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National Modern Slavery Conference 2023

The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP

Good morning. I would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we meet today, both in person and virtually. Today, I am speaking to you from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and I pay my respects to Elders past and present. I extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attending today.

I would like to acknowledge and thank my fellow parliamentarians who provided addresses on the first two days of the conference – Assistant Minister for Social Services, the Honourable Justine Elliot on day one, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Honourable Penny Wong, on day two.

I acknowledge other distinguished guests, including foreign government delegates, Commissioners, and members of the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery.

I welcome survivors of modern slavery participating in this forum. If you are joining us in person or watching online, we recognise your bravery and we thank you for joining us here with us today.

Modern slavery - including human trafficking, forced labour, and forced marriage - are abhorrent crimes that have no place in our society.

During this conference you have examined how modern slavery has become more prevalent in the world in recent years. You have heard that this crime type is complex, ever evolving, and hidden. International conflict, poverty and climate change have assisted perpetrators seeking to seriously exploit others for their benefit. You have discussed how online interconnectedness brings increased opportunities to detect and disrupt perpetrators. But it also brings this crime right to our doorstep.

To stop modern slavery, we need engagement and partnership.

In reflecting on the conference theme ‘Taking Action Together’, I am truly encouraged by the range of speakers and attendees here today. From government officials to human rights managers, legal professionals to survivor advocates and leading academics, NGOs and business leaders to procurement experts and police – the involvement of all of you can only benefit our understanding and responses to these crimes.

Combatting modern slavery is a challenge that requires steadfast commitment and collaboration. I am proud of the role Australia has played in preventing and disrupting this evil, a fact recently recognised by Australia maintaining its Tier One ranking in the US Government’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to bolstering our efforts to tackle this abuse of human rights.

I encourage you to take on board the theme of the conference ‘Taking Action Together’ and apply it in your work. Addressing the drivers of modern slavery is not something that can be done by one person, one organisation, or even one country. There is great power in partnership and I hope you have seen that power in action during the conference so far.

There is always more to be done in tackling the scourge of modern slavery, here and abroad. More we can do to help and support victims and survivors. More we can do to ensure businesses are able to identify and address modern slavery risks in their supply chains. More we can do to support the work of civil society organisations, and to hold perpetrators to account.

We are listening and we are acting.

My colleague, Assistant Minister Justine Elliot, shared on day one of the conference the Government’s commitment to strengthening the Support for Trafficked People Program, with funding of $24.3 million over the next four years announced in the federal Budget of May 2023. This included answering your call to pilot an additional referral pathway for the Program.

The Government also provided $8 million over four years to enable Australia’s first federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner to be established, adding a further pillar to Australia’s response to modern slavery. The appointment of a federal Commissioner will be a landmark reform in Australia that will complement and enhance existing initiatives and functions. Australian Labor called for a Commissioner to be established when the Modern Slavery Act was first passed, and I would like to thank civil society and industry stakeholders who campaigned for this important milestone over many years.

On 25 May 2023, the Government tabled in Parliament a report from the statutory review of the Modern Slavery Act which considered the first three years of the Act’s operation. I would like to thank Professor John McMillan for his leadership in conducting this review and for his diligence in preparing a thorough report with 30 recommendations to strengthen the operation of the Act. I thank all of you here today who contributed to the review during its extensive public consultation process. I am pleased that you will hear from Professor McMillan today on his reflections from the review, with an opportunity to discuss the recommendations.

The Government is now considering Professor McMillan’s review and will consult across government in formulating our response to the recommendations.

A number of the review’s recommendations are in line with key election commitments from the Government’s Tackling Modern Slavery package, including the need for penalties for non-compliance with the Act.

Last week, I was pleased to announce thirteen recipients of the Modern Slavery Grants Round 2 under the National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery 2020-25. The Government will provide up to $2.73 million over the next two years to deliver community and research projects to raise awareness of modern slavery, improve responses for survivors, and bolster community outreach.

