Address of the Archbishop of Sydney, Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP, to the Select Committee of the Legislative Council of New South Wales on Human Trafficking - Parliament House

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
28 Mar 2017

Good afternoon Chair and Honourable members, and thank you for the invitation to address you today. Might I begin by commending the Legislative Council for establishing this Select Committee. I take as my starting point that all decent Australians regard as abhorrent human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices such as forced labour or forced marriage, domestic, sexual, or other servitude - all of which I will refer to hereafter under the label 'human trafficking'; that we would all wish to know the extent to which such practices are occurring in our state of New South Wales and to see them eradicated here; and that we would want to ensure that no activity within our state contributes to human trafficking in other places.

Most people continue to think human trafficking a thing of the past, yet the very existence of this Committee is testament to the ongoing problem. The United Nations has recognised that this repugnant activity continues in our world and the members have unanimously called for its eradication, immediately if possible and certainly by no later than 2030.1 Pope Francis has called it an 'open wound on modern society' and a 'crime against humanity'.2 And in December 2014 leaders of many of the world's faith communities called upon their members to work together to eradicate these vile scourges by 2020 and for all time.3 Religious and civic leaders concur, therefore, in their aspiration and determination that this will be the last generation to know the phenomenon of slavery.

This is not a new resolve. From the earliest times many Christians campaigned to abolish the slave trade, to stamp out the kidnapping, trafficking, ownership and exploitation of human beings as if they were chattels, and to liberate and assist those already caught in that terrible web.4 Regrettably, other Christians and believers profited from or at least acquiesced in this practice. The modern campaign against slavery in the Anglosphere was largely associated with evangelicals such as the English poet, John Newton (1725-1807), a convert from slave-trader to Anglican minister, who wrote the popular Christian hymn, Amazing Grace (1779). In 1788, as the first fleet was arriving in Sydney, Newton was publishing his blazing tract, Thoughts upon the Slave Trade, which described the horrific conditions on the slave ships. "It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me," he said, "that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders." The pamphlet was distributed to all MPs and helped the campaign of his spiritual protégé, William Wilberforce, to outlaw the slave trade in the British Empire. Newton lived just long enough to see Wilberforce's bill become law in 1807, only days before he died.

Much has been achieved. But fifty years ago the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) recognised that it was not yet time for the antislavery movement to pack its bags. It declared certain sins especially "infamous" on three counts: "they poison human society, damage the perpetrators even more than the victims, and supremely dishonour the Creator".5 Amongst these infamies the Council included direct attacks on human life (such as genocide, murder, abortion and euthanasia), direct attacks upon human integrity (such as mutilation, torture and coercion) and direct attacks upon human dignity (such as arbitrary imprisonment or deportation, slavery and prostitution, trafficking in women and children, and otherwise treating human beings as mere tools for others' profit). The Council rather presciently listed slavery amongst the worst evils yet to be effectively abolished from human society and the willingness to enslave others amongst the worst evils yet to be eradicated from the human heart.

Half a century later Pope Francis has been a tireless champion of this cause6 and the Catholic Church, along with other churches and faiths, is playing an ever-growing role in the international effort to stamp out human trafficking, even as we recognise the proper responsibility of international, national and state authorities in these matters.

It is my firm hope that this Select Committee will recommend and that the Parliament of New South Wales will enact further measures to identify and liberate anyone suffering from human trafficking in our state, to prevent this recurring, and to discourage this in other parts of the world. As the single largest procurer of goods and services in the state of New South Wales - to the tune of nearly $14 billion p.a. - the New South Wales government has very considerable financial muscle in this area. It also has the authority to appoint an Anti-Slavery Commissioner mandated to identify any continuing human trafficking, domestic, sexual or other servitude, or other instances of modern slavery in our state, to oversee the government's slavery-proofing of its supply lines, to report on activities by non-government agencies in NSW, and to promote public awareness and good practice in these matters. NSW might also urge the Federal Government to legislate along the lines of the recent British Anti-Slavery Act.

But it is not enough for groups such as churches to lecture or exhort the rest of the community in such matters: we must demonstrate our own willingness to act where we can.

