Faith leaders fear anti-slavery laws are being watered down.
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has again called on NSW MPs to hold the State Government accountable and ensure it does not implement much weaker legislation to combat modern slavery than the Parliament originally intended.
The NSW Government has introduced a Modern Slavery Amendment Bill 2021 into Parliament this week. This Bill is significantly different to the Modern Slavery Act passed by Parliament in June 2018, and co-sponsored by former Premier Gladys Berejiklian, which was enacted but never allowed by the NSW Government to commence.
The NSW Government’s Amendment Bill repeals the legal obligation of entities with an annual consolidated revenue of over $50 million from preparing a public modern slavery statement detailing how they are identifying and reducing the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking in their operations and supply chains.
Instead, entities with annual revenue of over $100 million would be subject to federal legislation, which while requiring them to produce an annual modern slavery statement, makes no provision for financial penalties if there is any failure to comply.
The NSW Amendment Bill also diminishes the powers of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, who would no longer be able to impose financial penalties and would be limited to monitoring procurement in government agencies.
Archbishop Fisher said it’s a major setback which would effectively weaken and not strengthen the conditions and prospects of modern slavery victims.
“In 2018, the NSW Parliament passed one of the strongest pieces of anti-slavery legislation in the world. Regrettably this Act while found in the NSW Statute Book has never been commenced by the Government for so called excuses that do not amount to a credible explanation”, he said.
“Instead, this week, the Parliament has been debating the radically reworked and severely diminished NSW Modern Slavery Amendment Bill. The ‘moral imperative’ to take action against all forms of slavery that was present in the 2018 Act has all but disappeared”.
“This Bill will only apply to the supply chains of government agencies. This Bill also eliminates any impact on non-government commercial organisations. It includes no incentive for these commercial organisations to seriously examine the risk of modern slavery and human trafficking in their operations and supply chains”, Archbishop Fisher added.
The Sydney Archbishop’s concerns are shared by a number of faith leaders from other Christian denominations as well as from the Hindu and Muslim communities. They have written an open letter to Premier Dominic Perrottet, reminding him of the urgency to act now.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of addressing the problem of modern slavery in our region. More than 10 million children around the globe are being exploited and suffering. We can no longer be bystanders to this gross injustice”, the faith leaders wrote.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the urgency of addressing the problem of modern slavery in our region.” – Faith leaders’ open letter
“The Asia-Pacific region is home to approximately two-thirds of the world’s slaves, many of them children and women. NSW has the seventh largest economy within this region. And, as the NSW Government departments and businesses continue to procure goods, have links in their supply chains, and conduct their operations within the Asia-Pacific region, it is vital that we have well functioning anti-slavery legislation in New South Wales”.
Signatories to the letter include the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, the President of the Australian National Imams Council, Imam Shadi Alsuleiman and the Founding Director of the Hindu Council of Australia, Mr Surinder Jain.
Special Minister of State, Mr Don Harwin has argued that amendments to the Bill were necessary to reduce the regulatory burden on NSW businesses having to report on their supply chains.
He has told Parliament that the new Anti-Slavery Commissioner would still play a significant role in ensuring companies meet their obligations.
“I expect that the Anti-Slavery Commissioner will take an active role in advocating for commercial organisations in NSW with an annual turnover between $50 million and $100 million to voluntarily report under the Commonwealth’s scheme”, Mr Harwin said.
NSW Opposition pushes for amendments
NSW Labor MP Hugh McDermott said the Opposition will be pushing for significant amendments to ensure state-owned corporations are bound by the Act to commence on 1 January 2022 and that the powers of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner are reinstated, including provision to impose financial penalties for non compliance.
“Under this Bill, the vast majority of businesses in NSW will now not be required to report on their management of their supply chains and that means that unscrupulous businesses that don’t care about slavery in their supply chains just won’t be identified or prosecuted”, Dr McDermott explained.
Faith leaders who signed the open letter to Premier Perrottet say they are extremely concerned that the Modern Slavery Act, passed by Parliament in 2018, was still awaiting proclamation, nearly 1200 days since passing the NSW Parliament and receiving the Governor’s consent.
At the time the Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2018, it won praise from Britain’s former Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, who commended it for being amongst the best modern slavery acts in the world.
Archbishop Fisher said the original legislation must be enacted as soon as possible. “I urge NSW MPs to hold the State government accountable and ensure that the original legislation is enacted to protect the thousands of victims of modern slavery in New South Wales.
“To do otherwise would be to forget the example of the Good Samaritan who knew he simply could not cross to the other side of the road and ignore the man beaten and left for dead on the Jericho road”.