House debates

Thursday, 24 October 2019


Currency (Restrictions on the Use of Cash) Bill 2019; Second Reading

10:04 am

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) recognises the importance of cash for conducting transactions around Australia; and

(2) notes the concerns that have arisen in some parts of the community about the bill, in the context of the stagnating Australian economy under the Coalition Government".

This bill, the Currency (Restrictions on the Use of Cash) Bill 2019, establishes a cash payment limit and introduces offences for entities that make or accept cash payments of $10,000 or more from 1 January 2020. Offences under the new provision would carry a maximum penalty of $25,000, or two years imprisonment, for individuals or businesses which recklessly break the cash limit. These offences can apply whether the individual is a recipient of or a payee of the cash value. The bill follows on from the 2018 report of the government's Black Economy Taskforce, which found that large cash payments can be anonymous and untraceable, allowing businesses to underreport their income and to offer consumers discounts for transactions that reflect the business' avoided obligation. It has also found that the cash economy is a vehicle for money laundering.

The bill does include the power to make exceptions to the cash payment limit, through a legislative instrument made by the relevant minister. I understand that the government's draft rules—which are not a part of the bill—would exempt the following types of payments. Firstly, payments related to personal or private transactions—for example, purchasing a motor vehicle off somebody in your neighbourhood. Secondly, payments that must be reported by an entity under the anti-money laundering and counterterrorism legislation, provided that, broadly, the entity with a reporting obligation complies with their obligation under that legislation. The third exemption under the draft rules would apply to payments made or accepted by a public official, in which the public official is legally required to make or accept a cash payment in the course of their duties. The fourth exemption would apply to payments that only exceed the cash payment limit because the payment is part of a transaction involving collecting, holding or delivering cash that is undertaken in the course of an enterprise of collecting or delivering cash. That seems to be an obvious one, as well. The fifth exemption would be payments that only exceed the cash payment limit because the payment is or includes an amount of digital currency. The draft rules also provide to exempt payments that occur in situations where no alternative method of payment could be reasonably used, although I do make the point that it is unclear whether this would apply as an exemption or a defence to an offence arising under the legislation, a matter that requires further interrogation. Future rules could exempt other types of payments or be changed to remove exemptions for types of payments.

There has been a lot of concern within the community about the impact of this bill. There wouldn't be a member in this House who hasn't received representations from constituents in relation to it. To facilitate the orderly interrogation of those concerns and the swift passage of this bill to the Senate, where it may be further interrogated and investigated, Labor won't be opposing the bill in the House. But we have been working with the crossbenches to ensure that there is a rigorous examination of the provisions of the bill in the Senate in order to ensure that all of the community concerns that have been raised with Labor, and presumably with the crossbenches as well, are thoroughly ventilated, investigated and dealt with. It is a significant provision, with significant penalties, and we want to ensure that there are no unintended consequences and that those community concerns can be dealt with.

While the tap-and-go phenomenon—which, I must confess, I've adopted—is an amazing convenience, we do recognise that cash remains a favoured medium of transaction for many law-abiding members of the Australian community. Those in small business, pensioners and retirees and members of Australia's diverse multicultural communities have an attachment to cash and to using cash for their everyday transactions. Older Australians use cash for more than half of their payments. Australians in the lowest income quartile use cash for more than 40 per cent of all of their payments. We recognise their concerns, and the concerns of the communities, as being worthy of further consideration. This is why we have worked with the crossbench on ensuring that we can investigate, and hopefully allay, the concerns that have been raised.

It is important to understand why Australians have these concerns with the government's proposed cash-transaction ban, and it's why I've moved an amendment at the second reading stage of the bill's consideration. The truth of the matter is that Australians have no faith in this government's capacity to manage the economic problems that the country is facing right now, and they certainly have no faith in the government's ability to manage those problems in the interests of ordinary everyday Australians. The Morrison government quite simply has a plan for a slogan—it's got a political plan—but, to coin a phrase, as to an economic plan, 'Where the bloody hell are you?' They've no plan for the country when it comes to managing economic growth or managing the parlous state of wage increases. Of economic growth, we have the lowest rate since the global financial crisis. The economy is struggling. The government loves to blame every problem on somebody else. Whether it's economic headwinds or Labor, somebody else is always at fault; somebody else is always the cause of the problem; it's not the parlous state of their own economic management.

