Labor vows to crackdown on money laundering as real estate sector hit by criminals

Ellen Ransley
The Nightly
Attorney-General  say it was a “disturbing but inescapable fact that Australia is at serious risk of exploitation” from criminals engaged in money laundering. 
Attorney-General say it was a “disturbing but inescapable fact that Australia is at serious risk of exploitation” from criminals engaged in money laundering.  Credit: The Nightly

Labor has taken aim at the former government for “failing” to crack down on money laundering, as a new risk assessment revealed criminals are increasingly using real estate, casinos and luxury goods to clean “trillions of dollars” of dirty money.

In announcing a suite of new reforms targeting illegal activities like the $12.4b drug trafficking market, tax evasion, people smuggling and cybercrime, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus used a speech at the National Press Club on Tuesday to say it was a “disturbing but inescapable fact that Australia is at serious risk of exploitation” from criminals engaged in money laundering.

It came as anti-money laundering regulator AUSTRAC released the National Risk Assessments, which Mr Dreyfus said were a “wake-up call, that preventing criminal exploitation of our financial system cannot be just the responsibility of government and law-enforcement agencies”.

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Mr Dreyfus took aim at the former government for failing to update the country’s defences.

“While other countries strengthened their defences against the proceeds of criminal and corrupt business practices over the last decade, the former government left the door wide open for illicit funds to flood into Australia,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“The Albanese government has no tolerance for corruption or illicit financing of any kind. We’re committed to strengthening the system to prevent perpetrators financing serious crimes like drug trafficking, child abuse, terrorism, and organised crime.”

Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus arrives during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, June 6, 2024. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has announced a crackdown on money laundering. Credit: Lukas Coch/AAPImage

Mr Dreyfus said in the wake of vulnerabilities being laid bare in the assessments, the Government would strengthen Australia’s anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing regime by imposing stricter regulations on lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, trust and company service providers, and dealers in precious metals and stones.

He said the government would also modernise the relevant Act to “ensure it keeps pace” with the changing nature of the global financial system and close gaps that are being exploited.

“These criminals are constantly looking for new ways to exploit our systems,” he said.

“No legitimate business wants to assist the laundering of money from these crimes.”

AUSTRAC chief Brendan Thomas said Australia’s stable political system, free and open economy, independent legal system, well-developed financial services sector and strong real estate market made it a “great place to do business”.

In arguing why real estate could no longer be outside the remit of money-laundering regulations, he said one overseas family with members on the Interpol red list had bought up over $750m worth of Australian commercial and residential real estate — including one cash purchase of over $30m.

“The lack of money laundering restrictions is causing a significant hole,” he said.

He noted retail banking, remittance and cash exchanges were the preferred method for terror groups to launder money and send it overseas but he said the exploitation of digital currencies was “increasing”.

“This helps criminals move funds quickly, cheaply and with what they perceive as a degree of anonymity,” he warned.

Mr Dreyfus said he hoped that laws would be introduced and passed through the parliament “as soon as possible” to deal with the issues.

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