Australian Prime Minister commits government to fight modern slavery

Speech by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on occasion of International Women’s Day.

FRI 08 MARCH 2013

Prime Minister

Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS OMITTED]

I acknowledge each of you – the women drawn here by the power of this day.

You are women of achievement.

Women who reach out to shape the future.

This is a day of celebration, and rightly so.

Even if the women’s movement had changed just one life, it would be worth it.

Yet over the past century, it has changed millions of lives, including my own.

But today our celebration must be tempered by realism.

The first International Women’s Day was 102 years ago.

This is an old struggle.

Yet the level of assault and abuse is still too high.

The gender pay gap is still too wide.

The number of women in senior roles is still too few.

We should be impatient.

It’s time to get a move on.

And friends, let’s never forget that women’s rights are indivisible.

If women are marginalised or oppressed anywhere, it’s as though it happened to one of us.

This year America has been celebrating 150 years since President Lincoln ended slavery.

We imagine slavery as something from the pages of history.

But it’s not.

It’s hard to imagine from the safety and comfort we know, yet slavery still exists in our world and in our land.

The setting is different than it once was.

Today the people forced into slavery work in factories, in domestic servitude, in brothels – often in big cities like this.

But the violence and coercion they face is exactly the same.

In February this year I had the opportunity to meet with two women who were victims of human trafficking.

They had been brought to Australia by their employers under false pretences.

They had their passports taken from them.

They weren’t allowed to leave the house without supervision.

One of them wasn’t paid properly; the other wasn’t paid at all.

When they challenged their employers, they were abused and threatened.

That occurred here, in Australia.

Not 150 years ago but in the last three years.

I was introduced to those women by Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and his wife Nicola, who were talking to me about their role in establishing ‘Walk Free’ – a global movement that aims to eradicate modern slavery.

There are many things on which Mr Forrest and I do not agree but ending modern slavery isn’t one of them.

Twiggy and Nicola Forrest have shown amazing leadership on this issue.

Not only that.

The Forrests have pledged to donate the vast majority of their wealth to this and other causes.

A gesture that will change lives in the most basic possible way – restoring people to freedom.

Friends, remember these women are among 16 million women who have been enslaved and trafficked over the past decade and this is their Day too.

Those women don’t have a voice so we must speak for them.

Not just to speak but to act.

That’s why since 2004, Australia has invested over $150 million in anti-people trafficking measures, in our region and here at home – including $50 million I pledged last year.

Already we’ve been able to help around 200 women and their dependents in Australia, and today I pay tribute to the special role the Salvation Army has played in this.

But as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, I’ve wanted us to do even more.

That’s why we passed the Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking Act which our Governor-General signed into law yesterday.

This Act creates new offences of forced marriage and harbouring a victim.

It enables accomplices to be charged as well as the main perpetrators.

It raises the penalties for existing debt bondage offences, and also increases payments to victims.

Alongside these new laws, we are updating Australia’s National Action Plan to combat trafficking, slavery and forced marriage – which will come into force next year.

And today I’m proud to announce a new whole-of-government strategy to reinforce ethical behaviour in procurement so that no firm providing goods or services to the Commonwealth is tainted by slavery or people-trafficking anywhere in the supply chain.

While there’s no evidence this is the case at the moment, we know slavery or people-trafficking are becoming a greater issue as the global economy becomes more interlinked.

I’d hate to see a single cent of public money go to any entity involved in this vile trade.

Friends, this is one of the many ways that Australia is saying ‘no’.

No to people trafficking.

No to slavery.

No to treating women like objects or chattels.

That is not a world we will accept.

That is not a life we want for any woman or any girl.

Not here.

Not overseas.

Not anywhere.

Not ever.

Instead, we seek a different future and a different world.

Where every girl is born with freedom in her heart and has the chance to grow old with that freedom.

And so, on International Women’s Day, we affirm this simple but enduring truth: change is always possible, and the hope we share can never be in vain.

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