with two goals. The first one is to investigate and address our supply chains. I'll outline for you some of the steps we've taken which are compatible with the goals that we see that we'd like to encourage your further consideration of in considering the bill. The second goal of our joint project is to increase the recognition of and support for victims of human trafficking who might seek care within St Vincent's Health Australia.

Just in terms of our supply efforts thus far in that first item of our project, what have we been doing so far? I'll give you a brief snapshot. We have over 1,000 suppliers. We spend over $900 million across our group. We've commenced only in the last couple of months an analysis of our top 50 suppliers, who represent about 41 per cent of our spend. We've chosen those based on financial considerations, but we've also chosen ones that might hold a potential risk. We have seen that this is the right thing to do. We're doing this quite separate to reputational incentives, even before the bill has been considered and passed. So we have taken it from a values base. Some of the steps that we've already taken include an anti-slavery section in our group procurement policy and also in our group procurement tender conditions document, which we have revised. We've included an anti-slavery position statement and a requirement that suppliers self-assess.

In terms of our approach, as I mentioned, we're leading it from a values base, but what we want to do is encourage our suppliers to view the impacts of the proposed legislation positively, as a positive driver to look for change. What have we done? We've commenced, together with ACRATH, a plan to investigate and address these issues within our supply chains. We've engaged with a legal firm, who are supported by human rights consultants. Shortly, we're going to be inviting our key suppliers to participate in an online self-assessment questionnaire to get a true understanding of where the risks lie within our supply chain. We'll be asking our suppliers to provide us with valuable supporting documentation such as policies, procedures, training courses and outlines as well as any existing corrective action plans to understand where their gaps might lie and better inform recommendations for their own business moving forward.

We recognise that people might wonder: 'What then for us? What does that mean for us?' Once we've done that assessment of our suppliers, they're provided with a report, and that report identifies some of the risks which might be present in their supply chain, makes recommendations that can help them, includes education guidelines and answers some of their frequently asked questions. St Vincent's answer is that, if risks of slavery and trafficking are identified in the course of the assessment, St Vincent's is committed to working with our suppliers to support them in addressing those concerns. We think that reflects the positive nature of the work that the parliament is undertaking.

We recognise that there's no immediate way to eradicate modern slavery and that this is going to be a long journey. We think that putting in place robust national legislation is a good start. To that end, we very much support the recommendations of ACRATH in what they've affirmed, including annual reporting for entities based or operating in Australia and mandatory reporting criteria. We affirm those reports in a public repository. We affirm that the Commonwealth is also required to report. We affirm the review of the legislation every three years. And, in particular, we support what they have affirmed in their written submission that an independent slavery commissioner be appointed. This will be helpful to us as large businesses. The independence gives businesses an opportunity to come alongside and ensures that their processes are properly in place, with the right support. We see that as being critical. We also support in particular their recommendation around a national compensation scheme being established, and one of the reasons is that we're a Catholic organisation and core to our values is the dignity of every human person. Receiving compensation should be in a clear and accessible way for people, not one where they have to navigate tricky and different state opportunities. It being a federal compensation scheme upholds the dignity of people. For us, the dignity of people is really the goal of this bill: we keep the person at the centre of our focus. Also, it is by engaging in good business practices, but with the person as our focus.

We are relieved and very pleased that the spotlight is shining firmly on this issue, and we look forward to and are committed to working with our suppliers and others across the health, community and government sectors to identify it. ACRATH and St Vincent's have an opportunity to present to the Catholic Health Australia conference in late August to encourage our colleagues in the Catholic health sector and beyond to undertake the journey that we have undertaken. We think this is a way of making visible what is invisible but is otherwise before our eyes. We're interested in being leaders in this space. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Thank you both very much for that. I think you're aware of this, but can I explain that this committee is charged by the Senate with looking into this piece of government legislation. Some of us are government senators and some of us are opposition senators, but the idea of the committee is to hear evidence and look at the bill and see whether the committee can recommend to the Senate and therefore to the government that there be amendments or additions to it or deletions from it. That's the purpose of this inquiry. So thank you for your contribution towards that. Ms Carolan, can you briefly explain the national compensation scheme that you're proposing and which Mrs McDonald also referred to. How does that work?