Our economy is struggling, but the New Zealand economy, just across the ditch, is growing at nearly twice the pace of ours. No Australian ever likes to be beaten by a Kiwi in anything, and, while the Kiwis have raced ahead, Australian household living standards have declined under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison disaster show. Real household median income is lower now than it was in 2013. Wages are growing at the lowest rate since record keeping began. We've got 1.9 million Australians who are either looking for work, or looking for more work because they are underemployed. Business investment is down 20 per cent from when the Liberals came to office, and it is now at its lowest level since the 1990s recession. Consumer confidence and consumption growth are incredibly weak. Weak growth like this is the inevitable result of a government with a political strategy but no economic plan. And what's the government's answer to the challenges which the Australian economy is facing? Quite simply, it's silence. They've no plan to get business investment moving. They've no plan to deal with the deepening drought. In fact, we've seen the National Party backroom revolt going on—entirely politically motivated. They're more concerned about their own political futures than they are about the future of drought-riven communities and more concerned about who takes credit for the woeful policies than about what's going on in those communities that they represent. They've no plan to deal with this at all. There's a lot of noise, but no plan. Instead, the coalition has one answer and one answer only, and that is to continue with their current strategy—which is doing nothing, which means flat growth, flat wages and a decline in confidence.

It is no wonder that members of the public are rightfully concerned when they see legislation such as this. They are saying: 'What is the real agenda here? What's going on? Why is the government introducing this bill when they haven't dealt with any of these other issues which are affecting wellbeing at the household level?'

I want to say another thing about the government's management of not only the economy but also the business before this House. As I said at the outset, this bill was in part a response to a recommendation of the Black Economy Taskforce about restricting the use of cash which would then lead to tax avoidance or to money-laundering activities. If only the government were so active in introducing and paying attention to all of the recommendations of the Black Economy Taskforce, because a very important recommendation of the Black Economy Taskforce was on dealing with anti-phoenixing activity. Phoenixing activity is where a business or a set of directors deliberately send a business into liquidation, strip or transfer the assets from that business to another business and leave the creditors stranded, whether they're tradies or small businesses—

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear, hear!

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Whitlam, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I see the member for Kennedy is agreeing with me on this point at least. He would know about this. I'm sure there are thousands of small businesses, tradies and creditors in his electorate who have been impacted by this. We know the cost to the economy as a whole is about $5 billion per annum. The cost to small businesses and the cost to creditors is about $3 billion per annum. That is a small business each and every year going to the wall because of the unconscionable phoenixing behaviour of dodgy directors who, time and time and time again, blow their company up, move on down the road and get a slightly different name and a new ABN—maybe it's the same director number or maybe they put their dog down as the director of the new company; that's possible. And the government persists in doing nothing.

When we saw legislation addressing the Black Economy Taskforce on the forward Notice Paper, we had some hope that they were actually going to do something about this, but it was hope forlorn. They've actually pulled from the agenda this week the legislation purporting to deal with phoenixing. We have to ask why. Why has the government, after having received and sat on the Black Economy Taskforce report for so long, abandoned all hope for those small businesses being left high and dry by dodgy directors and by this government, which can't manage its business and can't manage the legislation before the House? It is now the case that we will have to wait until at least next year before we get some feeble legislation from this government to address the problem of phoenixing in this country. We'll have months of delays, months of unpaid bills to creditors and months of small businesses going to the wall because the government has taken no action against these dodgy developers. If we are going to have legislation before the House which deals with the implementation of the recommendations of the Black Economy Taskforce, let's deal with all of the problems, not just pick at one by one. Let's deal with all of the problems and let's ensure that we provide some relief to those small businesses that are being driven to the wall. If only the government and the hapless Assistant Treasurer could manage their business, perhaps get a bit more influence inside their show, we'd have some proper legislation before this House to deal with this issue.

