Australia establishes federal anti-slavery commissioner following election promise

The Australian Parliament on Tuesday passed the Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner) Bill 2023 which has the effect of establishing the first federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner as an independent statutory officeholder. The functions include promoting compliance with the Modern Slavery Act, supporting victims of modern slavery, advising the government and advocating for continuous improvement.

The Albanese Government had made the introduction of an independent commission an election promise and committed $8 million over four years in the 2023-24 Budget to support the Commissioner’s establishment and operation. The Modern Slavery Act, passed in 2018, had originally been recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement to include the role of the Commissioner. Following these reports the role was left out of the finalised Modern Slavery Act.

The Bill Digest sets out the concerns of Modern Slavery as encompassing a range of exploitative practices with approximately 41,000 people living in situations of modern slavery in Australia. Practices are generally understood to include human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices such as debt bondage, servitude, forced marriage and forced labour. The functions of the Commissioner will not extend to investigating or resolving complaints concerning, individual instances or suspected instances of modern slavery. The Human Rights Law Centre spoke out on Wednesday in a statement with other civil groups to welcome the role but urged the government to go further in combating anti-slavery. Specifically, it called for investigation and enforcement powers as well as an increase in the budget from the $8 million originally funded.

The Attorney-General announced the passing of the Bill stating that “this commitment aids the Albanese Government’s ambitious agenda to address the insidious scourge of human trafficking and modern slavery.”