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Economics References Committee
24/09/2015
Third-party certification of food

HANSFORD, Mr Hamish, National Manager, Strategic Intelligence and Strategy, Australian Crime Commission

[09:57]

CHAIR: Mr Hansford, thank you so much for being here with us today. You have been here all morning and you have heard everything?

Mr Hansford : I have, yes.

CHAIR: I just want to remind you that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Thank you for appearing. I know I have some questions and Senator Bernardi has some, but before we get to that I want to give you the opportunity to make a brief opening statement.

Mr Hansford : Sure. I will make a brief opening statement which might clarify some of my views. I think you are most interested in answering the question: are there links between halal certification and terrorism or halal certification and serious and organised crime? The short answer is that the Australian Crime Commission has not identified any particular links between halal certification and terrorism or halal certification and serious and organised crime. But of course we have identified links between serious and organised crime, terrorism and money laundering.

I might set some context for why we have come up with that statement. The context is the Australian Crime Commission is Australia's national criminal intelligence agency, with special investigatory functions.

We are the only agency solely dedicated to serious and organised crime of national significance. We have access to powers of a standing royal commission, as well as covert and coercive powers, and we work with a range of partners. Indeed, every state and territory seconds police to the Australian Crime Commission, as well as a whole range of Commonwealth agencies. We have a board that oversights the Crime Commission of all of the Commonwealth heads of law enforcement, and state and territory police commissioners.

One specific thing the Australian Crime Commission does in run task forces. Since 2012, we have run the Eligo task force focused on money-laundering. This is particularly focused on the alternative remittance sector and the informal value transfer system. This, if you like, is money that is remitted overseas from individuals—such as a taxi driver who might remit their legitimate earnings overseas to a foreign country. But, equally, it is used by serious and organised crime to remit proceeds of crime overseas. Since the inception of the task force, we have seized $74 million in cash alone, we have restrained $48 million worth of proceeds of crime, we have identified 285 criminal targets previously unknown to law enforcement, and it has given us a good insight into the movement of funds in Australia and offshore. We have a good understanding of the methodologies by which serious and organised crime remit money offshore, and we have a good understanding of the transnational money-laundering syndicates involved. That provides some context to the statement that we have made.

Equally, like the evidence that AUSTRAC provided earlier this morning, we have been involved in and funded for the response to Islamist terrorism by the Australian government, particularly focusing on money-laundering, and we are involved with a whole range of partners, including AUSTRAC. This is in addition to our daily work on anything from illicit drugs, gangs and high-risk crime targets, to cybercrime. So it is in this context that we made the following statement, and on 12 November—following a considerable number of media requests, and some statements by the media that actually identified the Australian Crime Commission as having found links between halal certification and terrorism—we put out a press release that said exactly what I said at the beginning: that we have found links between money-laundering, terrorism and serious and organised crime, but we have not found any direct links between halal certification and the funding of terrorism.

My evidence today is based on our operational work and the intelligence holdings that the Australian Crime Commission has. Since this issue has been highlighted in the press, we have been on a heightened lookout for any links between halal certification in our intelligence holdings, and to date we have not found any direct linkages. So, with these introductory comments, Senators, I am happy to take your questions.

CHAIR: I have just one thing to ask. You have pretty much answered anything I was going to ask, but I just want to be clear here. Effectively, if I am interpreting what you are saying right, there is a current public policy debate around food certification that this committee is engaged in, and there are different views out there about what should and should not be the right level of information provided to consumers. That sits completely outside the remit of what the ACC's legislative requirement is to look at. There is a legitimate debate and there are legitimate views. There are people who want more information and more details, and are arguing a right to know. We are going to have them a bit later today, and—as I have very strong views, as to the financial services sector, about people having a right to know—I am perhaps sympathetic to people wanting to also know about other areas that they are interested in, like food certification and others. So we will have that debate later.

But, as to the specific part of the terms of reference, I want to be clear here: I do not want to leave the impression that this is simply an inquiry into the link between terrorism and halal certification; it is a much bigger inquiry. But that is the bit that obviously the ACC touches on. The point that you are making seems to be that, as far as the Australian Crime Commission is concerned, as to a specific link between the funding of Islamic extremism and terrorism and halal certification, in the information that has been provided to you in your own investigations, there is no direct link.

