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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 3373

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (12:51): Yes, I do. It is a last-minute addition, Acting Deputy President. I too support the second reading stages of this bill and support the general principles in relation to this bill with respect to Australian transaction reports and dealing with the issue of organised crime. There are costs involved in ensuring that these transactions are tracked and establishing whether there is an organised criminal element to them.

I apologise to my colleagues for the late notice of this. With the volume of legislation, ideally you would like to give more notice to your colleagues, but I can indicate that I will be seeking to move amendments in relation to this to give AUSTRAC increased access to intelligence in order to more easily crack down on money laundering in casinos and other gambling venues. The amendment that I will be moving shortly would require all eligible gambling venues—defined as venues with more than one poker machine—to keep on record the details of any patron who wins more than $1,000 while gambling on a poker machine and for this information to be available to AUSTRAC. Currently there are exemptions for a number of venues. This proposes that there not be exemptions for any venues. Money laundering on poker machines is a serious issue, albeit not one that is particularly well known. I rely on academics who have done research on this issue, in particular Dr Charles Livingstone from Monash University together with a number of his colleagues.

Hotel sources have told the Sydney Morning Herald that nationally $2 billion is laundered through hotel, club and casino poker machines and gambling chips, and as much as 40 per cent of this is in New South Wales alone. That is an extraordinary figure and I believe it ought to be appropriately tested. But that is on the basis of sources to the Sydney Morning Herald. There are also reports that certain venues are known by crime gangs as 'LLs' or 'local laundries'. This is how it works, as I understand it. A player may insert $2,000, $5,000 or even $10,000 into a poker machine and, after playing a handful of lines, decide they want to cash out. They then do so. It is a way of laundering the money. They might spend a few hundred dollars but launder thousands of dollars in the meantime.

This is a huge problem but is one that could easily be fixed if AUSTRAC were able to gather the information it needs to better track the movement of money through casinos, hotels and clubs. There is an old saying that if you want to get to the bottom of a matter you need to 'follow the money'. When it comes to crime gangs laundering an estimated $2 billion a year, according to those media reports, that saying could not be more apt. There is a position at the moment where for certain winnings—in some jurisdictions as low as $1,000—there needs to be a record kept in any event and the winnings need to be paid by cheque. It depends on the jurisdiction. So it would not be onerous for those records to be kept. The fact is, not too many people win big jackpots on poker machines. The house always wins—the venue always wins in the long run, or eventually. So this is a case where it would not be onerous; it would strengthen the purpose of this legislation.

I will address the issue of the coalition's amendments—and I do commend Senator Barnett for the very thorough work that he has done, at breakneck speed given the tight deadlines. People do not appreciate the sort of work the Senate does in Senate com¬≠mittees. Whilst there may be disagreements, there is collegiality and goodwill between senators from different sides of the political fence in getting to the truth of the matter, seeing whether there can be improvements to legislation to sort out unintended conse¬≠quences and the like.

Again, I regret that I have not been able to give earlier notice of this. That is not due to any grand plan; it is just a question of the workload in my office. It would be remiss of me not to raise this issue for this piece of legislation to ensure that they are dealt with appropriately, and I would welcome debate in the committee stage in relation to the amendments that I am foreshadowing. Again, I look forward to further discussion and debate in relation to the coalition's amendments on this bill, but, broadly, I do support the second reading stage of this bill. I believe the legislation is essential but could be improved with the amendment that I have foreshadowed.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Xenophon. It was a late intervention but I think the Senate would like to hear from you more often than not.