Don't water it down, Colin Buchanan urges in anti-slavery song

Award-winning songwriter and leading children’s artist Colin Buchanan has written a song urging the NSW government not to “water down” its Modern Slavery Act, in amendments expected to be debated in parliament today.

“So much exploitation is hidden from Western consumers,” Buchanan said. “This legislation not only addresses exploitation that may be built into business models but demonstrates that the people of NSW care about the exploitation and abuse of the most vulnerable across the globe.”

Buchanan was inspired to write his song by a humorous campaign last month called Get It Don that rallied the public around Don Harwin, the Minister with carriage of the Act, calling on him to “be the Next Great Don” by “simply standing up to special interests and commencing the NSW Modern Slavery Act.”

It turns out Harwin was in the same year as Buchanan at Peakhurst High.

“I’m not sure who annoyed who more – although I have my suspicions!” Buchanan admitted, referring to the dynamic between the pair when they were at school together.

The campaign, coordinated by anti-slavery nonprofit International Justice Mission Australia, appears to have been successful in getting Harwin’s attention, too. On Thursday 14 October, more than three years after the legislation was passed and a month after Get It Don was launched, the Minister introduced an amendment Bill that would see the Act come into force on 1 January 2022.

The amendments introduced last week remove supply chain reporting requirements for companies.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Bill would significantly dilute a world-leading piece of modern slavery legislation. The Act is the legacy of Christian Democrat Paul Green, who introduced it as a Private Member’s Bill. It was then co-sponsored by former Premier Gladys Berejiklian and passed by Parliament in June 2018.

“It gets worse, not better when you make it wetter.” – Colin Buchanan song

Despite all members of the government voting in favour of the original Act, the amendments introduced last week remove supply chain reporting requirements for companies under NSW legislation, as well as the corresponding penalties for those failing to report on the risk of modern slavery in their supply chains. In response, faith leaders have signed an open letter calling on the NSW government to proclaim a robust Act with the following four elements:

1. Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner
2. $50 million consolidated revenue threshold
3. Penalties for non-compliance
4. Support for victims

Meanwhile, Buchanan has used his musical gifts to advocate through a short, upbeat, country-style song that points out how watering things down is never a good idea, whether for coffee, beer – or modern slavery legislation.

“It gets worse, not better when you make it wetter,” Buchanan sings.

Reflecting on how his and Harwin’s paths have diverged since their Peakhurst High days, Buchanan said, “Thankfully now we’re both grown-ups … at least, he is. And he gets to make a grown-up difference in the quest for justice – and Australia’s part in that.”

As debate on the amendment Bill begins in Parliament today, Buchanan, along with faith leaders and nonprofits, are urging the Minister to restore strength to the amendments: “C’mon, Don! Do it! Make all your dear old Peakhurst High mates proud!”

Listen to Colin’s song on YouTube.

Add your name and organisation to the faith leaders’ open letter.