We did learn last night in Senate estimates that they are introducing director identification numbers—which, of course, is the real key in this; every Australian has a tax file number. The real key to ensure we crack down on dodgy developers and illegal phoenixing is putting in place a system of director identification numbers. When we quizzed the government, through Senator Hume in Senate estimates last night, they admitted that this was still a priority for government, but obviously it's not a priority for the assistant minister, or it's a priority in name only. Legislation has been pulled on the matter and we are yet to see legislation in this term of government to deal with director ID numbers.

We're right to be sceptical about the bill before the House today. The community is right to have some concerns, which is why we'll be referring this matter to a Senate inquiry. We invite those members of the community who have concerns to make submissions to that Senate inquiry to ensure that all of those concerns can be adequately dealt with.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Jim ChalmersJim Chalmers (Rankin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

10:19 am

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I commend the previous speaker. A lot of what he said is very relevant to what we are discussing here today. I don't know whether the schools still have compulsory reading of 1984 and Brave New Worldthe idea that big brother is watching and that you have no right to privacy. They were both profoundly scary books and they were meant, by the people who wrote them, to be scary books—big brother is watching you all of the time. In China, one of the ugliest communities on earth, there is a camera for every three people and the cameras have the ability to face-identify. So big brother is with us in at least one country on earth and it happens to be the biggest country on earth. If ever I've seen 'big brother is watching' legislation, this most certainly is it.

It is particularly relevant in one of the industries that I come from. I've had cattle all of my life. When the banks take you from 6½ per cent to 29 per cent and you have no ability to protect yourself, then you would think you are entitled—because the law forces that upon me—to dodge the law. I would say that of many of my brother cattlemen—I would put that figure at maybe 25 or 30 per cent—when the banks started screwing them. I repeat the figures. I know the figures because I was a person who borrowed at 6½ per cent and, the year before we sold the St Francis station blocks, I was paying 29 per cent and I can assure you I was not Robinson Crusoe. The banks just take it upon themselves. You've signed a document which is not a contract. There are no obligations on the bank's part. As Henry Bournes Higgins, one of the great jurists in this nation's history, said to the courts: 'A contract made by a single person is not a contract.' You sign a document with the banks and he says they can do anything to you at any time they like and you have no right to do anything to them at all. They can simply take you up through huge interest rates.

In the infamous case which probably had eight million or nine million hits on the internet, the Charlie Phillott case—Charles Phillott is one of the great Australians—he had kept his interest and repayments going. He thought he had a contract to keep interest and repayments going. He went hungry to keep his interest and repayments going. He lived in grinding poverty. He is a very honourable man, a very God-fearing man, a man who has said his prayers every morning and evening on every day of his life, and he felt that, if he had a contract, he had to fulfil it. So he fulfilled what he thought was a contract, but of course there was no contract. It was a contract with one person, not two people, so by definition it wasn't a contract. But he kept what he said was his side of it and the bank just said, 'We don't think that you've got any hope of pulling through. All the banks think your equity is lower than we want your equity to be now, so we're going to sell you up,' which they proceeded to do. It was a case so notorious that it was run twice on 60 Minutes. It got massive nationwide publicity. As I said, there were maybe seven or eight million hits by the time it had run its race. There was the famous letter by David Pascoe, 'Letter to my fellow Australians', which had a picture of Charlie Phillott at the top of the page.

