RLC in Hansard: Modern Slavery Bill 2018

12 September 2018 – Mr Chris Hayes MP (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) outlined his support for the Modern Slavery Bill 2018, citing RLC's submission to the 2017 Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (11:51): I also rise to make a contribution on the Modern Slavery Bill 2018. It's regrettable that, in a country like Australia, one would ordinarily think that we would need such a bill. But the reality is, whether we're talking about food processing or whether we're talking about apparel, we're an importing country and, largely, many things are just taken for granted. We are also a very accepting country. Regrettably, the number of people who we deal with and the number of enterprises that we deal with will put profit lines and will put cash, if you like, ahead of things such as human rights. Hence, it is appropriate that government brings forward the Modern Slavery Bill.

I should say from the outset that Labor will support the passage of this bill. We think it is a step in the right direction, albeit I will pick up on a number of the statements made by the member for Dunkley. I congratulate him on his contribution. I suspect he probably does have the view that if he had a free vote he would probably vote for the amendments in relation to penalties as well as having an independent commissioner or a statutory officer associated with the implementation of this bill. But it is a step in the right direction, though.

As a nation we do have ongoing responsibilities and commitments to protecting Australians against modern slavery, not only under our domestic laws but also in the context of our international framework. Modern slavery engages a number of Australia's international human rights obligations, as protected in a number of international human rights instruments—most notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These are rights which are absolute rights of freedom from slavery and forced labour, from torture and from cruelty and other inhumane or degrading treatments or punishments.

The protection against slavery is one of those specific rights that the International Court of Justice has determined is a protection lent to global citizens under international law. It's not just what you apply to your own citizens. As the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, stated:

It is up to each and every one of us to raise our voice against crimes that deprive countless victims of their liberty, dignity and human rights. We have to work together to realize the equal rights promised to all by the United Nations Charter.

Despite the widely accepted protections against slavery on an international level, unfortunately, the statistics tell us a completely different story. Many, many people are today trapped in a situation of slavery or enforced labour around the world. Regrettably, the statistics actually say there are more people trapped in slavery than at any other time in human history. According to the International Centre for Human Rights, there are approximately 48.5 million people in slavery around the world. What is most alarming and, I suppose, would shock most people is that 4,300 people are estimated to be currently in slave like conditions here in Australia. That is just simply not good enough.

Slavery remains hidden from many of us yet can be the result of our actions in what seems to be the innocent purchasing of products for our food, as we heard from the member for Dunkley. Whether you're buying a shirt made in Bangladesh not knowing how it was made and where the cotton, the fabric, the dyes or the pigments were sourced, or whether you're buying the various foods that we eat, as a purchaser, you don't and would not be expected to go through and itemise all those things to satisfy yourself before making that purchase. I think the Redfern Legal Centre put it in perspective when they said:

Sometimes people are hidden behind closed doors, sometimes they are hidden in plain sight. The person who attaches the gutters to your roof, cares for your neighbour’s children, cleans your car, makes your clothes or serves your food could be a victim.

Full Hansard transcript available here (12 September 2018)

See also

RLC Submission: Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia (Submission no. 119, 5 May 2017)