Resumed from 18 September.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [3.37 pm]: I rise on behalf of the Greens as the lead speaker to say a few words about the Financial Transaction Reports Amendment Bill 2018. The bill amends the Financial Transaction Reports Act 1995. That act makes available to Western Australian authorities information provided under commonwealth law about financial transactions for the purposes of investigation or prosecution under our laws, and also for the potential enforcement of the Criminal Property Confiscation Act. Essentially, the bill updates the Western Australian act so that it refers to and reflects the two relevant commonwealth acts, the Financial Transaction Reports Act and the Anti–Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act. I note that when the legislation was being updated to reflect these provisions, the drafters took the opportunity to also modernise some of the wording, without changing the substance.
The principal act already provides that if a cash dealer reports information under the Financial Transaction Reports Act and the Western Australia Police Force carries out an investigation arising from and relating to the matters in that information, Western Australia police can request further information from the cash dealer, if the further information may be relevant to a state offence or may assist in enforcing the Criminal Property Confiscation Act. This bill will add to that provision a time limit that mirrors the commonwealth provision, to assist with promptly obtaining freezing orders to ensure that the money will stay in Western Australia. The bill also contains a similar provision on information communicated by a reporting entity under the other commonwealth act—the Anti–Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006. I note that the police can also request documents about the matter to which the communication relates. The reason is to get evidence to ensure that a prosecution can be supported if the matter proceeds that far. The bill also provides that a cash dealer who is a party to a transaction but who is not required to report it must report it if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the information may be relevant to an investigation or a prosecution of a state offence or, again, if it may assist in enforcing the Criminal Property Confiscation Act. Police carrying out an investigation arising from or relating to matters referred to in that information can request further information if it may be relevant to an investigation or prosecution of a state offence. The bill extends this to the other commonwealth act—the Anti–Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act and enables police to request documents about the matter to which the communication relates and similarly inserts a time limit.
In relation to the issues around this bill, I note that the police in particular have supported the bill and have said that this bill is necessary because, although the information can be obtained in the usual way via a notice to produce under the Criminal Investigation Act 2006, it currently takes longer to obtain—the threshold is higher and the penalty for noncompliance is lower. These concerns have been raised as they could increase the chance of the target hiding the moneys or moving the moneys out of the jurisdiction before a freezing order can be obtained. I note that appendix 1 of the committee’s report contained a letter from the Minister for Police, which stated that the bill will be of considerable benefit to police as it will allow them to more readily obtain information from financial institutions about transactions that the institutions have reported to the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre. The alternative of orders to produce under the Criminal Investigation Act 2006 is burdensome and since the threshold is higher, sometimes essential information cannot be obtained.
The main concerns that the Greens have with bills of this type relate to getting the balance right and ensuring that protections against discrimination and protections for privacy are in place. Under the legislation, a person providing the information is safe from action against them if what they did was required under the act or, importantly, if they mistakenly believed that it was required under the act. Therefore, it will be really important to educate those using the act to use it correctly. I have a question for the minister, particularly in respect of cash dealers who will be affected by the provisions within this bill. I would appreciate it if the minister is able to confirm whether any awareness campaigns will be conducted to educate cash dealers about the extent of their responsibilities or, indeed, whether any discussions or dialogue have already been entered into.
Under section 126 of the Anti–Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act, AUSTRAC can authorise the WA police or the Corruption and Crime Commission to access AUSTRAC information for the purpose of their functions in exercising their powers. Also, the agency must undertake that it and its officials will comply with the Australian privacy principles in respect of the information obtained. The briefing that I received went into the circumstances in which the information is accessed and used, and I was satisfied with the response to that. My main concern is to ensure that there is a proper oversight to ensure compliance and that any breaches are detected and dealt with. Members are aware that every so often a media story will come out about how some official or other within Australia has improperly accessed private information. A common breach is when people inappropriately access information of an ex-partner. I would like the minister to confirm for this house that the state has in place robust procedures to detect and properly respond to any wrongful access to other people’s private information. The second thing that I hope the minister can confirm is that police access to AUSTRAC information is being very closely monitored internally and also that it is subject to oversight by the CCC. I would also appreciate it if the minister could explain, in detail ideally, what monitoring processes are in place and what will happen if a breach is detected in order to prevent recurrence. I hope that the minister can clarify those two points during her second reading reply. Otherwise, the Greens indicate that we will be supporting this legislation.
[Speeches and comments from various members]
Question put and passed.
Bill read a second time.
Leave granted to proceed forthwith to third reading.
Bill read a third time, on motion by Hon Sue Ellery (Leader of the House), and passed.