What a cattleman can do is sneak a few head away, sell them and put the cash in his pocket where it can't be found, and he might have some ability to survive and repay the banks. He's still got the debt to the banks, of course, but they can't see his ability to survive. According to the legendary stories I know, the biggest cattle-owning family in Australia got their start doing exactly what I just described during the Great Depression. A First Australian—a ringer—and a lady lived up in the mountains. She took the cattle up the mountains in North Queensland where they couldn't be found and traded by cash. The biggest private drilling operator in Australia, again, traded by cash when they were foreclosing on him in the collapse of the mining industry. But when we were desperately, desperately chasing drillers, when the mining boom came again, thank the good lord, he was there. He had a number of drills and could start the programs that created five of our mines around Charters Towers, which brought in nearly $2½ billion a year into the Australian economy and created 2,000 jobs. It doesn't matter whether it's our cattlemen or whether it's our mining drillers or a thousand other groups of people.

I'll give another example. The owners of a hotel were deeply in debt through no fault of their own. The government closed down the wool industry, the government closed down the railways, and the town in which they had the hotels, of course, had no income at all; there was nothing left. Where there had been five or six sheep stations supporting maybe 10 shearers in the town, now there was one cattle station and no shearers. Cattle stations don't need labour, really. A husband and wife can run a very big cattle station by themselves, or six or seven sheep stations converted to cattle stations. I've given you the case of the driller; I've given you the case of the hotelier. The hotelier survived. Two industries came to the town and we were able to base the workforce in that town and, therefore, provide prosperity for that town that had been massacred by the ALP decision to deregulate the wool industry and by the ALP decision to sell off the railways in Queensland. I'm not saying if the other side had been there it would have been any different; they would have done both in my opinion. It just so happened they weren't there—that's all.

We constantly have the police force wanting to make life easier for themselves. Heaven only knows, they have a hard job to do. Who could blame them? But the government is there to protect the rights of the people. Going back to the grim, horrifying Orwellian spectres of George Orwell in 1984 and Brave New World, can you imagine a society in which the only people allowed to have guns were the people in uniforms? John F. Kennedy, when he had all of the Nobel Prize winners gathered together, said, 'This is the greatest aggregation of intellect the White House has ever seen with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.' He was one of the great intellects of human history, Thomas Jefferson, and he was primarily responsible for drawing up the bill of rights. So every time an intelligent group of people have sat down in human history—including Stephen Langton, William Marshall, who drew up the Magna Carta—they have realised the grave dangers of having a society in which the only people allowed to have arms are the people in uniforms—the government people, the king's people, whatever.

I back up the previous speaker very strongly on the phoenix cases. The Sydney Morning Herald highlighted 14 major cases and in each of those cases ASIC or APRA should have been involved. There was the notorious case of the sugar cane mill at Innisfail. We allocate $100 for every million tonne of cane. So if it is two million tonnes, as this was, it is worth $200 million. It was sold out from under the farmers for $2 million. I cannot go into the details of the case here today, but the person who bought it was the person who had offered $57 million the year before. Through a nice, cosy, little arrangement with the liquidators, they got it for $2 million. So they offered $57 million the year before and, with a nice, cosy, little arrangement, they got it for $2 million and the farmers lost $200 million. To provide further proof of what is going on, that sugar mill was sold two years later for $76 million. I am sure it would have been sold for $150 million except for the fact that they would have probably gone to jail. That would have been so outrageous that maybe then and only then would they have gone to jail. But no-one went to jail. We know what the value of the mill was. We know what it was sold for. We know the dirty dealings that went on behind the scenes.

Now, this is the point: there are people who are paid nearly half a million dollars in salaries at APRA and ASIC. In the case of the sugar mills, the then Treasurer Wayne Swan was so enraged that he took a risk—because it is a risk. It can be argued that you are interfering with the course of justice, but it is his duty to see that justice is done. He insisted that ASIC meet with the representatives of the farmers. He ordered them to not once but three times, and they completely defied him and ignored him. If I were to criticise Wayne—and I think he is one of the finest treasurers since the Second World War; the history books will record that—in this case, he should have ruthlessly and brutally sacked them. If I had been in his place, they would have been recklessly and brutally sacked. Everyone knows my reputation when I was a second-ranking minister when the government fell. There was no doubt that, if you defied justice and those principles that we have to protect ordinary people, if you defied those principals with your lazy stupidity and your callous disregard, then we would get you, and we did. It was not only me but other ministers in that wonderful, much-maligned Bjelke-Petersen government.

