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Why overseas crims find Australia attractive

FEDERAL BUDGET 2024: AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos - General view editorial generic stock photo of Australian cash money currency. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicholas Eagar
Australia will continue working with Pacific countries to ensure dirty money from criminal proceeds are not bought into the country and cleaned. Picture: NewsWire/ Nicholas Eagar

Australia will continue working with Pacific countries to ensure dirty money from criminal proceeds are not bought into the country and cleaned, while the government works to catch up with dated laws.

Brendan Thomas – the head of Australia’s financial crimes watchdog, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac) – said current legislation makes Australia an “attractive location for criminals to move and store their wealth”.

Mr Thomas’ comments at the National Press Club on Tuesday, followed the government outlining incoming reforms which will force real estate agents, lawyers, accountants to report suspicious activity, with the government aiming to introduce the legislation by the end of this year.

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Australia is just one of five countries which has not legislated the laws, along with the US, China, Russia and Haiti.

FEDERAL BUDGET 2024: AUSTRALIA - NewsWire Photos - General view editorial generic stock photo of Australian cash money currency. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nicholas Eagar
Australia’s dated laws has made the country an ‘attractive location for criminals to move and store their wealth’, the head of the financial crimes watchdog has said. Picture: NewsWire/ Nicholas Eagar

Asked specifically about Australia’s collaboration with its neighbours in the Pacific, amid the Pacific Banking Forum, Mr Thomas said the watchdog was working “very closely” with our international neighbours, citing training programs and software services to track financial payments.

Austrac also shared lessons about money laundering and was running operations which targeted “particular money laundering groups” in the area.

“We do work extensively with our Pacific neighbours for a number of reasons: One, it is a very good thing to do,” Mr Thomas said.

“Secondly, I mention Australia’s exposed to money laundering not just from criminal proceeds generated in Australia by those generated in a region that might be flowing into Australia.”

Mr Thomas also acknowledged the agency’s capacity was significantly larger than most of Australia’s Pacific neighbours, which may just have “two or three people doing the financial intelligence”.

“We are doing everything we possibly can to strengthen their arm, increasing capability, give them technology if they need the technology, and provide professional development for the Pacific financial intelligence units to be able to combat money laundering,” he said.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus reinforced those comments, and said “many” Pacific countries have reached out and asked for assistance.

“Austrac is not a gigantic organisation, but it is a lot bigger than anything that the Pacific Island countries have got,” he said.

“We’re very happy to assist, and we aim to continue to do this. It’s something that Australia can really offer to our Pacific neighbours and we intend to go on doing that.”

QUESTION TIME
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said he was aiming to introduce the new reforms by the end of the year. Picture: NewsWire/ Martin Ollman

Delivering the keynote address on Tuesday, Treasurer Jim Chalmers reiterated Australia’s support to ensure major banks continue to operate across the Pacific region, with the government approaching major Australian banks to do its bit.

Currently Westpac, ANZ, and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank operate across the region, however access is decreasing. While ANZ boasts the largest reach with 19 branches, it’s closed 10 branches, excluding Papua New Guinea, over the past five years, and exited American Samoa and Guam in 2022.

On Tuesday, the Albanese government announced $6.3m funding boost across three initiatives to boost financial security and law enforcement.

The money included $2.9m to the World Bank to help develop inclusive and secure digital identity infrastructure, $1.7m to the Asian Development Bank to boost compliance on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing requirements, and $1.7m to help criminal justice and law enforcement efforts which will be administered by the Attorney-General’s department.