'Get it done, Don' – NSW Minister Don Harwin urged to bring 2018 Modern Slavery Act into full force

It has been more than three years since the NSW government passed historic anti-slavery legislation. But it still hasn’t been proclaimed into law, and advocates have had enough. A new campaign now asks NSW Minister Don Harwin to “become the next good Don” by bringing the legislation into full force.

The Modern Slavery Act (NSW) was co-sponsored by Premier Gladys Berejiklian and passed with bipartisan support. It made its way through the state’s Upper and Lower Houses in June 2018 and received royal assent in December 2018.

But since then, the NSW government has exploited a procedural loophole to effectively shelve the legislation by failing to “proclaim” the Act and bring it into force.

In June this year, the NSW Government confirmed that the reason for its delay – it intends to introduce amendments to the NSW Act to “harmonise” it with federal laws. A motion introducing the Modern Slavery Amendment Bill 2021 was put before the NSW Legislative Council, with no further details regarding the proposed reforms forthcoming.

In 2018, when the Act passed, it was lauded internationally as some of the toughest anti-slavery legislation in the world. It introduces new offences of slavery, servitude and child forced labour, and child forced marriage in the state. It also makes provisions for the appointment of an anti-slavery commissioner.

But it is the Act’s “reporting threshold” that advocates believe has activated special interest groups to pressure the government to thwart its own democratic processes and prevent the laws from taking force.

The Act requires companies with an annual turnover of $50 million or more to publicly report the steps they’ve taken to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. And, some companies would like to see that threshold lifted to $100 million – the threshold set by federal legislation – requiring fewer to report.

“I fear some sectors of society are working hard to ensure this law doesn’t come into effect,” International Justice Mission (IJM) Australia CEO Steve Baird explains. IJM is the largest global anti-slavery organisation.

“It’s outrageous that in this day and age we’re still seeing arguments over how much a company should be allowed to make before slavery becomes an issue. But [NSW] Minister Don Harwin can ensure this doesn’t happen and get it done by proclaiming the Modern Slavery Act as it was passed three years ago,” says Baird.

Harwin is a Member of the NSW Legislative Council, Special Minister of State, and Minister for the Public Service and Employee Relations, among other roles. Harwin was the minister who put the motion introducing amendments to the Act before NSW parliament in June.

But it is his name, rather than his portfolio, that IJM and other modern slavery legislation advocates have made the key feature of their campaign.

“We’ve tried to call a bunch of times and have sent over email after email. We just haven’t had any luck getting through to you. We get it: you’re a busy man. But millions of children, women and men are relying on you to take action,” reads an open letter marked “For Don’s eyes only” on the campaign website.

“You see, you have an opportunity to be the Next Great Don,” it reads. “Throughout history there have been Dons who have risen to greatness. Sir Don Bradman. Don the Duck. The ‘Is Don. Is good.’ guy! We could go on.”

“You could be the next great Don by simply standing up to special interests and commencing the NSW Modern Slavery Act – a law your government helped pass over 3 years ago. Modern slavery is an Aussie issue. We need this Act! C’mon Don. Let’s get it Don.”

“You have an opportunity to be the Next Great Don” – open letter ‘For Don’s eyes only

The humorous campaign might seem a light touch for a campaign about such a serious subject matter. Indeed, it is not advocates’ first attempt to get the NSW government to proclaim the legislation since they passed it. However, previous attempts have proved ineffective, so perhaps a fun campaign will engage enough Australians to lobby the NSW government to see the historic legislation proclaimed and commenced.

“Minister Harwin and the NSW Government hold the key to proclaiming the Modern Slavery Act and doing something meaningful to remove slavery from our supply chains,” says Baird.

“Every day that governments stand idle, more than 10 million children around the globe are being exploited and suffering. Given the global reach of their supply chains, the government and business sectors have both an opportunity and an obligation to take action.”

The launch of the #GetItDon campaign follows a recent report that revealed almost half (48 per cent) of the 36,000 suppliers to Australian businesses analysed had a ‘high risk’ of modern slavery in their supply chains.

Of 1,000 surveyed items, more than 800 were made by people in slavery at some point during production.

Additionally, a 2019 Australian Institute of Criminology report stated there were up to 1,900 slavery victims in Australia in 2017. Some estimates range as high as 15,000.