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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 109

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (7:37 PM) —I thank senators for their contribution to this debate on the National Security Information (Criminal Proceedings) Amendment (Application) Bill 2005, a very important bill indeed. Before I turn to the provisions of the bill, I would like to clarify an issue that was raised by Senator Greig. I would point out that there is no obligation on parties to notify the Attorney-General of an intention to lead national security information unless the prosecutor has notified the defendant and the court that the act applies to particular proceedings. Senator Greig’s concern therefore that defendants in matters currently before the court may be disadvantaged if they do not realise that these amendments have passed or what the implications of these amendments are to their matter, is unfounded. We believe that they are not disadvantaged accordingly.

In relation to Senator Ludwig’s comments, which were directed in part to anti-money-laundering measures, I think it is useful to place on the record the situation in relation to the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, which mentioned Australia. It is a report prepared annually by the United States Department of State for the congress, and it describes the efforts of key countries to attack the drugs trade and associated crime—in this case during 2004. The INCSR categorisation system is based on the size of the country’s economy and the sophistication of financial institutions and financial transactions. Obviously, countries which have larger and more complex flows of funds will be more vulnerable to money laundering. The INCSR makes it clear that the categorisation is not based on the anti-money-laundering measures taken by that particular country. Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada are all identified as being of primary concern despite having comprehensive anti-money-laundering laws and conducting aggressive anti-money-laundering enforcement efforts.

In an article this week, it was mentioned that Australia was in the company of some Third World countries in relation to this designation of primary concern. What was not mentioned in the article was that, included with Australia, were the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. They have anti-money-laundering provisions which are among the best in the world. Australia has AUSTRAC, of course, which I believe demonstrates world’s best practice in anti-money-laundering enforcement. In fact, many other countries come here to look at AUSTRAC and the work it does. The INCSR notes:

The current ability of money launderers to penetrate virtually any financial system makes every jurisdiction a potential money laundering center.

I think that is a worthwhile basis from which to look at this report. As a major financial centre, Australia will be vulnerable to money laundering, and we have always acknowledged that fact. In response to this, the Australian government and law-enforcement agencies continue efforts to combat money laundering and financial crime both domestically and in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, Australia helped cofound the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering and, of course, has been an active participant in the Egmont Group and the financial action task force.

To ensure that Australia maintains robust and effective systems to combat money laundering, the government has undertaken a reform process in response to the revised recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering. Indeed, I have stated publicly that the government has a draft bill which will be released soon for public consultation. That is in response to recommendations made by FATF—some 40 recommendations in all, eight of them relating to terrorist activity. I think it is very important that with an article like the one that I think was in the Daily Telegraph, which says Australia is a country of prime concern, we look at it in the context of the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report and the fact that Afghanistan was not listed as a country of concern. Why? Because it does not have a sophisticated financial market like Australia. Where you have financial markets such as Australia has, you have records of transactions, you have a large financial sector and of course you become a target for money laundering. I just think it is important to place that on the record as that was raised by Senator Ludwig.

Returning to the National Security Information (Criminal Proceedings) Amendment (Application) Bill 2005: when the National Security Information Act 2004 commenced in January this year, it added a further layer of protection for Australia’s national security. The act facilitates the prosecution of Commonwealth offences without jeopardising national security or a defendant’s right to a fair trial. This bill clarifies two related aspects of the act to ensure that it operates as intended. It confirms that the act can apply to proceedings that began prior to the commencement of the main provisions of the act. The bill does not act retrospectively. It does not affect proceedings or parts of proceedings that have already been completed. It clarifies the fact that a proceeding commenced prior to the commencement of the act does not prevent the application of the act’s provisions to future stages of the proceeding. The bill also ensures that if a prosecutor applies the act after a proceeding has commenced, the prosecutor only has to give the requisite notice once and not separately for each subsequent part of the proceeding.

I welcomed the opposition’s support for these amendments last month during the second reading debate in the House of Representatives. The member for Barton stated that the amendments were justified and consistent with the understanding of both sides of the House. The primary act was passed last December. The member for Barton added that the bill avoids complications, additional expense and delay that could otherwise arise from the need to issue fresh charges. I certainly agree with these views of the member for Barton and I emphasise that the bill minimises the risk of the act being misinterpreted, which in turn might impede the protection of security sensitive information. This is a very important bill and, although technical in nature, I believe it enhances the legislation that we have in place already. I commend this bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.