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22 August 2021

On Monday the Senate will vote on new legislation introduced by independent Senator Rex Patrick to implement a key recommendation of the recent bipartisan Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee report on Uyghur forced labour.

The new bill – the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021 – seeks to ban the importation of goods that are produced in whole or part by forced labour. 

“This Bill reflects the Senate’s bipartisan recommendation to amend the Customs Act to prohibit the import of any goods made wholly or in part with forced labour, regardless of geographic origin,” Senator Patrick said. 

“Under this Bill, the importation into Australia of any goods found to have been produced by forced labour, will be subject to the penalties under the Customs Act.”

“The Bill is, I acknowledge, something of a blunt instrument; but that’s what’s needed to thwart modern slavery, especially China’s resort to massive use of forced labour. Action cannot be further delayed.” 

“Passage of the legislation through the Senate will hopefully force the hand of the Coalition Government which so far has been reluctant to move on this issue.” 

“If we can get this Bill through the Parliament, it will be an important step forward in the international campaign against modern slavery and in the brutal repression of the Uyghur people in particular.” 

Estimates of the number of slaves across the world range from around 38 million to 46 million and the use of forced labour within global production chains has emerged as a major humanitarian concern. 

The issue of modern slavery has also been highlighted by the well documented human rights abuse of hundreds of thousands of Uyghur people in Xinjiang Province in China 

“The massive and systematic oppression of the Uyghur people by the Chinese Government is undeniable,” Senator Patrick said. “The exploitation of detained Uyghurs as a captive labour force is clear.” 

“This is a matter that cannot be delayed. The supply of goods produced in whole or part with slave labour is an immediate problem of the utmost gravity and must be addressed urgently.”

“Given the bipartisan response from the Senate Committee to my previous bill relating to Uyghur forced labour, there should be no hesitation from the Parliament in passing this Bill.” 

“I understand that the Labor Opposition, the Greens, and members of the Senate cross bench are prepared to support my Bill. I strongly urge Government Senators that have been vocal about this issue to do likewise.”