New measures cast a light on Australian slavery

While all eyes were on the cost of living relief measures, a national office to combat slavery went largely unnoticed in the federal budget.

Xander Sapsworth-Collis explains how the new anti-slavery initiatives in Australia will work.

The 2023 Federal Budget will provide $2 million a year for the next four years to establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

The commissioner will work in the public and private sectors to support compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2018.

University of New South Wales modern slavery researcher Professor Justine Nolan says the role is needed as modern slavery in Australia does not get the attention it should.

“The problem with getting accurate figures is it’s something that’s quite hidden,” she says.

“People are trafficked to Australia. They are involved in sex trafficking or involved in forced labour in agriculture and construction. The range is quite broad.”

In 2018 the Global Slavery Index estimated there were 15,000 people in Australia working in conditions that met the modern slavery threshold.

It’s estimated 50 million people live in slavery globally. Photo: Xander Sapsworth-Collis.

Mrs Nolan says combatting modern slavery is difficult in Australia because it comes in multiple forms.

“[One way] is debt bondage, so workers may pay recruitment fees for a workplace and then are unable to leave that workplace,” she says.

“It might also be they are working under the threat of exploitation.

“This is predominately in supply chains where they are relying on manual labour.

“Another form of modern slavery is forced marriage.”

Catholic Anti-Slavery Network chief executive officer Alison Rahil says the Anti-Slavery Commissioner is needed to enforce the Modern Slavery Act which has not happened in the past.

“For the first three years of the Modern Slavery Act, there hasn’t been a driver from the government side to develop standards,” she says.

“By having an Anti-Slavery Commissioner that role can create standards and collaborate with industry bodies to drive change and support suppliers that are doing the right thing.”

The budget also contains support for victims of modern slavery which Mrs Nolan says is just as important as the establishment of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

There is a $4.2 million surplus in this year’s federal budget – $2 million a year will combat modern slavery.
Photo: Xander Sapsworth-Collis.

“The budget also increases the support program for victims of trafficked people.

“They’ve said they are going to provide $24 million for four years for the Support for Trafficked People Program.

“They’re looking at expanding that and supporting victims to work with community providers as well.”

Mrs Rahil says these budget measures are important for Western Australia as it is not immune to modern slavery.

“One of the big cases in Perth was in Carabooda on strawberry farms where over 100 workers were kept behind barbed wire and weren’t being paid for the work they were doing,” she says.

“They were also constrained. They didn’t have the freedom to leave that job.

“Western Australia’s geography can be used to keep people isolated.”