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SENATE VOTES TO BAN IMPORT OF GOODS MADE WITH FORCED LABOUR: A victory for the campaign against slavery, in spite of complete moral failure from the Coalition Government

23 August 2021

Independent Senator Rex Patrick today applauded the Senate’s approval of his proposed law to ban the importation of goods produced in whole or part with slave labour. 

“The Australian Senate’s vote today is an important step forward in the international efforts to combat modern slavery, and especially to proscribe the importation of goods produced by the Chinese Government's exploitation of Uyghur forced labour,” Senator Patrick said. 

“However the Government’s refusal to support the legislation is absolutely unconscionable. There is no excuse for not supporting such a measure that directly attacks those who seek to profit from enslaving fellow human beings.”

“Slave labour is abhorrent. Its human cost is horrendous and it leaves Australian businesses competing against imports on unfair terms.”

“Why the Government could not support this beats me. It is an absolute failure of leadership, an absolute moral failure.” 

“I do thank the Labor Opposition, the Greens and crossbench Senators who voted to support this legislation. However most of all I wish to thank the many people and organisations that gave evidence to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee inquiry that preceded this vote, especially members of the Australian Uyghur community who face harassment from Chinese Government officials here in Australia and grave threats to family members, relatives and friends in Xinjiang.”

The bill passed by the Senate today – 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, regardless of geographic origin.

“The Bill is, I acknowledge, something of a blunt instrument,” Senator Patrick said; “but that’s what’s needed to thwart modern slavery, especially China’s resort to massive use of forced labour.”

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

“It was especially disappointing that Government Senators who have previously been outspoken about the plight of the Uyghur people and the Chinese Communist regime’s exploitation of forced labour did not support the Bill.

“It appears their principles were just talk, and no substance.” 

“If Australia is to be true to the democratic values we hold, we need to leave the Chinese Government in no doubt that its conduct is unconscionable and utterly unacceptable.”

“What is needed now is for the Bill to pass through the House of Representatives. The onus is now on the Coalition Government. We can’t have the Government dodge the issue by saying that they are conducting another review. Action is required within the life of this Parliament, indeed within this calendar year.” 

“We need to send a very clear political signal to Beijing, and to the numerous global brands that have been happy to turn a blind eye to China’s massive exploitation of forced labour.

“We need to send that signal now, before the Beijing Winter Olympics next February, just six months away, when the Chinese Communist Party intends to bask in a massive international propaganda event.” 

“It would be a grave failure on the part of the Australian Parliament as a whole if we do not call out and take action to limit the massive abuses of human rights by the Chinese Communist regime.”

“This proposed law, as part of a growing international campaign against modern slavery and those who profit from such human rights abuses, will do just that.”