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NSW urged to take its hand off the anti-slavery law ‘pause button’

A spokeswoman for Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government “is carefully considering the committee’s recommendations”.

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The act goes further than Commonwealth legislation by establishing an anti-slavery commissioner and penalties. It requires companies with an annual turnover of more than $50 million to report on the risk of slavery in their supply chains. The threshold under the Commonwealth Act is $100 million.

John McCarthy QC, a former Australian ambassador to the Holy See, said the act had more teeth than its Commonwealth counterpart. It would also turn a spotlight on the NSW government’s own procurement of construction materials and medical equipment produced by companies that have been suspected of using forced labour.

“What we are missing as a result of the act not being proclaimed is that there is no program that has been put in place to measure the exposure of the NSW government, which is the second-largest procurer in the Commonwealth, to modern slavery risks in its procurements,” he said.

President of the Thomas More Society, Michael McAuley, a barrister and Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, said the NSW government had failed to take effective action to ensure women working in Sydney massage parlours are “doing so freely, and are adequately protected”.

He said the federal government’s new Modern Slavery Expert Advisory Group included representatives from business but none from trade unions or the legal profession. Telstra, Bunnings, Country Road Group and David Jones are among the companies represented.

The UK’s former anti-slavery commissioner Geoff Hyland said Australia had taken a leading role in its anti-slavery legislation and “NSW took a step further”.

“Only by having good legislation will we start to see this for what it is, which is a serious crime,” he said. “To see some slippage on the effectiveness of legislation … would be quite disappointing.”

A consortium of more than 117 organisations that represent academics, lawyers, community and faith leaders have also come together to urge the NSW Premier to end the delay and bring the Modern Slavery Act into force.

NSW opposition attorney-general Paul Lynch and Labor MP Greg Donnelly said many state MPs were also concerned the government had not yet enacted the legislation.

“I can’t remember another time where a government has given the royal assent and then hit pause,” Mr Donnelly said.

Ms Berejiklian’s spokeswoman said the government has a procurement code of conduct and it expects suppliers to provide a fair and ethical workplace.

“Our suppliers are expected to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that businesses within their supply chain are not engaged in, or complicit with, human rights abuses, such as forced or child labour,” the spokeswoman said.

A NSW Health spokesman said it uses gloves provided by a range of contracted suppliers that had confirmed they did not engage in labour exploitation across their supply chain.

Ansell, which supplies latex gloves to NSW Health, said it had stopped using gloves made by WRP in September last year in response to allegations it had used forced labour.

“Ansell does not tolerate child, forced or involuntary labour of any kind, under any circumstances and is committed to operating in accordance with all applicable national laws,” a spokesman said.

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