Ms Carolan : We've long been a proponent of a national scheme, and I think what we understood was that, when we've supported somebody who's been trafficked into Australia, they've needed some money to restart their lives and they've needed the assurance from the Australian government that a crime was committed against them here in Australia. I stood with a woman outside the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal in Victoria—Lisa referred to the plethora of different victims of crime assistance responses. That's why we want a national scheme. She had been trafficked and most egregiously treated here in Australia, and when she came out her first response was, 'That Australian man in a suit said that a crime was committed against me and it wasn't because I was silly that I'm in this situation now.' I found that very moving, because she was saying that it took a tribunal member to acknowledge the wrong that was done to her.

CHAIR: Which tribunal? Is this the AAT or something?

Ms Carolan : No, it's the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal, the VOCAT in Victoria. But there are different tribunals for victims of crime assistance.

CHAIR: So you want a national—

Ms Carolan : We want a national scheme.

CHAIR: I take it from what you say that there are certain state schemes in operation.

Ms Carolan : There are, yes.

CHAIR: But you're talking about a more national scheme.

Ms Carolan : We're asking for a national compensation scheme. I think that what happened was that originally there were no victims of the federal law, so there was no compensation scheme set up, but gradually over time there have been issues like child pornography.

CHAIR: Yes, there has been legislation.

Ms Carolan : There is the terrorism legislation. So now there are very clear victims, and there have been these individual responses to those victims, which is great, but we're saying—

CHAIR: Are you talking purely domestically about compensation? A lot of your evidence related to things that happened in West Africa and Bangladesh. There's no suggestion of compensation?

Ms Carolan : That would be great, but that's not our suggestion here in this tribunal.

CHAIR: So you're proposing it entirely domestically.

Ms Carolan : Yes. I think that for the children who are in West Africa picking cocoa beans, who have often been trafficked from another country like Burkina Faso, or the people who are exploited egregiously in Bangladesh, 1,100 of whom died in the Rana Plaza collapse, we're saying that the legislation that you're looking at right now can begin to address those issues.

CHAIR: Yes, that's certainly the intention of the bill as I understand it. The government was involved in a deal of consultation before the bill came out. Were either of you part of the consultation?

Ms Carolan : Yes. This is our submission. We did a joint submission with the Freedom Partnership from the Salvation Army—and I think you're hearing from them later today—


Ms Carolan : and with the Justice and International Mission team of the Uniting Church.

CHAIR: I just want to make sure that you're aware of the consultation and that you took part in it.

Ms Carolan : Yes.

CHAIR: Mrs McDonald, I've recently had a knee replacement in the Mater Hospital in Townsville—not quite St Vincent's but similar—and it was horrendously expensive. Fortunately the insurance paid for it. St Vincent's runs big businesses. Have you or your organisation—you're the chief financial officer of St Vincent's—made any assessment of the additional costs to your hospital of not getting cheap bandages from Bangladesh? Have you looked into that yet?

Mrs McDonald : Not fully yet, no. We recognise that that's going to take place in the next stage of our project. What we have done is prioritise our mission imperative to ensure that what we do receive in supply is actually something that's compatible with our mission and therefore our code of practice. There hasn't been a full financial assessment of that yet, but that's something that we will undertake in the future. In the meantime, our priority is on investigating and having an understanding of the scope of the risk to St Vincent's.

CHAIR: That's what the bill, as I understand it, is intended to do—

Mrs McDonald : Yes, that's right.

CHAIR: but, again, everything comes at a cost. And not for a moment was I suggesting we should encourage slave labour so we get cheap bandages!

Mrs McDonald : No.

CHAIR: But there is a cost to business which St Vincent's perhaps is or should be or will be aware of.

Mrs McDonald : That's right. Once we have that assessment of our suppliers, we'll be able to make that assessment in a bit more detailed way.

Ms Carolan : Can I chime in there? I think what we, as an NGO sector, have been looking at is saying two things. One is: we actually want those cheap bandages from Bangladesh, but we want to put pressure down from St Vincent's or from other procurers to say: 'We want these ethically sourced.' And so it won't be that we'll be dropping Bangladesh bandage makers; we'll be saying to them: 'You must pay the minimum wages. You must not have factories in dangerous circumstances.' And we believe, from the meeting that we had with Bob Stewart yesterday, that that's already happening in Australian business.

