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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2824

Mrs MARKUS (7:26 PM) —I rise to support, in principle, the Combating the Financing of People Smuggling and Other Measures Bill 2011 and to speak on the absolutely unacceptable practice of people smuggling and how this legislation, it is hoped, will cut off the funding that allows this despicable trade to flourish. The bill we have before us has a purpose, and that is to catch, hopefully, those who are breaking the law, who conduct financial transaction services to launder illicit money—money that is then used to finance people smuggling.

In Australia, one impact of the deregulation of the banking system has been a rise in remittance dealers who operate outside the mainstream banking system and offer alternative financial services including the transfer of money into and out of Australia on behalf of clients or who arrange for the service to be provided. People trading in this way are known by many names: remittance dealers, money remitters, money transmitters, alternative remitters. They operate on the open market and within many ethnic community groups. There are a broad range of operators from owner-operator businesses to large, multinational entities. Transfers are commonly made electronically by phone, fax, email or SMS, or through a clearing house, and the transaction is undertaken when remittance dealers accept cash, cheques, monetary instruments or stores of value. They then pay an equivalent amount of cash or value to a beneficiary in another location. It is a legitimate and profitable business venture, and there are approximately 6,500 individual providers of remittance services in Australia.

Having said that, within the alternative financial transactions framework there are many scams and complicated, sophisticated schemes designed to avoid detection. This bill, it is hoped, will improve intelligence sharing and surveillance to capture the corrupt operators and, at the same time, protect the genuine operators by strengthening the regulation of that sector of the financial services industry. For those operators who do the right thing: you have nothing to fear. For those who are part of a money-laundering process: this bill will expand the number of agencies that monitor and report on fund transfers and it will extend the methods by which reporting data is collected and end recipients identified; you are on notice.

The Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, known as AUSTRAC, is in the portfolio of the Attorney-General. AUSTRAC is Australia’s anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorism-financing regulator and specialist financial intelligence unit and shares information with a number of other government agencies. Under the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act, a wide range of businesses and financial institutions that deal in cash, bullion and financial transactions must report to AUSTRAC on all transactions above $10,000. These include banks; building societies; corporations; insurance companies; security dealers, such as stockbrokers; most unit trust managers and trustees—some are exempt; travellers cheque or money order issuers; cash carriers and payroll preparation businesses; casinos; bookmakers, including totalisator agencies; bullion dealers; and, of course, some solicitors. Transactions which must be reported are currency of $10,000 or more, or foreign currency of that value; international funds transfer instructions, either into or out of Australia, of any amount; and suspicious transactions of any kind, being transactions that the dealer may reasonably suspect of being part of tax evasion or crime or that might assist in a prosecution. Even members of the public are obliged to report to AUSTRAC if they carry $10,000 or more into Australia. This is done, as we all know, on forms available from the Australian customs service at airports and seaports.

The ABC reported on 27 January this year that Australian Federal Police statistics show that 302 people have been arrested for people-smuggling offences in Australia and 104 convicted. The Australian newspaper on 7 April 2010 reported that the people-smuggling trade through Jakarta has become such a big business that spotter’s fees of up to $540 a person are being offered for getting asylum seekers onto boats headed for Australia. While in principle the coalition support this bill, we do not believe that it is all that is required to stop people smuggling. We would contest and argue that the changes in policies by the Labor government have in fact made people smuggling easier and more accessible. While the bill goes some way to strengthening the intelligence-gathering and reporting functions of the financial services community, and should in this regard be supported, in its current form it does not answer all the questions or bring all the solutions required to stop people smuggling.

The bill also imposes a heavier regulatory burden and cost on the alternative remittance sector and raises significant privacy concerns from enhanced information-sharing provisions and the use of credit reporting data. This will have an impact on those who are doing the right thing. I support the bill in principle but note the pending Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the bill, so the coalition reserves the right to make additional amendments. I commend the bill to the House, but I have to say that I hope the Labor government will be prepared to take further measures that will make a real difference to those people who are being impacted directly by people smuggling, in many instances having faced the loss of their lives.