The Journey to Australia’s Modern Slavery Act

The following information supplements our report detailing ‘A Modern Slavery Act in Australia


The Journey to Australia’s Modern Slavery Act

The following section details the developments leading up to the introduction of a Modern Slavery Bill in Australia and also outlines some of the suggested mechanisms to be introduced to help combat and prevent modern slavery in Australia.


UK Modern Slavery Act 2015

The United Kingdom was the first country to legislate laws under the term ‘modern slavery’. The UK Modern Slavery Act 2015 was the first domestic law of its kind in the world.[1]

The UK Modern Slavery ACT 2015 included legislation that covered:

  • The creation of an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner
  • The protection of victims
  • Supply chain reporting for companies with a revenue threshold of over 36 million pounds

There have been both praise and criticism for the UK Modern Slavery Act. Praise stems from the fact that the Act was largely a consolidation of pre-existing criminal legislation, that it was enforceable by the courts and had a relatively low reporting threshold. One criticism of the act is that supply chains in the production of goods that are not sold and distributed in the UK are not covered.[2] There has also been criticism that the focus of the Act was too much on law enforcement and not enough on the needs of victims.[3]


Timeline to a Modern Slavery Act in Australia

Following the enactment of the Modern Slavery Legislation in the United Kingdom, there have been movements in Australia towards establishing similar legislation. It is likely that a supply chain reporting requirement component of the modern slavery developments will be legislated before the end of 2018. The primary responsibility for the legislation relating to modern slavery now lies in the Home Affairs portfolio.

The following diagram (Figure 1) shows different steps and events (as at July 2018) that have influenced the introduction of a Modern Slavery Reporting Requirement for companies operating in Australia. Once legislated, we expect this to impact investors, companies, government bodies and other stakeholders.


Figure 1 – Timeline leading to an Australian Modern Slavery Act



MS Figure 3


Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Dense and Trade Inquiry into Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia (February – December 2018)

In February 2017, the then Attorney General of Australia Senator George Brandis asked the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to inquire into and report on Establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia.[4] The Committee examined whether Australia should adopt a Modern Slavery Act comparable to that in the UK.  The Committee was also tasked with exploring the extent of modern slavery both in Australia as well as globally, investigating the prevalence of modern slavery in domestic and global supply chains and identifying best practice of companies and governments.

The Attorney Generals Department hosted a series of consultations across Australia over the September-October period. These consultations, in addition to the 225 written submissions made to the Joint Standing Committee, helped shape the recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee in their Interim Report published in August 2017, and final recommendations in the Hidden in Plain Sight Report published in December 2017. Many players in the responsible investment industry have made submissions to the inquiry, demonstrating the attention of the responsible investment industry on the modern slavery debate and the importance placed on potential legislation in Australia.[5]

In December 2017, responsibility for work regarding modern slavery transitioned from the Attorney-General’s Department to the Department of Home Affairs.


Minister for Justice Consultation Paper on the Australian Government’s proposed model for a Modern Slavery in Supply Chains Reporting Requirement (August – October 2017)

The Minister for Justice released a consultation paper on the Australian Government’s proposed model for a Modern Slavery in Supply Chains Reporting Requirement. This model was put up for consultation over September-October 2017.[6]

The paper highlights various options for the government to take in order to address modern slavery in supply chains. The Government decided on targeted regulatory action through a Modern Slavery and Supply Chains Reporting Requirement. The suggested reporting requirement that was proposed by the Minister for Justice included the following criteria:

  1. The entity’s structure, its operations, and its supply chains
  2. The modern slavery risks present in the entity’s operations and supply chains
  3. The entity’s policies and processes put in place to address modern slavery in its operations and supply chains and their effectiveness (such as codes of conduct, supplier contract terms, and training for staff)
  4. The entity’s due diligence processes relating to modern slavery in its operations and supply chains and their effectiveness.

This paper heavily influenced the Modern Slavery Bill, which was introduced to parliament on the 28th of June 2018. The Minister for Justice portfolio was subsumed into the portfolio of the Minister for Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity in the Home Affairs portfolio in December 2017.


Hidden in Plain Sight Report Recommendations (December 2017)

In December 2017, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade published their recommendations from the Inquiry in a report titled Hidden in Plain Sight.[7] The Hidden in Plain Sight Report is a comprehensive document that suggests eight key themes to be considered in order for Australia to implement regulatory and legislative change under a Modern Slavery Act. These themes contain recommendations for legislation and systems to prevent instances of modern slavery, and to protect and find remedy for persons found under conditions of Modern Slavery. The recommendations are summarised in Figure 2.


Figure 2 Hidden In Plain Sight Recommendations

MS Figure 4


Government Commitments

Members of the Joint Standing Committee, in addition to representatives of business and civil society, attended a Modern Slavery event hosted at Parliament House in Canberra by the Walk Free Foundation and the Salvation Army in February 2018. At the event Assistant Minister Hawke announced that there would be legislation for the supply chain reporting component of the Act before the Parliament by the middle of the year, with a goal of enacting legislation prior to the end of the year. These commitments have led to the introduction of the Modern Slavery Bill discussed above. The opposition party, the Labor government, also announced their support for a supply chain requirement, an independent anti-slavery commissioner and penalties for non-compliance.

In the Federal Government 2018 budget it was announced 3.6 million dollars has been allocated to establish a dedicated Anti-Slavery Business Engagement Unit in the Department of Home Affairs. The Anti-Slavery Business Engagement Unit is to provide advice and support for businesses on modern slavery risks as well as manage a central repository for all Modern Slavery Statements.[8] This proposed structure means that the central repository would not be managed by an independent party, as recommended by many civil society groups.


NSW Modern Slavery Bill

On Wednesday the 6th of June the NSW Modern Slavery Bill want passed through the NSW Legislative Assembly, after being initially introduced in the Legislative Council in March 2018.[9] The introduction of the bill shows that there is interest in combatting modern slavery and support for related legislation at a state and federal level. The NSW Modern Slavery Bill had a supply chain reporting requirement, however, the NSW Bill states that the reporting provisions do not apply if another regime is in place, such as if an Australian Modern Slavery Act comes into effect. There are other provisions, such as the appointment of an Anti-slavery Commissioner.[10] The Act also assists victims of modern slavery to access compensation under the Victims Rights and Support Act 2013 (NSW).[11]


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[1] Modern Slavery Act 2015, Legislation Government United Kingdom Website, <>.

[2] How strong a model is the UK Modern Slavery Act?, Australian Corporate Accountability Network Website, <>.

[3] ‘Analysis of Modern Slavery Act’, Anti-Slavery Website, 27 March 2015, <>.

[4] Inquiry into establishing a Modern Slavery Act in Australia, Parliament of Australia Website, <>.

[5] ‘Submissions: Submissions received by the Committee’, Parliament of Australia Website, <>.

[6] ‘Modern Slavery in Supply Chains Reporting Requirement: Public Consultation Paper and Regulation Impact Statement’, Attorney Generals Department, 2017, Department of Home Affairs Website, <>.

[7] ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, Parliament of Australia Website, December 2017, <>.

[8] ‘Government strengthens Australia’s response to Modern Slavery’, The Hon Alex Hawke MP, Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, 10 May 2018, <>.

[9] ‘Bills: Modern Slavery Bill 2018’, NSW Parliament Website, <>.

[10] Modern Slavery Bill 2018, NSW Parliament Website, <>.

[11] Victims Rights and Support Act 2013, No.37, NSW Legislation, <>.

Nina Haysler

Author: Nina Haysler

Nina Haysler
Research Project Manager