CHAIR: It is, and I've addressed a number of business groups. But the legislation provides, I think, for a review—in three years, is it?

Ms Carolan : Yes.

CHAIR: The idea, as I understand the government's approach, is that this is quite dramatically new legislation, and some companies are already doing it, but, for those that aren't, it's going to be a major challenge. I see the government is setting up a Department of Home Affairs unit to help people—'We're from the government; we're here to help'! It seems a bit odd. But the review, I understand, is to see how things work out in the first three transitional years, and then, if it's not working, see if it does need penalties. I understand there are no penalties in this legislation; it's simply a requirement. Do you have a comment about that approach, bearing in mind your goals, but also that those businesses that are not already involved have a pretty dramatic change coming to their modus operandi, so to speak?

Mrs McDonald : I think that the three years is a really good inclusion in the proposed legislation. One of the reasons, from a business perspective, is that the health sector is in it together. A lot of their items of supply are common to each other, so there is the capacity to share the information that we each find. To be able to then negotiate better prices on ethically-produced items is an opportunity that we foresee, and some of our early conversations with our Catholic colleagues indicate that they're interested in the same. So, within these three years, and certainly in the second stage of our project, as we look at what the implications are for us, business wise and financially, we hope that that's an opportunity for us, too—to be able to negotiate better prices on ethically-produced items.

CHAIR: I used to be a lawyer, so I can say this about my former profession: I know there are a lot of lawyers licking their lips and rubbing their hands together because they see a lot of good legal business in trying to help major companies through the supply chain! So it's going to be not easy for companies, and most of them that I've spoken to feel that they will need some time to work out what to do and how to cost it all.

Ms Carolan : ACRATH's very pleased at the idea of a three-year review.

CHAIR: I'll pass to the deputy chair, Senator Pratt.

Senator PRATT: I'm interested in hearing from ACRATH on some of your on-the-ground work. What examples can you give us of people who fall through the cracks of our current protection frameworks? We've got some protection in Australia through state schemes and through immigration. But, if we had a commissioner, who would a commissioner be helping?

Ms Carolan : I think the commissioner would be helping the whole country to be doing this job well, and that whole-country effort is the parliament. As ACRATH, we work very closely—and have done for over ten years—with the departmental officers who work on these, but we know from our work with them that this role is not a departmental officer role. We want the person to be independent. So we're saying: the whole country, big business but also the people who we support, and I think that's pertinent to your question. We've met with garment workers from Bangladesh, and they are struggling to get a minimum wage and safe working conditions.

Senator MOLAN: In Australia?

Ms Carolan : No, in Bangladesh. They've come to Australia to meet with us. They're not asking for million-dollar wages; they're asking for basic safety. Building and fire safety was the first accord, and then a minimum wage. Is that what you mean?

Senator PRATT: Yes, in part it is. Essentially you're arguing that a commissioner has a coordinating role for all of the responses and can put that on the national agenda as well as helping individuals here but also learning about what's happening for communities and individuals overseas.

Ms Carolan : Yes.

Senator PRATT: More locally, there's a perception that we don't have slavery here in Australia and that it's just about supply chains offshore. What have you seen in Australia and how prevalent is this issue?

Ms Carolan : We're very concerned and we've taken our concern to the federal government. In fact, next week a dozen of us are going to spend a week in Canberra, advocating to your colleagues. We've got a group in Queensland, and they have talked to us about the case of the 22 Ni-Vanuatu men who were picking tomatoes in Queensland. The Fair Work Ombudsman took the case to court. The workers were told that they were owed, I think, $70,000, but the Fair Work Ombudsman noted that probably they wouldn't see a penny of that money. That's slavery. It's alive and well in a whole lot of situations where labour hire firms have done really bad things to overseas workers, and we see that all over Australia.

Senator PRATT: What's the specific issue with labour hire firms in terms of labour standards?

