Senate debates

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Financial Transaction Reports Amendment Bill 2006

Second Reading

12:31 pm

Photo of Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray (WA, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

I continue my remarks in the second reading debate of the Financial Transaction Reports Amendment Bill 2006. There is a startling and profound lack of public awareness about these laws, which should be an issue of serious concern for any person interested in seeing Australia’s long liberal democratic traditions continue. However, it is not only the mandatory nature of the loss of privacy that is of concern; there is also the fact that there is a reduction in control over a person’s personal financial information. When a person divulges information to a bank, they are potentially also allowing a number of other government departments to access their information.

Under the current laws, when a bank is required to give customer financial information to AUSTRAC, an entire network of other government agencies can also gain access to the information. In their submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee inquiry into the exposure draft of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Bill 2005, the Australian Privacy Foundation noted that the information given to AUSTRAC is made available online to nearly 30 partner agencies, some of which are authorised to disclose the information to other overseas agencies. Yet how many ordinary people are aware of the extensive intergovernment departmental information exchange system that exists? If more people did know about it, would there be unanimous support for such a system? Concern over the lack of public awareness was also voiced by the Australian Bankers Association in their submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee inquiry into the Financial Transaction Reports Amendment Bill 2006.

While there is a genuine need for anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws, there is also a serious need for an increased campaign of public awareness about what goes on in these respects. The Australian Privacy Foundation noted, in their submission referred to just moments ago, that the Financial Transaction Reports Act regime ‘makes a mockery of continuous assurances about banking confidentiality’. In all the various legislative responses that have been implemented in the post September 11 world, it is important to not forget whom these laws are meant to protect: the people of the strong democracy of Australia.

Recognising the need for some things to change and that we do need a tighter regulatory environment is, of course, entirely acceptable and proper, but it must be done with a recognition and understanding of consequences and results. I encourage the government in its efforts to implement a sound legislative framework which minimises money laundering, exposes the financing of terrorist and criminal activities and reduces the evasion of tax. However, it is also of fundamental importance that, in the enacting of such laws, the competing interests of the privacy of personal information be balanced against the need to outlaw and prohibit activities and actions which run contrary to a safe, civil and enduring society. The Australian Democrats will support this bill but note that the legislation will need careful monitoring for its effects and consequences.


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