By the way, I will just mention in passing, since we are talking about legal things here, that he died penniless. He did not have two bob to rub together. There have been only two members of parliament since the Second World War who have refused to take their superannuation because they believed it was the wrong thing to do. He was one of them. He was penniless and refused to take his superannuation. I know, because I was the person designated by cabinet to plead with him to take something because his family was destitute. He never took a free cup of tea for himself.

Interestingly, easily the most important person in Australian history when we are talking about laws and justice is Edward Granville Theodore. That is not my comment; it is Paul Keating's comment. 'The greatest man in Australia's history' is not my comment; it is Malcolm Fraser's comment. The Liberal Prime Minister described him that way. Edward Granville Theodore was in partnership with Clive Packer, someone who he was very close friends with. They formed the Consolidated Press together. He was the founder of the labour movement in Australia, when it was a very great movement, and we were all very proud to be associated with it in those days. In the history books, he was also referred to by the Mungana scandal, like he was some crook. He is the greatest man in Australian history. But let us set that aside.

These criminals, which the previous Labor speaker referred to, get away with anything they want. 'If it suits us and lines my pocket, then I will sell a $200 million mill that is owned by the farmers for $2 million and get away with it!' (Time expired)

10:34 am

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll start by acknowledging that I've been approached by quite a lot of people in the community—not just constituents but people from right around Australia—who have expressed a broad range of concerns with the Currency (Restrictions on the Use of Cash) Bill 2019, so much so that I won't be supporting it. The sorts of concerns that have been raised by constituents include everything from concern that it's designed to push people into the clutches of the banks so that they have to engage in the banking system to concern that it's an attack on people's fundamental right to use cash. An interesting line of argument, which I think has some merit, is: if Australia does eventually reach negative interest rates, cash will assume new importance but this bill will diminish the ability of people to use cash.

I would add to these concerns what is perhaps the biggest concern to me personally—that is, this bill is simply not necessary. It's theatre by a government that is trying to be seen to be doing something about the issue of money laundering by introducing into this place a bill that does something which we just don't need. At the moment, as all members would know, there's already a requirement to report transactions over $10,000. That and the other laws of the land such as the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006, the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988, the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Rules Instrument 2007 (No. 1) and the Financial Transaction Reports Regulations 1990—in other words, we have an abundance of laws to do with money laundering and the black economy. The problem is that those laws are not being implemented and enforced; that's the problem. That's what the government and the opposition should be focusing on: the weak governance we have in this country and the weak enforcement and regulatory framework we have in this country. That's the reason the black economy exists. That's the reason money laundering occurs.

That concern about weak governance and enforcement and regulatory agencies is one of the reasons I've been so preoccupied with the Crown casino crisis over the last couple of years. It's not that I have an unhealthy obsession with Crown casino or James Packer; it's that I see the Crown crisis as an excellent case study which really illustrates the problems we have in this country and the problem that agencies are not doing their jobs. Last week there was the remarkable video evidence provided by whistleblowers, who were in fact casino inspectors inside the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation. It was unambiguous evidence of money laundering going on inside the private gaming rooms of Crown casino. Who can forget the images from last week of three gentlemen—apparently it looked like they had come in from overseas—with an Aldi freezer bag, no less, containing what we estimate to be over $3 million in cash. Where was AUSTRAC? How can that be going on at Crown casino? This isn't just about Crown now; this is about a question mark over AUSTRAC.