Ms Carolan : In that case with the Ni-Vanuatu men, the labour hire firm just phoenixed. The person who owed the workers their wages just stopped being that company, and I believe he's now re-engaging workers from Vanuatu. That sort of thing is the most egregious exploitation of overseas workers, and it's happening right here in Australia. I can name a whole lot of places where our members have spotted it, right across Australia.

Senator PRATT: Can you tell us a bit about the vulnerabilities that people face if they worry about deportation, despite the fact that they've been held in slavery-like conditions?

Ms Carolan : Yes, that's the key to it. If people have come on a seasonal worker program, which is the one focused on Timor-Leste and Pacific Island workers, and they feel like they want to raise issues, like those tomato pickers did, they don't know who to go to. They might be frightened that if they complain they will be deported. They're often told the police here in Australia are not like the police back in their own countries. We've just seen that situation happen. I don't know whether you've heard as a committee about Carabooda in Western Australia, where I think 170 workers were held behind a huge fence and, when they were discovered, they were very quickly repatriated without being able to gather the material.

Senator PRATT: The evidence that was needed. In terms of the kind of support that a commissioner could provide to victims and about evidence, to what extent is this being provided elsewhere, and what kinds of gaps are there?

Ms Carolan : I think there's a huge gap. I think that the NGO sector is energetic and we try to collaborate as much as we possibly can, but we need a whole-of-Australia system. I can't emphasise enough that, from our own lived experience over these 12 or 13 years we've been working, that needs to be an independent role.

Senator PRATT: So the kind of thing you're talking about might bridge the gap with a breach of local employment standards—for example, on that agricultural business in Western Australia—where you've got the federal implications of immigration tied up with the local employment stuff and there's not enough coordination there?

Ms Carolan : Exactly.

Senator PRATT: Thank you.

Senator HUME: I have a couple of questions. The UK Modern Slavery Act has been accused of being a little toothless, yet it has an antislavery commissioner. What do you think has made that piece of legislation toothless?

Ms Carolan : I think the fact that so many companies have not reported is a real issue. I don't know, Senator Hume, whether you saw the testimony from Kevin Hyland, who was the UK commissioner. He emphasised the importance of the independence of his role. He said that was key to the successful development of prosecutions, and the number of new prosecutions that happened after the UK Modern Slavery Act was quite dramatic.

Senator HUME: I'm just trying to think of an example. Oversight of modern slavery rests with the Attorney-General's Department, for instance. Where do you think they would be conflicted compared to an independent antislavery commissioner?

Ms Carolan : That's the key question, isn't it?

Senator HUME: Yes.

Ms Carolan : We have worked with the Attorney-General's Department and now Home Affairs and have enormous respect for the departmental officers, so I don't mean this to be in any way disrespectful of their work, but they are not independent of government. Over the 10 years, I think, that we've worked with the department, we've seen very different responses because of the fact that they fit within government.

Senator HUME: I'm just a little confused. Forgive me. I don't understand why being independent of government is necessary in this circumstance in order to be effective.

CHAIR: When the government is obviously antislavery.

Ms Carolan : I think that it's the robustness of the carrying out of the role that is what we're looking for. We—and not just ACRATH but the UK antislavery commissioner—believe that independence was key.

Senator HUME: One of the things that the UK does not have but the proposed Commonwealth bill does is a central public register. Do you think that that will be a key difference as to whether the legislation is more robust and more effective than the UK legislation?

Ms Carolan : I think that it will make a big difference. I think I said in my statement that we're very pleased to see that in the reporting requirement and that there are criteria. I think that, with the Home Affairs staff, they're saying that, if the $100 million threshold is maintained, it would capture about 3,000 Australian companies, but it's only 'about', because there's not going to be an actual list of companies. They can't generate that list, because it is not entirely clear who those 3,000 are. So that's going to be an area of concern, about who does report and who doesn't report.

Senator HUME: Isn't it $100 million turnover?

Ms Carolan : Yes, but that's a global turnover, and so Home Affairs staff said to a group who were brought in to comment on the draft bill that—I think I'm allowed to say this, am I? It was in—what do you call it?

Senator HUME: In camera?

