MONDAY, 5 JUNE 2017
SUBJECT/S: Labor’s support for a Modern Slavery Act; Defence call out powers; Finkel Report; Bob Katter’s comments
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hello everybody, I'm pleased today to make an announcement about Labor's commitment to a Modern Slavery Act, but before I do that I'd just like to introduce the other people who will be participating in this announcement.
Clare O'Neil my Shadow spokesperson for Justice and behind me I have Ged Kearney the President of the ACTU. I have Adam Carrel, representing the Business Council of Australia, he's a partner at Ernst & Young and I have of course, Lt. Col. Samuel Pho from the Salvation Army.
The right to freedom is a right that belongs to everybody. It is not a middle class value, it is a universal value. Unfortunately people who are enslaved are unable to rescue themselves and they depend upon socially aware and committed organisations. Unions, not for profit organisations like the Salvation Army and of course socially aware business. What government needs to do is to be able to provide the assistance, to support those organisations who are supporting rescuing people from slavery.
That is why I am pleased today to announce that Labor will support a Modern Slavery Act. This act is designed to look within the supply chains of big business and business so that we can break the chains of slavery. We want to see increased transparency. We want to work with business and those who are dedicated to rescuing people from slavery to be able to identify where a business may be inadvertently replying upon the work of slaves.
In Australia, it's a smaller problem than elsewhere but research estimates that there's over 4000 people who are in slave-like conditions in Australia. That is a number which I think will stagger many of our fellow Australians. But the problem of slavery around the world, of course, is much greater. The best estimates that we can find is that over 48 million people around the world are in slavery, many of that is within our own region.
So today, I'm going to ask Clare O'Neil to outline some of the measures that we are going to do to require companies to look through their supply chain, and provide reports satisfying that there is no product being used through the application of slave labour. And again we'll talk about the creation of an Anti-Slavery Commissioner to help those who are trapped in Australia and indeed help campaign against slavery both within Australia and in the broader region. I'd now like to hand over to Clare O'Neil.
CLARE O'NEIL, SHADOW MINISTER FOR JUSTICE: Thank you so much Bill, well for most Australians slavery probably feels very remote, but it's not. There are more than 40 million people in the world today who are enslaved. That's more than at any other time in human history. Two thirds of those people are located in the Asia-Pacific region and as Bill has said 4000 of them are somewhere around this country working in businesses, living in households. Now we are inextricably intertwined with the lives of these people. We know that many people who are enslaved today are working in supply chains of products and goods and services that Australians use every day, and that gives us a very clear moral obligation to act. So today Bill is announcing that Labor will support a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.
This is a new law that for the first time will require major Australian companies to report as to what they're doing in their own supply chain to protect against slavery. There will be penalties for non-compliance with this Act. The Act will also establish an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner who will work to ensure our slavery laws in Australia are being enforced correctly and to help victims who are subject to this extraordinary evil.
Now this is a policy that comes with very wide spread support. There's actually not very much probably that we could assemble such a group of people here today on a podium to stand with us about, but slavery has brought us together. Unions, business, civil society, we are standing with one voice to say that just one person around the world, one person in our country who is enslaved is far too much. There is more that we can do to protect against this problem.
We want to call on the Turnbull Government to come with us on this. We want there to be a clear message on behalf of all Australians that slavery is an abhorrent practice and we want to have nothing to do with this awful practice in our lives. Now we will invite each of the members here today with us to make a brief comment, so Ged do you want to get us started?
GED KEANEY, PRESIDENT OF THE ACTU: Sure, thanks Clare. Good morning everyone, I'm Ged Kearney, I'm the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and I would like to whole heartedly congratulate Bill Shorten, Clare O'Neil and the Australian Labor Party for taking an incredibly important step against modern slavery.
We've long been calling for a Modern Slavery Act in the trade union movement. Trade unions see only too sadly, firsthand the results of modern slavery in Australia and particularly in our region. It's really hard to believe that in this day and age slavery is so wide spread as we just heard. It's a sad indictment I think, on the world that it does exist in such proportions. What is particularly important about Australia's - the proposed Modern Slavery Act today is that it will do three really important things.
