'We're not going away': Advocates vow to continue fighting until Modern Slavery Act is enforced
25 August 2020 at 5:09 pm
“Every day that we go without this law coming into force is a day that goes against the will of the parliament,” the NSW opposition leader says.
Anti-slavery advocates have held a virtual rally demanding the New South Wales government urgently enforce the state’s Modern Slavery Act, after the premier failed to respond to their open letter signed by more than 100 civil society groups.
Be Slavery Free, NSW Labor and Unions NSW hosted the rally on Tuesday and spoke of the importance of the legislation, which requires companies with a turnover of more than $50 million to publicly report modern slavery statements, including details of the steps taken to eliminate slavery from their supply chains.
Despite the act passing in June 2018, the NSW government has yet to implement the laws. Instead it referred the legislation to a further parliamentary inquiry – which recommended in March this year that it be amended slightly and enacted by 1 January 2021.
Advocates sent an open letter a month ago calling on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to commit to enforcing the bill by this deadline, but they have not received a response.
NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay told virtual rally attendees that the state government had dragged its feet long enough.
“All these amazing groups and people and religious organisations [have come] together today… to get the message across that we want this law brought into force,” McKay said.
“It is world leading legislation. It brought the parliament together. And every day that we go without this law coming into force is a day that goes against the will of the parliament.”
Be Slavery Free national co-director Carolyn Kitto told Pro Bono News that advocates have been unable to secure a meeting with local MPs, making the rally their latest tactic to get the state government’s attention.
She said she welcomed the ALP’s support on the issue.
“We feel like we’re not talking loud enough or directly enough, so we’re trying another tack,” Kitto said.
“And we’re happy to partner with anybody who shares our mission to end modern slavery – so when the Labor leader approached us to be part of this with them, we were delighted to offer a civil society voice to the discussion.
“We also want to encourage grassroots responses. There is a petition that people can sign and we’re also urging people to write to their local members.”
Australia’s first federal Modern Slavery Act passed in December 2018, and the NSW government told the parliamentary inquiry that this posed questions as to whether the state legislation was still necessary.
But advocates say the NSW anti-slavery laws are much stronger, with lower reporting thresholds and necessary added protections such as the appointment of an anti-slavery commissioner.
Kitto said she was unsure why there was such a delay enacting the laws, but expressed fears the government was looking to weaken the legislation.
“It’s been on the back burner for over two years, so it’s not a COVID reason for it being put on the back burner,” she said.
She added that advocates would continue placing pressure on the government even if the rally failed to get their attention.
“We’re not going away any time soon. Faith leaders have said that they are going to call on the premier to meet with them,” she said.
“Following that, we’ll ask for meetings from all different sectors in society just to show this is a whole community issue.”
When asked about when the Modern Slavery Act will be enacted, a NSW government spokesperson told Pro Bono News a response to the parliamentary inquiry was coming soon.
“The Legislative Council Standing Committee on Social Issues has concluded an inquiry into the NSW Modern Slavery Act 2018 and tabled its report on 25 March 2020,” they said.
“The government is carefully considering the committee’s report and will respond within the prescribed period of six months.”