Catholic Archbishop slams failure to act on slavery as a ‘disgrace’

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney is accusing the NSW government of being undemocratic and a disgrace after failing to enact a law to eradicate modern slavery two years after it was unanimously passed by Parliament.

Launching a new report on Wednesday which warns the COVID-19 pandemic has put migrants, refugees and temporary visa holders at greater risk of forced labour, Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the government was “stalling for time” after having declared the law a “moral imperative” in 2018.

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has accused the state government of disgrace and dishonour for failing to enact an anti-slavery law passed unanimously by Parliament.
Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher has accused the state government of disgrace and dishonour for failing to enact an anti-slavery law passed unanimously by Parliament.CREDIT:EDWINA PICKLES

“Disgrace and dishonour it has been that for many years our community was blind, deaf and mute to the problem of modern slavery and human trafficking,” he said.

“But how much more disgraceful and dishonourable after it has publicly recognised this evil, moved to eradicate it from our supply chains and by other action, and then thwarted such measures apparently so businesses and consumers may continue to benefit from slavery.

“I didn’t dream that a law, passed by both houses of our state Parliament and given the Royal assent, with wide public support and in keeping with the best of our Christian anti-slavery and secular human rights traditions, would be blocked from coming into force by a democratic government.”

Archbishop Fisher said the NSW Parliament indicated it would be a ‘good samaritan’ by passing the Modern Slavery Act 2018.

“NSW was offering the nation and the world a lead in this, by holding to a higher standard than many,” he said.

“Yet here we are, two years later, and that law has still not come into force.”

The NSW government announced a parliamentary inquiry into the act after it was passed. The inquiry supported the enactment of the act by January 1 next year with some amendments including a three-yearly review.

Archbishop Fisher said a NSW government anti-slavery website had decried modern slavery as an evil affecting at least 40 million people and thousands in Australia. He said the government’s decision to launch a parliamentary inquiry had been “unnecessary”.

A NSW government spokeswoman said it would respond to the Standing Committee on Social Issues which tabled its report on the inquiry on March 25 “later this year”. “The government is carefully considering the committee’s recommendations,” she said.

The Australian Catholic Anti-Slavery Network report also warns vulnerable workers are finding themselves increasingly insecure because of the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.

The chair of the Anti-Slavery Taskforce and Australia’s former ambassador to the Vatican, John McCarthy, QC, said the risk of modern slavery has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

“Those at greatest risk of exploitation, such as migrants, refugees and temporary visa holders find themselves in increasingly insecure work because of the current economic downturn,” he said.

Sydney psychologist Carolina Barreto said she has counselled many victims of forced and unpaid labour, human trafficking and forced marriage for 12 years at her Bondi practice.

“We have had cases where there has been significant levels of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and financial abuse,” she said.

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