It will actually make mandatory the reporting along the supply chains of businesses that are used by corporations. It will implement a Commissioner to oversee the Act and make sure that companies do comply, and it will actually have penalties for those corporations, those large corporations that don't actually comply with the Act. We think this is incredibly - that these three things are important. Of course there's always more to be done. Unions would certainly like corporations to be made responsible for actually doing due diligence on the companies that they use down the supply chain but this is a really important first step.
Every time we take a can of tuna off the shelf in a supermarket, it may in fact be put there by slave labour. Every time we put a shirt on our back, it may be bonded workers that have made that shirt. Every time we employ or look to employ a domestic worker for our households it may be that they have been imported here, through - unwittingly through labour hire and labour migration agents. This is happening all around us in our own country and with our neighbours and we are very pleased that along with just a handful of other countries, Australia is going to be amongst the first around the world to actually do something serious about bonded labour and slavery in our region and indeed the world. Thank you.
O'NEIL: Thanks so much Ged and I'll invite Adam Carrel who is a Partner at Ernest & Young and also here today representing the Business Council of Australia.
ADAM CARREL, REPRESENTING THE BCA: Thank you, hi everyone. I'd like to first thank the ALP and Bill and Clare for the chance to be here at this important announcement and the Business Council of Australia for the chance to speak on their behalf.
I'm happy to say that Ernst & Young is entirely supportive of the introduction of modern slavery regulation in Australia, such as that proposed today. But more importantly, so is every single client that we've ever spoken to on the subject. Modern slavery represents one of those, probably rare occasions when business openly accepts the clear presence of a market failure, and the clear need for regulation to drive a consistent, sufficient response throughout the Australian economy.
So we are very reassured to see what appears to be the bipartisan support for this initiative, and indeed we hope that by the time the Bali Convention or Bali process convenes in Perth in August, that we can show some clear legislative commitment to this issue here in Australia. So thank you very much again.
O'NEIL: Thanks Adam and I'll now invite Samuel Pho from the Salvation Army.
SAMUEL PHO, NATIONAL SECRETARY, SALVATION ARMY: My name is Samuel Pho and I'm the Salvation Army National Security. And it's a privilege to speak to you today. The Salvation Army enthusiastically welcomes Mr Shorten's announcement that the Labor Party will support a Modern Slavery Act here in Australia.
As Ged already said, the vision includes a more inclusive and strategic role for business to meaningfully contribute to ending contemporary forms of slavery. An appointment of an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, things that the Salvation Army has long advocated for, through the (inaudible) Partnership to End Modern Slavery and the Australian Freedom Network.
The Salvation Army aims to give hope to people where it is needed most. If ever there was a place where hope is needed, surely this is it. Individuals being held in slavery, in servitude, debts bondage and forced labour. They are mothers and fathers, wives, husbands, children - they are depending on us to do the right thing, right now.
Legislation is the first step, but we must not stop here. As the UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner Kevin Hyland said last week when he visited Australia, he said to do this well we must constantly strive to learn, to improve and to reinvent our response.
So I congratulate Mr Shorten, and his party's commitment to taking this next step, and we look forward to working with the Labor Party, the Coalition, all political parties and other stakeholders to get this historic legislation passed.
However, we must not stop there, we must commit ourselves to sound implementation and to ongoing self-assessment. Slavery in all its insidious forms has evolved, and persisted over the centuries. So to must our approach - it is only through working together, learning, improving and reinventing ourselves and our approaches that we truly, finally make slavery a thing of the past.
Thank you very much.
SHORTEN: That's great, are there questions of our speakers?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, oh this is to you?
SHORTEN: Yes, sorry but if we can start on our proposals on modern slavery first and then other issues.
JOURNALIST: What kind of penalties are we talking about?
SHORTEN: Well I'll get Clare to supplement that, but I think that two or three of the things that we have to talk about. One is that the reporting has to be mandatory. The UK has done some work but it's not mandatory and we also want specific matters for companies to report on, we think that gives it more teeth.
There's currently a parliamentary committee looking at a range of the matters involved within the general principles of what we are talking about, and I might get Clare to update.
O'NEIL: Yes I just endorse what Bill said, so in 2015 the UK implemented a Modern Slavery Act and that Act has been described as a game changer by the non-profits that work in this area in that country. But we are actually going further than the UK Act. We're saying for the first time that reporting on supply chain is an actual requirement and that there will be penalties if companies don't do that, that's different to the UK Act.
