Perth USAsia Centre and Walk Free Foundation Event

  • Speech, check against delivery
24 August 2017

Vice Chancellor, Ambassador Grigson, the many diplomats who are here today, representatives from Walk Free Foundation including Andrew Forrest, John Anderson, Chris Evans and representatives from the Perth USAsia Centre, Stephen Smith, Gordon Flake.

I do pay tribute to the University, to Perth USAsia Centre, and Walk Free Foundation for attracting here today such an impressive cross-section of business, government and international affairs community members.

It is absolutely vital that we have a public discussion about modern slavery and that we raise public awareness about all forms of slavery that are affecting, according to the Global Slavery Index, over 45 million people worldwide.

It is vital that we have this discussion because there are many forms of slavery, some so insidious that they barely register on public consciousness and it can come in so many forms. We're talking about bonded labour, we're talking about sex slavery, human trafficking in all its forms, child marriage – these are all forms of modern slavery. They are insidious, they are criminal, they can be horrendous in their impact and consequences.

Today we are focusing on one particular aspect of modern slavery and that is the presence of these criminal practices in global business supply chains.

In the contemporary trading environment worldwide supply chains are utterly fundamental. They have led to the most extraordinary phenomenon in recent decades – the lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, increasing economic growth, enormous job opportunities for people around the world. The supply chains and the technological advances that underpin them are a good thing for global growth, a great thing for human opportunity.

Just take a local example of how global these supply chains can be. Take the bauxite ore that is mined in the south west of our state. That ore travels across continents, goes through a myriad of supply chains to end up being in the material that encases a smart phone. Everybody has a smartphone, a little bit of that smartphone originated here in South Western Australia.

The smartphone is a consumer product that is a collaboration of design and intellectual property and material sourcing and supply and assembly, involving thousands of people across every continent around the world. Supply chains have unlocked competitive advantages across boundaries, have dramatically reduced the cost of consumer goods, but it's these very supply chains that can hide instances of modern slavery and attract criminals and criminal networks who are willing to use and abuse people, prey upon vulnerable people all in the name of reducing costs and driving up profits. This is occurring in supply chains around the world.

If two thirds of the estimate come from our region, then we all have an obligation to do something about it. It is very difficult to gather the evidence. It's often very difficult to detect the crimes that are occurring and while we have laws in Australia under our Criminal Code that make such labour practices illegal, since 2004 there have only been 17 cases and 17 convictions in Australia. With all the resources that we have across state and federal governments there have been 17 convictions but I recall that there are about 4300 people currently in some kind of slavery in Australia.

We're the 13th largest economy on the globe, we are one of the most developed countries on the planet, yet this criminal practice occurs in Australia. No country is immune.

The Federal Government has been focussing on what more we can do to eliminate, eradicate, defeat modern slavery. In 2015 I released our National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery and this guides our strategic approach to this issue.

The Federal Government has been focused on increasing the transparency with the support of big business in particular to help expose instances of criminal practice in their supply chains and ask business to report on what they are currently doing and what more can be done.

We have also instigated a couple of parliamentary inquiries into modern slavery following of course on the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in the United Kingdom. We have analysed their processes very carefully, we have met with the Independent Commissioner for Modern Slavery from the United Kingdom and we've had a couple of years to assess and analyse the impact of their Modern Slavery Act on businesses in the United Kingdom and their supply chains worldwide.

Last week the Government announced that in consultation with stakeholders we will prepare legislation to address the issue of modern slavery in Australia. This is a significant milestone in the fight against modern slavery and I want at this point to pay tribute to Andrew Forrest for his extraordinary leadership through the Walk Free Foundation, together with members of the Forrest family, to encourage businesses in Australia, in our region and globally to shine a light on the abhorrent practices that amount to modern slavery in the 21st century.

Andrew, we would not have reached this point had it not been for your foresight, your generous commitment of time and energy and resources, and the vision that you have for a world free of slavery.

The Federal Government is also committed to taking a leadership role globally in the campaign against modern slavery. Just last month the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was in Australia for our annual 2 + 2 Foreign and Defence Secretaries meeting with me and Senator Marise Payne, the Minister for Defence. As part of our discussions we focussed on the Modern Slavery Act because of its global implications and I informed Boris that we were following the UK example very closely and that we were close to making the announcement that we did last week to confirm that in consultation with stakeholders we would be passing like legislation.

So Boris and I decided that we would co-host an international forum on combating human trafficking and modern slavery in London and hopefully replicate what we are seeking to do tomorrow and that is bring together business leaders, government leaders and raise public awareness about this issue.

We're also working through United Nations agencies particularly the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda and also the Global Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons and through advocacy, through funding, through support for these UN initiatives, Australia is reaching into every corner of the globe, for this is surely a global challenge.

Because we estimate that about two thirds of the people effected by modern slavery are in our region - that's the Indo-Pacific – I believe we need a regional discussion and a regional solution, taking into account particular characteristics of our part of the world – the huge diversity in the people and the cultures and history, the differences in the legislative frameworks, the differences in the robust nature of the institutions that would be called upon to enforce solutions against modern slavery. As I travel around our region and I spend much of my time in the Indian Ocean, Asia-Pacific nations, I see that there is such diversity that we really do need to align our efforts, align our thinking, and assist one another in coming up with regional solutions.

That is why tomorrow I will co-host, with Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, a Government and Business Forum to address the issue of modern slavery in our region.

The Bali Process, which will be the vehicle for this Government and Business Forum, was set up in 2002 and John Anderson of course as a former Deputy Prime Minister would well remember the challenges that we had in dealing with the issue of people smuggling and human trafficking and the Bali Forum brought together government representatives from source countries, transit countries, destination countries.

There are 45 member nations of the Bali Process from the Middle East through to Australia and beyond and we have met regularly. Australia's involvement is at the highest level, for Australia and Indonesia are the permanent co-hosts of the Bali Process - 45 members and three international organisations - and we decided that we needed to focus our efforts on modern slavery.

There is only so much that government can do. We must engage with business because after all business chooses its links in its supply chain, business is in the position to audit the quality and the ethics of their partners and business owes a responsibility to their consumers and to their shareholders and business bears the reputational costs if there is non-compliance.

So we came up with the idea of it being a Government and Business Forum and Andrew Forrest and Eddy Sariaatmadja from Indonesia will be co-hosting the business segment. Andrew and Eddy are both powerful voices around the world and have an extraordinary history of philanthropic generosity behind them.

Together they have consulted widely through academia, through businesses, with governments. They've been unrelenting in seeking feedback from all those involved in the global supply chains across the board. As a result of their consultations and feedback we've been able to bring together an array of business people from around the world who will have experiences to share, stories to tell, ideas to put forward so that we will be able to build a business-led work plan that can be implemented throughout our region.

At the government level we'll have a regional plan. There will be a business-led work plan and together I believe that this world first forum of bringing Ministers from 45 countries and business leaders from some of the biggest corporations around the world together will really make a difference.

It took powerful leaders like Wilberforce and Lincoln to eradicate slavery in the 19th century. It will take powerful voices such as those here today and those who will be at the Bali Process tomorrow to change the way the world views slavery and relegate it forever to the history books.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a significant moment and I am delighted that Perth will be host to what I believe will be a transformative moment in the campaign to combat, indeed eradicate, modern slavery from work practices around the world.

Thank you for taking part today.

- Ends -

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