Also, this month, the Government lodged Australia’s ratification of the Minimum Age Convention (No. 138) with the Director-General of the International Labour Organization. Australia’s ratification of Convention 138 represents a significant step towards the protection of children’s rights, and combatting modern slavery, by setting out a minimum age for young people to start employment so they can work safely without interference with their education.

In March this year I was delighted to commemorate with National Roundtable members the tenth anniversary of the legislation that inserted forced marriage, forced labour and organ trafficking offences into the Criminal Code Act 1995. I was Australia’s Attorney-General at the time these laws came into effect ten years ago.

Today, we are reviewing these offences to ensure Australia’s criminal justice frameworks are fit for purpose in a changing world. This week, I receive the findings from the targeted review of the modern slavery offences in the Criminal Code conducted by my department in collaboration with the AFP and CDPP. I look forward to considering these findings closely to inform any future action necessary to strengthen our criminal justice response to modern slavery. Again, I thank you for your contributions to the public consultation process.

Another important pillar of our response to modern slavery is a strong and effective research effort to provide an evidence base for policy development. In December last year I launched the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery Research Network. The Network provides the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise, and foster interdisciplinary research and collaboration, and I know the AIC has showcased the Network during this Conference. Many members of the Network are here today and I acknowledge the important work that you do.

The Government is also bolstering our international response to combatting modern slavery. You heard more on this yesterday from the Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong. In February this year I joined the Foreign Minister, and the Home Affairs Minister, Clare O’Neil, at the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime. I led Australia’s delegation at the Government and Business Forum.

I am pleased we have a number of delegates here representing Bali Process member countries. Your attendance at this conference is a further example of our region’s commitment to work together and collaborate on these important issues.

These are just some examples of the significant amount of work and action underway to combat modern slavery at home and abroad.

We are listening and we are acting.

The Government’s Tackling Modern Slavery package is a key set of commitments for the Albanese Labor Government. The first step is to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act and to establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

We are currently scoping the role and functions of the Commissioner in light of the recommendations from the review of the Modern Slavery Act, including exploring the need for legislation to establish the Commissioner.

Having the Anti-Slavery Commissioner in place will assist with the implementation of our other key commitments, including strengthening the Modern Slavery Act. We view the Commissioner as playing a key role in leading change across government, business and society more broadly; and being a national figurehead in Australia’s fight against modern slavery.

Before closing I just want to pay tribute to the survivor advocates I have been privileged to meet during my time as Attorney-General, and say how moved I have been by their passion to ensure survivor voices are heard.

The Pilot Survivor Advisory Council, established by The Salvation Army as part of the National Action Plan to Combat Modern Slavery grants program, is one of the many ways this government is acknowledging, empowering, and incorporating survivor voice into policy, program and legislation.

This program is supporting the development of Australia’s first modern slavery Victim and Survivor Engagement and Empowerment Strategy as we work together to tackle modern slavery. This is timely given the theme of this year’s upcoming World Day Against Trafficking in Persons – Reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind.

Earlier this year my portfolio agencies, the NSW Anti-slavery Commissioner and civil society partners gathered to discuss trauma-informed practices to support survivors of modern slavery through the criminal justice journey, at a forum hosted by the Australian Institute of Criminology. I was honoured to deliver opening remarks at this significant event and to hear detailed reflections from survivors facilitated by the Australian Red Cross. This event reiterated the importance of integrating survivor voice in our response to modern slavery. I am pleased to see this focus continuing throughout this conference.

Throughout this final day of the conference, I ask you all to remember why we are here, and who are we here for. Most of us will never truly understand the pain and suffering of those who have been or are being affected by modern slavery. But we can help by listening, empowering and supporting survivors to contribute to solutions across government, business, civil society and the broader community.

I sincerely thank you all for coming along to this modern slavery conference.

Thank you for stepping up and taking this issue seriously. It is only through meaningful and lasting partnership that we can create impactful change to tackle and end modern slavery.

I wish you all well for a fruitful final day of the conference. Thank you.