In February, the Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Alex Hawke MP, issued two important announcements regarding human trafficking and slavery in Australia.
A Modern Slavery Act for Australia
Firstly, Assistant Minister Hawke has committed to introducing a Parliamentary draft of the Modern Slavery Act by June 2018. Assistant Minister Hawke chaired the inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia. The inquiry focussed on assessing the effectiveness of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, and whether similar or improved measures could be introduced in Australia.
The inquiry’s report, Hidden in Plain Sight, went beyond the terms of reference of the inquiry and recommended that the Australian Government introduce a Modern Slavery Act, that includes:
- referencing in one location Australia’s existing modern slavery offences as outlined in Division 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code Act 1995, as well as offences relevant to combatting modern slavery such as withholding passports under section 21 of the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act 2005, offences relating to sexual and labour exploitation and offences under the Migration Act 1958;
- provisions for an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner;
- provisions for a mandatory supply chain reporting requirement that requires certain entities to report on modern slavery risks in their supply chains;
- measures to support victims of modern slavery, including establishing a national compensation scheme;
- measures to improve criminal justice responses to modern slavery;
- measures to address orphanage trafficking and child exploitation in overseas residential institutions;
- measures to address labour exploitation, including establishing a labour hire licensing scheme and making changes to Australia’s visa framework.
There are still quite a few issues that need to be resolved before the legislation is enacted. We will be collaborating with other NGOs to advocate for a robust Modern Slavery Act where the human rights and safety of survivors is at the centre of the legislation.
The Modern Slavery Act has the potential to be a significant piece of legislation that will combat and prevent human trafficking and slavery within Australia and overseas. The legislation also has the potential to substantially improve the lives of the men, women and children who have experienced human trafficking and slavery in Australia.
Improved support for young women at risk of forced marriage
Secondly, the Assistant Minister announced a 12 month trial where victims of forced marriage can access up to 200 days of support through the Support for Trafficked People program without contributing to a criminal investigation or prosecution.
This announcement was very welcome, given that many girls and young women are reluctant to involve their parents in a criminal investigation and this was a major barrier that prevented some young women from seeking help. The length of support has been increased from 90 days to 200 days. The Australian Red Cross runs the Support for Trafficked People program.