Ms Carolan : No. It was Chatham House rules. Am I allowed to say—

Senator HUME: I have no idea. I'll refer to the chair on that one. If a conversation is Chatham House rules, are they allowed to be repeated—

CHAIR: Well, don't name names.

Senator HUME: Don't attribute it. Okay.

CHAIR: Just say you've heard that.

Ms Carolan : Well, I heard that there is no definitive list, and that's a worry to us, because, as Senator Macdonald said, for the companies who don't want to report, their names won't be on a list.

Senator HUME: A turnover threshold is used for taxation as well, so it shouldn't be a difficult thing to establish, I would imagine.

Ms Carolan : That's what we said, and they said that they can't come up with a definitive list. I think there's a clear bunch, and then there's a grey area, so the list can't be definitive.

CHAIR: It's interesting, because I think the bill sets up a unit within the department that's going to help people work out whether they're on the list or not.

Ms Carolan : That's right, and I think that unit has already been funded under the budget.

CHAIR: Yes, it has.

Senator HUME: Can I ask about the penalties, or the lack thereof, for noncompliance? Obviously your organisations, and associated organisations, have worked on the basis of 'name and shame, and that will change behaviour'. I think the aim of this bill is very similar. The UK, however, has injunctions, and the New South Wales bill has fines. Do you think that fines or injunctions are necessary, or do you think that the work that you've done in the past, which is consistent with the bill that is before us today, is adequate?

Mrs McDonald : St Vincent's, before we brought on some further legal advice, looked to seek for suppliers to do a self-assessment, and in the first instance it wasn't very productive, because there wasn't the weight of the legislation to be able to say, 'This is a priority; we now need to do it.' We did lever the value space. We want the strength of the legislation to be able to help that compliance, to be able to look and see that we want to undertake self-assessment and we're serious about it, and within three years this is going to be reviewed. I think the legislation gives strength to the arm of requirements of self-assessment in business procurement policies.

Senator MOLAN: Most of my colleagues have asked the questions that I identified, but I am interested in whether or not this can be handled by other existing commissioners. Do you think that's possible?

CHAIR: Can I add to that: what could the antislavery ombudsman do that the Fair Work Ombudsman can't do or the Federal Police can't do?

Senator MOLAN: Or the Human Rights Commissioner.

Senator HUME: Or the business engagement unit in the Attorney-General's Department.

Ms Carolan : I think within the department is very different to being a commissioner, because we're calling for independence and we're calling for it because of our long experience working with business and with the Australian community and with the home affairs and Attorney-General's departments.

Mrs McDonald : I wouldn't see it as the main reason, but one thing that is not unimportant is the capacity to bring profile to the issue. One of the gaps that we've identified in our research is that, in terms of being able to identify the issue of modern slavery in our practices, in health care, in other business or in the Australian community, people are just unaware of it, so it feels as though the time is right to give the right profile to this as a distinct and specific scourge of this time and something that really is deserving of its own robust practices and policies, of its own accord, not something that just fits in with or can be addressed in other areas, although it should be. So we think the profile is an important piece to be able to give that, because that, as I've mentioned in response to Senator Hume's question, is then able to strengthen the arm of organisations to work collaboratively, to require that their suppliers assess their supply chains and to really identify this transparently. So I think that that profile is an important piece for the issue of slavery in Australia at this time, particularly compared to the United States, where—at least in the Catholic health sector, of which I can speak—they've been across this for a long time. They've got their policies and procedures in place and they recognise the extent of the issue. It's largely invisible in Australia. So to combat that invisibility is an important piece, I think.

Senator MOLAN: Even more, you would think, than a good set of state legislation and activities within Home Affairs. I guess you could argue in both directions. You could say that a commissioner might make the complexity of the federal-state system work or it may not. We've seen failures of the Fair Work Ombudsman: the Fair Work Ombudsman can say what they like, but then people disappear and don't pay the wages they should to these good people. Is the commissioner going to do anything more than that? Particularly under this legislation, all he can do is publicise it.

Ms Carolan : Yes. We've had a really good relationship with the Fair Work Ombudsman and are really respectful of her; I think she's just left her position. But the Fair Work Ombudsman always said that their role is not to look at slavery in Bangladesh. We also had a really good conversation with Minister Hawke, who's responsible for this area, of course. He was teasing out with us where this independent commissioner might sit. I think you're right: it could be within the Fair Work Ombudsman but an extension that has an overseas reach, or it could be as a human rights area. I think ACRATH's concern is that the person has independence.