The Vatican has already committed itself to slavery-proofing all its procurement practices and supply lines.7 It is no small task to ensure that everything we use has been obtained ethically; that everything we obtain has itself been produced and supplied ethically and sustainably; and that those upon whom we rely or with whom we are affiliated are like-minded. It is no small task but we must try: as Pope Francis has pointed out, buying goods is not just a commercial matter, it has ethical and moral dimensions.8

What might the Church here in Sydney do? I take this opportunity to inform this Parliamentary Select Committee today of the commitment of the Archdiocese of Sydney to a programme directed to the eradication of human trafficking, including the following practical measures on our own part:

  1. We will review and revise all relevant contractual and business practice documentation, including the Archdiocese's Guide for Business Practice, to highlight the Church's commitment to eradicating human trafficking.
  2. We will as far as possible only purchase slavery-proofed products and services, and as far as possible only contract with firms who certify that their goods are not tainted by human trafficking.
  3. We will maintain a register of suppliers who have given the requested certification about their goods and services and ensure that all Archdiocesan chancery, parishes, schools, agencies and affiliates, as well as our major suppliers, are fully aware of this procurement policy and understand the principles and practices set out in the revised Archdiocesan Guide.
  4. We will establish an Archdiocesan Anti-slavery Taskforce with a specific mandate: (1) to promote this new ethical procurement policy throughout the Archdiocese; (2) to prepare resources and conduct programmes for the Catholic faithful and other people of good will about eradicating human trafficking; (3) to devote some part of the energies of the Archdiocesan Office of Justice and Peace, parishes, schools and other agencies to educating about and campaigning to end human trafficking; (4) to partner with and support the work of Australian Catholic Religious Against Human Trafficking and other organisations, particularly in their mission to assist victims of human trafficking.
  5. As Metropolitan Archbishop I will seek: to work with the other bishops of my own province of New South Wales, as a member of the Permanent Committee of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference to work with other bishops in Australia, and as a religious leader to work with major superiors and leaders of Catholic education, health and aged care and welfare services, to establish regional policies and other efforts to eradicate human trafficking.
  6. I will also seek through contacts with the Holy Father and the Vatican departments to strengthen and expand international initiatives by the Church to campaign to eradicate human trafficking.
  7. As Archbishop of Sydney I will also work with the leaders of other churches and faith communities, members of the Catholic Business Network, as well as other organisations, about ways they too might contribute to the eradication of human trafficking.
  8. I will also ask my priests to preach and faithful to pray, do penance, educate themselves and their peers, and lobby and vote for justice in this domain.
  9. I also undertake to cooperate with our civic leaders to assist in every way we can to address this major social justice issue.

Regarding contemporary slavery, Pope Francis has asked if our generation is simply going to look away?9 There he echoed William Wilberforce who said to civic and church leaders: "You may do nothing about it, but at least now you can't say you didn't know". I have great confidence we will do far more than nothing about this great evil. I thank honourable members for your time today and I look forward to working with you in the future.


1 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Goal 8.

2 Pope Francis, Urbi et Orbi Message, 25 December 2013; Address to Participants in the International Conference on Combat Human Trafficking, 10 April 2014.

4 On the history of Christian opposition to slavery see: see the section on the history of the antislavery movement in my "Catholic Moral Tradition," keynote address to the "Tradition Conference" of the University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney, 3 July 2013.

5 Vatican II, Gaudium et spes: Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 27.

6 Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the International Conference on Combat Human Trafficking, 10 April 2014; Address to the Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, 23 October 2014; Message for World Day of Peace 2015: No Longer Slaves but Brothers and Sisters, 1 January 2015; Message for the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, 8 February 2015; Message for the Lenten Brotherhood Campaign in Brazil, 25 February 2015; Final Report of the XIV Ordinary General Assembly: The Vocation and Mission of the Family Today, June 2015; Message for the Month of Ramadan, June 2016; Preparatory Document of the XV Ordinary General Assembly: Young People, The Faith and Vocation Discernment, January 2017.

8 Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 66.

9 Pope Francis, Way of the Cross, 25 March 2016, 6th Station.