Thursday, 7 September 2006
Financial Transaction Reports Amendment Bill 2006
Debate resumed from 6 September, on motion by Senator Abetz:
That this bill be now read a second time.
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.
in reply—In summary, the primary purpose of the Financial Transaction Reports Amendment Bill 2006 is to vary the amendments to the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1988, the FTR Act, made by schedule 9 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (No. 2) 2005, the ATA. The aim of the amendments made by the ATA to the FTR Act was to bring Australia into closer compliance with special recommendation VII of the Financial Action Task Force, FATF. Variations to those amendments have been made to address practical issues raised by industry. The government accepted the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee’s recommendation to hold further discussions with the ABA and GE Money on issues they raised in relation to the bill. The government amendments address all but two of those issues.
The government has informed the ABA that it will discuss the issue of the inclusion of credit card account numbers in IFTIs with other FATF members to explore the options for international solutions. GE Money raised an issue about corporate treasuries which will be addressed by way of regulations and can be resolved without requiring an amendment to the bill. There has been extensive consultation with industry in relation to the AMLCTF Bill which is still ongoing. In the course of that consultation, industry have identified issues which have been addressed. This means that changes needed to be made to the FTR Act. Such amendments are important for the proper operation of that act.
Industry must have certainty about its obligations in this complicated area, and the amendments to the FTR Act will achieve that result. It is acknowledged that the AMLCTF Bill has privacy implications. However, the government is committed to bringing Australia into compliance with the recommendations of FATF and, in the present context, special recommendation VII. The AMLCTF Bill will strike an appropriate balance between privacy rights and the need to combat money-laundering and terrorist financing.
It has taken time to develop the AMLCTF Bill because of the amount of consultation which has been needed to develop a package which will be both effective and cost efficient for industry. It is important to get things right and introduce balanced and effective legislation. The government makes no apology for taking the time to consult with industry in this difficult and complex area. Senator Ludwig raised a number of points which again demonstrate the opposition’s lack of understanding of the process required and the complexity of the AMLCTF reforms. Senator Ludwig complained about the time the government has taken to introduce AMLCTF reforms. The government has always said that this is a comprehensive reform, which must not only reflect security concerns but also not inappropriately burden the private sector. The government has engaged in extensive consultation with industry—which industry requested.
Can I put on record, yet again, that we are a government that does not hide from consultation. We are a government that is proud of our consultative record. For the Labor Party to interject and say we have consulted ‘again’ just indicates that the Labor Party is now accepting that which the Australian people believe—that is, that we do consult.
I am allowed to take a point of order. The issue is relevance. You know that you did not consult in the beginning. You are now misquoting me by saying ‘again’. What I have said right from the start is that there was no consultation in the beginning.
Yes, the old lettuce leaves will be wearing out very shortly! I confirm that the government has engaged in extensive consultation which industry requested. I repeat that the government does not shy away from the need to consult in any area, but especially not in an area where there are complexities.
Other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America have gone through a similar process and they are still working on anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism financing reforms. Consultation has been necessary in order to produce a well-developed package that will be effective and cost efficient for industry. It is important for industry to understand their obligations under this complex piece of legislation, and the government makes no apology for taking the time to consult with industry to get the bill right.
My very good friend and colleague Senator Ludwig also stated that there was a lack of consultation on the ATA. It was not possible to conduct extensive consultation on the ATA given the urgency of that bill. However, extensive consultation has been undertaken in the context of the AMLCTF Bill—
Thank you very much for that, Senator Ludwig. Extensive consultation has been undertaken in the broader context of the AMLCTF Bill, which has ensured that industry has been able to raise its concerns and consult with the government on them. As a result of these discussions, amendments were made to the FTR Act. As a result of the Senate committee inquiry and consultation with industry, we have developed amendments which we consider to be worthwhile.
Yet again, my good friend and colleague Senator Ludwig clearly does not understand the complexities of AMLCTF reforms, and his insistence on speedy passage again demonstrates the opposition’s lack of understanding of the need to consult with industry on what are very important reforms. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Ordered that consideration of this bill in Committee of the Whole be made an order of the day for a later hour.