We all know that casinos attract trouble. We all know that casinos are just about the best place in the country to launder money. You would think then that the people who own and run the casino and that the people who regulate the casino, like the VCGLR, and the people who have a particular interest in money laundering, like AUSTRAC, would have a keen eye on what's going on there—but obviously not. Those whistleblowers, those gambling inspectors who have had to break ranks because the VCGLR is doing nothing about what is going on at Crown, tell me that that sort of scene—millions of dollars in an Aldi bag—happens repeatedly in any one month. I understand it was going on as recently as seven weeks ago. You would think that AUSTRAC would have had a wake-up call. You would think that, since last week, AUSTRAC would have got in touch with me and asked for the names and contact details of those two whistleblowers. But there has been silence. I can only assume that AUSTRAC not only allowed the money laundering to go on but doesn't have an interest in the unambiguous evidence that was made public last week.

But it's not just AUSTRAC; when you look at Crown, just about every agency I can think of has failed us. The Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation's own inspectors have had to turn whistleblower because the people who are running the VCGLR are either dunderheads or they are corrupt. They are the only two options: they are dunderheads or they are corrupt. That is why the inspectors from inside the VCGLR have had to break ranks.

What about the Victorian Police? What are they doing about what's going on in Crown? Nothing. I've been told by ex and serving Victorian police officers that they are told not to go to Crown and they refer to Crown as the 'Vatican'—a law unto itself. What about Border Force? Can we rely on them in Australia? No, because we now know that a number of witnesses have spoken up about flights coming in and out of Australia saying that the first time they land is in Melbourne and the aircraft aren't checked and the people on the aircraft aren't checked. We heard a remarkable story from one whistleblower, a Crown driver. He spoke about two Chinese gentlemen getting off a plane for a couple of days at Crown with 15 bags! Given the other evidence we cross-reference it with about the Aldi freezer bag with $3 million in it, I have a sneaky suspicion that I know what's in those 15 bags—probably millions of dollars of cash, drugs, guns and who knows what else. So what is Border Force doing about it? Nothing.

You would think that ASIC would have a particular interest in what goes on in a place like Crown Casino. There is no evidence that they are doing anything about what is going on—even though it is an open secret that majority shareholder James Packer is in almost daily communications with the CEO of Crown. What right does one shareholder in a company have to receive privileged information from the management of that casino? I take this opportunity to call on ASIC to look into that particular matter and the cosy relationship between James Packer and John Alexander, in particular. I call on ASIC to have a look at that relationship and to see if it is unlawful and whether or John Alexander is providing privileged information to one shareholder—information which is not being made available to other shareholders.

What is the Australian Stock Exchange doing about this? What is the ASX doing about the fact that it has been repeatedly deliberately misled by Crown Casino? I remind the House that about two years in this place I made a number of allegations about Crown Casino and, in response, Crown Casino put out a full-page ad in the national papers in which it rebutted all allegations, and John Alexander put his name to it. Of course, afterwards, Crown was found to be guilty of two of the offences that I had raised as allegations and Crown was in fact fined $300,000. What has the ASX done about the fact that it was misled by Crown Casino and was misled again just recently when 60 Minutes and nine newspapers ran their expose of Crown? Again, Crown put out a full-page ad in the newspapers rebutting ambiguous claims of wrongdoing at Crown. That's at least twice that we can think of where Crown has misled the Stock Exchange and the Stock Exchange has done nothing about it.

What other mechanisms are there in this country, when you've got AUSTRAC—fail; VCGLR—fail; VicPol—fail; Border Force—fail; ASIC—fail; and ASX—fail? Who can the community turn to? You would think that the community could turn to their political representatives to do something. So let's look at our track record. When the allegations in nine newspapers and 60 Minutes appeared a couple of months ago, I sought to move a motion in this place that would establish a parliamentary inquiry into the corruption at Crown, the failure of our regulatory agencies and the unhealthy relationship between Crown and politicians serving and former. What did this place do? It voted it down. Just when the public most needed their political representatives to come to their aid and to do something to sort out a mess, the government and opposition voted against the parliamentary inquiry. Just last week, in response to the remarkable video evidence of money laundering at Crown Casino, and other evidence I released last week from a driver who was picking up people from these 'black flights' at the Tullamarine private jet base, I sought to move a motion in this place to establish a royal commission. What happened? It was voted down—again.