Mr Hansford : That is correct.

CHAIR: In saying so, though, I do want to also add that that does not discount the other parts and other legitimate views about halal certification that are out there, which obviously are not matters for the ACC.

Mr Hansford : Indeed.

Senator BERNARDI: Mr Hansford, use of the term 'direct link' is very specific. Is there or has there been any evidence that organisations that are involved in halal certification, such as charities and not-for-profits, have given any funds to other organisations, such as charities and not-for-profits, that participate internationally and may be linked to funding of extremist activity or terrorism?

Mr Hansford : I think the answer to that question is in a very similar vein to AUSTRAC; that our focus is on the highest-threat serious and organised criminal targets to Australia. We look at the funds that are remitted offshore, particularly laundered, to international individuals. We have not identified any links between halal certifiers and the funding of terrorism. But as I said in the opening statement, we have identified money that has been laundered for terrorist purposes.

Senator BERNARDI: I will draw on some of the evidence that was produced to us. For example, the Islamic Council of Western Australia said in their 2013 annual report that they made donations to Syria, but they did it through a charity, the Al Imdaad charity, to ensure that no recriminations could be directed to the Islamic Council of Western Australia. So you could say if, for example, the Al Imdaad charity was involved in untoward activities in Syria—and I do not know whether it was, but there are no good guys in Syria, apparently—then there is no direct link to an Islamic certifier funding terrorism or extremist activity, but there may be cause for an indirect conclusion to be drawn.

Mr Hansford : I think that wherever there is a sector with large amounts of cash that are being remitted, there is an opportunity for either serious and organised crime or people sympathetic with terrorism to utilise and exploit that particular sector. That is the answer, but from the high-risk crime targets that we look at and the money laundering operations that we have undertaken, we have not seen a direct link.

Senator BERNARDI: We come back to this directly. If a certifying agency decides to remit funds overseas for whatever purpose—for humanitarian or charitable aims, either directly or through a third party—you are not really in a position to assess how those funds are utilised overseas. Is that correct?

Mr Hansford : That is correct. But we are in a position to understand how money is laundered by organised crime, and no sector in the Australian economy is really prone from infiltration by serious and organised crime, whether that is a bank or a casino, or the alternative remittance sector. All of them have the potential to be exploited, and for laundered money—

Senator BERNARDI: But we are not talking about money laundering. We are talking about legitimate businesses, or organisations in Australia, that raise money through the halal certification schemes or whatever, and then they say they are going to participate in an international outreach, either through a charity or anything else. They are not laundering money; they are just sending money overseas for a cause. There is no way you can assess, realistically, where every dollar of that money goes once it reaches an offshore destination like Syria or Iraq or Palestine, or anywhere else.

Mr Hansford : I guess the answer is that our focus is on money laundering and on serious and organised crime.

Senator BERNARDI: So we are talking apples and oranges.

Mr Hansford : Yes.

Senator BERNARDI: Thank you for your appearance today.

CHAIR: I would like to ask a follow-on question. This is perhaps somewhere that the committee may end up going to, so it could help us with some of our deliberations. The point that you have made is an interesting one. I want to go back to what you said at the start in your statement: that you have received a lot of interest from both media and the public in this matter of halal certification and where the money goes. Correct?

Mr Hansford : Correct.

CHAIR: Without going so far as to ask you for an opinion, perhaps this committee—and again, I do not speak for Senator Bernardi—may be saying at the end of this that even though, in the evidence you have given, you believe there is no direct link between the funding of terrorism and halal certification, more transparency is never a bad thing, certainly for public policymakers. And that perhaps more transparency in the system would allow the concerns that have been raised with you by, I assume, both individuals and the media and agencies and whatnot to be addressed.

Mr Hansford, I do not want to put you in the uncomfortable position of having to speak for the agency in itself here, so perhaps you could take on notice the question: if this committee were to recommend more transparency in that space, from a public policy perspective, would you or the agency have an opinion on that or be able to help give us some direction on how best to do that?

Mr Hansford : Sure. I can take that on notice.

Proceedings suspended from 10 : 09 to 10 : 43