National Modern Slavery Conference

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today.

Here in Melbourne I am on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and I pay my respects to Elders past and present.

I also acknowledge that we have people joining us virtually from many other places across Australia, and I extend that acknowledgement to all First Nations peoples joining us in person or virtually.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • Uncle Tony Garvey for his Welcome to Country;
  • The Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department Ms Katherine Jones, for her opening address;
  • Distinguished guests, including delegates from our partner governments in the region, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, NSW Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and members of the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery.

And of course, the many speakers who you will hear from over the coming three days.

I want to pay tribute to the people here today, and across Australia, who have lived experience of modern slavery.

I have the greatest respect for your bravery and resilience.

I also wish to recognise the support workers from our Support for Trafficked People Program who are joining us today, as well as all the other people who work tirelessly to provide support to survivors of modern slavery.

The conversations we will be having over these next few days are important to help us create real, positive change, but are certain to be confronting and challenging in many ways.

I recognise and thank you for your courage in taking part and sharing your vital insights and experiences.

As the Assistant Minister for Social Services and for the Prevention of Family Violence, I am proud to be part of a Government that is committed to taking real action to combat and end modern slavery.

Action to protect vulnerable people from falling victim to these abhorrent forms of exploitation.

And action to provide support for the survivors, their families and communities.

According to the Global Slavery Index, there are currently 49.6 million people experiencing modern slavery across the world.

Closer to home, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology Data, it is estimated that there are up to 1900 modern slavery victims in Australia.

These are people, here in our country, who have been denied their basic human rights.

Who have suffered exploitation and harm.

This is shocking and unacceptable.

The Albanese Government made an election commitment to tackle modern slavery, with a focus on prevention and disruption initiatives, as well as improved programs for survivors to access the support they need.

In order for our strategies and actions to be effective, we must understand the current state of modern slavery, and the shape it takes in the lives of the people who have been affected by it.

Most importantly, we must embody the theme of this conference, and ‘take action together’ by working in partnership across government, civil society, business, academia, and with our international partners.

It is vital that our efforts are always centred on the experiences and needs of survivors.

That survivors can contribute to and lead the important discussions that improve our understanding of modern slavery and shape our policies.

And that we partner with survivors, and those who work with them, to strengthen our response, policy design, and deliver programs that create real change.

The value of people with lived experience of modern slavery sharing their experiences, insights, and ideas through forums like this conference cannot be overemphasised.

We are listening and we are acting.

There are significant misconceptions around modern slavery, with many people unaware of the substantial impact it can have on survivors, their families, and the community.

Modern slavery can be complex and take many different forms.

Human trafficking, forced marriage, forced labour, servitude, and debt bondage are just some of the ways slavery presents itself in modern society.

However, at the heart, all types of modern slavery are about exploitation and taking freedoms away from the more vulnerable people in our community.

How this manifests can vary widely, and the mechanisms of slavery and exploitation can change with time and technology.

Slavery does not present itself in the same way in 2023 as it did in the past.

Global events like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and advancements in technology are changing the way modern slavery operates.

For all these reasons, the experiences of survivors, and the people who support them, are necessary for us to understand the forms of modern slavery, and to deploy targeted and effective responses.

One of the most important parts of our response is ensuring people who have experienced modern slavery can access timely and appropriate support.

In the 2023-24 Budget, the Albanese Government committed an additional $24.3 million in funding over four years for the Support for Trafficked People Program.

This program provides a range of supports for survivors.

Case managers work closely with survivors to meet their safety, security, health, and wellbeing needs, and to develop options for their future life.

It is important that people who have experienced modern slavery are not defined by their trauma.

The Support for Trafficked People Program seeks to address the immediate needs of survivors, whilst supporting them to rebuild their lives and achieve the best possible outcomes in terms of health and mental health, social connection, education and employment.

The funding boost delivered in our May Budget ensures the program can continue to provide its vital services, but will also enable us to strengthen the supports available.

We will be introducing key improvements, including increasing the length of time survivors can use the program’s support services, providing extra support for survivors with children, and checking in on long term progress.

Significantly, we have also announced a pilot that will commence mid next year to enable survivors to come forward and receive support from the program without having to first speak with the police.

These improvements directly reflect feedback we received from the community, from survivors and from service providers.

I would like to thank everyone here who contributed to this result – it has helped us to strengthen our supports and ensure they meet the real and current needs of survivors.

These improvements bring the focus of support soundly onto the optimal wellbeing and healing of survivors.

The Support for Trafficked People Program is a key component of the Government’s commitment to combat modern slavery, through our ‘Tackling Modern Slavery’ package.

This year’s Budget committed $5.3 million to establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.  

The new Commissioner will play a whole-of-government role in implementing our package in full, alongside other measures such as the introduction of penalties for non-compliance with the Modern Slavery Act.

At the heart of this commitment is combatting the drivers of modern slavery, disrupting its operations, and holding perpetrators of slavery to account.

And of course, a key focus remains on the people affected – those who may become, or who have been, victims of modern slavery – by placing a strong emphasis on partnering effectively with survivors.

Dependents who have felt the impact of modern slavery crimes often have their support needs overlooked.

No child deserves to have their traumas ignored or to feel silenced.

All children and young people in Australia have the right to grow up safe, connected and supported in their family, community, and culture.

Our National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022-32 recognises the need to elevate the voices of children as survivors in their own right, and to establish appropriate supports and services to meet their safety and recovery needs.

We are focused on ensuring protection and support is provided for children who are direct survivors of modern slavery or who have parents who are.

The Australian Red Cross and University of South Australia Hidden Survivors, Intergenerational Trauma: Supporting the Dependants of Human Trafficking and Forced Marriage in Australia report examines the complex support needs of survivors with dependent children, and how dependents are often overlooked when they are not considered victims themselves.

This critical report will be launched later today.

It outlines how survivors with dependents often have more complex needs, as supporting their dependents is typically their most important priority, and the fear of being separated from them is a pressing concern.

In recognising this, an important part of our improvements to the Support for Trafficked People Program involves enhancing the support for survivors with children.

This is another example of how richer information about survivors and their needs can strengthen our work to support them.

We know we have a long way to go, and there is much more to be done.

But what is clear is that we cannot do it alone.

We will continue to work with survivors, as well as service providers, civil society, businesses, academia, and governments both in Australia to strengthen supports to align with the needs of survivors.

I thank you all for your contributions to this important work so far, and I welcome the vital insights and ideas you will bring to this conference.

They will shape and inform the next steps we take, as we work together to ensure no one is subjected to modern slavery.

Thank you.