MODERATOR: Minister Bishop, your country is in a region – the Asia-Pacific – containing over half of the world's 21 million people subject to forced labour. What action is Australia taking in the region?
JULIE BISHOP: Thank you for the question. It's easy to assume that slavery - the abhorrent practice of slavery - is a relic of the past. But as the work of the ILO and Australia's own Walk Free Foundation shows – and I see Grace Forrest of the Walk Free Foundation here in the audience – that's not the case. Through forced labour, trafficking, and people smuggling, modern slavery is an abhorrent scourge of the 21st century. We know that governments cannot tackle this alone. We need partnerships with other governments, with NGOs and the private sector. In our part of the world our focus is particularly on the issue of migrant workers and we have been funding for some time, legal centres in South East Asia that give migrant workers access to legal advice, to financial counselling and other assistance. In this way we have provided support to about 62,000 migrant workers and because it has been so successful in reaching out to those who would otherwise be exploited – I am extending this program for another 10 years
Likewise we work with the ASEAN countries - the ten South East Asian nations - to make sure their laws deal adequately with the criminal practices and abuses associated with forced labour. We're also co-chairing with Indonesia what's called the Bali Process: this has 48 member countries and we tackle the challenges of human trafficking, people smuggling, forced labour and the like. Recently our Bali Process group signed and committed to a declaration on the principles surrounding the criminalisation of these issues of human trafficking, people smuggling and forced labour. We are focussing on ensuring that the regulations and laws are in place and there is support for victims and also that there is stronger law enforcement throughout our region.
MODERATOR: Are you seeing a change as a result of that?
JULIE BISHOP: Most certainly there is an attitudinal change and there is political will and there is a spotlight on it. It's hard to calculate the level of change but we are seeing such a focus on this issue now - with reporting, with the spotlight on it - that will lead to, we hope, significant change. Particularly in working with the private sector and businesses and the issue of the integrity of supply chains, we are seeing a difference.
MODERATOR: UK PM Theresa May recently declared modern slavery "the great human rights issue of our time." Does Australia place a similar priority through its global advocacy?
JULIE BISHOP: Absolutely, we agree that this is a significant human rights issue.
Recently, Australia adopted a whole-of-government approach to our initiatives, our advocacy, our aid program – an International Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery. We have made this a priority for the government.
We have also, though our advocacy at the United Nations, co-sponsored a resolution on human trafficking; we are embracing the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights; and we have started consultations with businesses in Australia because they can be a vehicle for the realisation of human rights.
And we are looking at the UK Modern Slavery Act to see whether we need to embrace the terms in our own legislative framework, or whether we've covered it in other ways, but we're certainly focusing very closely on that.
And the last thing I just wanted to say on business as well, is that we have got to partner with business, which is absolutely critical to eradicating forced labour. We are encouraging businesses, if they access goods from developing countries, to ensure that the supply chains are free from the forced labour element.
To that end, I mentioned the Bali Process before, we are hosting a Bali Process Business Forum next year, in 2017, with Indonesia. We are bringing together government ministers and business leaders to focus on the world's best practice in eradicating forced labour from supply chains. Andrew Forrest, from Walk Free Foundation, is going to be our representative at this. It will be focusing on best practice, exchanging experiences, sharing knowledge and understanding so that we can make this an issue of the past.
That's Australia's approach. We absolutely see it as a human rights issues and a priority for the government, particularly given the prevenance of these shocking and abhorrent practices in our region.
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