Senator MOLAN: In relation to the national compensation scheme, there are state schemes. You want to see a compensation scheme. Would that imply getting rid of the state schemes?

Ms Carolan : No.

Senator MOLAN: So where do we intersect?

Ms Carolan : I think that we're talking about a federal law. Fiona McLeod is presenting to you at the end of this morning, and she's an absolute expert on this area. She's a barrister, and she's led on compensation. The state schemes are all very different. They're victims of crime assistance schemes. The member who spoke to that young woman that I mentioned earlier said very clearly, at the very beginning of this session, that this is not a compensation scheme; this is a victims of crime assistance scheme. The payments are small. They're to help somebody to get back on their feet after an incidence of crime in the state.

Senator MOLAN: But you're asking for a compensation scheme?

Ms Carolan : Yes, and a federal one.

Senator MOLAN: In addition to a victims of crime scheme?

Ms Carolan : Yes, because it's a federal crime. Human trafficking is a federal crime.

Senator MOLAN: Yes, it is, but surely they become victims of crime rather than requiring compensation.

Ms Carolan : That might be better to put to Fiona later.

Senator MOLAN: Sure. It seems that the people who are exploiting other poor people are breaking industrial regulations or a law or orders of Fair Work. Do you see a real problem in us applying our own laws in those areas? Surely, if those laws were applied—

Ms Carolan : Well, I think that's why we'd like to take another step, possibly in new legislation on the licensing of labour hire firms. I think Victoria, South Australia and Queensland have all done that as states, but it's actually a federal issue from ACRATH's point of view. That example I gave of those 22 Ni-Vanuatu men is shocking to me. The Australian law carried through to the point where these men were owed an enormous amount of money that would have helped them to return to their country of origin with their heads held high instead of shamefully going home, having borrowed money to get to Australia. Australian law did a good job but they got no money. And, from the last media item I saw, the fines were not paid because the company self-destructed. Mark Zirnsak, from the Uniting Church, is a real expert on this. The number of companies that phoenix after bad practice is just awful.

Senator MOLAN: Absolutely. I am just trying to figure out in my own mind how what you're proposing overcomes this.

Ms Carolan : I think it takes it a further step—and of course it has to be well resourced.

Senator MOLAN: It takes what a further step?

Ms Carolan : It takes the phoenixing situation the Fair Work Ombudsman is facing into the licensing of labour hire firms, for example. That is just one—

Senator MOLAN: Yes, but we get phoenixing throughout our economy and it is an awful thing—non-slavery subbies are hurt badly every day of the week. I will leave it there. I just can't see how what you are saying gets down and fixes the problem. We have a complex system and we are never going to get away from that. But adding another layer? I'm not sure.

Ms Carolan : I don't think the independent anti-slavery commissioner's role is to be another layer on the Fair Work Ombudsman, with whom we have had great respect.

Senator MOLAN: And the states and the law and the industrial legislation.

Ms Carolan : Yes. But one part of the brief of the independent anti-slavery commissioner is to look at overseas supply chains.

Mrs McDonald : I think the brief is beyond Fair Work to do. Whilst most of the scenarios that we are going to encounter relate to unfair work practices and slavery, it is broader than that. It is a health issue. There are issues of forced marriage. It is much broader than something that can be looked at and compensated from a Fair Work proposal; that is the bulk of it, but it is broader than that. That is certainly what we are finding in the health scenario: the people we encounter are learning that they are trafficked when we encounter them. They might have come from a domestic work scenario, unfair picking or whatever it might have been. But they might also have come to us because of a forced marriage, and we don't see that that could be compensated under Fair Work.

Senator MOLAN: Mrs McDonald, have you found any anomalies in your search through your own supply chains at this stage?

Mrs McDonald : We are right in the middle of that search right now, so we will be able to inform you further in about two months time. We are right in the middle of it, but thank you for asking.

CHAIR: Thank you both very much for your evidence. We very much appreciate your help.