The other difference that Bill's alluded to is that under the UK legislation, really any type of reporting meets the requirements of the Act, whereas we intend to lay out some specific matters against which companies will have to report, and we believe that will raise the standard of reporting.
Your question about penalties is a really good one. We'll be looking at financial penalties for companies that don't comply with the Act. But in addition something that we will be considering in the context of the parliamentary inquiry is whether companies ought to be named and shamed in parliament if they don't comply with the Act. So providing a report as to who has complied under their obligations and who hasn't.
JOURNALIST: Who's obliged to do this reporting? What size company?
O'NEIL: So the size of company is a question that we have left open and the reason for that is that there is a parliamentary inquiry under way at the moment which is taking evidence from the people who need to contribute to that discussion, and I include the three people who are behind us here. We don't want to put the I's and cross the T's on this policy before we're able to work with other parties as well because we want this to be a bipartisan approach.
Having said that though, we're looking at companies that will be in the tens of millions of dollars, possibly up to $100 million, so this is the sort of thing, the sort of size. There are about 1000 companies in Australia that have $100 million turnover or more, and of course those companies purchase from many other companies in Australia. So in that sense much of the Australian economy would be captured.
Do you want to add to that Bill?
SHORTEN: Well obviously there has to be larger companies to start off with, we think that - again we'll wait for the parliamentary committee, but we think that if you're broadly get your top 1000 companies, you will cover many of the areas which of course concern domestic slavery allegations.
Also I think that will focus companies on the supply chain of what they source from overseas. But there is no question; mandatory reporting will make a difference. We'll work with the parliamentary committee to look at the detail on what's required there. Also the Anti-Slavery Commissioner will be I think, a pretty good development and that can also help campaign here and overseas.
Some people will say how big is this issue, how important it is. My response to that would be that the right to freedom belongs to everybody. It's not some middle class Australian value it's a universal value. And just as - and Australia can lead, just as on a separate issue back in the Rudd-Gillard era we had plain packaging for cigarettes. That did become a proposal which now other countries around the world are looking at in the fight against cancer. And I'm optimistic that the thought out propositions which we are seeing about tackling modern slavery, when they come from Australia, may well have the capacity to influence what happens throughout the rest of the world.
JOURNALIST: So this idea is born out of the parliamentary inquiry, even though it hasn't made recommendations that you decided to get ahead of it.
O'NEIL: So it's not really born out of the parliamentary inquiry it’s in fact looking at legislation that’s been enacted overseas, in particular the UK model. But the reason that Labor is coming out and leading on this issue is because we want the parliamentary inquiry to focus on not if Australia should be doing what it can to tackle slavery, but how we should put in place the detail of that legislation. So we're making it really clear today that the people who are here representing civil society, representing unions, representing business are standing with us with one voice to say that we want to try to do everything we can to stamp out this practice. There is a parliamentary inquiry under way and we will use that process to make an agreement with other political parties about the fine details, but Labor is not going to move from this. We are committed to this and we want to move forward on that basis.
JOURNALIST: When will we see legislation?
SHORTEN: Well, we will see what the parliamentary committee proposes. We would like to work with Malcolm Turnbull on this issue. We're making it clear what our principles are and what we think needs to be in the legislation. We will also make very clear that if the government for whatever reason doesn't legislate this in its current term of office we would if we were elected.
JOURNALIST: If the business community behind this, so does that mean you expect that there will be no Australian businesses that will end up being named and shamed in parliament?
CARREL: Look, I think when business invites legislation in such a way as they have in this instance, I think they might expect it at some point or another, there might be some naming and shaming going on, but I think they see the task of remedying modern slavery so important that they're willing to accept that risk and try to get on with it.
JOURNALIST: How common do you think the practice of businesses employing slave labour is when it comes to Australian businesses?
