3 August 2023
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne
Rachel Payne MLC – South-Eastern Metropolitan Region
My adjournment matter is for the Attorney General, Minister Symes.
In Australia today, tens of thousands of people are experiencing modern slavery.
These exploitative practices cruelly and unjustly undermine personal freedoms. They can include human trafficking, slavery, forced labour, and child labour.
We do have a national action plan and a federal Modern Slavery Act to address modern slavery in global supply chains. However, there is more work to be done.
In Melbourne just late last year, a healthcare worker raised the alarm to authorities after noticing a woman was showing signs of human trafficking. This action resulted in a couple being charged with modern-day slavery offences.
Clearly, it is still an issue in Victoria.
Other states have taken steps to strengthen their legislation in this area, particularly with respect to expanding reporting options and supports.
For example, in New South Wales, they introduced their own Modern Slavery Act. This act establishes an Anti-Slavery Commissioner, reporting obligations for certain commercial organisations, bans goods linked to modern slavery in procurement processes involving government agencies, equips healthcare workers to report modern slavery incidents, and establishes a hotline dedicated to collecting reports of incidents.
Advocates have encouraged other Australian jurisdictions to adopt similar measures.
So, the action I seek is that the Attorney General take more proactive steps to help prevent modern slavery and consider whether we can improve measures to identify and support survivors, help community members report modern slavery incidents, and consider introducing our own Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Received: 21 November 2023
Hon. Jaclyn Symes MP
(Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services)
I thank the member for the adjournment matter raised.
As the member has noted, modern slavery refers to various forms of severe exploitation including trafficking in persons, slavery, slavery-like practices, and the worst forms of child labour. Such practices have devastating impacts on victims that are affected, and have absolutely no place in global society, let alone in Victoria.
The Commonwealth has primary responsibility and accountability for measures to combat modern slavery in Australia. The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery 2020-25 (National Action Plan) sets the strategic direction to combat modern slavery in Australia. However, the government certainly recognises that combatting modern slavery requires a collaborative response between the Commonwealth, states and territories.
Currently, a combination of federal and state legislation targets modern slavery risks that arise in Victoria. The Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth) (Modern Slavery Act) establishes a mandatory reporting requirement for larger entities that operate in Australia and is aimed at addressing modern slavery risks in both domestic and global operations and supply chains. Modern slavery offences are criminalised in Australia under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (Criminal Code) and particular sexual servitude offences are criminalised in Victoria under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic).
In addition, the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) controls irregular migration practices that can expose vulnerable people to slavery (such as people smuggling and visa breaches) and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) contains protections for vulnerable workers, including migrant workers and international students who may be at greater risk of exploitation. The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) also contains provisions that denounce and prohibit modern slavery practices, such as provisions upholding the freedom from forced work.
Further measures to address modern slavery risks in Victoria will be informed by developments in federal policy and legislation. For example, the Commonwealth recently undertook a targeted review of modern slavery offences in the Criminal Code, and a statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act following its first three years in operation. Findings and recommendations resulting from these reviews are intended to strengthen Australia’s response to modern slavery. The Commonwealth has also committed to establishing Australia’s first federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner and has announced significant funding in its 2023-24 budget for nation-wide initiatives to combat modern slavery and support survivors. We will monitor these developments closely, in order to assess the effect that the policies will have on Victorians.
As the member notes, there is always more work that can be done to address all forms of modern slavery. In considering further policy initiatives, we will be assisted by examining the effectiveness of programs in other states and territories such as New South Wales, and we support ongoing cooperation with the Commonwealth to strengthen Australia’s whole-of-community response to these abhorrent crimes.