Thursday, 10 December 2020
Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019; In Committee
I move Australian Greens amendment (1) on sheet 1085 revised:
(1) Schedule 1, page 58 (after line 22), at the end of the Schedule, add:
Part 8—Designated services
Anti -Money Laundering and Counter -Terrorism Financing Act 2006
128 After section 249
249A Legislation to expand designated services
(1) The Minister must, by 1 July 2021, cause to be introduced into the Parliament a Bill for an Act to include the provision of designated services by the following professions in order to address the risk of money laundering and terrorism financing:
(d) high-value dealers;
(e) real estate agents;
(f) trust and company service providers.
This is the amendment that I flagged in my second reading contribution. If it were successful—which it doesn't look like it will be, thanks to the Labor Party squibbing it—it would require the minister, by 1 July next year, to introduce into this parliament a bill for an act to include the following professions as designated services: lawyers, conveyancers, accountants, high-value dealers, real estate agents, and trust and company service providers. These are the fabled tranche 2 reforms of Australia's anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing framework.
I am sure senators can tell I'm very disappointed that the Labor Party is not going to support this amendment. The thing is: you would have thought I would have learned over a fairly lengthy career in politics never to pin my hopes on the Australian Labor Party, but, I confess, I am guilty of that once again. Senators may be asking themselves why I had some hope that the Labor Party would support our amendment. Well, I was relying—stupidly, as it turns out—on former shadow Treasurer Mr Bowen, who got into The Australian Financial Review on 24 February 2019, grandstanding away about how important Labor thought these reforms were. I will quote a little bit from that article:
Labor will target lawyers, accountants and real estate agents under tough new anti-money laundering laws, amid growing concerns over illegal "hot money" from China artificially inflating the property market.
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen is promising to make cross-border financial crime a pillar of Labor's election campaign in wake of the Hayne royal commission …
Well, it didn't take long, did it? It didn't take long for Labor to collapse into an absolute blancmange of a political party. They were out there before the election saying, 'We're going to crack down on the lawyers, the accountants and the real estate agents, because we're very concerned about illegal hot money artificially inflating the property market'—in fact, exactly the argument I made in my second reading contribution. Yet here we are today: the Australian Greens have brought in an amendment that would allow the Labor Party to put its money where its mouth is and stand up for something in this place, but, as is so often the case, the Labor Party have collapsed into a spineless mob of shellbacks.
In the little bit of time I have, I want to very quickly respond to a couple of matters that were raised during second reading contributions. We heard from coalition senators that there are issues around this tranche 2, and we've had quotes from the Law Council read into the debate today. What those senators are actually saying is that the Law Council has got it right and the Financial Action Task Force, of which Australia is a member, has got it wrong, and the OECD and the IMF have got it wrong too, and every other country in the world, bar the six including Australia who are yet to legislate these reforms, has got it wrong too. It's not just those groups. I'll even quote from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission. Remember, whenever Australia's security agencies ask this government to jump, the government has only got one response: 'How high? How many more powers do you want us to grant you? How much more of the freedoms and liberties that Australians have fought, died, bled and suffered to protect and enhance over the years do you want us to rub out of our legislated framework?' Yet suddenly it is all deaf ears from this government when the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission says:
… our stable financial markets and valuable real estate market make Australia an attractive destination for criminal groups and individuals looking to invest or launder the proceeds of crime.
They can't seem to hear that. Why is that? Because they've got to look after their mates and donors in the property market. The same goes for the Labor Party, I might add, who support every grab for power from the intelligence agencies and the spooks in this place—every single time. They vote with the government to remove fundamental rights and freedoms from ordinary Australian people in this place. They're pretty quick to jump when the spooks ask for more powers, and yet, when the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission warns about our real estate market being an attractive destination for criminal groups looking to invest or launder the proceeds of crime, suddenly it's, 'Nothing to see here; we're not going to take that advice.'
We heard from Senator Cash that she supports a phased approach. A phased approach? You are certainly taking a phased approach, Senator Cash. The passing of epochs is a phased approach! I'm going to have a beard down to my ankles by the time we get some affective anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing legislation through in this place.
I also want to draw senators' attention to comments made in The Sydney Morning Herald recently by Ms Angela Jackson, who is an economist. She explained very succinctly the problem of money laundering through real estate:
There is also an economic cost to Australia from money laundering … Markets become distorted …
I can hardly believe I'm up here trying to explain markets to the neoliberals in the Liberal and National parties and the Australian Labor Party, but here we go. It's been that kind of year. Ms Jackson said:
Markets become distorted because money launderers are spending illegal cash, which isn't worth as much to them as legal cash is to you and me. To clean their money, they are happy to lose a bit of it along the way.
Exactly: this is not a level playing field. Dirty money, per dollar, is worth less to the international crime syndicates and the terrorism financers than clean money is to ordinary Australians. That makes it a not-level playing field when people are seeking to purchase property. Ms Jackson went on to explain:
The money launderers are willing to pay more for an asset than it is worth, or charge less for a service than is profitable. This is the price of cleaning money they can reinvest in their illegal activities. It creates an uneven playing field, where the money launderers win and legitimate businesses lose.
Precisely, Ms Jackson: the criminals win and the legitimate businesses lose. Here we find ourselves today: the major parties in his place are going to make sure that criminals can keep winning and that legitimate businesses keep losing. The major parties in this place today are going to ensure that ordinary Australians keep losing and that financers of terrorism and international crime syndicates keep winning. That is where we find ourselves today.
I'll take the interjection from Senator Hanson-Young, who mentioned Crown casino. They're not alone in this country in any regard, but, again, the major donors are buying outcomes, the criminals win and ordinary Australians lose.
As was stated in the second reading debate on the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, the opposition supports the intent of this Greens amendment but does not believe this is the right way to achieve considered law reform. Given this and our concerns about its unintended consequences, the opposition will be opposing this amendment.
As I indicated in my summing-up speech, the government will also not be supporting the amendment moved by Senator Kim on behalf of the Australian Greens. The Australian government, as I've stated, is committed to continually improving Australia's anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing regime and working with industry to ensure that Australia's financial system is hardened against criminals and terrorists without placing an undue regulatory burden on industry. Expanding the existing regime, as Senator McKim proposes, to lawyers, accountants and real estate agents would capture as many as an additional 100,000 businesses, and the majority of these businesses are identified as small businesses, sole traders or sole practitioners. If an extension were to occur, it would need to be done in a careful and considered way and with those affected industries fully consulted. But it would also have a significant resourcing impact on the regulator, AUSTRAC.
As I stated in my summing-up speech, the government has stated there will be further phases of anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing reforms. These will be tailored, and they will also be appropriate in the Australian context. Again, I just want to confirm for the benefit of the Hansard record that this was obviously looked at by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee in detail, and I am pleased yet again to advise the Senate that the committee did unanimously make one recommendation: the committee recommends that the Senate pass the bill without amendment.