CARREL: I think it's important to point out that no business knowingly or deliberately, you know, engaged in modern slavery. But I think it's broadly acknowledged that if you are engaged in a certain industry, particularly if you're supplying from overseas; if you have many tiers to your supply chain; if that supply chain includes migrant workers, vulnerable worker. certain forms of manual labour, that the evidence has shown that it is something of an inevitability that there is going to be some form of human rights abuse or modern slavery in your supply chain. And that's been broadly borne out by a lot of the due diligence that has been done. And I think business hopes that rather than this being an issue that focuses on the kind of scandalisation of slavery in this (inaudible) and albeit a major issue, business wants to focus on how it can constructively remedy what is a systemic problem.
JOURNALIST: You say it’s not deliberate but has there been a wilful blindness?
CARREL: No, I wouldn't say wilful blindness, I did use the word market failure and I used that deliberately. It’s not the case that transacting in developing countries means that interfacing with slavery is inevitable, that’s not the case. And certainly value chains have sought out low cost areas of production which means that you're seeking out low governance environments which means there is some expectation that you know there is a heightened risk. So as I say business is not ignorant of the risk of slavery in its supply chains but that doesn't mean that people deliberately or knowingly associate themselves with it.
JOURNALIST: So how are we going to define it? I mean overseas, what if you're meeting an overseas minimum wage standard that we would consider unacceptable here, but it meets a foreign governments requirements, is that slavery?
CARREL: No its not, so slavery, modern slavery and slavery is quite a defined concept. It doesn't mean necessarily purely low wages, it means that the duress that a worker is under so it is possible to distinguish between what is simply a low wage environment and modern slavery as its experienced down the line.
JOURNALIST: A sweatshop environment for instance, what’s the difference between slavery and working in a sweatshop?
CARREL: Well look I think people’s minds go to the concept of sweatshops when they think about modern slavery but its many other forms than that. The largest form is what is referred to as wage slavery. There is an enormous population of migrant workers that deliberately seek out foreign work to be able to expatriate money to their family and there is a common practice of labour brokers whom seek to require people to pay for the work that has been found for them and extract other penalties over that relationship. That’s I think by far the biggest source of modern slavery. It’s not the iconic sort of sweatshop environment. It's third party labour brokers, which is why business is keen to think creatively about fixing this issue because much of the issue exists as a consequence of interfacing with third party labour providers as opposed to within the actual factories of which our clients have operational control.
SHORTEN: Great, thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, on other issues. What do you think - should military forces automatically take the lead in responding to some terrorist attacks?
SHORTEN: Well I actually said on November 23 in the parliament last year that I think we had to be open to Defence Force call out in hostage situations, to be considered. Now I've seen some media reports that indeed some members of the Liberal Party are saying not dissimilar things about call out of ADF in hostage situations. Whilst obviously we all have to look at the detail of what's meant by that, prima facie, I just think it is a good idea.
JOURNALIST: Ok. The Federal Government also looks increasingly likely to introduce a low emissions target, would Labor back it?
SHORTEN: Well we will wait and see what the Finkel Review says at the end of this week, that’s the Chief Scientist's review in to what’s the best policies going forward to tackle climate change. Labor is on the record supporting an emissions intensity scheme. We think that something that looks like that is what needs to be considered, something which achieves an emissions intensity scheme and the measures of that is what needs to be achieved. I understand it’s not straight forward for Mr Turnbull with his party, but if the Finkel Report provides constructive direction going forward then we will approach it with a desire to actually end the climate change wars and start getting on with dealing with climate change in the most economically efficient way which achieves a better climate future.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Bob Katter is calling on for an immediate ban on the immigration from the Middle East, what do you think of this?
SHORTEN: Well, it seems like something you might say in the aftermath of the disaster which has just happened. But there is plenty of Christian refugees for example, which come from the Middle East. Is Mr Katter suggesting that they shouldn't be able to come here, I think not. So rather than react to the headlines what I want to make clear is, I think that the problem in the UK and the Middle East and possibly in Australia is extremism. Extremism generally and in this case extremism specifically, we're at war with extremism and that’s what we've got to beat.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, just quickly sorry, the ABC has been told that Noel Pearson used the 'c word' while personally attacking Pat Dodson, Ken Wyatt and the Prime Minister. Have you been, has Pat Dodson told you about this attack and do you think this sort of abuse is acceptable?
SHORTEN: Well I don't think that sort of abuse is acceptable, but it didn't happen in any meeting that I was there, so you'd have to ask other people what happened.