What do the government and the opposition have to hide? If they've got nothing to hide they would have no objection to a parliamentary inquiry and they'd have no objection to a royal commission, and a royal commission it needs to be. It is no good having this unnecessary bill today, in which we're going to make cash transactions over $10,000 illegal. There is no point doing things like that when we have much bigger and much deeper problems. What do the government and the opposition have to hide? Is it the amount of the political donations you get from people like Crown Casino, who are deeply corrupt? Is it to protect your mates, like Conroy, Coonan and Bitar, who are now associated with Crown Casino? What's going on here? If you've got nothing to hide, you should have supported the parliamentary inquiry and the move for a royal commission.

I'm talking a lot about Crown Casino here in regard to this cash bill, but I think it's the best example I can find to illustrate the fact that the problem in this country is not a lack of regulation, when it comes to misconduct and money laundering in particular; it's the fact that our politicians are not doing their job, our enforcement agencies are not doing their job and our regulatory bodies are not doing their job. If we want to do something to improve this country and to crackdown on money laundering, we should be having a proper inquiry into what's going on and we should be making these agencies do their job. I take the opportunity to point out that the Victorian government could also do the same. The behaviour of the Victorian gaming minister, who reckons the VCGLR is doing a great job, has become a high farce. She is saying at the same time that VCGLR inspectors have turned whistleblower, releasing evidence from Crown's own security cameras, because their bosses in the VCGLR are either corrupt or they are dunderheads. And you have the Victorian gaming minister saying 'I have all the faith in the world in the VCGLR.' And is Daniel Andrews any hope? No—useless. Nothing to say, move on—further proof of this bizarre and at least legal corruption in the relationship between Crown Casino and the gambling industry and political establishment.

Heavens, don't we need an integrity commission in this country—an independent, strong integrity commission with teeth! They could look into all these issues. Unfortunately, the Attorney-General and I are going to have to continue to disagree with his decision to appoint the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, ACLEI to look into the Crown crisis. I have a lot of time for ACLEI, as far as its remit goes—and I wish it well in its current inquiries into Crown—but I note when I looked at their website just yesterday that the public hearings about Crown that are being held by ACLEI in Melbourne next week are only to look into Border Force. No-one is looking into AUSTRAC. As we are talking about money laundering today I hope we would agree that AUSTRAC is central to dealing with money laundering, and there's a huge question mark over AUSTRAC. Surely there has to be the most robust inquiry into AUSTRAC and all these other federal organisations—Border Force and ASIC. And ASX, the company, should be looked at as well.

I won't be supporting this bill. It is entirely unnecessary. It is an unhealthy distraction from the reality, which is that our problem is not an absence of money-laundering rules and regulations. The problem in this country is that we have weak governance, politicians who want to hide from the truth and from scrutiny, and just about every agency I can think of at the federal level, and in Victoria at the state level, that's related to money laundering is useless when it comes to money laundering. By some estimates less than one per cent of money from crime is intercepted in this country, and, when you can have an allegation like money laundering last week and AUSTRAC has not even given me a call and asked for the names of the witnesses, it is no wonder that this is so.

10:49 am

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I have several strong reservations about this bill. More than any other bill, the Currency (Restrictions on the Use of Cash) Bill 2019 exemplifies the nanny state that this government pretends it has not become. Restricting peoples' ability to purchase products with cash and forcing them to use banks or other financial intermediaries for purchases over $10,000 is an unreasonable restriction on their personal freedom. I know that cash can be a vehicle for money-laundering, but it is grossly unfair to label everyone who pays in cash as a criminal. I know that the government has a role to be diligent against money-laundering, but this has not stopped them from political inaction on the allegations of money-laundering levelled at Crown casino. The government was remarkably low-key in its commentary when the Commonwealth Bank of Australia was found to have failed to report more than 53,000 transactions of $10,000 or more through its supposedly intelligent depositing machines. For a period of three years the Commonwealth Bank also failed to do its required red-flag checks on transactions on over three-quarters of a million bank accounts.

