Survivor insights: Australia's proposed Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Fiona David and Sherry Wanjiru

What matters most to survivors of modern slavery in the design of the Federal Anti-Slavery Commissioner role? This is an important question that we sought to answer, as part of informing the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Modern Slavery Amendment (Australian Anti-Slavery Commissioner) Bill 2023.

In January 2024, we interviewed six survivors of modern slavery in Australia, to understand their views on this question. Our submission is based on these interviews.

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Summary of Submission

The role of a Federal Anti-Slavery commissioner is welcomed by people with lived experience. For example, one participant noted:

“The modern slavery responses and sector itself [are] quite fractured and I think that the role of the federal anti-slavery commissioner has the potential to … unify our sector and be someone that … has an oversight over the whole thing … to bring people together”.

“I'm excited to see some of our anti-slavery responses [move] beyond policy and start to move into practical  reality”.

However, there are major gaps between what survivors say they think is important in the Commissioner role, and the role currently described in the Bill. For example:

“When things go wrong in the modern slavery sector currently there is … nowhere to go as a survivor -you basically just fall through all the cracks. It's very difficult to address things when you don't get help or there's a problem in the process and I would really love …the federal anti-slavery commissioner to be able to close some of those gaps”.

As another example:

“The commissioner should be able to offer …. visa pathways that can [help] survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking.”


The following recommendations are offered to try to close the gaps between the Bill as presently framed, and the issues raised in interviews with survivors as being vitally important.

Recommendation 1: 

Add language to clarify that the purpose of the Commissioner is to provide leadership and oversight of the effectiveness of Australia’s anti-modern slavery response. Their role needs to be both domestic and internationally focused.

Recommendation 2:

Give the Commissioner the powers to receive and inquire into complaints from individuals regarding the operations of Australia's modern slavery responses in specific situations. Simultaneously, mandate the Commissioner to undertake reasonable measures to foster accountability, transparency, and address other obstacles hindering effective anti-slavery responses.

Recommendation 3:

Give the Commissioner powers to inquire, either of their own motion, requests of survivors, or on request of the Attorney General, into the operation and effectiveness of Australia’s anti-slavery responses. Reports from inquiries should be tabled in Parliament.

Recommendation 4:

Give the Commissioner the power to require agencies to provide data and information relevant to understanding the effectiveness of Australia’s anti-slavery responses.

Recommendation 5:

Amend the Bill to include creation of a Lived Experience Advisory Panel to advise the Commissioner.

You can read our full submission HERE.