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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2797

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (5:23 PM) —I rise to support the Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2011. It is interesting following the member for Mitchell because you would have thought with his opening remarks that it was in fact a coalition bill, but it is a government bill. That clearly needs to be pointed out. The government is proud of the work we are doing in relation to disrupting people-smuggling and border protection generally. These issues are complex and sophisticated and they require complex and sophisticated measures. This is not an area where a cheap slogan can be thrown out there and it will solve the issues and the problems throughout the globe. We have issues in relation to the movement of people throughout the world. The problems are starting at source countries where particular circumstances mean that people are desperate to try to improve their lives and move from those countries to safer places such as Australia, Canada, the United States and different countries in Europe. It is happening throughout the world that, where there are severe disruptions and threats to people’s lives, they try to find a better place to move. That is the first area that is the cause of people moving.

The second area that we need to be concentrating on is our laws and the efforts we make to disrupt people-smuggling through those transitional countries along the way where people are moving from their original source country looking for asylum in safer places. This bill goes to that question in relation to looking to disrupt the financing of people-smuggling. The bill seeks to reduce the risk of the alternative remittance sector being used to finance people-smuggling and other serious and organised crime by introducing a more comprehensive anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulatory regime for the alternative remittance sector.

The Privacy Act 1988 is being amended to introduce measures that will allow the electronic verification of data, making it easier for people to open bank accounts online or use online payment systems. It will also allow the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre—AUSTRAC—to share information with more intelligence agencies, consistent with the practices of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission. Further, it will replicate the exemption provisions in the AML/CTF Act in the Financial Transactions Report Act 1988.

This government is committed to combating people-smuggling and strengthening Australia’s border security. We want a framework of countries to work together to break the business model of people smugglers. Talks are progressing with our regional partners. This government is working hard to make lasting improvements to the region’s response to irregular migration and to undermine the people-smuggling trade in our region. We know that these smugglers prey on people in very difficult circumstances, which is why we are trying to break their business model with tough people-smuggling laws and by removing the incentive for onward travel.

Looking at the action that this government has taken, in the last two budgets the government has invested almost $2 billion on a whole-of-government strategy to combat people-smuggling and enhance border protection. The strategy is focused on prevention, stabilisation, deterrence, detection and interception. The government takes any suspected cases of people-smuggling very seriously. That is why we acted to strengthen Australia’s people-smuggling laws in May 2010, introducing tougher penalties and extending mandatory minimum penalties for people involved in people-smuggling offences. Law enforcement authorities have identified international cash transfer services provided by alternative remittance dealers as a key method used to pay people smugglers.

The bill introduces measures to strengthen the existing anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulation of the alternative remittance sector and forms part of the government’s broader prevention and detection strategy for combating people-smuggling announced in April last year. The remittance reforms will reduce the risks of criminal infiltration and abuse of the remittance sector by giving AUSTRAC greater knowledge of, and control over, those operating in the sector.

AUSTRAC works collaboratively with Australian industries and businesses in their compliance with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing legislation. As Australia’s financial intelligence unit, AUSTRAC contributes to investigative and law enforcement work to combat financial crime and prosecute criminals in Australia and overseas. The reforms will provide AUSTRAC with more effective enforcement powers by expanding their ability to issue infringement notices and breaches of the AML/CTF Act. This will ensure that AUSTRAC can take proportionate enforcement action in a timely manner and will act as a deterrent for non-compliance. They will also shift the compliance burden away from small business agents who make up the vast majority of the remittance sector and on to the large remittance network providers, for example, Western Union. This reflects the existing structure and practices of the sector.

The bill will enable AUSTRAC to share financial intelligence more broadly with the Australian intelligence community to ensure a more holistic approach to Australia’s national intelligence effort on national security and organised crime issues. The government’s December 2008 National Security Statement recognised the growing threats of these transnational activities to Australia’s national security and identified the need for improved coordination amongst Commonwealth agencies, including enforcement, regulatory and intelligence agencies, in response. The current arrangements do not allow for the contribution that financial intelligence could make to the analysis of national security issues, particularly organised crime, terrorism and the like.

Adding DFAT as a designated agency is important given their role in combating terrorism financing and administering Australia’s UN sanctions regime. The measures in the bill build on the steps already taken by the government to enhance information sharing amongst agencies, such as the new Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre in the Australian Crime Commission, which was launched in July 2010 to generate and share information and intelligence on organised crime. Financial intelligence plays a strong role in the enforcement and regulatory responses to criminal and terrorist threats. There is considerable potential for financial intelligence to inform reporting and assessment on national security issues. This bill will enhance information sharing with intelligence agencies to ensure that the government agencies work together in a coordinated way to counter threats to Australia’s national security.

The verification of identity measures implement one of the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2008 and will make it easier for consumers to access designated services online. Banks and other businesses that are subject to the AML/CTF legislation are presently required ‘to know their customer’; that is, they have to confirm the identity of anyone who wants to open a bank account, transfer money or provide a variety of other financial services. Businesses can presently verify the identity of their customers using document or electronic-based means, or a combination of the two. The electronic sources available for businesses to verify their customers’ identity are limited. As a result, the success rate for checking identity online remains low which impacts on business. Where a bank is unable to confirm identity electronically, consumers who want to open a bank account online—for example, ING who only operate online—need to go into an Australia Post outlet to have their identity verified in person. This is costly for business and an inconvenience for consumers, which inevitably leads to consumers being attracted to the larger banks with traditional branch structures. This change will open up another electronic data source, credit reporting information, to improve the success rates for electronic verification of identity checks.

A number of privacy provisions have been implemented to balance the expanded use of credit reporting data. For example, customers must consent to their personal information being disclosed to a credit reporting agency for the purposes of verification and alternative verification options must be provided to the customer. A credit reporting agency can only provide an overall assessment of the extent of the match between the personal information provided to it and what it holds on file, it cannot disclose information that is held on a credit reporting file. Reporting entities and credit reporting agencies must retain records for seven years and then delete them, and enable individual’s access to such records. The unauthorised access of verification information, obtaining access to verification information by false pretences and unauthorised use or disclosure of verification information are offences which carry a penalty of 300 penalty units, which is currently $33,000. The measures will decrease compliance costs for businesses and increase competition between online businesses and those businesses that have traditional branch structures.

This bill is designed primarily to help stem the flow of money for people-smuggling ventures as well as other serious crimes. People smugglers need money to launch their dangerous ventures. The Gillard government is committed to stopping them from getting the funds they require to ply their illegal trade. Law enforcement agencies are concerned about the role the remittance sector can inadvertently play in facilitating people-smuggling. We are dedicated to doing all that we can to help our law enforcers to stop this terrible trade in human life. To this end, the Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill introduces amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 to strengthen the regulation of the remittance sector. These measures will help limit the risk of remittance dealers facilitating people-smuggling, as well as money laundering, terrorism financing and other serious crimes.

This bill complements laws introduced last year that mean people who provide material support to people smugglers now face up to 10 years jail and fines of up to $110,000. A lot of rhetoric has gone on both in this place and outside of this place on the effects of people-smuggling and on how strong and tough people are in combating these issues. This government has taken a systematic approach to making sure that we do everything we possibly can to stop people-smuggling, to stop them putting vulnerable people’s lives at risk. This piece of legislation is but one part of that important approach and is important legislation. I commend the bill to the House.