Let's be clear: as the member for Clark says, we have AUSTRAC, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, a federal government department that's funded to the tune of $100 million in the 2019-20 budget. They are there purely to track money-laundering. They are there purely to look at criminal transactions related to money. As the member for Clark says, what is happening with AUSTRAC? What is happening? On the topic of banks, the other reason that I really struggle with this bill is that bank branches are being ripped out of rural and regional communities at a rapid rate of knots. Where do you suppose we go to bank this? We just do not have the access to banking and financial services that we used to, and not everyone was born into the digital generation.

Older Australians facing the digital divide and who do not live in a metropolis, who do not live in a CBD, will be seriously disadvantaged by this bill. In just the last few years in Mayo our electorate has lost an ANZ at Goolwa, and ANZ at Lobethal, the Commonwealth Bank of Stirling and the Commonwealth Bank of Strathalbyn. If you go back a few more years the number almost doubles. There is not even a bank in Hahndorf. That is the busiest tourist town in South Australia. In some communities cash can genuinely be the only option. How many elderly people who sell their second-hand car will have an EFTPOS machine and a wi-fi connection able to do the transaction? We're just not serious. Clearly nobody from the government side has attended a clearing sale lately. The banks have taken away our chequebooks. They have done everything possible to remove cheque accounts, so we are really disadvantaging regional and rural Australians with this bill.

This bill has not only a strict liability offence for making a cash transaction over $10,000 but also a mental element defence for doing so, yet the mental element defence looks only at whether the person knew that there was a real risk that the payment would in essence result in their committing the strict liability offence, not whether the person actually intended to make the cash payment for some nefarious purpose. We are focusing on criminalising their knowledge of risk rather than focusing on criminalising black economy activities that we actually want to stop. If we want to address money laundering, if we're really serious about this, we need to look at the gambling industry. We have footage. We know that that is where money gets washed. We had a vote in this place last week, and both the major parties had no interest at all. They saw the footage and had no interest at all.

Another issue that has been raised with me by many people is that we have interest rates at an all-time low and we don't know, as I heard this morning on AM, whether the interest rates are going to go down further than the three-quarters of a per cent that they are currently. We can look at international examples. The Bank of Japan adopted a negative interest rate in January 2016, essentially meaning it costs money for people with savings to have their money in the bank. But, with this bill, we are not providing them with any alternative, and that is just plain wrong.

While Central Alliance will reserve its position in the Senate until the Senate inquiry into the bill concludes, on the basis of the information currently available and the level of concern—very real concern—in my community, particularly from older members, about this bill, knowing that I am truly representing a regional and rural community that the banks have left, I cannot support this bill in the House.

10:55 am

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I'd like to thank those members who have contributed to this important debate. In the 2018-19 budget, the government responded to the Black Economy Taskforce's final report by announcing measures to address the growing economic and social problem of the black economy. This bill establishes the cash payment limit and introduces offences for entities that make or accept cash payments of $10,000 or more. It does not apply to personal or private transactions other than real property transactions.

There is an increased possibility that participants in a transaction involving large cash payments are doing so to reduce their tax bill by underreporting their taxable income; avoiding other obligations, such as child support payments; or engaging in welfare fraud or other criminal activities. It will help level the playing field for honest businesses that do the right thing, and remove the notion that acting in the black economy is a victimless crime. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Whitlam has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment moved by the member for Whitlam be agreed to.

11:05 am

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that this bill be read a second time.

A division having been called and the bells having been rung—

As there are fewer than five members on the side of the noes in this division, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order 127. The names of the members in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Question agreed to, Mr Bandt, Mr Katter, Ms Sharkie and Mr Wilkie voting no.

Bill read a second time.