Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner) Bill 2023

Policies, Publications & Submissions - January 22, 2024

The ACTU welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the inquiry into the bill to establish an Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The ACTU has long called for the establishment of an independent, well-resourced Anti-Slavery Commissioner as a key element of Australia’s response to modern slavery.

In our submission to the three year statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) – hereafter MSAwe outlined the key reforms needed to make the MSA an effective tool to combat modern slavery in the operations and supply chains of Australian companies. We recommended that there should be appropriate oversight and enforcement of the MSA through a well-resourced, independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner with the powers to investigate and handle complaints from workers and their representatives in the operations and supply chains of reporting entities; provide remedy where complaints are upheld; and issue penalties for corporate non-compliance.

The independent Report of the statutory review of the first 3 years of the Modern Slavery Act 2018: the first three years by Professor John McMillan was tabled in Parliament on 25 May 2023 and made a number of recommendations to improve the functioning of the MSA. The Government has yet to formally respond to the recommendations in the McMillan review. McMillan noted that a majority of submissions expressed strong support for an Office of Commissioner to play a leadership and regulatory role in overseeing the MSA, which should be an independent statutory office that was appropriately resourced to play an effective role in combatting modern slavery.

Unfortunately, this Bill falls far short of what is required to ensure an effective response to modern slavery. It proposes a piecemeal response with the creation of a figurehead primarily exercising education, promotion and awareness-raising functions, with a very small budget to carry out this role. This is completely inadequate to deal with the scope and severity of the problem of modern slavery.

We recommend that the Bill be withdrawn in its current form and substantially amended.  The Government should consider its response to the three year review of the MSA and the review of the modern slavery provisions in the criminal code (sections 270 and 271) holistically. The role of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner must be considered in that context, as the Government’s response to the MSAreview recommendations will determine what powers and resources the Commissioner requires in order to support the Act. As our affiliate the Maritime Union of Australia illustrate in their submission, many of the recommendations made in these reviews would be supported by the Commissioner having the appropriate functions.

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