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Independent Senator Rex Patrick. Source: Rex Patrick/Twitter
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  • The Australian Senate passes a bill banning the importation of any goods produced in whole or in part by forced labour
  • It was introduced by independent senator Rex Patrick, who made specific reference to reported human rights abuses against the Uyghur people
  • Senator Patrick says as well as “horrendous” human rights costs, slave labour also leaves Australian businesses competing on unfair terms
  • The bill still needs to make its way through the Coalition-controlled House of Representatives before it can become law
  • There is currently no set date for when the bill will be read in the lower house

The Australian Senate passed a bill this week banning the importation of any goods produced in whole or in part by forced labour.

The bill still needs to make its way through the Coalition-controlled House of Representatives before it can become law.

Independent senator Rex Patrick proposed the bill, dubbed the Customs Amendment (Banning Goods Produced By Forced Labour) Bill 2021. The bill made its way through the Senate without Coalition support.

“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.”

He said a bill like this is needed to “thwart modern slavery”, and Senator Patrick made particular mention of China’s alleged human rights abuses and repression of the Uyghur people as part of the motivation for the bill.

A previous version of the bill — which did not make it through the Senate — called specifically for the banning of goods produced by Uyghur forced labour.

The newer bill is broader in its application. While it references China and the Uyghur people as an example of forced labour, the proposed amendments to the Customs Act make no specific mention of China.

Senator Patrick said on Twitter that slave labour left Australian businesses competing on “unfair terms”.

Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said in Monday’s Senate debate that while he supported the bill in principle, it needed more detailed scrutiny because it could be tough for the Government to understand exactly how imported products are sourced.

Senator Patrick dismissed the idea that further review is necessary, saying something needed to be done soon.

“We can’t have the government dodge the issue by saying they are conducting another review,” Senator Patrick said.

“Action is required within the life of this Parliament; indeed, within this calendar year.”

There is currently no set date for when the bill will be read in the lower house.

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