NSW Premier urged to bring Modern Slavery Act into force

Faith and community leaders warn of slavery surge in pandemic

Prominent Christians have joined a diverse group of more than 117 faith and community leaders, organisations, academics and lawyers, co-signing an open letter urging New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian to bring the state’s historic Modern Slavery Act into force.

The group called on the Premier to end delay and proclaim the Act by 1 January, 2021 – two and a half years after it was passed unanimously by both houses of parliament.

The fight against modern slavery


“We fail to understand why the NSW government hasn’t put the NSW Act into force as a source of pride.” – Jane Jeffes

The passionate letter outlines concerns that, while the Act is delayed, the numbers of people trapped in modern slavery still rises around the world.

Since the Modern Slavery Act was passed in June 2018, it is estimated that as many as 18 million people globally may have been deceived or coerced into different forms of modern slavery. For Eternity readers doing the math, that is equivalent to 25,200 people per day. Or 1,050 people per hour. Or one new slave every four seconds.

“The numbers are unconscionable,” says Jane Jeffes of War on Slavery. “Entirely avoidable delays have had a profoundly adverse effect on the lives of millions, with women and children the most vulnerable. Millions more people have been caught up in modern slavery since the Act was passed.

“That simply should not have happened or been allowed to happen. Other states are now looking at legislation that will strengthen Australia’s fight against modern slavery and we fail to understand why the NSW government hasn’t put the NSW Act into force as a source of pride.”

Christian organisations and individuals who co-signed the letter include Micah Australia, NSW Ecumenical Council, the Uniting Church’s NSW and ACT Synod, Caritas, Baptist World Aid, Kanishka Raffel Dean of St Andrews Cathedral, Sydney (Anglican), Anglican Church of Australia, A21, Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, Scott Higgins from A Just Cause, Prof Stephen Pickard from the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture, along with others.

Since the Modern Slavery Act was passed in June 2018, it is estimated that as many as 18 million people globally may have been deceived or coerced into different forms of modern slavery.

Carolyn Kitto of Be Slavery Free (formally known as Stop the Traffik) described how practical requirements included in the legislation would combat the scourge of modern slavery, which has been compounded by worker and supply chain issues inflamed by COVID-19 pandemic.

“The legislation recognises that modern slavery is prevalent around the world and in NSW. What we buy may contribute to modern slavery crimes somewhere in the supply chain,” says Kitto.

“The government had committed to a strong deterrent through ensuring that the goods and services NSW consumers, businesses and government buy is not produced by the slavery of others.

“I am sure the people of NSW and the parliament want to see the Act in effect.”

The NSW Modern Slavery Act has been lauded internationally as having some of the world’s strongest anti-slavery reporting provisions. As Kitto indicates, it will require companies with a turnover of $50 million or more to publicly report the steps they’ve taken to eliminate slavery from their supply chains. It will also introduces new NSW offences of slavery, servitude and child forced labour, and child forced marriage. Plus, it makes provisions for the appointment of an anti-slavery commissioner.

However, as Eternity reported in November, the Bill became mired in a legal loophole of parliamentary process last year – despite being passed by the Upper and Lower Houses in June and receiving royal assent in December, 2018.

The Berejiklian government’s failure to proclaim the Act might be seen as the state backing away from the strong stance against anti-slavery its parliament had taken. For example, federal laws do not require compulsory reporting by a company until it has a turnover of $100 million, compared with $50 million in the NSW’s Act.

Many of the letter’s signatories are also worried about what the unprecedented delay says about democratic processes in the State.

“The Act was passed and assented in June 2018. Bringing it into force should have been a formality. Rather than proclaim the legislation into force, Gladys Berejiklian’s government took the unusual step of delaying its proclamation and then launching a parliamentary inquiry into the Act,” says signatory Paul Redmond, Emeritus Professor of Law at UNSW.

A full copy of that letter with details of all signatories is available here.

Comments