Anti-slavery advocates welcome new laws with caution

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John McCarthy QC.
John McCarthy QC, chair of the Sydney Archdiocesan Anti-Slavery Taskforce. PHOTO: Peter Rosengren

The Anti-Slavery Taskforce of the Archdiocese of Sydney has cautiously welcomed the passing of an amended Modern Slavery Act through the NSW Parliament, emphasising that it’s critical to now ensure the bill is finally implemented on 1 January 2022 after over three years of delays.

The move comes after Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP expressed his disappointment that an original bill, passed by the NSW Parliament in 2018, had been severely weakened.

The original bill, which was praised at the time as one of the best in the world, committed entities with an annual consolidated revenue of over $50 million to prepare a public modern slavery statement, detailing how they are identifying the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking in their operations and supply chains.

It also committed the NSW Government to appointing an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner who would have the power to impose financial penalties on entities which didn’t abide by the laws.

NSW versus Federal laws

The NSW legislation went further than federal laws  passed in 2018 which committed companies with annual consolidated revenue of at least $100 million to report on their supply chains, but with no penalties in place for non-compliance.

The NSW government released an amended bill in October which repealed the obligations on entities with the annual turnover of over $50 million, weakened the powers of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner to impose penalties and removed local councils and state-owned corporations from being subjected to the laws.

The government subsequently amended the bill again to ensure that state-owned corporations and local councils had to report on their supply chains, but businesses were still not required to abide by the laws. The amended bill was passed by parliament on 19 November.

Scepticism on government response.

The Chair of the Anti-Slavery Taskforce, Mr John McCarthy QC said while the passing of the law is a step forward, he is sceptical around whether the government will implement it, based on its past record.

He said the government should be ashamed of the way it has mishandled such an important human rights issue over recent years.

“This bill should have been implemented when it was enacted in 2018. The long period of no legislative activity in NSW has finally come to an end. But the process has brought no credit on the State Government and has been an embarrassing humiliation for the NSW parliament and the NSW people”, Mr McCarthy said.